Forming part of the Cypress family, Juniper trees are often grown as bonsai as they are both fairly hard to kill and beautiful.
There’s around 70 species in the Juniperus genus, and while you may think that conifers are only found in the cold parts of the world, they range from Central America, Tibet, Pakistan, Africa, and the Arctic.
In their natural form, they can grow as both trees and shrubs, depending on the species, and all are evergreen, providing some much-needed structure and color during the winter months.
They can reach anywhere between 20-40 meters high, depending on the species and the conditions they’re growing in. Of course, if you choose to grow a juniper tree as a bonsai, they won’t get nearly as tall. And honestly, that would be one tricky bonsai to look after!
The tree itself has a number of uses, primarily timber and making gin from the berries. In fact, the name gin comes from the Dutch word for juniper, jenever. Juniper berries themselves are a spice, and have a wide range of culinary uses.
Juniper bonsai trees are perfect for those who are just starting out on their bonsai journey, and those who have had a few types and want something that looks striking.
Having said that, they are suitable for people who have outdoor spaces – even a balcony, as juniper bonsai trees don’t do well indoors.
You can almost treat them like succulents (apart from the watering, which we’ll get to), in that the more you leave them alone, the happier the juniper bonsai will be.
So to learn more about the different types of juniper bonsai trees you can grow yourself, how to care for them, and what kind of maintenance they need, keep reading.
Types of Juniper Bonsai
Largely, juniper trees come in two forms, and these are very easy to tell apart. There are junipers that grow needle-like leaves, and junipers which grow leaves that look like scales.
The more common of the two is the needle-like, and you can find some examples of both below.
Juniperus Chinensis ‘Chinese Juniper’
The size of a Chinese juniper bonsai can widely vary, and you can get minute types or very large types. Areas of deadwood are often bleached white to add to the overall aesthetic of the plant.
Chinese junipers like full sun, and a little respite from the harsh rays during the height of summer. They won’t grow well indoors, and you’ll also need to protect them from the worst of winter.
There is one thing to keep in mind, however. You have to be extremely careful when and how you prune a Chinese juniper bonsai, as they don’t bounce back very easily from over-pruning.
Juniperus Sabina ‘Japanese Savin’
The Japanese Savin is a great choice for a bonsai, and because it’s found in many countries, it can adapt to different climates. The foliage color will vary from place to place.
It’s also an extremely poisonous plant, so it’s not recommended to keep this tree if you have pets or children, even as visitors.
Juniperus Californica ‘California Juniper’
No prizes for guessing the meaning behind the scientific name of this juniper. You can recognize a California juniper by its foliage, which has a gray tint to it, and looks scaly.
It can grow as a shrub or a tree, in altitudes ranging from 2,460-5,250 feet, so you may want to keep this in mind.
Juniperus Chinensis Shimpaku Itoigawa ‘Japanese Shimpaku’
A dwarf type of juniper related to the Chinese juniper, this hardy bonsai has been used in the past as a symbol of status.
It’s one of the most popular juniper trees grown as a bonsai, while it is endangered in the wild due to over collection.
In its native habitat in Japan, it grows in cliff areas which are hard to reach, and still prove dangerous to collect from. You can recognize this juniper by its green leaves, which have a golden tinge.
This type of juniper is extremely show growing, which will take 10 years to reach 3 feet tall, making it suitable for those who don’t want to do a lot of pruning!
Juniperus scopulorum ‘Rocky Mountain Juniper’
One of the most long-lived juniper trees you can get, the rocky mountain juniper can grow to at least 1,500 years old, making this a very attractive type of juniper for a bonsai tree.
This juniper has much darker foliage than others on this list, and while mature leaves have a scaly appearance, new leaves look a little like needles.
It also needs to be in a much drier location than some others on this list.
Juniperus Occidentalis ‘Sierra Juniper’
The Sierra juniper tree or the Western juniper comes from the US, and is commonly found in mountain ranges which have an altitude of around 10,000 feet above sea level.
Like the rocky mountain juniper, the Sierra juniper requires dry soil, and needs hot weather in order to really thrive.
It’s a great choice for a bonsai tree if you live in a hot, dry climate, while still providing you with that beautiful conifer aesthetic.
Juniperus Procumbens ‘Green Mound Juniper’
Another juniper which hails from Japan, the Green Mound juniper is notable for its blue-green needle foliage which grows in a compact form.
Within its natural habitat, it forms as a ground covering shrub, but it will happily grow into bonsai shapes if started early enough.
Like most bonsai trees, this one requires well drained soil, and prefers to be away from large trees or shrubs that could limit its light.
It’s also worth noting that this type of juniper can be invasive, so you’ll have to keep an eye on it to ensure it doesn’t take over your garden, though this shouldn’t be much trouble when it’s grown in a container.
Juniperus Squamata ‘Japanese Needle Juniper’
Also referred to as the Himalayan juniper, this type is perfect for both beginners and hobby bonsai growers, as while it is easy to take care of, it is a very striking juniper.
It grows much quicker than some other types, and it is quite forgiving if you prune it back. The Japanese needle juniper needs a very bright position outside in order to thrive, where it can get at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
The foliage is a lovely deep green, and sometimes has a white stripe along each needle.
How To Make a Juniper Bonsai Tree Thrive
Now, you may have an idea of what kind of juniper bonsai is suitable for where you live, but how on earth do you keep it alive? We have you covered, as everything you need to know is just a scroll away.
How to Grow a Juniper Bonsai Tree
Some people will tell you that you can grow junipers both indoors and outdoors, and while this is true, they are noticeably easier to grow outdoors.
Juniper bonsai trees need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, which can be a little tricky indoors, and more often than not, they need a stable environment which doesn’t change temperature too often.
While that last requirement can be tricky to account for, the best way to do this is to keep them somewhere sheltered. You could place them near a wall, that way they are both protected from frost and wind, and get some residual heat from the house.
You will need to keep an eye on plummeting temperatures, as juniper bonsai trees will wither in extreme conditions. Keeping your bonsai tree near the house will help guard against it, but your tree won’t be completely safe.
Juniper Bonsai Tree Maintenance
Fertilizing a Juniper Bonsai Tree
Like most bonsai trees, juniper trees do benefit from a good fertilizer. This will need to be sparingly, and as little as possible. Once a month is plenty, though you can increase this during its growing season to fortnightly.
As autumn descends, you’ll need to hold off on feeding your bonsai tree. Feed it once a month, and then as winter sets in, not at all.
This allows your juniper bonsai to go into its dormancy phase that it needs, and to feed it during this time will disrupt its growth cycle and can result in the death of the plant.
Pruning and Wiring a Juniper Bonsai Tree
Pruning and wiring a bonsai tree is part science, part art, and that’s what caring for a bonsai tree is all about – the blend of the two. It sounds tricky, but it’s not too difficult.
The good news is that most junipers will tolerate you being fairly aggressive with the pruning shears. But once you cut all the leaves off a juniper branch, it will not grow back.
So only completely cut off the foliage off the branches where you don’t want it to grow again.
Wiring is only necessary if you’ve either grown a juniper from seed, or you’re wanting to shape it into a much bigger tree and need the structure to do so.
If you buy a juvenile or mature juniper bonsai, all that complicated wiring has been done for you.
The best time to wire a new bonsai is during winter, and it needs to be done slowly, gently, and carefully to shape the branches how you want them.
Once you’re sure that the bonsai tree’s branches have grown to the shape you want, you can remove the wire.
How to Repot a Juniper Bonsai Tree
As with most bonsai trees grown from seed, you won’t need to repot your bonsai until it’s at least two years old, when it is robust enough to stand its forever home.
Repotting a bonsai tree should be done every 3 years or so, and in the case of mature bonsai trees, every 2 years.
You should be especially careful when disturbing the roots, as the root ball can be delicate.
You’ll need to trim the root ball back, so it doesn’t stay pot-bound, and repot it in fresh bonsai soil. An organic feed wouldn’t go amiss, either.
When You Should Water Your Juniper Bonsai Tree
Juniper bonsai trees are a lot more forgiving when it comes to watering mistakes. That is, if you forget to water them.
Overwatering a juniper is an easy way to kill them, and as they prefer drying out in between watering, always err on the side of underwatering them.
The best way to tell is to put your finger into the bottom of the soil – that is, from the drainage hole up. If the soil is extremely dry, it’s time to water. If it’s damp, hold off until it dries out.
Juniper bonsai trees are also one of the fair few types that like – and even need – an occasional misting, especially if you grow them indoors, where the air is too dry for them.
Frequently Asked Questions: Juniper Bonsai Tree
Where Can I Buy a Juniper Bonsai Tree?
Juniper bonsai trees are readily available from most plant nurseries, specialist bonsai nurseries, or online. It’s worth looking into exactly which kind of juniper bonsai you want, as you can see from above, some have different habits and growing needs.
Are Juniper Bonsai Trees Vulnerable to Disease?
All plants are unfortunately vulnerable to disease. The best way to cure it is prevention.
If you look after your juniper bonsai and give it the ‘ideal’ growing conditions that it requires – enough light, the right type of soil, not too frequent watering, stable temperatures – your tree won’t be too bothered about the occasional pest.
Largely, healthy plants can withstand most small infestations of pests and disease, but that’s not to say that you should make them fend for themselves. You will need to keep an eye on your bonsai tree, and take note of any sudden changes in its health.
Spider mites, juniper scale, webworms, and juniper aphids are some of the worst pests that junipers can succumb to. There’s always a reason why these things appear – and it’s usually to do with the conditions your tree is kept in.
Too much humidity can cause fungal rust, and overwatering will cause root rot. Prune your plant the wrong way, and some pests will move in.
Sometimes, pests and disease can even be carried in the soil you buy – so always buy from a reputable source.
How Much Sunlight does a Juniper Bonsai Tree Need?
If you are rising to the challenge of keeping a juniper bonsai indoors, you’ll need to place it near a window, where it can get the most sunlight out of every day.
Outside, a juniper bonsai thrives in sunlight, but it will also benefit from some afternoon shade to protect it from the harsher rays of the sun.
How Do You Identify a Juniper Bonsai Tree?
The easiest way to know if a bonsai tree is a juniper is to look at the label. Ha. No, in all seriousness, take a look at the leaves. If they look like needles, or even scales, it’s probably a juniper.
Some juniper bonsai trees also feature deadwood – usually bleached – forming part of the trunk.
As one of the most-loved types of bonsai you can get, the juniper puts on a striking display year-round.
They’re admired not only for their looks, but also for how easy they are to look after, and the sheer range of conditions they can adapt to.
It’s the perfect choice both for beginners and enthusiasts, and you’re sure to enjoy the experience of growing a juniper bonsai.