Practical Juniper

© Budi Setiawan - Fotolia.comClose your eyes and picture a typical Bonsai tree. You are probably visualizing a Juniper Bonsai. Juniper is one of the most popular Bonsai because it is very easy to grow and care for. Juniper Bonsai does very well both indoors and outdoors. In addition, it is a very forgiving plant as it will put up with a lot of abuse and still flourish.


Juniper Bonsai will do best in partial shade. They will do fine if they get morning or late afternoon sun but keep them out the harsh mid-day light


Juniper Bonsai love humid conditions. Place your Juniper plant over a tray filled with water. Do not place the Juniper directly in the water but on a plant stand or pedestal placed in the water. For a “zen” look place smooth stones in the water.


Juniper Bonsai do need to be watered regularly. You want to test your soil daily. Simply stick your finger into the soil up to your first knuckle. If the soil is dry it is time to water. Usually this will be every 2 days or so. Do not use water that has been treated with a water softener. If your water is high in minerals leach the soil by flushing with distilled water once in a while.

There are 2 ways to water your Juniper. Immerse it in a water filled container up to the trunk and keep there until the bubbles stop. Or, water normally, wait a few minutes and then repeat. Do this 3 times to make sure your Bonsai has received a good soaking.


Juniper Bonsai are quite hungry little guys and need to fertilized every 2 weeks during the growth season. It is best to use an organic liquid fertilizer like seaweed or fish emulsion. There are chemical fertilizers available for Bonsai but read the directions carefully. You may need to dilute this fertilizer to prevent the roots and plant foliage from burning.


Spider mites love Juniper Bonsai. This is especially true if your Bonsai is indoors due to the dry air. Spray your Bonsai and any other surrounding plants with a regular insecticide monthly.


Repot your Juniper every few years when your tree is under 5 years old and ever 4 years or so after that age. The best time to repot is in the spring although fall is also acceptable. Repotting can shock your Bonsai so water well and keep the tree in the shade for 2 weeks.

Pruning Roots

It is best to prune your roots every other spring. Simply remove the tree from its pot. Gently remove the soil and spread out the rootball. I use a chopstick to smooth out the rootball on my younger Bonsai. Trim about 1/3rd of the roots and return to the pot. When you perform this step your Bonsai might go into shock at first. You can purchase some vitamin b-1 transplant shock solution and apply to you plant. Misting a few times a day for a couple of weeks will also help.

Pruning your Tree

During the spring buds will grow on the tips of the tree’s branches. These buds will need to be removed so tree limbs do not grow. Unless you actually want a limb to grow in the area of a new bud go ahead and remove them. This will not harm the tree but it will keep the tree shape you have worked so hard to accomplish.

Sleepy Time

Bonsai need to go through a dormant or sleep period where the temperature drops to at least 60 degrees F. If your tree is kept outside during this dormant time keep it well protected from the elements. Do not worry about freezing temperatures. Your Bonsai will survive.

Growing Indoors

Junipers can be grown indoors. Be sure they get at least 2 hours of sunlight a day. Usually indoor climates are very dry and Juniper Bonsai love humidity. Keep a humidity tray under your Bonsai and mist everyday. Do not place your plant near air conditioning or heating vents. You will also want to dust your tree regularly as indoor dirt and grim will clog up the pores of the your plant.


As you can see Juniper Bonsai are fairly easy to care for. However don’t just follow the above steps and believe you will have a perfect Juniper. Pay attention to your plant. You may find to achieve perfection you need to water less or expose your tree to more sunlight. Like you and your friends and family, every tree is different and responds in different ways to love and nurturing.

Did you know there are over 300 varieties of Bonsai to choose from? I’ve narrowed down my favorites to 15. Check out my Bonsai Tree Gallery and growing video collection to learn more about this fascinating hobby!

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Bonsai and the Chinese Penjing

bonsai-gardenWhile many are aware of the art of Japanese bonsai, very few realize that bonsai originated in China where it was called penjing. Penjing has three different forms. One of these forms is tree penjing, and this is where bonsai began. Another form is landscape penjing, which uses rocks instead of trees. Water and land penjing blends the other two into a third form, styling miniature trees in beautiful, natural-looking landscapes.

It is said that penjing originated in the 1st century AD. Taoist mystics would recreate areas thought to be high in energy to concentrate the focus of that energy. Very little proof, however, exists to conclusively prove these stories. Verified written descriptions of penjing have only been found dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). These writings describe the craft in such detail that it is apparent penjing was developed much early, but the exact time and place is unknown.

The art of penjing was adopted by Chan Buddhists. Just as bonsai originated from penjing, the Japanese Zen Buddhism originated from Chan. The first penjing trees were twisted and knotted, not of use for any other purpose. Over the years, the Chan Buddhists found new wild specimens, naturally dwarfed, that were further styled through horticultural techniques.

The earliest known miniature landscape in Japan was from 1309, although evidence suggests that Japanese Buddhist students brought penjing souvenirs back home with them from China as far back as the 6th century. By the year 1309, Zen Buddhists had already developed penjing with Japanese-inspired landscapes. This was the beginning of bonsai.

Westerners were also introduced to penjing much earlier than bonsai. The first examples of penjing to reach Western eyes were in 1637. It would not be until much later when penjing became more rigidly classified and popularized as a hobby for common people. In fact, modern penjing was very rare in the United States until Qingquan “Brook” Zhou published his book Penjing: Worlds of Wonderment in the 1970s. Zhao’s penjing was inspired by the famous gardens of Yangzhou, where Zhou was born. Since, then, thousands of students have learned the art of penjing from Zhou’s teachings.

Qingquan “Brook” Zhou:

Born and raised in Yangzhou, China’s ancient center of learning and the arts situated at the confluence of the Grand Canal and the Yangtze River, Qingquan Zhao grew up in an environment where the penjing tradition was very much alive. At a young age, Zhao became intrigued by the miniature trees and landscapes in his father’s and grandfather’s collections. He is a third-generation bonsai and penjing artist.

The Crape Myrtle

crape-myrtleCrape Myrtles are a popular choice for gardeners because of their low maintenance, beautiful colors and extremely long bloom season, lasting nearly three and a half months.

Crape Myrtles are most popular in the south, gaining the nickname the lilac of the south, but are enjoyed by gardeners across the country. Their scientific term, Lagerstroemia, was coined in 1759 in order to honor Magnus von Lagerstroem, an avid naturalist. The common name in America, Crape Myrtle, is derived from the crape-like appearance of the flower and the resemblance of the foliage to the real myrtle, Myrtus Communis. This week we are featuring a hardy Crape Myrtle tree with incredible huge ruby red blooms without even a hint of pink- ‘Dynamite’ – – the truest red of any Crape Myrtle tree.

Developed by Oaklahoma’s Dr. Carl Whitcomb in 1998, ‘Dynamite’ produces abundant clusters of absolutely spectacular deep red flowers from crimson buds they will enliven your garden from mid summer until autumn. The blooms can reach 15 inches long and of course have the crape paper look that we love.

The foliage starts as a deep burgundy in the spring and changes into a dark green by the end of summer. The leaves are very large, semi-glossy very thick and mildew resistant. In the fall the foliage turns from orange to red. ‘Dynamite’ exfoliates it’s old gray bark to reveal the new light brown smooth bark underneath. Plant as a specimen tree; prune into a large multi-stemmed shrub, or plant several in a row to create a unique privacy hedge.

Planting and Care

‘Dynamite’ has a very expansive and upright growth habit and matures to a height of 20 feet. It prefers to be placed in full sun with well-drained soil and good air circulation. Dynamite requires little maintenance and does best when it is not pruned. It is also drought, disease and insect resistant once it is established.

  • Plant 15 feet apart in well-drained soil.
  • Prefers full sun in an area with good air circulation and good soil drainage.
  • Water regularly until established.
  • Hardy in Zones 6-9 (protect the first winter in Zone 6).
  • Fertilize with Plant-Tone and Kelp Meal in early spring.
  • When necessary, prune in spring just as the new leaves emerge

The apple pie of shrubs

dwarf korean lilac
dwarf korean lilac

When you choose a lilac you are planting a shrub that is part of our American heritage – some have even called the lilac the “apple pie of shrubs.” Thomas Jefferson planted lilacs at Monticello and lilacs greeted guests as they entered George Washington’s flower garden at Mount Vernon. Poet Walt Whitman’s elegy to Abraham Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” evokes an image of a lilac bush that may be familiar to many:

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle – and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break

French and Dutch colonist first introduced lilacs to the United States, carrying them during their long journeys across the Atlantic Ocean. Lilacs soon found themselves all over North America, arriving by saddlebags and coach. Today there are over 2,000 named varieties of lilacs thanks to many industrious and passionate breeders all over the world. Our feature plant this week is the Dwarf Korean Lilac – the most useful of all the lilacs, and Alan’s favorite of all the shrubs we grow. It is easy to grow and maintain, making a beautiful and welcome addition to your garden.

The Dwarf Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri Pablibin)
The Dwarf Korean Lilacs’ parent, the Syringa meyeri, is named after Frank Meyer who discovered it in a garden in Beijing, China in 1909 and sent cuttings home to the United States. Many lilacs are offspring of the Syringa meyeri, but the palabin Dwarf Korean Lilac is the smallest and most delightful. The clean, dark green foliage provides the perfect backdrop for the exquisite powerfully fragrant, lavender pink florets that will cover the dense bush from head to toe. Expect it to bloom in May-June, with lighter rebloom in later summer and fall, extending the season and allowing you to enjoy its beauty and fragrance twice during the year. Foliage turns bright yellow in autumn.

Unlike other common lilacs, the Dwarf Korean Lilac blooms profusely at an early age and is not susceptible to powdery mildew. Expect it to grow four to five feet high and wide, the perfect size for a perennial border, foundation planting or shrub border foreground. No matter where the Dwarf Korean Lilac is planted in your garden, it is sure to be a standout year after year.

Planting and Care

The Dwarf Korean Lilac is one tough plant, a real survivor. Over ten years ago we planted some in wooden planter boxes that were fabricated over a black top parking lot in full sun. These planter boxes never get any supplemental water, only what mother nature provides. Every year the lilacs bloom profusely, hold their leaves all summer without browning, rebloom in the fall and never suffer any winter die back. After the drought of 2002, I expected the lilacs to be totally dead. When I drove by in the spring of 2003 they were in full bloom, just as they have been every year.

  • For best results, plant in early spring.
  • Lilacs require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Plant in good, well-drained soil.
  • Water regularly until established and during the summer.
  • Prune old blooms away immediately after flowering to encourage more blossoms.
  • Fertilize with Bulb-Tone at planting and again in the spring.

Origami, a meditative art

origami-flowerOrigami come from the root ori, meaning folding and kami, meaning paper. It is a 1700 Japanese folk art of folding a traditional square piece of origami paper into an intricate sculpture. The most popular and well-known form is the crane. Customarily the paper cannot be cut or glued for it to be considered true origami.

There is not much evidence to trace origami back to early China, Germany or Spain because paper decomposes quickly but it is speculated that origami may have begun as early in those countries as it did in Japan. There is evidence that origami may have started in Europe as early as 1440 with small pieces here and there. By the 1600’s origami was being used in Shinto weddings and as a gift exchange between Samurai warriors. Origami has become a more widely spread and popular form of art now and has gained popularity in the recent 1900’s.

There are many different types of origami practices now. Action, Modular, Wet-folding, Pureland and Origami Tessellations. Action origami is origami that moves when it is completed. This is allowed to be the result of inflation, kinetic energy, or perhaps a limp that moves when another part is pressed upon. Modular is a result of putting many identical pieces together to create an ending shape of some sort. Wet-folding is used when making curves rather than sharp folds and angles. Pureland has restrictions such as only one fold at a time and no complex folds are allowed. This helps with inexperienced folders. Last is Origami Tessellations. Tessellations can be made from anything that holds a crease including fabric such as silk.

Meditation is a vital part of many cultures now and origami has made it’s way into the meditative practices. It’s common-knowledge that effective meditation is good for blood pressure, longevity and depression. It can restore energy and ability to cope with everyday difficulties and stresses. Self-awareness can help a person become more at peace as well as offering an escape to the stresses of life. Origami is a way to express yourself in becoming one with the hills and valleys that are created when making folds. It takes focus on the folds rather than on outside stress. It is a very methodical art and requires great precision as fold after fold is made to become something else. Practice will allow your muscles to move without conscious thought as the quiet and the peace seep in. The end product is a beautiful sculpted masterpiece that may very well symbolize yourself when completed.

Origami Bonsai.

Origami Bonsai, is a book created by the Origami artist, Benjamin John Coleman. It is a selection of projects to enable people with the skills to create little wonders of art.

Bonsai Comments Competition

comments_competitionEvery month we will be giving away some great prizes for subscribers to our eZine and readers of the web site.

Monthly Subscribers Competition.

In the April we are giving away for our eZine subscribers the following:

  1. 5 copies of ‘Bonsai 101′ by Harry Tomlinson
  2. 2 copies of ‘Practical Bonsai’ by Ken Norman
  3. 1 copy of the ‘Bonsai School’ by Craig  Cousins
  4. 2 copies of the ‘Damascus Acoustic Meditation‘ CD.

How to enter?

Send me a short story by email on why you love Bonsai, the good and bad habits of your tree, does your favourite tree have a nick name and a picture of your lover, eh tree! The best and most amusing entries will win. (Oh, these will be published in the May eZine and on the web site)

Bonsai Ireland Readers Competition.

So for this we are offering a specially signed copy of one of Craig Cousins Bonsai books.

How to enter?

This is easy, all you have to do is submit as a comment your best Bonsai tips for beginners under the Serissa Bonsai post and the comment with the most votes by the end of April will win. Couldn’t be easier. (You can only vote for yourself once, Sorry!!!)

So get cracking and have fun!!!

April Bonsai Update

favourite_treeThe April newsletter was just sent to all subscribers, aptly named ‘April showers, no snow please’ after the the snow showers we had over the past few days. It should disappear by morn!

In this months newsletter we are offering two competitions, one for members offering a selection of Bonsai books and meditation CD’s from Damascus Acoustic Meditations. For non-members we have a great prize if you are a collector of Bonsai books and that is a specially signed copy of one Craig Cousins Bonsai books. To enter see competition page for more details.

Other news:

A prominent Irish Bonsai collector passed away last September and I have been asked by his family to sell off his collection of over 200 trees. The range of trees is mainly outdoor trees, including a selection of Yamadori. More details to follow in the May newsletter.

Bonsai Activities for April:

Your main focus of activity for April is trimming. As spring has finally started the growth on your Bonsai tree will become elongated and out of form from your preferred design. Trim back the leaf growth and remove unwanted suckers from the base of the tree. The following video will show some pruning techniques as well as showing you how to create a Bonsai from nursery stock.

The subject tree is a Juniper. For more information on Juniper for beginners see the following post.

Bonsai, a balance with nature

Bonsai ZenThe Japanese regard bonsai as a union of very old beliefs and Eastern philosophies regarding harmony between man, his soul and nature.

Much focus and patience is required to carefully prune the roots and branches to prevent unwanted growth. The best bonsai specimens portray nature accurately in miniature form.

It’s important to remember that the goal of bonsai is not to duplicate nature, but instead to communicate its spirit and essence.

Monks began using bonsai for meditative purposes as they tried to join the elements of earth, water and sky. Making bonsai is therefore a Zen Buddhist practice which helps the gardener become closer with nature and more importantly with one’s self. The process is never-ending as the tree requires constant attention in order to flow harmoniously and naturally. With the appropriate love, a well-cared for bonsai can live for hundreds of years.

So what are the main styles for growing bonsai that resemble that balance with nature?

1) Formal upright – this form looks like a human standing upright. It is grown straight with balancing symmetry.

2) Informal upright – this technique is meant to resemble windswept trees that remain upright despite their conditions.

3) Slanting – this shape is similar to dense forest trees that lean toward the light over streams.

4) Cascading – this style reminds the viewer of waterfalls as nature pulls the water down.

5) Semi-cascading – this final method evokes a picture of plants and other vegetation that grow on cliff faces, yet stretch toward the sun.

As you can see, this ancient horticultural art form allows the gardener to become like the creative forces of nature. Through much contemplation and meditation one can produce the mysteries of nature in a living thing which then embodies these quintessential qualities.

Designing Bonsai

mugo pine in cascadeWhen designing bonsai trees you would shape them by trimming the branches or by wiring them into new positions.

You are dealing with living things, and you must be respectful of that. You will kill trees. This is a sad fact of the activity, especially as you start out. Commit yourself to understanding why every tree dies and what can be done to prevent it. Learn from your mistakes and do your best to prevent them in the future.

Every tree is different. Learn to care for a few different types of plants, and grow your collection from there.

How to Begin the Art of Bonsai

Remove the tree from the plastic pot by turning the pot upside down, tapping the bottom, and letting the tree slide out into your hand. The soil should not be too dry, so that the root ball remains intact. Gently scrape away the topsoil around the base of the tree, to expose the lower trunk (about one quarter to one half inch). Try not to break too many surface roots. First thing is to look at the roots of the tree and check to see if it gives the appearance of a strong foundation.

Cut off the bottom third of the soil and roots, and flatten out the remaining root mass. Prepare the bonsai pot by placing a piece of screen over each drainage hole, and pour a layer of potting soil into the bottom of the pot. Place the tree in the pot, pour in the remaining soil, and pack it firmly. Finally, submerge the bonsai, pot and all, in water, up to the base of the trunk, and let it sit in the water for a few minutes.

Interesting Bonsai Visual Effects

In bonsai, the rule of thirds states that the first (lowest and biggest) branch should be at about one third of the total height of the tree. It is the trunk that gives the tree its visual strength, and every effort should be made to have at least the bottom two-thirds of the height clear of branches at the front of the tree.

Next is checking the trunk. The shape of the trunk will basically determine the style you choose. In almost all cases, however, a thick base, which tapers gradually and gently to a thin apex, will make for a nice tree. Which style you prefer will depend on the movement of the trunk.

Look at the branching pattern. The lower branches should be thick while the upper ones should be thin. The branches should be laid out like the spokes of a wheel with some going to the back. This will give the tree depth when you look at it. No two branches should leave the trunk at the same level.

The handlebar effect is unnatural looking and, if left, will cause the trunk to swell at their level causing an ugly bulge in the trunk line. If your tree has such a fault you should, if a deciduous tree, remove one of the branches entirely. Try to avoid having branches spaced evenly down the trunk. Reduce the distance between the branches as you go toward the top of the tree.

Finally examine the plant to see if it is healthy. Be sure not to wire so tightly that you cut into the bark, or so loosely that you do not have support. Minor wire marks can sometimes add interest and show that the tree has been trained, giving branches character after several years. However, major wire marks are very ugly. To hide any marks that look unnatural you can strategically place foliage at intervals in front of the trunk, so that the trunk line is not completely visible.

It may be ten years (or longer) before your plant will actually be a bonsai. Don’t be discouraged by this, but think of it as part of the experience. Perhaps most importantly, understand that when you put a tree in a pot you are committing yourself to the care of that tree. You cannot simply ignore it or it will die. Bonsai is a responsibility as well as a hobby. If you practice it with care and patience, the rewards are tremendous.

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Shisendo, The Poetic Vision of Ichikawa Jozan

Above all else, Ichikawa Jozan was a poet. Perhaps it was his ability to manipulate words into phrases of great meaning that made his creation of Shisendo Temple and Garden in Tokyo possible. The very skills needed to coax words into their necessary order are similar to those used by a gardener when training a branch or a vine to grow a certain way. Both skill sets require a vision of the finished product before they are even begun.

Ichikawa Jozan (1583-1672) first became a samurai and after retirement in 1615 he turned his attention to the arts. He was a devotee of the Chinese classics and after half a lifetime of studying and creating poetry and artwork, in 1641, at the age of 59 Jozan created Shisendo. The gardens sit in what is now northeast Kyoto and are tended by a Zen Buddhist sect, the Sotos.

Shisendo, like its creator, is a blend of poetry and artistic vision. Almost like Jozan guided the eyes of readers down a page of his poetry, he guides visitors to his garden with delectable phrases that hint at what is coming next. One can enter the “Grotto of Small Possessions” and then follow a pathway that leads to the “Ancient Plum Barrier.” The humour is evident in such labels as the “Wasp’s Waist” describing a series of steps that leads to the “Hall of the Poetry Immortals.”

Another clever turn of phrase is the “Pursuit of Art Nest” name given to a tiny room that offers a panoramic view of the garden. Jozan’s humour surfaces again at his naming of a deer-chaser “Archbishop.” A deer-chaser is a piece of bamboo that fills with water and then tips making a clicking noise, which scares grazing deer. In Japanese it is known as a “shikaol.”

Jozan shows his romantic side in the garden as well. His affection and respect for the moon are reflected in garden areas named “Pavilion of the Lingering Moon” and the “Tower of Intoning Poetry at the Moon.” And of course there are the azaleas, pink and white and a complement to the white sand of the upper garden, kept perfectly groomed to resemble a sheet of white paper, ready for the poet and his pen.