Creating bonsai from older material, whether collected or nursery grown, can be very rewarding. With age comes character, and with good character we can create compelling bonsai.
Greater age can often mean greater challenges. When with working with relatively young pre-bonsai, we often have plenty of branches to work with and the trunks are supple enough for some amount of bending. With older pre-bonsai, we can expect the lower and interior branches to have died out. On the other hand, the trunks of older trees are often more interesting.
Here’s a procumbens juniper that has been grown as pre-bonsai for more than 15 years.
In contrast with younger juniper bonsai, the interior branches have all died out.
No interior branches
Another sign that this tree is old is that much of the foliage is mature. Procumbens junipers are generally thought to have needle-type foliage. When they age, however, they can develop scale-type foliage. Often both types of foliage will appear on the same tree.
Juvenile foliage on the left, mature foliage on the right
Older pre-bonsai like this juniper require quite a bit of time to develop. When working with older trees, the trunk is the single most important characteristic to consider. Often the shapes and movement will be irregular. This can be a good thing, but it may take some creativity to make the most out of an old trunk with irregular movement.
From the other side
Older pre-bonsai may be good additions to a collection when there’s interest in the following questions:
- Can I bend heavy branches or trunks?
- Can I create deadwood features?
- Can I make plans that span several years?
- Can I graft?
- Can I create branch structure from scratch?
- Do I enjoy projects that require 5-10 years?
Procumbens juniper from the other side
The above tree was recently repotted into bonsai soil and will require up to two years before work can begin. During this time I’ll have ample opportunity to think about how to develop the tree.
How can I cut down on the time required to create a compelling bonsai? More on that next time.
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