As with all nursery trees that are intended to be developed into bonsai, it is necessary to have a rough mental picture of how you intend the tree to appear when it finally becomes 'a bonsai'.
If I wanted a large bonsai with a final height of over 18"-24" I would first need a trunk with a suitably impressive girth. However, despite the luxurious foliage and numerous branches, this tree still only had a 1" trunk (diameter), slightly larger than the thickness of my thumb. Using the rough guide of having a trunk diameter to tree height ratio of 1:6, this tree, despite initial appearances, was only suitable for a bonsai roughly 6" tall.
The options I had were to either plant the tree as it was into the ground for several years, keeping as much foliage as possible to encourage faster trunk thickening and development, or, to opt for a smaller sized, 6"-7" (approx 15cm-17cm) tall tree so that styling work could start immediately.
This is a lesson that we all have to learn when we first start developing our own bonsai. The girth of the trunk must dictate the final height of the bonsai. Trying to develop a 12"/30cm tree from nursery stock with a 1"/2.5cm (or even less) diameter trunk will result in a young-looking bonsai or what is sometimes derogatorily referred to as a 'stick in a pot'. Very often enthusiasts new to bonsai do not realise exactly how big a tree must first grow in order to develop the 3"-4" or more trunk diameter needed for a 24"/60cm tall bonsai.
It is common for Junipers to be styled like upright Pines with a central formal or informal trunk and uniformly placed branches growing neatly up the trunk. I wanted to develop a twisting, wild, gnarled-looking tree with plenty of interest. When one studies beautiful Japanese Juniper bonsai or wild European yamadori (collected trees) it is common for the trunk to have wild, random twists and turns that provide excitement and interest. More importantly, the foliage exists on just 2 or 3 branches. The majority of good quality juniper bonsai do not have a dozen neatly placed branches.
Notice that in the initial work I left plenty of branch stubs, these left me plenty of opportunity to create jin as points of interest on the trunk. Though all were eventually removed, it is important to keep your styling options open by leaving plenty of deadwood to play with in the future.
In an effort to reach my goal of developing a bonsai with a twisting and undulating trunk, the remaining branch was wrapped with raffia (to stop it from splitting and to protect the bark) and wired. The process of bending and adding plenty of twists and turns to the branch (and new trunk-line) was then started. Over the next year as the new trunk continued to grow, more bends or movement were added to the trunk.
As can be seen in the image above, I made more decisions as to which jin (branch stubs) to keep and which to remove and then the tree was planted into the ground.
Why plant the tree into the ground when it already has an established trunk? The tree was planted out for a multitude of reasons.
Firstly, the tree needed time to recover from such heavy work. Secondly, the new trunkline (developed from the one branch that was left) needed to be thickened to create a more natural step in taper from the thicker trunk (note that in the image above, new trunkline is wrapped in raffia and so it is not obvious that some thickening is required). Thirdly, I now needed to develop what would become the branches from what were just thin shoots growing from the new trunkline.
Last of all; one result of removing so much foliage would be that the roots and life-lines (that run the length of the trunk) that supported the branches that have been removed will dieback. Natural shari's (lengths of deadwood on the trunk) will develop as the now-redundant life-lines die. Until the natural shari and remaining life-lines (that will support the remaining branch and foliage) appear on the trunk, it is difficult to accurately style the tree. Again, until the newly redundant roots have died back, it is not easy to select which roots to keep and which to remove in order to get the tree into a much smaller bonsai pot.
And so, after some intensive work through August 2002, the tree was planted into the ground and 'forgotten' about for 18 months. (There is no reason why the tree could not have remained in a pot (ensuring that it is not completely rootbound as nursery trees often are), however, planting the tree into the ground is often just more convenient).
The image above shows the tree with a naturally reduced rootball; the result of the roots made redundant by branch removal falling away as I cleaned the ground soil from the remaining roots. Now it is small enough to fit into a mica training pot without any need to trim the live roots.
I wasn't particularly happy with the top part of the foliage/apex in this image but decided to wait a few months before addressing its problematic appearance.
Note that what had at first (in 2002) been the one branch left on an otherwise bare trunk, has now become a continuation of the trunk itself, and that the entire foliage mass now grows from just one branch that had been but a tiny shoot just 4 years ago.
And the final height of the tree? Just 8"/20cm tall including the upper jins.
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