Everything You Need to Know to Care for Juniper Bonsai Trees
Juniper bonsai trees are the quintessential bonsai specimen. Beloved for being low-maintenance and easy to shape, juniper bonsai are particularly good starter trees. Master just a few basic techniques and you’ll have a healthy, one-of-a-kind tree in no time!
This simple guide to juniper bonsai trees will help you start off on the right foot. So let’s learn a little bit more about these popular trees and how to keep them happy and thriving!
What Is a Juniper Bonsai Tree?
One of the most popular types of bonsai, juniper trees are members of the cypress family. Native to the northern hemisphere, various juniper species grow everywhere from the Arctic, to Eurasia, to parts of the United States.
Types of Juniper Bonsai
There are over 50 species of juniper, ranging from low-growing shrubs to tall, spindly trees, all marked by vibrant green leaves or scales and hardy deep-red bark. Adaptability and versatility are what make juniper bonsai trees the perfect variety for the practice.
Some of the most popular juniper bonsai tree species are:
- Japanese Garden Juniper
- Chinese Juniper
- Common Juniper
- California Juniper
- Sierra Juniper
How to Care for a Juniper Bonsai Tree
These bonsai can tolerate rookie errors and accidental periods of neglect much better than other species; however, you’ll still need to understand the basic care your tree needs. While these guidelines will set you on the right track, remember: every tree is different. Observe your tree closely, get to know it, and adjust your care as needed.
Juniper bonsai like to be outside in a bright location. Place them somewhere they can receive at least four hours of sunlight a day, with a little afternoon shade. While they’ll be happy outdoors year-round in most locations, you’ll want to mulch, cover, or bring it to a cold spot indoors if temperatures frequently drop below 15ºF (-10ºC).
Bonsai Beware: While juniper bonsai keep their foliage all year, a frost-protection mechanism in some species causes their needles to turn purple-brown. Don’t panic! Your tree isn’t dying. The green colors will return once temperatures are on the rise.
Can Juniper Bonsai Grow Indoors?
Most bonsai varieties are happiest outdoors. (They’re trees after all!) But juniper bonsai trees can tolerate indoor growing if they’re kept in the right conditions. Providing adequate light, temperature, and humidity levels will be your biggest challenge.
We recommend starting outdoors, but if you’re determined, this guide to growing bonsai indoors can help!
One reason juniper bonsai can handle a little neglect is because they’re one of the few varieties that don’t mind a missed bath. In fact, they’re more vulnerable to overwatering than mild thirst. Plant your tree in well-draining soil, saturate thoroughly at bath time, and allow the soil to dry out completely between watering. (PSA: Your tree will still suffer if exposed to prolonged dryness, so don’t go overboard!)
Watering Pro Tips
- Make sure the excess water drains from the pot after watering, as waterlogged junipers are prone to root rot.
- Juniper bonsai like a higher level of humidity, which can be supplemented by misting the leaves every few days or placing the pot on a humidity tray. (This is especially useful after repotting or with an indoor tree.)
- In the summer, water twice a day in the morning and evening; avoid watering in midday, when the harsh sun can burn the leaves.
- In the winter, water once or twice a week—and never when it’s below freezing.
- Want a hand? Soil moisture meters can help determine when it’s time to water.
During the growing season, you’ll want to feed your tree once per month if using solid fertilizer, and weekly if using a traditional liquid solution. To give your tree a gentle, steady dose of nutrients, however, we recommend using a urea-free liquid fertilizer every time you water.
Feeding Pro Tips
- Juniper bonsai trees do not need to be fertilized during the winter—but don’t forget to water!
- Using a nitrogen-rich fertilizer at the start of the growing season can help your tree get revved up to power new growth.
4. Pruning & Trimming
Prune your bonsai during the growing season, from spring to late summer. To keep your tree short, pinch back new shoots once they’re about an inch in length. Rather than pruning the tree’s whole canopy (i.e., trimming needle tips like a haircut), entirely remove the needles to thin out the foliage.
Juniper bonsai trees are very amenable to wiring, which is how growers achieve compelling shapes and angles. Junipers can be bent and trained aggressively (particularly while young and flexible), but be cautious with deadwood, which can easily split. When bending juvenile branches to shape new growth, be sure to tape or wrap in raffia string for extra protection.
Once they’re around five years of age, juniper bonsai trees should be repotted every two years. (Note: These trees do not require aggressive root pruning.) As the tree gets older and starts to grow more slowly, you can repot less frequently. Our guide to bonsai tree repotting will teach you how to tell when it’s time to repot and how to successfully complete your mission.
What else do you want to know about juniper bonsai trees? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below!
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