krazykikikat
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Starting with a juniper

A friend from school has agreed to tutor me in training a bonsai tree. He is a horticulture major, but not an expert on bonsai exclusively, so I thought I'd ask a few questions here too...

He says juniper would be easy to start with because it grows very slowly. Would you recommend juniper as a starter tree? And which type?

Since it is winter now, when should I worry about moving the bonsai outside?

I've read the basic tips, but I'm still very new to this... is there anything specific regarding junipers that I should know? How much to water, whether to prune with clippers or my fingers, etc?

I don't think I'm going to grow it from seed. Probably get a young one at the store.

What kind of container should I start it in?

Any basic info would be appreciated. Thanks ^_^

Cuda52774
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Hi Krazy. I'm pretty new at this too and like many others I started with a Juniper also. Here's a basic guide to Junipers and yes, the juniper is a good starter bonsai.

https://www.bonsai4me.com/SpeciesGuide/Juniperus.html

If you buy it from a nursery that has it outside (which it should) you should definitely keep it outside. It's an outside plant. Don't plan on bringing it inside except for in the winter to protect it from cold and then only into an unheated garage or shed.

Cuda

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krazykikikat,

While Junipers can make good bonsai for beginners there are some pitfalls to avoid. I would suggest that you avoid the typical mallsai especially this time of year, here's why. These trees probably have not been acclimated to outdoor conditions and by buying them now you are almost forced to keep them indoors and Juniper are one of the least appropriate species to grow indoors. This board is full of people who got Junipers for Christmas and struggled to keep them alive until spring, it happens every year.

Virtually no experienced bonsai enthusiast would ever try to keep a Juniper indoors. Mass retailers don't care about your success with he tree, just a sale. Furthermore many of these trees are not in good health and Junipers are notorious for appearing to be healthy even as they are dying or dead. Don't be fooled.

If you want a Juniper wait until next spring when the nurseries and home centers get their new stock. Go to the regular garden plants, not the bonsai section. Look for an interesting tree in at least a one gallon or larger pot. You will get much more tree for your money and will learn more by doing the re-potting and initial styling yourself.

If you must have something now look to tropical species such as Ficus. There are many others but you must avoid the temptation to try to keep deciduous/temperate trees inside. It is almost always a losing proposition.

BTW you did not mention where you are located. If you update your profile with a general location it will help us help you.

Norm

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Be wary of a person that is not experienced in bonsai, and advice gotten from them. Chances are that they will be pushing 'old school' things, like putting rocks in bottom of pots and all that. On a different Forum not too long ago, a 'tree major' was trying to tell us that we were doing it all wrong...should be using clay potting soil to give more water, blah, blah. Did not take long to have they guy telling instructor to 'get a clue' ;-)

Just my .02 about armchair experts, LOL....make sure they have 'been there/done that'!

Alex

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As already stated, Junipers are ONLY good starter trees IF you're talknig about keeping them outdoors. If you plan on an indoor tree, nix the juniper out of hand, it's a fatal (to the tree) mistake.

Agreed as well on "experts" that are not really "experts" in the field specifically, especially "paper experts", like those still in school, whose skills and talents and ideas have not been tested by real life experience. Diversify your knowledge, learn from BBS such as this one, books, online information, etc.

krazykikikat
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Okay, thanks for the tips, now to address a few things...

This may be stupid for a beginner, but I'm not actually starting out with a trained bonsai. I'm making my own... bought a little Juniper 'Tam' from Lowes, attempting to make it look more like a tree than the shrub it actually is..
This one has been kept outside. I chose the healthiest looking one, but of course people at stores like that are seldom trained in the special needs of all the plants in the garden section... So do you have any tips as to how to keep it alive and happy now?

My horticulture friend, I should have mentioned, has trained one or two bonsai from saplings. So that's what I mean by not an expert; he hasn't spent a whole lot of time studying them, but he has made a few, and he knows the biology behind the plants.

And I live in eastern Washington state. It's technically a desert here, but we get a decent amount of precip, it's definitely not like the southern CA, NV, AZ, NM deserts.

So just to clarify, is everyone saying I should be keeping the Juniper outside right now? I just brought it home, I thought it might need to stay inside a while after all the stress I caused by cutting most of its branches off. Here it is currently hovering around 30-40 degrees, and foggy or cloudy many days.

My friend also suggested, since I have a dog and I'm not sure how he feels about Juniper, that I try to trigger its dormant period by putting it in the fridge. Is this bad, not enough sunlight or something?

I'll read the species guide, thanks. ^_^


EDIT: Eh, I may have jumped the gun here. Should I start over? :? 'Tam' isn't even listed in the species suitable for bonsai, unless there's some scientific name I don't know.... Any other good beginner trees?

EDIT again: Oh, silly me. It's a Juniperus sabina.

kdodds
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"Tam" would just be the cultivar. If it's a shrub and it was bought at a home store, the best chance is that it's a Juniperus procumbens variant. That or somthing close enough not to matter much. And yes, it should be kept outdoors, only bringing it in, if at all, for a day or two at a stretch during warmer (70s) weather. Junipers, historically, do very poorly indoors.

krazykikikat
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Mm, so I've heard.
But I just discovered that it's toxic. 0_0 My dog is notorious for eating things he shouldn't, usually indoor things, but he does occasionally chew on our Japanese maples. Any ideas on how to keep my baby away from him?

Oh and that reminds me... I've heard Japanese maples are very popular for bonsai. Would it be possible to take a cutting from the ones I have? If so, I should probably wait for spring in any case.. My friend also tells me that deciduous are not generally for beginners.
Thoughts?

This is the Juniper I have: https://classes.hortla.wsu.edu/hort232/list3/Juniperus_sabina.html
But of course mine is much younger.

EDIT: I also repotted it... I don't know if I was supposed to or not. The roots are almost exposed. Won't putting it outside cause damage?

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krazykikikat,
I'm not actually starting out with a trained bonsai. I'm making my own... bought a little Juniper 'Tam' from Lowes, attempting to make it look more like a tree than the shrub it actually is..
This one has been kept outside. I chose the healthiest looking one,
OK, you're in a better position than I had surmised from your initial post.
Here it is currently hovering around 30-40 degrees, and foggy or cloudy many days...So just to clarify, is everyone saying I should be keeping the Juniper outside right now?
Yes, absolutely outside. Junipers are an exceedingly poor choice for indoor culture, one of the worst.
My friend also suggested, since I have a dog and I'm not sure how he feels about Juniper, that I try to trigger its dormant period by putting it in the fridge. Is this bad, not enough sunlight or something?
Some growers do attempt this but they are usually the ones that live in a warm climate or are apartment dwellers and have no access to the great outdoors. Since you do there is no need to go to these extremes measures and nature is probably better at it than you would be anyway.

At the temperatures you cited your Juniper will be very happy on a bench or small table. Anything that will keep the dog away. In my area it is much colder than that and I have no pets so mine is on the ground where it is somewhat protected from extreme variations in temperature and harsh winds that might dessicate it. Come spring and summer you are going to need to find a spot off the ground for it anyway.

How cold will it get in your location? I ask because at lower temperatures some protection may be advisable, but still never indoors.
I've heard Japanese maples are very popular for bonsai. Would it be possible to take a cutting from the ones I have?
You can take cutting from A.p but they can be difficult. Apparently there is some variation in variety in this regard. The only time I ever had any luck was when I kept them under glass, as in high humidity. A better approach, if the tree is large enough, would be an air layer. Ask your friend to describe the process, it will yield you a much nicer specimen in a much shorter time frame.
My friend also tells me that deciduous are not generally for beginners.
I'm not sure I agree with this, degree of difficulty is more dependent upon species. For instance Beech would be an example of a deciduous species that is challenging while Zelkova is not nearly so particular. Similarly to imply that Evergreens are easy is also somewhat misleading. Junipers are pretty easy but to train a Pine properly requires an entirely different approach that would be daunting to most beginners.

Norm
Last edited by Gnome on Wed Nov 26, 2008 7:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

krazykikikat
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How cold will it get in your location? I ask because at lower temperatures some protection may be advisable, but still never indoors.
It is projected to get down to the single digit negatives next month, lows, and 30s/40s high. I am apparently in Zone 7, if the plant hardiness zones are what you go by....


Another random question... is it possible to keep a bonsai in a terrarium? For example, trees that are not considered indoor species, would a well-lit terrarium be an exception?
I don't know much about them though. If you did attempt this, would you have to keep the whole thing covered so often that you wouldn't have time to work on your bonsai?

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krazykikikat,

OK I just saw this:
EDIT: I also repotted it... I don't know if I was supposed to or not. The roots are almost exposed. Won't putting it outside cause damage?
You seem to be falling prey to the 'I must do everything at once' mentality. Remember bonsai is as much a journey as a destination and rushing things often ends badly. Do your research first then act.

Most sources suggest re-potting this species in mid spring or even early summer and this is when I did mine (I only have one so far). All may not be lost however, read [url=https://www.evergreengardenworks.com/fallpot.htm]this.[/url]
The roots are almost exposed. Won't putting it outside cause damage?
Now that you have disturbed the roots at this time of year some additional protection may be in order. In the article I linked to Brent suggests not allowing temperatures to get much below freezing for recently re-potted material. I often suggest an unheated garage for overwintering. And before you ask even evergreens do not need much light at temperatures near or below freezing. If you take this approach you will need to check periodically for moisture levels, it will need watered over the winter just not too often.

Norm

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krazykikikat,
It is projected to get down to the single digit negatives next month, lows
See my comments in my previous post.
I am apparently in Zone 7, if the plant hardiness zones are what you go by.
Consider a tree in a pot less hardy by one zone. In this case, recently re-potted, I would be even more conservative yet. Try not to let it get much below freezing this year.
is it possible to keep a bonsai in a terrarium?
Yes, species appropriate.
For example, trees that are not considered indoor species, would a well-lit terrarium be an exception?
No, temperate species require a dormancy period.

Norm

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Okay, I read the article...
So how exactly do I protect it from the cold? Putting it in the garage like you suggested sounds good... but again, it is unheated. For those colder days, should I perhaps turn on a space heater? The garage is large, so the whole thing certainly doesn't get comfortably (for humans) warm with just a space heater. Should I put a thermometer in there to monitor the temperature, and try to control it with the heater when necessary? Is 28F a good temperature, like it says in the article?

I suppose now is the time to confess, although you have probably already figured it out... I have a brown thumb. I always manage to kill things. But I figured with enough research and help from my horticulture friend, I could do this... I think I'll buy a couple bonsai books now.

Oh... and I also pruned it rather a lot. Down to the three or four main branches desired for the bonsai... I'm getting an inkling that that wasn't a wise idea either. Have I killed the poor thing? :?

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krazykikikat,
Putting it in the garage like you suggested sounds good... but again, it is unheated.
That is what you want, some level of protection but not really warm at all. I keep an inexpensive digital thermometer that records the low and high temperature until it is reset. During really cold weather I check it daily to get an idea of how low it gets.

My garage abuts the house but is not connected with door. There is no heat at all and my temperatures don't fall below freezing by much or for very long unless we get a really cold stretch that lasts a while. Is your garage part of your home or a freestanding structure? If the former is the case my bet is that you will have no problem. If the latter you could get a cheap Styrofoam cooler and surround the pot with mulch or even packing peanuts to moderate temperature swings.

Remember Junipers are acclimated to this type of environment, if you had not done all of this work out of season none of this would be an issue. It won't be so bad next year. The tree will have settled in to its new pot and you will have a winter under your belt and you won't feel so much like a new mother. :wink:

Norm

krazykikikat
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Okay, thanks.

Another question though... I've heard that the worst thing for a bonsai is overwatering. Well just about every day, the soil around the root ball looks a bit dry, so I mist it a bit. Is this okay? Should I pile up more soil around it to make it stay moist longer?

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krazykikikat,
Well just about every day, the soil around the root ball looks a bit dry, so I mist it a bit. Is this okay?
No, the reason the soil is drying daily is because you are only 'misting it a bit'. Misting is not a substitute for actually watering your tree. By misting like this you are never actually wetting the soil thoroughly so it dries out much sooner than if it were watered properly.

Read the sticky thread about general growing tips for a description of watering. In a nutshell, always water thoroughly, to the point of saturation then do not water again until the tree requires it, never on a schedule. Even in the winter you should follow this pattern it will just take longer before you need to water again.

You mentioned that you have already re-potted but you have not described the type of soil you used. Junipers dislike being in heavy, water retentive soil. Mine is happy in an almost completely, as in 95%, inorganic mix, no peat, no potting soil, just a little bark. Hopefully you and your friend researched bonsai soils before you jumped into this.


Norm

krazykikikat
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I just got the cheapest soil there was... it has some food in it.
I'm having a lot of trouble cutting unwanted branches flush to the trunk. I may need to get some specialized tools... which would you recommend as must-haves?

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Wow - you need to slow it down, LOL. There should not be *any* pruning at this time of year of evergreens. Except for a few 'special' species, but in general, no pruning early winter ;-)

And just to toss this in: dormancy is most strongly influenced by the shortening of daylight length, with lowering temps only playing a small role. The fridge bit is very tricky to do properly as you *must* provide gradually shorter days so the chemicals the tree has within can do their adjustments and put the tissue(s) into 'sleep', so to speak. Much more than just setting it into fridge, fwiw.

I highly recommend reading (and understanding it) all or most of this URL -> www.evergreengardenworks.com/articles.htm Learn how the 'auxins' influence regrowths after pruning, plus how proper soil (loose, gritty, and free-draining, per se) makes all the difference, etc, etc, etc...

There's a LOT to learn, and answering a question at a time will take months, trust me, LOL. At this point, hunker down and read - then ask what isn't understood. Patience now will reward you (and trees) with better results later (promise you that!)

*Never* use store-bought cheapo soil (like 'potting soil'); the reading I said above will explain why in great detail for you :-) Also, do not use the 'already-fertilized soil' as you should be in control of ferts, not soil, LOL. Some cactus soils are OK to use as a part of a soil-mix, but its best to look at them as a second-choice material. Better (and often cheaper) stuff is easily found, IME.

I did not read all of this thread, so if I missed something or such, oops ;-)

HTH,
Alex

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Well, are there deciduous that can be pruned in winter?
I bought a book, and read it... but there are still so many little things unanswered.
I know that growing a bonsai takes patience, I'm just eager to get started.

And when you say no pruning in winter... does that mean that I should have just left it as a normal juniper, or not even have bought it at all? I really have to wait till spring to do anything to it?

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krazykikikat,

does that mean that I should have just left it as a normal juniper, or not even have bought it at all?
Purchasing it was not the problem. The issue is the injudicious timing of your actions. You are trying to do too much too soon at the wrong time of year.
I really have to wait till spring to do anything to it?
You've already re-potted and pruned it at an awkward time of year what else would you like to do? If you intend to work with temperate species you need to spend the rest of the winter doing research.

You have not answered my question regarding the quality of your soil.

Norm

krazykikikat
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Gnome wrote:krazykikikat,

does that mean that I should have just left it as a normal juniper, or not even have bought it at all?
Purchasing it was not the problem. The issue is the injudicious timing of your actions. You are trying to do too much too soon at the wrong time of year.
I really have to wait till spring to do anything to it?
You've already re-potted and pruned it at an awkward time of year what else would you like to do? If you intend to work with temperate species you need to spend the rest of the winter doing research.

You have not answered my question regarding the quality of your soil.

Norm
I meant, should I have waited until spring to do anything with it, and if that was the case, might I just as well have bought it then?

The soil has peat moss, perlite, fertilizer, and a "moistening agent"... Sounds exactly wrong, doesn't it? My horticulture friend picked it out, I trusted he knew what he was doing...
Won't be making that mistake again.

So should I leave it in this soil, or uproot it again and put it in something better? And what should I look for in bonsai soil?

Anyway, I was wondering if there are plants that are safe to work on now, in the winter. I know I sound impatient... and honestly I am, but at least I'm researching now before I damage anything else. I would like to work on multiple bonsai at once.

I have what looks like a cotoneaster, though I can't be sure, in my front yard, and two Japanese maples and a crabapple in my back yard. Is there anything I could do with those now?

Also... is there a good resource for identifying trees/shrubs? I compared the picture in my bonsai book to the shrub I have, and it's similar.. but I really can't tell if its a cotoneaster. The berries are more of an elliptical shape, and aren't clumped together as much, and the branches have sharp little thorns. Just trying to figure out what it is..

Sorry for asking so many questions. I've read a lot online and in my book but I still have so many.

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krazykikikat,
I meant, should I have waited until spring to do anything with it, and if that was the case, might I just as well have bought it then?
Yes and yes. It is the wrong time of year to do much of anything with temperates species but that's water under the dam now.
The soil has peat moss, perlite, fertilizer, and a "moistening agent"... Sounds exactly wrong, doesn't it? My horticulture friend picked it out, I trusted he knew what he was doing...
Won't be making that mistake again.
I avoid peat moss. It is too finely textured for my liking and difficult to wet, I assume the moistening agent is used to overcome this quality. Once wet peat, retains water for too long. In some climates, with some species coarse peat (sphagnum Peat?) might be appropriate. It's not for me in my climate and I have real doubts about using it for a Juniper anywhere.

Some growers do use slow release fertilizer in their soils but most probably would say they prefer to be in charge of fertilization themselves. Perlite is a decent component although some dislike its looks and the fact that it can float is annoying. I use Perlite as a component when I have a bunch of seedlings to re-pot and don't want to use 'premium' components.
So should I leave it in this soil, or uproot it again and put it in something better? And what should I look for in bonsai soil?
Leave it for now, you've done too much recently. This is a much debated and sometimes confusing subject, I can't possible condense it into a few paragraphs. Read this and do make sure to follow the links.

https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3422
Anyway, I was wondering if there are plants that are safe to work on now, in the winter. I know I sound impatient... and honestly I am, but at least I'm researching now before I damage anything else.
As noted earlier, tropicals are plants that can be grown indoors, although some tropicals are best re-potted during summer. Look into this book.
'Bonsai in your home' by Paul Lesniewicz. ISBN 0-8069-0781-9
I have what looks like a cotoneaster, though I can't be sure, in my front yard, and two Japanese maples and a crabapple in my back yard. Is there anything I could do with those now?/quote] These three species are all used in bonsai but once again this is the wrong season to do work on temperate species. Spend the coming months doing research.

https://www.evergreengardenworks.com/articles.htm
https://www.bonsai4me.com/Basics.html
https://www.bonsai4me.com/SpeciesGuide/SpeciesIntro.html

Norm

EDIT: Something to give a little inspiration.

https://www.dallasbonsai.com/bonsai_tree_care_TomM_JuniperProcumbens1.html

krazykikikat
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Okay, thanks.
And the peat is sphagnum, and it is a somewhat desert-y area... would that be okay then?

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krazykikikat,
it is a somewhat desert-y area... would that be okay then?
Some growers in some climates use some peat for some species. If it sounds like I am being noncommittal, I am. Everybody's climate is different for one thing. Juniper is not a species that needs peat in most climates and since I have no direct knowledge of yours I am unsure. But if I were to guess I would suspect that a commercial potting mix will be far too heavy in peat. A bonsai grower would only use coarse peat as a component of their mix. Regardless, don't fool with it now.

Norm

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