Juniper bonsai is one of the most recognized species used to create these “little trees.”
Although used for centuries by bonsai artists and hobbyists, it was made
popular with the general public through a movie. Junipers quickly
became known as "The Karate Kid" bonsai.
Pines have been venerated for hundreds of years in the Orient. Junipers resemble the look of pine trees. It's not so surprising, many people throughout the world have them as their first bonsai tree.
When I lived in South Florida, one of the more popular and easiest to grow was the shimpaku juniper.
It was a rampant grower and relatively pest free, even in the sub-tropics.
There are so many varieties of juniper available, it is most likely one will be appropriate for your climate.
The procumbens juniper bonsai shown to the left was begun from nursery stock by David Baruch, an experienced Florida stylist.
The temporary wire tie-downs assist positioning of the branches. The jins (dead wood) were purposely created to give a natural appearance of age.
This bonsai is proof they don't have to be big to be beautiful. (Height under 12 inches.)
If you’ve decided to create your own juniper bonsai, the easiest way to get started is by using a plant from your local nursery.
Experiment trimming the branches and foliage, but leave the roots
alone until you get some advice about how much and the time of year in
You can learn on your own; however, hands-on lessons will more likely get you started in the right direction.
My first lesson was at a local adult education class. To be honest the teacher was no expert, but then I knew very little, so I did learn some basics.
I also learned some things not to do!
The class peaked my interest enough to buy some books, check out clubs in the area and start a passionate journey with bonsai.
Don't miss the ongoing efforts of one bonsai artist to perfect a wonderful juniper bonsai. It all started with a juniper in a nursery pot!
The Japanese word tanuki is used to describe what many refer to as phoenix graft.
“Regardless of their name, the process in their creation is basically the same. A large and interesting piece of dead wood is used as the centerpiece in the planting.
A die grinder or dremel tool is fitted with a router bit and used to inscribe a groove in the deadwood and then a young leggy plant (most often a juniper) is nailed, screwed or otherwise affixed in the groove.”
- Randy Clark
Finding the perfect combination of tree and dead wood is not as easy as you may think. Mike Sullivan, a South Florida bonsai artist, created this tanuki from a small juniper and a piece of buttonwood driftwood.
Shown here, still in the early stages of development.
To find an actual tree like this in nature, you would have to climb mountains.
Novices are often attracted to full, bushy, less stylized plants.
In the bonsai world these trees are often referred to as “mall trees”, “instant bonsai” and a few other more derogatory terms.
However, many of us, who study bonsai or at least enjoy it as a hobby, began with one of these "mall trees." Many were gifts.
I prefer to call them introductory bonsai.
Perhaps it’s better to learn lessons from inexpensive subjects. If it does live, think of all the fun you can have re-styling.
Lots of folks kill their first attempt at this hobby. (Unfortunately, sometimes the plant may not have been healthy to begin with.) If this has been your experience, don't give up.
Thinking of a first bonsai? Be sure to read How to Buy a Bonsai.
Or you may want to read 10 Reasons Not to Buy one!
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