The dormant season: Repotting and styling a Juniper

By December 3, 2017 No Comments


Winter is an important season in nature, since the low temperature will encourage most of nature itself for the dormant season.  This dormant season also applies to trees, and in our cases in bonsai trees.  Knowing the importance of the dormant season, bonsai artists make good use of it.  It is ideal for repotting, since trees are not absorbing that amount of food from the soil.  They just absorb enough to survive till March, the starting point of the growing season.


The story of a Juniper

Four years ago, while strolling in one of the local nurseries, I came across some junipers.  They had nice full and vigorous vegetation, ideal to plant in a garden.  The problem for a bonsai enthusiast was that they had a rather straight trunk with the first branch being high above the nebari.  After a good search, I managed to find four trees that I taught that they might have some potentiality to become a bonsai.

Some months later I removed unwanted branches to start revealing the potentiality of this tree.  Some of these branches were turned into a Jin (dead branches).   I decided to start this tree to become an informal upright bonsai style. It was also a vital job to clean the trunk at the nebari area from fine dead branches and removes one inch from the soil to reveal a nicer nebari, and left to grow.

The juniper was left to grow after some branches were turned to Jin

This year I decided it was time to work and give it the first styling.  But before styling it, I decided to repot it in a bonsai pot.  This repotting will help me when styling the tree itself.

The pot

One the roots were leaned and washed away to remove unwanted soil, I prepared the pot.  I chose a slightly larger pot than normal, to have more space for the roots to grow.  Healthy and a massive root ball will result in abundant foliage.

I stapled wire mess to prevent soil from coming out of the pot.  Added some large grain pumice to help the water to drain down quite easily.

Preparing the pot by stapling wire mesh over the drainage holes

Passes two wires from the drainage holes to keep the tree in position.  A sturdy tree will prevent damaging the hair roots, the key factors for absorbing water and nutrients.

The repotting process

Started by removing the juniper from the plastic pot and slow I started removing the soil using a rack.  Attention was given not to cut away any important roots.  I inspected the root system and trimmed excessive long roots.  This will encourage new roots to grow closer to the trunk.


Roots revealed after soil has been washed away

Filled the bottom of the pot with a mixture of soil: 3-part Pumice, 3-part Lapillo (lava stone), 1-part Akadama.  I also sifted some of the soil that the tree was planted in and added 1-part to the soil mixture.  I took this idea since when repotting a pine tree, it is vital to add some of the old soil to the mixture.  This will help to maintain the necessary bacteria that the tree was used to.

Soil mixture in pot

Placed the tree in position, making sure that front of the tree was visible and works well with the front of the pot.  Tighten the tree with the already prepared wires.  Continue adding the soil mix and using a chop stick, I helped the soil to go under the roots avoiding air pockets.

Styling the tree

The next move was to start trimming and styling the tree.  A good look at the tree gave me an idea of how the tree should look.  Decided which branch I should start with wiring.

Trimming and styling of the first branch

To achieve a strong branch after positioning, two branches were wired together.  One branch will anchor the other.  The wire is wrapped around the branch at an angle of 45 degrees, while moving towards the branch tip.  The wire should be thick enough to hold the branch in position without being oversized.  Thinner branches need thinner wire, while maintaining the same technique of bridging the wire between two branches.  By bending and positioning the branches in place will reveal which tertiary branches should be trimmed off.


Continue styling the branches.

Continued the same process with other branches, wiring and bending and trimming.  It is important to start from the lower branches moving yourself upwards towards the apex. Instead of eliminating one branch completely, it was turned to a Jin.  Some branches were removed to create some air space between the branches.  This empty space has various benefits:

  1. Creating negative space to add interest to the tree styling
  2. Permit light to pass through to the lower branches
  3. More light falling on the pads foliage will encourage new growth that will make a fuller pad in the future
  4. The same light falling on the foliage will encourage the photosynthesis to work, which is very beneficial to the tree itself.

Once all the branches were styled in position, I turned my attention to the apex.  The apex should lean slightly towards the viewer.

The restyled juniper bonsai

Looking good

Once ready with the styling, I know that in the future, I will be doing slight changes depending upon how the tree reacts to my styling.  As the final stage, I covered the soil with a fine grain pumice and cover it with moss.  Although the tree was not ready for an exhibition, I covered the soil with moss to prevent heavy rain not to disturb the soil and carry away the small grain pumice.  The moss was just for aesthetic purpose only.


The final look of the Juniper bonsai

Contact me if you need to read about any particular subject or if you want some other clarifications.

Our email: kengai.bonsaigarden@gmail.com


Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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