Experiment Results: Foemina Juniper Maintained as Japanese Needle Juniper
Several years ago I began working with a client who had a Foemina Juniper, Juniperus chinensis ‘Foemina’, of some provenance. The bonsai was created by Shig Miya over 30 years ago from an air layer, and the tree’s only branch was grafted on—a true feat of plant engineering.
At the time we began on this tree, I had little experience with Foemina and its possibilities. From the foliage I sensed that it could be maintained like a Japanese Needle Juniper, Juniperus rigida—the rather infamous prickly, cactusy juniper that elicits dire curses when wiring it. The Foemina had long, vigorous, plentiful shoot growth in the spring, and that is a Needle Juniper characteristic. I’d also yelped a few times working on it. And with that as evidence, for the last six years I’ve maintained the tree as if it were a Japanese Needle Juniper.
The Foemina Juniper in Shig Miya’s original design, 2010.
Foemina Juniper after 6 years of growth and maintenance using Needle Juniper techniques, 2017. We changed the pot, now it’s in an unglazed nakawatari (middle crossing: meaning, from China in the ‘middle’ import years, about 100-200 years ago.)
The training of Japanese Needle Juniper is quite unlike that of scale junipers, such as itoigawa or kishu. For Needle Junipers, the trees are left to run in the spring so that long shoots are everywhere before cutting them off in early summer…all off…down to a few millimeters of the new growth. Carefully orchestrating the cut, one can craft the curved dome of a pad. With this maintenance technique one is able to create very delineated pads with great structure, much like the look of old hinoki and crytomeria pad structure, with the ‘fingers’ of the shoots rising to a dense cap of foliage. Not fast going, a tree of this density can take much of a day’s work, with very sharp scissors in one hand and a tweezer in the other to pull out debris from the inside.
I found the spring shoot extension of Foemina very similar to Japanese Needle Juniper. To develop this Foemina Juniper, I have cut the shoots 1-2 times a year, and only when it showed enough strength to do so.
To see the tree in its original form, try the first article about it: https://crataegus.com/2011/12/14/tar-and-feathering-changing-a-famous-juniper/
A stunning transformation. Congratulations!
Truly like the results of this. Great restraint results in a classically beautiful tree. I would like to know more detail about your needle juniper pruning technique.
Mike, can you show some detail as to where to cut back to on a Foemina? I have two but am new to this juniper and don’t want to screw up the trim. There is so much foliage on the trees that looks like new foliage, I don’t know where to start. Any help much appreciated. Thanks.
Unfortunately that was at a client’s house and I did not take photos of the before tree. I will try to do that next time. You should see, though, where the new growth has started this year. Then you cut back leaving a few needles of the new growth. Often you are cutting back several inches of growth. Hope that helps-
Thanks for the help. I’m trying what I think you recommend on a few branches that I can afford to lose if I am wrong.
This may not work, trying this technique on just part of a tree. The tree may respond by ‘thinking’, ‘Hm, this part got hit, I’m doing well elsewhere, let’s kill off that part.’ Or it might just have a weak response. The technique is based on the idea that if you do it everywhere, the tree has to respond everywhere.
Oops! Guess I will go all the way. Thanks for the learning experience.
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You mentioned that you cut back shoots 1-2 times a year, being the first during early summer. When would be a good time to make that second cut (provided that the tree is healthy)?
First cut in July, second in October. Roughly, depending on where the tree is.