Needle Juniper Restyling-

This tree is too tall. And the branches are a bit leggy, too.

One of the problems we get into in bonsai design is that with time and growth, height and branch length can begin pulling us away from the trunk. Literally destroying the design, making it weaker. And this tree has a nice trunk, which is a good enough reason to consider redesigning it, to compact the design.

It’s also got another possibility—it currently flows to the right. There’s nothing wrong with the right flow, but I was thinking a tighter design would be going left, even if for the time being we’ll lose some of the density, interest, and development in the branching. So for the short term, it won’t look as good… But the right branch looks young, which is yet another reason to stay away from using it as a key branch, indicating flow.

Given that thinking—and willing to be patient for a few years of re-growth for the design to recrystalize—we redesigned this tree this week.

It’s a Needle Juniper, Juniperus rigida, which we don’t see much outside of Japan. The summer trimming is over, when the long extensions are cut. Working on needle juniper will make the expressive among us let out periodic yelps, as it has the most dastardly stiff, pointy needles of any conifer. It is nice having apprentices.


Needle Juniper before redesigning. Curiously, this looks a lot to me like old work in Japan and the United States, with long leggy branches and apexes that seem much too tall. The nice things about such work is the involvement in the branching and padding, which is often pleasing. The bad thing is we tend to ignore the branch’s relationship with the trunk, because we’re so engaged with the foliage…


Step one…shortening the crown.


Branches cut off the top.


Reworking crown area.


Tree with shortened crown. A small jin remains up there.


Step two, reconsidering the flow. The key branch on the right will be removed.


Branches cut off the right side to shorten the key branch, and make it a balance branch.


Final redesign. It will take a few years to crystalize the form, especially the density of the crown and the length to the bottom branches. The main thing in its favor currently is that it’s now a more compact design, refocusing on the trunk. It should be good for about another 10 years before it might need another trip to the shop, to lift the hood and see what could use tinkering.


  1. Randi Heise says:

    Absolutely prefer the shortened and reworked tree. As expected, great work in reestablishing the balance of the tree.



  2. Michael Cole says:

    you inspire my confidence.
    I have several trees with similar “branch length” issues. Would you mind if I copy your technique?
    Thanks, Mike

  3. john says:

    This restyle turned out great. It’s only going to get better with time as it fills out a bit.

  4. tangobunny says:

    Michael-Love this post–Now having my own wee bonsai is a big bucket list item! LOVED our dances at the gazebo—you are a wonderful dancer!Always look forward to sharing the floor and the music w/u.Back in October–hanging in the Palm Springs desert!Hugs,BunnyDate: Fri, 29 Jul 2016 14:50:45 +0000 To:

  5. I didn’t see the problem until you corrected it. Nice.

  6. Ronald Scarborough says:

    Love it!!

  7. crust says:

    Thank you for sharing these episodes of design maintenance/evolution with trees like this–as a practitioner in a faraway void those with lucid voices are my connection.

  8. carterbeall says:

    I liked the tree to start with, but the redesign really did offer a lot of improvement. I am curious about client involvement with things like this. From what I understand, in Japan clients put their trust entirely in the expertise of the professional, and if their tree comes back with no branches, they are ok with it. I know in the US clients are often the ones to style their trees and only take them to professional for a critique that only occurs with the owner’s approval of the changes often. How does this go for you?

    • crataegus says:

      Ha! Well, I’m not sure they’d be totally ok with no branches but they might save their mumbling until they got home…

      There is much more of this kind of relationship in Japan than in the West, although it is growing here. Of course there are plenty of people who prefer to do it themselves, and there are quite a few clubs in Japan that serve that same interest group.

      For me, I serve both ends of the spectrum, I do some critique if desired, and then I have a cadre of clients that trust me to work on their trees. This was one of them. I do enough of this work that it’s an appreciable part of my income, as it is for other American artists. So, I think this part of the community has been steadily growing for a few decades. I’m a comparative newcomer to the professional ranks, returning to start up in 2006.

      But to answer a bit more fully, the client is usually consulted when a major reworking is done, or a major branch is removed. If you can sell the idea to the client, if it seems jazzier, then you go ahead. If not, we just maintain the tree as it is. Sometimes that’s best. But it can be a springboard for a conversation that might not have even been in one’s mind a couple years before. With time, trees change enough that other possibilities arise.

  9. Miguel says:

    Would it need a slightly shorter pot for display now?

    • crataegus says:

      Yes, for display a smaller pot would be best. For now the size of the pot is not bad as it needs the umph of the larger soil mass to regrow and fill out.

Leave a Reply to john Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: