Friday, 9 August 2013

Juniper creation pt1

The juniper has to be one of the most iconic and desirable bonsai species for many growers. It is incredible that juniper were not considered for bonsai until barely 100 years ago - there were many 1000's in the wilds but collectors of the time passed them by to find the popular trees that were in demand - Red, White and Black pines, yezo spruce, ancient prunus......... times have changed and how lucky it is they were propogated, styled, field grown and are available the world over for bonsai enthusiasts to work with.

I stock some wonderful little starter Itoigawa juniper trees - grown in Japan they are started from cuttings, the trunks are twisted then the trees are fattened in a field for a few years by letting branches grow long before pruning back. After a couple of cycles of growing and pruning the trees are potted up and leave Japan - some arriving in Cornwall ! it is an incredibly small world really when you think about it.

Every summer junipers will go through a shedding of old inner foliage - it yellows, browns and then drops off, leaving the tree interior a bit more open . This is just part of the cycle where a tree tries to grow bigger - I've observed this annual cycle on my own trees for 20 years now and have seen how some years lots drops, some years virtually none drops off and it is largely linked to how you work with the tree in previous years. Juniper foliage has an inbuilt time clock - it will fall off - if you have allowed a tree free growth a lot of new foliage will result - the time clock ticks and in a few years a lot of foliage will drop off - it is just a simple cycle. In refinement years we keep growth short and compact so the new foliage mass is less and you've guessed it right.......less will drop off in a future summer.

When you receive a young field grown tree like these (or in fact a neglected un-worked specimen) there will be a reasonable drop of old foliage in the first summer - so the biggest mistake and instant way to set the tree back is to prune back to inner foliage - the worst case scenario is to prune back all newer growth and what you leave decides to drop off a few months later ! You get better results working with the outer newest growth on your tree - just prune off the long 'water shoots' but only to the base where they emerged from new growth.

Here we go - lunch time today

We have a dense ball of greenery - inner yellow and brown shoots - all will need removing - is there even a bonsai in this material ???  when confronted with these trees it can be hard to know where to start - this shows by the fact only 2 have sold in this raw state and yet every single one has sold when i've styled them...all will be revealed ,

Characteristics - what is Itoigawa?
Itoigawa is actually a city where the collected junipers from the immeadiate region were bought and sold - it is not a different species but a different variety. Other locations had wild junipers growing with untidy long hanging foliage but these trees had great trunks the same, just poor foliage for refined bonsai creation. Other mountain valleys and other islands had varieties with tight but thicker foliage - sergentii, kishu etc all occurred in the wild. The visible outer appearance of Itoigawa is finer thinner foliage growing in tight forms and the characteristics are a tree that grows many inner new shoots of juvenile foliage making the inner tree into a dense birds nest of shoots

Here we have old and inner shoots - the tree is cluttered, dense and in need of a total cleaning out with scissors and tweezers

Now, is there a bonsai in there ? looking hopeful 

Oh yes, we have something good to work with

Assess the trunk line, main branches and then pick an angle that works - these multi angle work tables make it an easy job to find the best angle and to keep the tree set while you work - we have 3 sizes in stock, £45.00 - £50.00 + p&p for a really handy item

Now we have a cleaned up tree set at a good angle - it's easy to see the bonsai now. The lower branches on the right were not needed so a section of trunk below them can be stripped of a thin strip of bark to make a curving shari...why? will begin to make the live veins either side swell as they support the crown and it will give the eye a visual contrast, making the curving trunk stand out even clearer.

The initial wiring is very simple as it only needs to define the future foliage masses. The movement in the trunk is so good and the flow into the main branch was so smooth that I've kept the dropping branch as a semi cascade. In future years the new owner may keep it, extend it, shorten it or cut it off totally - When I style trees in stock these days it is a mistake to commit them to just one image as it limits the total number of customers who may like the tree - now I try to make the most of the best features and remove just the branches that are distracting.

The absolute essential key to juniper bonsai is to maintain as much new foliage mass as you can when styling the tree. The tree gains its strength from foliage - they can survive quite hard root pruning and will be absolutely fine is quite small pots with limited room for roots. There are old books and articles where the recommendation is that just about every shoot is reduced to a tiny tuft of green on the end - this may work in the high light level, high humidity long growing season of Japan and it makes wiring really easy and looks really neat......but this method really weakens junipers in the UK and probably elseware too. Above is our demo tree showing how the inner old and juvenile shoots are gone and showing how much foliage I like to leave on a first styling. The tree will remain strong and be happy when repotted into a training sized bonsai pot in the future.

Over the last hour we've taken the little ball of shoots and started it on the route to being a bonsai. the fine shoots are not wired and placed - why risk damaging them at such an early stage. Now we just scissor prune individual strong shoots back while the pads fill out with mature growth. I tend to remove inner needle foliage until the tree just sends out mature scale foliage shoots.

These great little trees are £65 +p&p (£70) unstyled, £80 +p&p (£85) styled in the plastic pots and once potted the price depends on the cost of the pot used.

I fell asleep typing this one so only one song will do !!
great to wire to as well ...............

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