How to prune a bonsai tree juniper

Pruning Juniper Bonsai for Beginners

One of the most enjoyable aspects of owning a bonsai tree is the artistic part — pruning and styling. Sure, it’s fun learning how to care for your bonsai, and understanding the fundamentals of watering and fertilizing are essential to its health. But let’s face it … getting your hands dirty and working on your tree is the real joy. In this article, we’ll go through a crash course in pruning juniper bonsai and learn what to do, and what not to do, with your tree.

Why Pruning Juniper Bonsai is Important

As it turns out, chopping branches and foliage off a tree isn’t just about creating a visually stunning bonsai. There are also some very practical reasons for pruning. For instance, we might prune to allow more light to reach deeper into the structure of the tree.

We can generally categorize the practice of pruning juniper bonsai into two buckets:

  • Maintenance Pruning
  • Structural Pruning

If you’re working on your first tree, you’ll probably be closer to the “maintenance” mode than the “structural” mode, so we’ll focus on maintenance in this article, and cover structural pruning in a future article.

Maintenance Pruning

Goals: maintains the aesthetics of the tree, promotes the strength of the tree, encourages new growth.
When: during the growing season, spring through early fall.

In maintenance pruning, we are essentially “thinning out” the foliage and selectively choosing what to keep and what to cut off.

When we start pruning juniper bonsai for this reason, we’re interested in removing the following types of foliage/branches:

  • Foliage that has emerged from the crotch of a branch
  • Foliage which has grown too long and extends beyond the silhouette of the tree
  • Secondary and tertiary foliage/branches that are growing straight up, or straight down

Juniper Bonsai Pruning Techniques

Before we start cutting, let’s take a quick moment to understand where on the tree to cut. We don’t want to inadvertently weaken the tree while pruning it, so it’s important to understand where the tree gets its energy.

Junipers get their energy from their growing tips. Look at any juniper during the growing season and you’ll notice that the tips of the foliage have turned vibrant green. Greener than the rest of the plant. These are growing tips.

We don’t want to remove too many of these tips, as it will reduce the strength of the tree. Instead, we want to selectively find growing tips that have become too long, and trim back to the next set of growing tips, thus leaving plenty of tips on the branch to preserve its energy.

This foliage extends beyond the silhouette of the tree, so it should be removed. Notice that we’re only removing the longest portion of the foliage with our bonsai shears, and leaving plenty of growing tips on the branch.

We want to avoid “hedge pruning” bonsai, especially junipers. This method removes too many growing tips.

Don’t trim like this.

Pinching Juniper Foliage

It was once common place to “pinch” tender juniper foliage as it emerged. You may have heard of this method and asked yourself “should I pinch my juniper bonsai?”

On the surface, it seems like a reasonable way to clean up the silhouette of your tree. But many contemporary bonsai artists would say “No! Never pinch junipers!”

The most widely accepted way to prune your juniper is to allow the foliage to grow — to provide energy and strength to the tree. Then, if the foliage extends beyond the desired silhouette of the tree, we trim off the overgrowth with a pair of sharp shears, as shown previously in this article.

Maintaining Juniper Foliage

Consider a young juniper bonsai tree. Our goal is to create lateral branching on the tree.

To understand what lateral branching is, try this: hold out your hand, palm down, and spread your fingers apart. Now imagine your hand is a branch. You’ll notice that none of your fingers are pointing straight up or straight down. All of the branches are growing laterally.

Why is this important? Because lateral branching allows light to penetrate the tree and reach all of the foliage. We don’t want foliage die-back due to lack of sunlight.

Start at the base of the trunk and follow it up to the first branch. This is a primary branch.

Off of the primary branch, you’ll find many secondary branches. These may be young shoots, or they may be lignified (hardened) secondary branches. This is where we’ll begin our pruning.

If we’re going to create lateral branches, we probably don’t need secondary branches that emerge from the bottom of the primary branch and grow straight down. Those can be removed.

Additionally, if there are many branches which grow straight up from the primary branch, most of those can be removed as well.

Once this branch is thinned out, continue your way up the tree, repeating the process on each primary branch.


Maintaining your juniper bonsai is a fun way to get to know your bonsai and understand how it grows. By removing foliage to open your tree up to the sun and air, you’ll be helping to keep it healthy. But remember, there is a right and wrong way to cut when pruning juniper bonsai. Be sure to leave plenty of bright green growing tips so that your tree remains strong and beautiful, and never hedge prune it.

How to Prune a Juniper Bonsai

The Juniper genus is a broad term for between 50-70 different types of cypress trees. They all require very similar care, pruning, and styles. The most popular Junipers in the bonsai hobby are Green Mound Juniper (Juniperus procumbens nana), Chinese Juniper (Juniperus Chinensis), and the Japanese Shimpaku (Juniperus sargentii).

However, there are many more that are used for bonsai. In this article, we will look at how to prune a Juniper bonsai.

Why Should You Prune a Juniper Bonsai?

There are a few reasons that you would need to prune a Juniper bonsai.

To Keep Your Bonsai Compact

The most important reason for pruning in the art of bonsai is so that you can start to miniaturize your tree and keep it smaller and more compact. By cutting back long shoots, you can develop more compact growth and keep the tree looking like a miniature version of a tree you might find in nature.

To Style Your Juniper

Pruning is also an essential step in styling your bonsai. Without regular pruning, your tree will grow naturally towards the light. This can often lead to excessively long shoots or foliage and branches growing in an unexpected direction.

It can make the tree appear unbalanced. Balance is an essential part of the art of bonsai.

To Train Your Bonsai

Pruning can also be used as a way to train your bonsai, known as the cut and grow method. It’s good to know that, although regular pruning is required to keep your Juniper’s shape well balanced, these species prefer a combination of the cut and grow and wiring training methods to get the best results.

Get More Light Into the Inner Structure of the Juniper

Junipers tend to have very thick and dense growth. The problem with this is that it can lead to no light penetrating the tree’s inner parts and the foliage there dying. This effect can be unsightly and can affect the overall look and health of your tree.

By pruning strategically, you can thin out the growth of the foliage and the light to penetrate the inside of your tree to keep all parts of your bonsai healthy.

When Should You Prune a Juniper Bonsai?

Knowing when to prune a Juniper bonsai is a significant part of owning this species. It’s essential to be aware of when the best times are to do the various forms of pruning. Although there are recommended seasons for the different types of pruning, it’s vital to know that the tree’s health always comes first.

Sometimes it may be necessary to do some pruning when it might not be the ‘right’ season to ensure that your tree stays healthy. Knowing when and how to do this comes with experience, so don’t be scared to reach out to a bonsai community if you are unsure.

Structural or Heavy Pruning

Structural or heavy pruning is what will give the tree its shape. When we structurally prune our trees, we remove unwanted branches and change the style and look of the tree. It’s an essential part of bonsai as it will eventually turn your tree into a bonsai.

Structural pruning is best done in late winter or early spring, just before the growing season. You might also get away with structural pruning in late autumn, just after the growing season; however, it’s riskier then.

Maintenance Pruning

Maintenance pruning aims to keep your tree in its desired style or refine that style. It’s also an essential pruning method to encourage growth closer to the inner parts of the tree to keep your bonsai looking compact.

Maintenance pruning is best done during the growing season (Spring, Summer and early Autumn). However, with Junipers, you can do minor maintenance pruning throughout the year.

Root Pruning

Root pruning is a fundamental yet often overlooked form of pruning that has to be mentioned. Root pruning should only be done during repotting. You should repot your Juniper bonsai every two years, although older trees can go for longer before having to repot.

Pruning the roots ensures that your tree remains healthy but also that your tree stays small. Another reason that root pruning is so vital is that it helps develop a nice, balanced nebari (surface roots) in your bonsai.

How to Prune a Juniper Bonsai?

Now that we’ve covered the types of pruning available, we need to look at how to prune a Juniper bonsai.

You will have to start with an idea or style in mind. Never just go in and start cutting for the sake of cutting. Spend some time with your Juniper. Look for interesting features that you want to showcase. Decide what style will work best with the tree’s current growth. Once you have a plan in mind, you can start pruning.

First, you will need to clean up the tree. It will entail pruning any new growth in the crotches of branches or even new growth sprouting from odd and unwanted places such as the trunk. Cleaning up the tree also includes trimming back the new growth. Don’t hedge prune your Juniper as this removes too many growing tips.

Next, you start working from the bottom of the tree up and start removing any unwanted branches. These will be any branches that grow straight up, curve inwards towards the trunk, or branches growing parallel to one another.

Also, remove branches where three or more extend from the same node. You want only two branches from one node to have a nice balanced ramification.

Now you will start refining your tree. This needs to be done carefully not to remove too much foliage. Only cut back a few of the leaves, keeping as much new growth as possible. With Junipers, it is important to cut back any foliage straight to the branch as the new foliage will only grow from there.

Tools Needed to Prune Your Juniper bonsai:

  • For thick stems and trunks, you will need Pruning Shears.
  • For shaping and maintenance, you will need Pruning Scissors.
  • Disinfect all tools with at least 70% Rubbing Alcohol.

Final Thoughts

A Juniper can be a very rewarding bonsai to grow. They are resilient and beautiful, and their foliage remains a lush green throughout the year. Knowing how to prune a Juniper bonsai is an important step in keeping it healthy and ensuring that you will be able to enjoy it for many years to come.

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Juniper bonsai care tips

Juniper bonsai care tips

The genus Juniperus, a member of the cypress family, includes about 50 - 70 species. Junipers are evergreen coniferous trees or shrubs widely used in bonsai.

The most popular species among them are Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis) and its Japanese variety - shimpaku (Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii), hard juniper (Juniperus rigida) and two types of juniper growing in Central Europe: Cossack juniper (Juniperus sabina) and common juniper (Juniperus communis). Also suitable for bonsai are other types and varieties of juniper originating from different regions of the world and available in nurseries.

Juniper needles, varying in color from dark blue-green to light green, may be either scale-like or needle-shaped. When young, scaly junipers usually have needle-like needles (the so-called juvenile needles) and their characteristic scaly needles appear with age. After severe pruning or bending, overflow or other stress, they often begin to grow needle-shaped needles again. This may continue for several years until a sufficient amount of scaly needles has grown and the juvenile needles can be removed.

If you need help identifying your tree, try our tree qualifier.

Juniper Bonsai Care Instructions

Placement : Keep your Juniper Bonsai in an open, sunny location all year round. Juniper should not be kept indoors. In winter, the juniper needs additional protection if the temperature drops below minus 10 degrees. After exposure to negative temperatures, some types of juniper change the color of the needles to brown-violet, which is associated with the functioning of their protective mechanisms. In the spring they turn green again.

Watering : Do not water the juniper too often, as its root system does not like high soil moisture. Before the next watering, the soil should dry well. Juniper can be sprayed regularly, especially after transplantation, since the humidity of the air is useful to it.

Fertilizer : During the growing season, feed your junipers monthly with regular granular organic fertilizer or liquid fertilizer once a week. If accelerated growth is needed, the proportion of nitrogen in the fertilizer can be increased in the spring.

Pruning : To form the characteristic coniferous "pillows", throughout the growing season it is necessary to pinch or cut at the base of long shoots that extend beyond the silhouette of the crown. Do not prune your juniper as a "hedge" because regular removal of all growing shoots will weaken the tree and turn brown needles where pruned. When coniferous "pillows" become too thick, they must be thinned out by cutting out individual shoots with sharp scissors at the base. Juniper is a strong tree that tolerates drastic pruning well. However, it does not develop dormant buds on completely bare parts of the tree, so when pruning, it is necessary to leave some needles on those branches that are needed alive.

Wired : Junipers shaped like bonsai are carefully wired, in most cases at a young age. Juniper bonsai are very popular, with their trunks twisted dramatically, reminiscent of natural forms that could be seen in the mountains of Japan in the past. Juniper wood can be heavily bent, if necessary, pre-wrapped with raffia or tape to protect the bark, but care must be taken with parts of the tree that include dead wood. In such a place, they can easily break. For larger and older specimens, the dead wood can be stripped off to be bent into a more flexible live vein.

Transplant : once every two years, very old trees less often, using a basic potting mix (but somewhat less moisture intensive). Juniper roots should not be cut too drastically.

Propagation : by seeds or cuttings.

For more information on these techniques, see our Bonsai care section.

An example of bonsai from Cossack juniper "Femina"

Juniper bonsai: varieties, planting and care

Nivaki - application of the well-known oriental style of decoration to plants grown in the open field. Juniper tolerates pruning in the garden bonsai technique well. Proper subsequent care allows you to get a spectacular, unusual composition on the site in a few years.

Bonsai varieties

Most often, the following varieties are used for nivaki - ordinary, Cossack, Chinese, medium, scaly. Each species has advantages and disadvantages, differences in external description. Juniper ordinary is able to grow and develop in shading, is characterized by frost resistance, a small annual increase. Among the proposed varieties, there are representatives that change color depending on the season.

Chinese juniper is suitable for the formation of a bonsai tree, photophilous, winter hardy. The average species tolerates drought, pruning of the root system. From scaly, with many years of formation, it is possible to obtain an unusual tree with dense needle pads on a curved trunk. Juniper Cossack is poisonous, but is often used to create bonsai due to its high decorativeness and unpretentiousness.

Most often, the following varieties are used for nivaki - ordinary, Cossack, Chinese, medium, scaly.

Most commonly formed varieties:

  • Blue Carpet;
  • Bluealps;
  • Monarch;
  • Stricta;
  • Titlis;
  • Mint Julep;
  • Meyeri.

Fitting instructions

Garden bonsai is created from ordinary plants cultivated in the garden. If you want to grow a decorative element from the very beginning, you should sow seeds or root a cutting. This method allows you to give an unusual shape to the bush, but significantly lengthens the process of obtaining the intended result. Germination of seed material and rooting of the cuttings is carried out indoors. Care at home comes down to maintaining an optimal microclimate, watering, fertilizing. Next, the seedling is transferred to open ground.

Juniper planting instructions:

  1. Selecting a suitable site.
  2. Planting hole preparation.
  3. Transfer of a plant with a clod of earth on its roots by transshipment.
  4. Filling gaps with soil mixture.
  5. Trim above ground.
  6. Abundant irrigation with crown sprinkling.

The first shaping pruning can be done at planting, but it is not recommended to remove a large amount of green mass.

Most varieties of junipers require full sun exposure. Variegated varieties are also used for bonsai. Shading causes a loss of characteristic color and a rare crown. It is unacceptable to place in flooded areas, since excessive moisture causes rotting of the root system.

Dig a planting hole 2-3 times deeper than the earthen clod on the roots of the seedling. In fast-growing varieties, it is recommended to lightly pinch the longest roots to slow growth a little. Mix garden soil with peat and coarse sand. It is impossible to abuse top dressing, otherwise the aerial part will begin to grow rapidly, which will adversely affect the decorative effect of the bonsai tree.

The first shaping pruning can be done at planting, but it is not recommended to remove a large amount of green mass. Since the juniper needs to survive the stress after transplantation, additional procedures can greatly weaken. It is necessary to remove the extra, intersecting branches directed inside the crown of the shoots. Next, water the plant abundantly by sprinkling. Mulch the trunk circle with pebbles or natural material.

Plant Care

When creating nivaki from juniper, it is required to properly care for coniferous species.

When creating nivaki from juniper, it is necessary to properly care for coniferous species. The seedling must adapt to the changed environment, acclimatize. Favorable conditions are created for this. In the future, the plant should receive everything necessary for growth and development.

Juniper bonsai requires basic care:

  • intermittent watering;
  • crown sprinkling;
  • loosening and weeding as needed;
  • trunk circle mulching;
  • top dressing;
  • shaping and sanitary cuttings;
  • winterization;
  • protection against diseases and pests.


Bonsai must not dry out.

The first week after planting requires daily moistening of the bush by sprinkling. Further, the procedure is carried out when the soil dries out, depending on the needs of a particular variety of juniper. Bonsai should not dry out, because the root system suffers first, external signs often appear too late, and also occurs with excessive moisture. Water with settled water having the temperature of the surrounding coniferous environment.

Bonsai trunk care

Juniper rootlets need fresh air access. To do this, excess plants are removed under the bush, the dense earthen crust is periodically loosened. Weeds can infect a crop with various infectious diseases, cause pests, lack of nutrition and moisture. Loosening should be carried out carefully so as not to damage the superficially located roots.

Note! To reduce the frequency of operations, it is recommended to mulch the trunk circle.

Top dressing

Always combine the procedure with watering to avoid burning the roots with active ingredients.

Once a month during the active growing season (April to September) it is required to fertilize the bonsai. For the operation, use a solution of a complex nutrient mixture intended for conifers. An excess of top dressing negatively affects the juniper, so you can not increase the recommended dosage. The composition should contain a minimum amount of nitrogen so that a sharp increase in green mass is not provoked. Always combine the procedure with watering to avoid burning the roots with active ingredients.


Every spring, damaged, broken, dry, frozen shoots are cut from the crown. Formative pruning is carried out several times. First, large, extra branches are removed. Much should not be removed so that the plant recovers faster. It is permissible to give the crown the intended shape at this stage. To remove plant material, use a sharpened and disinfected tool.

Crossing of branches and growth of branches towards the central trunk should not be allowed. The triangle rule must be observed, obliging the lower shoots to be left slightly longer than the upper ones. The sun should evenly illuminate the bush from all sides. It is undesirable to try to achieve the perfect shape in one operation. Having cut off the extra branches, you will have to wait a long time until new ones appear.

Formative cutting is carried out several times.

Interesting twists and changes in the direction of shoot growth are achieved by twisting elastic juniper twigs with wire. It is permissible to substitute stones under the lower specimens, some are enough to be tied to pegs or nets. It is important to periodically inspect the bush to prevent the wire from being pressed into the plant tissue. Periodically loosen the screed, but do not remove it for 1-2 years, otherwise the developing bush will restore the natural direction of the branches.


When forming a bonsai tree, the coniferous species loses most of its crown.

Learn more