Rocky Mountain Juniper
It’s not exactly “show-ready” as we like to say – the tree is only a few years out of the ground and branch pads have yet to be defined. The tree offers, however, a glimpse of how floppy the tree’s foliage can be and plenty of interesting deadwood. Maybe too interesting. The large piece of deadwood on the left looks like something an undiscerning artist found on the ground and affixed to the first tree they dug. It is, however, very naturally connected to the live part of the tree.
Old deadwood – evidence of an older, larger tree
If you look closely, you can easily discern the old deadwood from the new. The deadwood supporting the live part of the tree lacks the deep fissures evident on the big jin. In the photo below, the upper part of the deadwood is light in color with subtle fissures. This wood has been exposed to the elements for a while, but not for as long as the jin on the left. The lower part of the deadwood is darker in color and lacks fissures. This wood has more recently been exposed to the elements.
Older and newer deadwood
A few days before the exhibit, I cleaned the tree’s deadwood with a water gun and then treated it with a mixture of lime sulfur, water and sumi ink. This helped to even out the different tones of deadwood on the tree. A new pot and some bright moss completed the show prep.
Rocky Mountain Juniper deadwood
Why so much effort for a tree that’s not quite ready for display? Interesting deadwood, great age, and curious foliage contributed to the decision. Beyond that, the tree offers a great puzzle for aspiring bonsai stylists. In other words, what improvements can be made to the tree? There are plenty of alternatives. It’s the kind of tree I’d like to walk by in the garden for a while before making up my mind. Although I don’t know what exactly is in store for the tree’s future, I do know it will look quite different the next time I see it in an exhibit.
Bay Island Bonsai held their 13th Annual Exhibit this past weekend at the Lakeside Garden Center in Oakland, CA. The exhibit featured a well developed shimpaku juinper.
Before reading any further, which way do you think the tree points – to the left or to the right?
When setting up exhibits, we often start by identifying trees that point left or right and put these at the ends of each row where they can point toward the center. Cascade and semi-cascade bonsai often end up at the ends of rows as they are strongly directional trees. With the exception of formal upright bonsai, most trees tend to point or lean a bit to the left or the right. When trees point to the left, we tend to place accent or companion plants to the right in the attempt to create balanced compositions.
The apex of the shimpaku pictured above points strongly to the left, as does the first branch on that side of the tree. My inclination was to display the tree on the right and place an accent plant on the left. Daisaku Nomoto, a bonsai professional visiting from Miyazaki, Japan, however, wanted the tree placed on the left. I winced at the suggestion, and appealed to Boon. Boon seconded Nomoto’s opinion. While we stood there discussing the matter, the tree’s owner set the tree on the right. This made sense to me and I liked the resulting display.
Displayed on the right with accent and scroll
At the end of the day, I found myself very curious about the direction of the tree. Maybe if the trunk or branches were arranged differently I could see what Boon and Nomoto saw. The next morning I asked Boon and Nomoto for an explanation. Simply put, they typically find the movement in the lower part of the trunk to be the most important element in the determination of direction. What about the apex or the key branch? Not important, Nomoto replied. It really is all about the lower part of the trunk. Tilting the tree a bit to the right would increase the movement of the lower part of the trunk and move the apex to the right. Growing out the lowest branch on the right could further this movement.
What does the tree look like displayed on the left?
As displayed on the left
Turns out the tree looks good on the left too.
Armed with new knowledge, I found a new way to look at bonsai. Like the Ponderosa pine below, for instance. Surely it points to the right?
No such luck. Nomoto insisted the tree points to the left, just as the owner had displayed it.
You can’t have too many branches on ume – or at least I can’t. Getting ume to ramify has proved difficult for me. I made several grafts this year and fortunately most of them took. See “Ume – cutback and grafting” for details about the grafting process. My job now is to help the scions develop. To do this, I cut back the branches onto which the scions have been grafted.
Ume – before cutback
Ume – after cutback
I’ve left the grafting tape in place to keep the scions secure while they are fusing. If the branches continue to grow well, I’ll remove the tape in fall.
Grafting tape holding scion in place
The following photos show the new scions and the original branches onto which they have been grafted. The new shoots look a lot like the old shoots – why have I bothered? The new shoots bear fragrant white flowers – the old shoots, double pink.
Scion on left, original branches on right
Original branch on the left, healthy scion on the right
While I worked on the ume, I noticed both large and small junipers taking shape. Jeff brought in the big juniper below for a tune up.
Getting the tree into place
A much smaller juniper was showing some real progress. The shari had been added to make the trunk more interesting and the branch pads were developing well, showing off the shimpaku foliage to great effect.
Shari – note how the curves exaggerate the natural flow of the trunk
Branch pad showing good ramification
While I was inspecting the shimpaku, Boon called me over to witnes a sap bubble that formed where a shoot was cut on a black pine. Apparently this happens occasionally on hot days.
I’ve known for some time that a pest preys upon my junipers, but I had yet to see the creatures until yesterday. I poked around a bit and found the following.
I’d seen caterpillars in junipers before – nasty creatures that look like scale foliage and can eat through a tree’s new growth in a single day. These are lazier. They seem to tuck away amongst the foliage and hang out. The signs are subtle – sometimes just a few needles turn brown.
Caterpillar damage on a Western juniper
It didn’t take much to coax the creatures out of their hideouts.
Creeping out into the light
They were particularly insidious in Sierra juniper, fitting perfectly inside single needles.
Caterpillar caught hiding in Sierra juniper foliage
I don’t what kinds of caterpillars these are or the best way to eradicate them. I welcome any suggestions! I checked the trees’ foliage carefully and removed every one I found manually. I then sprayed the trees with a mild pesticide. I’ve found that the best way to manage pests in my yard is to get to the bugs early in the season. I’m a bit late this year – once pests take hold in Spring it can be tough to completely get rid of them. I’ll be checking my trees extra carefully for the next month or so.