Ugly Ducklings - Sea Green Junipers (landscape airlayers)... How to improve? What would you do?

These 2 are air-layers… mother plants were dug up and thrown away for a landscape renovation. Mother plant had 20-30 super lanky straight trunks with no side branches (as Sea Greens naturally grow), so no use trying to save it for a bonsai. Instead, I air layered the trunks that had the most branches.

I cut them off Feb 2019 and repotted them. Left them alone since then, to grow roots and gain health. I didn’t take a “before” photo, but it was turning into a shaggy bush again. So I knew it was healthy.

So, today, I decided to give it a haircut (I cut off a lot). Also repositioned main branches to better areas and balance.
Also, wired the secondary branching flat, into pads like an open flat palm/hand.

Yes, it is ugly and the trunk is super straight and long. It’s thick and stiff; so bending it would be quite difficult.

The trunk actually goes down a lot more into the pot (drew in Red), about 2/3 down into the pot (I needed to stabilize the very tall air-layer after I cut it off). So, the rootball is 2/3 down into the pot and it is actually taller than pictured.

Ideally, I want to make it into a tall, big bonsai or niwaki. So, I’m not interested in trunk chopping it down to the first lowest branch and making a shohin/mame.

I also know there’s a lot of “handle-bar” branches. Of course, I’ve been considering removing some, but as you can see, it’s already too sparse and too much spacing.

These trees aren’t really anything special to me… they were just free landscape digs/air-layers I didn’t really care about and was just experimenting with. But, I’d still like to see if it’s possible to make them decently okay and nice.

What would you do with them??

Thanks for any help!

I managed to get a bend in. Needed another person to tie the rope while I was bending it.

I think it looks better… it makes all the pads have different levels/heights now.

Still wanna put another trunk bend below the first branches; but most of the trunk is still 2/3 down into the pot. So I’ll wait until a repot in spring 2021 for that bend.

Also wanna put 1 bend on the slant style looking one. Just 1 bend on the lower trunk from rootball to existing first kink/bend. But it’s also 2/3 into the pot, so I’ll wait until spring 2021 repot as well.

For the future bends closer to the rootball, I’ll probably use long screws near the base for anchor points, and for somewhere to tie down to.

Ended up bending the other tree too. Curves look decent on this one now.

But, split/ripped a branch because I accidentally tied the rope to the wrong spot (a branch instead of the trunk… whoops). So, I attached another rope in case the branch were to rip off completely.

Covered the ripped wound with some tree sealant to give it a little more chance. Hope the torn branch survives; but, there is another skinnier one right next to it ready to take its’ place if it dies out.

Ended up messing with the tall straight one more.

Really didn’t like the lack of movement (only had 1 big sweeping arch, after bending trunk), zero taper at the apex (look like a stick that’s been cut off on top), etc.

So, trunk-chopped the previous little apex, and brought the highest horizontal branch back upwards and into a new apex. Also spread its’ previously secondary-twigs/branches that was initially a pad, into new trunk side branches.

I think it looks a lot better now… many things were solved with this small modification in my eyes:

  • now has taper at apex
  • less handlebar branches and more trunk bifurcation
  • more movement and movement back into centerline
  • additional branches/levels now (albeit small branches only in upper portion)
  • better balanced top and overall tree

The stub where the trunk-chop was made will be cut off in the future of course, once the trunk-bend sets (left on since rope is attached there).

Wow, you put a lot of work into these! One suggestion for unusual specimens like these is to make a group planting. Because they have similar characteristics, it could make sense to see them growing together. This would make a slightly larger composition, but there would be less need to let the trees grow larger.

1 Like

Ahh…never thought of that! Great idea for these lanky/leggy/straight junipers!

Worked on it again today, lol. I promise no more messing with it for at least 1 year, haha.

It’s just, the first lowest branch/node area on trunk was really bugging me, as it was too straight, esp compared to the new arching and bigger bend above it. It looked out of proportion and odd (first/lowest bend should be more pronounced than higher bends I think).

So, I bent the lowest branch area/node with an extreme notch technique (different than the trunk-splitter technique).

To get a bend/kink in that area was difficult, as the lower trunk area is super stiff and rock hard. So, either a trunk-splitter, a notch, or bending with rebar would be needed, or a large 5-7” clamp bender (expensive).

Rebar technique would’ve just ripped the outer-curve. As I could hear it creak/crack already when even slightly bending it a few mms.

Trunk splitter, I didn’t have atm.

Large 5-7” clamp, I didn’t have either and too expensive (though, I ordered a few small/regular-sized 86mm clamps yesterday, only now realizing they would be way too small anyways… I’ll keep them for smaller branches/trunks though). And they would probably rip the outer-corner of the bend too anyways.

So, I tried a risky technique I’ve been wanting to try for a while now - trunk notching.
Actually, I’ve tried it twice on lesser trees +1 year ago (old portulacaria afra), and they survived and are doing well. But, I’ve never tried this technique on real woody plants/trees before.

Firsts for me:

  • Using guy wires.
    I’ve always just used twine and rope… but I learned today that using wire instead is much much easier, esp when by yourself… as you can bend and get the wire on without being perfectly tight first, and then later tighten it after it’s secure by twisting. With twine, you cannot tighten it anymore; and you must bend and tighten as tight as possible and also tie knot all at the same time!

  • Screwing screws into the trunk.
    This is a first for me too.

  • Notch technique on a woody tree.

Honestly, I wanted to use a clamp bender; but then realized they were too small.

Then after realizing they were too small, I was planning to just use some rebar and stainless hose clamps.

But, then, I saw a video of Ryan Neil doing the notch-technique; so, that gave me more confidence to just finally try it out. (I’ve only seen it done by Chinese practitioners before seeing Ryan Neil’s video).

Anyways, I hope it survives, lol.
If not, the lowest branches should survive and I can start over and it’ll also give me taper. (that’s why I “notched” above the first node/set of branches, instead of below… so if it fails I still have a small tree with taper).

And, yes, I will remove that crotch branch in 1-2 years, after it heals. It’s much more apparent now, since there’s a beautiful kink/bend now! :slight_smile:

I got the clamps/benders that I mentioned earlier in the mail today. So, decided to use them and replace the twine/rope bends.

They worked I guess; but I didn’t like them. The knobs broke off. And also, the knobs are very bad on your fingers and you really need pliers.

They are also very low quality (Tian Bonsai eBay brand), wing-nuts are crooked! on the bolt threads and don’t sit flat/flush on the main-plate, and some threads are very rough or even chipped/missing & very easy to cross thread. I really like their scissors and knob cutters though (very good quality)! So I was really surprised on the much lower quality of their benders. I wasn’t expecting them to offer this low quality, after using their other tools.

All in all, I would never buy them again. They seem to be 1-time-use-only because the knobs break, made out of soft brass, and they cross-thread.

Guy-wires are much much more effective, way easier to use, safer to use, and also much much cheaper.

Anyways…I like the new bends. I just hope they survive, lol.

Wow, thanks for all the updates. One note about the branch benders - my understanding is that they’re meant to hold large bends, not make them. If the branch is bend in place, the wingnuts may twist into place easier. Will be curious how the notch technique works out!

1 Like

Nice job!
I also enjoy working with Sea Green as their branches thicken quickly.
Suggest working on secondary and tertiary branches early on as they can become leggy.
IMG_1625 IMG_1625


Wow! Your trees looks awesome! Love the 2nd and 3rd photos!
Never even knew bonsai was possible with this species, lol. I’m just trying and using them because they were free from the landscape, haha.

In your 4th photo… which trunk did you keep? (please draw with phone app if you can)
I’ve been staring at it and the finished tree, trying to figure it out, haha.

I will try to find the originan pics and mark those up showing the original trunk.
I do recall that at the second repot we raised the tree about two inches and discovered an additional two inches in width on the nebari.
these trees were also from our landscape. planted about 30 of them 20 years ago and trying to harvest one or two per year.

1 Like

I actually potted mine super deep for stability (2/3 down into the pot), since they were air-layers with few roots and also tall and easily tipped over. But, when I dug a little bit into it last week, to screw a screw on, I found very many new roots closer to the surface (creating a new nebari and higher rootball I guess; which I actually prefer because the initial rootball and the trunk buried deeper is a bit straight).

I also noticed the base/lower-trunk grew a bit fatter. I guess this species grows fat bases easily and quickly.

Ah, I see. Mine were also planted around 1990 (fat bases, but skinny multi-trunks). My leggy multi-trunks were a bit skinnier than yours, judging by your pics.
Now I kinda wish I dug up the rootballs instead of air-layering, haha.