I’m All About Them Junipers

Everyone knows Juniper make excellent bonsai, but sadly I only see them for sale in the form of a “Mallsai” and that’s basically the trees you see for sale at the department stores or malls with ROCKS GLUED to the surface and poor soil underneath. Sadly I, Like many others, was tricked into buying one of these when I was a youngin’ and its what usually turns people off to the art altogether. They take home their seemingly healthy plant, put it on the kitchen table and even if cared for properly it still somehow declines.

This is because, even though Junipers are tough, they require very clean air and temperature fluctuations, as well as humidity and lots of sunlight, something that is almost impossible to recreate inside the home. So really, if you have one already, bring it outside, put it in the shade, and then slowly bring it out into the sun, a couple inches at a time, over the course of a month or two. After that its just water, ferts, and the occasional re-pot. Well, that and wire manipulation, trimming and pruning for the overall look of the tree and selecting an area where its protected from extreme heat or cold or wind as well as learning how, when and why to prune. Basically besides that though, you are on easy street!


Look at that poor ugly tree.

We’ve had these for so long, I don’t think anyone really remembers when they got here to the nursery. For a while we were basically giving them away because people hate them so much. The reason is just a bunch of fearmongering too, back in the mid 2000’s the fire departments here in Nevada labeled these plants as a fire hazard. The reason being that the oils that are on the foliage remain on even after the plant dies, and are highly flammable when they dry up. Year after year of neglecting one of these in your yard means that you are almost literally playing with fire. As long as you aren’t lazy though, and just sweep up the dead branches ever couple of years there really is nothing to worry about.


I can tell just by looking at this tree that it is in poor health, So I will not be pruning any branches or healthy roots.


Even trying to get it out of the pot the root ball ripped in half. I can tell by the fine white hairs that the roots are still alive at least, however, they are almost nonexistent.


Another angle of the parts that fell off.



Here is what its trying to grow in, soil so old and weathered is basically just a brick.

IMG_2741Just as i had feared, the roots are in terrible condition, with most of them being soggy and rotten. I’ll have to remove as many of the rotten ones as i can before I re-pot it in the new soil, I just also have to be careful not to damage any healthy ones. Most conifers have very defined sap lines that go from the larger roots to the larger branches, when a large branch is severed, the sap lines going to that branch will all perish as well, leading all the way down to the roots.


More decomposed granite, A new favorite of mine. I’ll also be adding a slight amount of steer manure and wood chips from where our bagged pine trees are. The idea is to convince the Mycorrhizal fungi to repopulate in this new pot. It has been proven many times that the fungi and tree live symbiotically with each other.


Another radial root spread so that the tree can focus on growing and collecting nutrients in every possible direction.


I had it happy in the new pot when…




I found the most horrific wound inflicted on the trees heartwood. The heartwood is the wood found in the center of the tree and is actually dead. I thought maybe I had done it but when I looked back at the older pictures it was already there. Once damaged like this it can never repair itself. The tree can compartmentalize around the wound with the still growing tissue and you can see that here, in the picture above. Notice how the bark around the outside of the trees wound appears to be swelling. This is the tree actively trying to seal the area around the wound to stop further decay or damage. The process is known as CODIT or Compartmentalization Of Decay In Trees.


Next year is when I will apply the wire to give it the shape I want. When it comes to coniferous trees we must take extra steps to be careful. Junipers are more forgiving then pines but as a rule you should never insult the tree more then once a year, especially if it is already in poor health, like this one. An insult is defined as anything that causes severe stress to the tree i.e. Root pruning, re-potting, large crown reductions or wire bonds.


The finished product, for your viewing pleasure. I have a feeling as soon as this one is cleared to be sold it will be. The establishment phase in conifers is usually a little longer then in deciduous trees, but there is always exceptions. Hopefully this tree can find its forever home next spring!

Unless I make my home its forever home…


Author: garesgarden

ISA Certified Arborist, Amateur Botanist, and future Agricultural Engineer.

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