Big Juniper Project: ‘The Fish’: Part III: Finis!

This post is the third (and last!) of our three-day adventure with a Rocky Mountain Juniper. I’ve never done a day-to-day string of posts like this. Did you like it? If so I’ll try it again around the bend.

Well. Bobby and I don’t smell like rotten eggs today, thankfully. After today’s styling the juniper is as finished as it will be for about 8 months when it might be repotted if it’s done well and grown a bit. If it is slower than expected I might wait 1½ years before potting it up in a bonsai container.

The long shoots were retained on this tree to help it recover from the bends which are the most severe it will hopefully ever have to endure as a bonsai. Following this its life will get considerably easier. When I first started yoga my hamstrings hated me…somehow I equate the two. Bonsai is tree yoga. Of course, there is an authentic ‘tree pose’–which is more like a post to be honest, but it’s still called tree.

The box at this inclination will need to be supported by another box (lot of bloody wood going into this project, isn’t there?), so that it could sit with stability for a good chunk of a year in strong winds and all. Not that we have too many of those here, but now and then they do happen. It’s one reason a couple of tall cottonwoods in my backyard had to come down, they were shedding branches all over the yard in wind storms. Good way to destroy years of bonsai development in a few seconds.

After work of this intensity the juniper will spend a couple of weeks out of the wind, in a greenhouse. But it will be in good sun there, and sometime in early September will be put out on the benches again for (hopefully) one of our nice long warm falls here in Portland. It’s all up to the tree at this point. If it looks happy it will soon go out into the sun and wind and rain and stars.

Well, that’s where we’ll leave this juniper. For now at any rate- I’ll likely do a post when this tree is potted up at this new inclination. Hopefully sometime this spring.


The Rocky Mountain Juniper at the start of day three…


Removing weak foliage without growing tips


Wiring commences


Two branches needed significant bends, the one that contains the bulk of the back branches, and the branch that supplies most of the apex area branchlets


Before the apex branch was moved


After positioning the apex branch with a guy wire


Positioning the shoots


Bobby positioning the fish tail…


Roughly finished. The big sawn off stubs to the lower left were left as is because they will be inside the pot in the future, although they might need shortening. And the antennae coming out of the apex should be removed I think, it just looks too spiky. The key branch is a bit low, too. So some adjustments are needed at this stage. Good time to sit back, have a snack, and come back with fresh eyes.


Replacing the box side with screen to be able to water


Deadwood closeup


Final shot after adjustments– Bottom branch to apex: 24″ / 61cm. Bottom branch to top of jin: 38″ / 97cm. We’ll construct a wooden support so it can stay at this angle on the bench. The eventual pot will be tucked under the base with the lower sawed off jins inside the pot, and the top lip of the pot probably a bit above the lowest branch. The tree will have a minor cascading feel. The other side of the tree is also a good front…we may switch it to that someday.

Bobby and I had a lot of fun with this, hope you enjoyed sharing the experience. Cheers-

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  1. Awesome Michael – thanks. Really looking forward to seeing this in a pot. As for the day-by-day action – it’s great!

    • crataegus says:

      Coming from a blogging celebrity, I appreciate the thumbs up on the day to day format. Also, someone mentioned here how much they enjoyed your Black pine work over a period of time. Thanks Jonas!

  2. tmmason10 says:

    Very cool tree. I think all of us would love multiple day progression postings. This is a timely series as I have just gotten my first RMJ.

    • crataegus says:

      First timer to our king of native junipers! Wonderful. Don’t mistake the smell for cat pee… it’s actually the tree. Otherwise they’re delightful.

  3. dangerousbry says:

    Reblogged this on DangerousBry's Blog and commented:
    Yes yes yes….. A Grand Finis to ‘The Fish…

    I’ve even re blogged your three day rig reason, that’s how much I’ve enjoyed your running Post!!!

    Hopefully when it goes into a Bonsai Pot we can see a 360?? 😉
    Thanks again… Bryan

    • crataegus says:

      Yes, we did do some 360 shots but you have to leave something in reserve some some other kind of publication, right? Well. Maybe when the fella gets into a bonsai pot. Glad you’ve enjoyed this— kept me engaged on a couple of different levels, too.

  4. Zack Clayton says:

    Tremendous set of posts. I like the series idea of styling as it really gives us insight into what goes into dealing with a good tree. Example: this set, and Jonas’ three month series of JBP candling.

    • crataegus says:

      Super. I’ll try it again sometime- Sadly I don’t collect much anymore, but I should try to work it in. It’s a lot of fun to go hunting, and makes the maintenance of those trees once they become bonsai sweeter.

  5. Jeremiah Lee says:

    Wow, very impressive! thank you and love the posting format

    • crataegus says:

      Ok, another for this day-to-day, blow-by-blow (don’t like that idea much for bonsai! a bit violent sounding), reporterish form of blogging about bonsai-

  6. Monte says:

    Michael, I’ve been eagerly awaiting another RMJ styling to show up on your blog, thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to see it repotted later, looks like it’ll have a fantastic flare at the base with the deadwood in the pot and the lower right trunk exposed.

    • crataegus says:

      I’m trying to remember how the roots were, it was about 2 1/2 years back that it went in the pot. I think they were pretty good and went to the right, so maybe there will be something interesting to show on the surface of the soil. Hope so~

  7. Andy says:

    Very much enjoy these posts Michael! Thanks for taking the time to share.

  8. Hi micheal
    Luv the format.
    Qualicum Brian

  9. Hi again Michael
    Just picking your brain . You guys in Oregon do your pine grafting in the fall. The weather has changed up here and it has become quite fall like. Nice daytime temps and cool nighttime temps 12 to 13 Celsius .Could it be right to start a little early grafting, or am I a little early. I have never grafted in the fall so some assistance is in order.
    All the best
    Qualicum Brian

    • crataegus says:

      Actually we do pine grafting in either fall or late winter. Both times are good here. For most climates I’d recommend late winter, just before sap flow starts up. It’s most important that the scion is still inactive, that the bud has not started to swell yet. So, if you’ve got some protection for your tree over the winter, a fall graft might work fine. Still, it’s a bit early. I’d try october.

      • Thanks for the info Michael . I do have a safe spot in my garage, unheated , nighttime temp in January about 50″F. Under some lights. I think I will give fall a go. So much to do in early spring.
        Thanks again
        Qualicum Brian

  10. Nancy says:

    It’s September, 2014. How’s “The Fish” doing?

    • crataegus says:

      Beautifully. We had to trim the shoots three times this year. I’ll upload a photo sometime-

      • Nancy says:

        I look forward to seeing the photo. Seeing your work makes my heart beat a little faster…exciting stuff! I love bonsai though have only managed to murder them so far. I’m hoping Santa will bring me a new specimen along with a book on how not to bring about their demise.

  11. seth says:

    WOW…awsome tree! Love the deadwood.

  12. seth says:

    Are you going to write another book? If so contact me at

  13. Brian says:

    Hi Michael
    Brian here. We finally met in Victoria this past fall. My trees for the workshops are come ing along just beautifully. My question is a little off topic but here goes. I have a pile of mountain maples that I started this past spring. I was wondering if I can use them for root grafting onto a trident as long as the colour is close.
    Cheers Brian

    • crataegus says:

      I’ve never tried japanese maple onto trident. The bark though will be quite a bit different if they do take. Still, many inter-genera plants may be grafted so I can see where you’re thinking this way. For me, the bark difference would be a deterrent.

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