page contents The Little Bonsai: Pruning Techniques for Juniper

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Pruning Techniques for Juniper

Pruning Techniques for Juniper

It's a very fascinating and distinctive tree in comparison to many others. I simply like Junipers due to easy maintenance and romantic look. Interestingly pruning techniques for this type of trees are not rocket science and if you just started with Bonsai, it's a good way to put hands on and try pruning it the best you can. Don't forget, nature is very forgiving so if happen that you accidental prune the wrong way, Junipers will easily forgive you and incredibly recover foliage pretty well. 

Junipers, with their many shapes, colors and sizes, are prized in the landscape for a variety of purposes including privacy screens, accents and ground covers with heights upwards of 30 feet and colors ranging from blues to grays and greens to yellows, it's no wonder you can find a juniper in almost any landscape design. Because of their dense foliage, junipers require little pruning to maintain their shape. However, if you feel you must prune, there are a few delicate rules to follow. Not pruning a juniper the correct way can lead to bare spots, uneven shape and disease. Additional, it's very important to sharpen shears and cutters as needed to keep cuts clean and less stressful to the tree.

Look at your juniper for pruning needs in early spring just before the new growth begins; early spring is the best time to prune junipers. Start pruning and shaping while the tree is young and do a small amount each year.

  • Identify areas you would like to prune back and mark with ribbon individual branches to be cut.
  • Identify the "dead zone" of your juniper -- the inside of the plant that is full of bare branches and wood. Never cut back to this dead zone or wood that has no needles on it, as junipers will not produce new growth on this type of wood.
  • Cut individual branches back to a side shoot or leaf of an upward-growing branch, using pruning shears. Cutting to this type of shoot will make the tree look younger and healthier while maintaining a pleasant shape.
  • Cut any completely dead or broken branches back to the main trunk using loppers, as the juniper is wasting energy on these branches that could be better used to promote new growth and keep the remaining branches healthy.
  • Avoid cutting your bottom branches shorter than those above them, as tapering in towards the bottom creates too much shade and thus will kill off the bottom. Make sure the base of the juniper is wider than the top.

Japanese Snacks

Please feel free to let your trees grow naturally. I prefer to practice a craft where I get to decide what the tree looks like. Just letting a tree grow naturally is not and will never be bonsai. If you spend time looking at natural trees there is certainly much beauty but very little perfection in terms of bonsai.

Pruning Unruly Junipers
Can you prune an overgrown juniper? Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn’t a definite yes. Juniper trees and bushes have something called a dead zone. This is a space toward the center of the plant that doesn’t produce new leafy growth. As the plant gets bigger and thicker, sunlight is unable to reach its interior, and the leaves in that space fall off. This is completely natural, and actually the sign of a healthy plant. Sadly, it’s bad news for pruning. If you cut back a branch below the leaves and into this dead zone, no new leaves will grow from it. This means that your juniper can never be pruned smaller than the border of its dead zone. If you keep up with pruning and shaping as the tree or shrub grows, you can keep it compact and healthy. But if you try to attempt overgrown juniper pruning, you may discover that you just can’t get the plant down to a size that’s acceptable. If this is the case, the only thing to do is remove the plant and start again with a new one.

While overgrown juniper pruning has its limits, it is possible to trim your plant down to a more manageable shape. One good place to start is the removal of any dead or leafless branches – these can be cut off at the trunk. You can also remove any branches that are overlapping or sticking out too far. This will give the remaining healthy branches more room to fill out. Just remember – if you cut a branch past its leaves, you should cut it off at its base. Otherwise, you’ll be left with a bare patch.

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