Needle Juniper Bonsai


Every bonsai has a history, so here’s the story as much I can share here. This Juniper inspired a previous individual to enter and love the hobby of bonsai. You could say it was an inspirational tree.

In the late 1990’s a visit to the Japanese Garden and bonsai centre in St Mawgan village near Newquay, Cornwall UK happened. They came away with a little £5 tree as you do and a desire to return again to study the trees. There was a row of the owners trees there – the ‘inspirational ones’ that make you go out and buy a little one – every nursery has them. Most of this row of trees had come from one collection that had been sold a few years prior – all Japanese imports – a Deshojo, a Trident, a Taxus Cuspidata, a Kiyohime and a Juniper Rigida. They were totally inspiring, especially to someone who was new to the hobby and good trees were thin on the ground back then too. The tree had been in the UK 25 years at this stage so was certainly acclimatised and was probably not going to die.


As the years moved on (18 more years) the tree was hanging in there but always out of reach financially – it just kept getting more expensive!! To be fair the tree was not getting the exact methods and techniques needed to refine it so it had the more natural appearance of thin weeping growth which was very sparse due to the tree sitting under shade netting. Circumstances changed a bit and with the likelihood of material like this becoming very hard to get in the future they saved up for a year to buy the tree. As it was basically theirs but not paid for they started feeding the tree and turning it every couple of weeks. Late summer 2009 and a row of new buds popped all along the old bare branches so the tree was paid for and put in the car.

The tree was too weak and too sparse to do anything with really so it was fed hard and pinched strong terminal buds for a year, repotting it the following spring into an open soil mix. After a house move the tree work went on hold for another season but the tree was getting much stronger and putting on lots of new growth.


And more improvement by Sept 2011


Over wintered and its spring 2012 

Peter Tea of Aichi-En passed on some great advice and suggested to consider the back as the new front  – so it was time to expose the trees booty.

Tucked away at the back of this tree was a lovely section of natural very aged deadwood and this is the trees area of beauty and interest so the tree was turned, tilted and strapped to a turntable. 

There is a dragon or a wild boar in the wood too

Reading between the lines Peters advice was to understand and work with the differences between Needle Juniper and shimpaku rather than to confuse or mix the styles. So with the needle juniper use the sharp spiky deadwood, make the pads quite sharp and rigid looking too, make the needles, pads and deadwood complement.

With the shimpaku juniper the scale foliage is soft, the pads are styled rounded and cloud-like and the flowing lines of the deadwood and live veins work as soft curves.

The tree had a long bottom branch that was due to be drastically shortened. It was decided to take a chance and try to raise the angled down branch into a new upright trunk as this would give lots of foliage to make the right side of the tree from.

The lower branch was wrapped with raffia and a fence wire strainer attached with doubled up 2.5mm copper wire, gradually tightening the strainer and slowly winching up the branch. Surprisingly over a few hours it was up and the only main crack was ‘safe’ as it’s gone length wise with the sap flow rather than across it.  

This one change transformed the potential outcome for the tree as the number of potential branches on the right side had more than doubled, and the new ‘branches’ all had foliage close to the new trunk too, a great bonus. Then it was time for shortening the long straggly branches and starting the basics of the new pads – but no fine wiring to the tips of every shoot yet -just pointing the tree in the right direction 

Halfway through the work and the rough idea is coming through now

April 23rd and the initial wiring and placing of the branches is done – the strainer had been taken off now it has done its job and been replaced with a copper tension wire – much neater ! Time to let the tree recover from the wiring and concentrate on pinching and shaping the individual pads from now on.

Quite a transformation and the tree has a new front and style for the first time in the 45 years it has been in England. Lots of refining and pinching to do from now on.

A few more tweaks to the pads and lots of little hanging shoots
were cut off and here we have the styled tree
2 weeks later and the tree repotted at the correct angle.


Foliage mass has doubled, branches have thickened, the wire needs to come off in some places already. Good colour all over the tree, plenty of density, such a hungry tree, after a decade or two of starvation it can’t eat enough now. 

A simple care plan

  • let the tree flush out 
  • cut off all but 1 or 2 mm of the current growth
  • let it bud out again
  • pinch this 2nd growth off from all strong and medium areas
  • keep the weak 2nd growth and all growth that comes from the 3rd flush of buds
  • feed, feed, feed, water, water, water, do not treat them like junipers !! 

March 2017

A period of 3 years passes with a new owner, but with this came a deterioration of care. And then once again, it found it’s way to yet another owner now and an immediate repot was undertaken as the buds were beginning to show and it was due to have one this year.  

Trunk had significant greening and the bleached deadwood needed lime sulphur. 

Good root mass was evident and trimmed back with replacement soil premixed from Bonsai@16.  

Now the tree has been repotted and a general clean up completed…..growth will allow for shoot elongation until late May / Early June 2017 – whereupon scissor trimming will commence only within the ‘green zone’ – to produce latent budding and back budding. Don’t cut through the foliage but between the needles and only the shoot itself. 

Just after shoot cutting this is an ideal time to fine detail wire junipers. Fan out in a hand shape. Tweezers for refinement on bottom of pads are handy to remove dangly needles. About 2 weeks after this first pruning, new shoots should begin to swell and elongate.

Wiring will probably need to be undertaken during the growing season – to review. 

June 2017

Mid June 2017 before pruning and light wiring 
Mid June 2017 post prune and wiring. Lime sulphur applied to bleach deadwood areas.

Another house move during 2020 – the pandemic year.

February 2021

Not the best of days. Somehow storm after storm we’ve been fine and then some southern wind today decides to take the greenhouse and contents all over the garden. So the needle juniper had some tree surgery done to it after a windy impact! New directions as they say…

needle juniper

March 2024

This year brings an attempt to re-invigorate the tree. It’s been struggling, but surviving and I can only imagine the soil is the issue. It’s been a 7 year gap between the last repot. Watch the YouTube video below to see how I get on! Comment and subscribe to the channel for more…

Let’s see how the tree progresses in the coming year and beyond.


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