Juniper Styling help - beginner

Hey,

I’m just starting my bonsai journey and still find it difficult at times to make design decisions, even with examples and tutorials all over the web.

I bought this juniper from a nursery here in Sydney (about 3 months ago) because I loved the strange look of that second, thicker branch. Since then I’ve been learning a lot and now I’ve started wiring the tree and not so sure this was a great decision. Below are a few points I’m thinking about.

  • Is the trunk too straight, should juniper’s rather be curved?
  • (I do like an informal upright, can it be done with a juniper?
  • Do I bend that thick branch down and curve it to become a cascade branch in the future?
  • Do I curve that branch around the front of the tree and turn it into a jin?
  • Do I remove the branch completely and look to tilt the tree and start styling away from an upright?

Any advice on my thinking and/ or styling tips on this tree would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Jarren

Fun questions!

  • Is the trunk too straight, should juniper’s rather be curved?
    Yes, typically junipers are prized for twisting movement and interesting deadwood.

  • (I do like an informal upright, can it be done with a juniper?
    Informal upright is a great style for junipers, but there is still interesting movement in the trunk.

  • Do I bend that thick branch down and curve it to become a cascade branch in the future?
    Bending thick branches will yield gentle curves so I don’t know that this approach will yield an interesting cascade bonsai.

  • Do I curve that branch around the front of the tree and turn it into a jin?

  • Do I remove the branch completely and look to tilt the tree and start styling away from an upright?

As for the last two questions, here are some design ideas.

  1. You can leave the trunk perfectly straight and go for a more quirky design with more orthogonal movement in the branches. Some juniper species growing in favorable conditions often grow perfectly straight.
  2. You can leave the trunk straight and style the branches by bending them all downward or by just keeping a few branches and bending them down. Several branches, particularly the lower ones, can be jinned.
  3. One off-the-wall approach would be to put crazy bends in all of the branches and then air-layer them all to make several new trees with great movement.

Those are some ideas - let us know if you can think of others!

Thanks Jonas, always great advice. Looking forward to hearing what others think.

If the tree was in my Bonsai area. The first thing I would do is wrap the trunk with raffia and use heavy copper wire to bend and introduce some movement to the trunk! If the trunk is a bit too thick then I would use rebar and blocks with a jack to introduce some movement.
I would strive to do so in such a way that some of the key branches are on the outside of the introduced movement to aid future styling! Done properly some of the thicker branches may actually be placed in a downward angle on the outside of a curve.
The tree pictured below had a fairly straight trunk prior to bending. If you look closely you can see the heavy copper wire used to bend and hold the movement introduced. Movement can create considerable interest in an otherwise boring trunk! This trunk is approximately 2 1/2 inches at the base and 1 1/2 where the bending begins. Different species ( Hemlock ) but same concept.

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I have 2 Sea Green junipers I air-layered from my yard, with super-straight trunks too. The mother plants were dug up and thrown away for a landscape renovation. Straight and ugly trunks, but they were free anyways.

Old trunks and stiff, maybe 1-1.5" thick and 20+ years old (looks just like yours). So, very difficult to bend (just wire def won’t do, lol).

I know bonsai people usually use a “branch splitter” for these thick stiff branches; but I don’t have one (I can always use a chisel & hammer though I guess). So, I may try a not-so-common technique I saw on YT by the Chinese…

I saw they just use a saw on the trunk, and cut maybe 1/3-1/2 way into the trunk! Maybe 3-5 slices/cuts into the trunk (depending on the bend), then wrapped in rafia (I’ll use gaff tape instead), and then finally bent with wire or twine.

I noticed they didn’t specifically cut “pie” or wedge-shaped cuts/notches into the trunk, because I assume the 3-5mm thickness of the saw itself seemed like a big enough gap to bend (esp if making 3-5 cuts).

I think I will try this saw notch/cut approach. Has anyone tried or heard of this approach??
Sounds risky! Haha.

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Good advice, thanks Frank. I’ve got a few good ideas now, definitely need to work on the movement and also taper.

@fooddude are you saying they split the trunk down the middle and the tree still lives? You then wire up both “splits”?

If the tree lives that would make for some awesome styling. I may be a little too beginner to try that.

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Yes… cut down the middle (parallel with trunk) with branch-splitters. More common approach.

2nd not-so-common approach, cut half-way into the trunk (perpendicular with trunk). Basically, half-way from cutting the trunk off! Ouch! Sounds risky I think, and I am curious if anyone has done this??

I believe this is poor advice is, juniper trunks though stiff can be bent using proper techniques and tools. Movement can be introduced above the thickest portion and be very effective. Splitting trunks is not a common approach for those who have tried it and lived with the results. Truth is , splitting trunks is a poor technique that almost always results in sub par results. It can be very effective if used when separating a live vein from deadwood for advanced styling. In the hands of a professionally trained person.

My response to the persons question was based on hands on training and personal experience. One of the first projects for learning this technique is the juniper posted below! The technique was learned during an intensive with Boon.The bent portion was over 1 inch in diameter and now curves in to form the central design portion. In the beginning it was a straight thick section protruding in the same direction as the deadwood Bending involved Raffia, number 4 copper wire, branch bender and anchoring wire with screws and rubber pads

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Yeah… branch-splitters/cutting-trunk sounds very risky. I’ve never done it myself; but was considering it.

I have however, bent many thick branches for niwaki, 1-1.25" thick, using just simple twine tied to S-hooks that are hooked to the bottom drain-holes of nursery pots (or simply tied to a lower portion of the trunk… which I try to avoid because it damages/marks the bark sometimes).
But, simple twine works great and ultra safe.

I still haven’t tried anchor-screw method yet… but that sounds safe too, and much better than a risky branch-splitter/cutting-trunk. I may have to try that technique to bend my trunks.

The anchor screw is a technique used to wire a bend and hold it after the bend has been made by other means. Typically a branch bender, jack or simply by hand to get the desired position. Then a wire is attached to the bent section which holds the bend. The screw can be placed in a secure branch or trunk portion to get the angle desired. This is often preferable to attaching to the container. Anchoring to the container can put a lot of pressure on the root ball if the bend is not fully supported by wiring on the branch or trunk.
Their are lots of ways to bend thicker trunks, for example rebar and screw devices, and also bonsai jacks. Both of the examples below are substantial older trunks. The JBP has been bent with rebar and a screw device allowing the bend to be accomplished with gradual tightening. The twin trunk hemlock is having the trunks brought closer together by another screw device called a bonsai jack. Over time ( five years)the trunks were moved in excess of 8 inches closer together.

bf jacky

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Thanks @Riversedgebonsai Frank, really interesting. This all sounds a little complicated for me and at my level without coaching.
I’ve decided to sacrifice the main trunk (I will cut it and turn it into a Jin) and use the secondary to become the main trunk. As that one is thinner I’ve wired it up with raffia and added some interesting curves and when I repot in spring will also change the angle. It may not be perfect but already looks better.

Thanks again for the advice