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Styling a Blue Alps Juniper (Juniperus Squamata ‘Blue Alps’)

© Copyright 2012


These junipers have been a favorite of mine ever since seeing bonsai artist Marc Noelanders styled one at Brussel’s Bonsai Rendezvous in May of 2009.  I was truly amazed at his ability to take a stiff, prickly, unruly mess of a nursery stock plant to a rather impressive aged looking bonsai in just 2 hours.  Everyone was so impressed that he was given the same type of tree to style the last 2 Rendezvous as well with the same impressive outcome.  I was rather concerned at the sounds of cracking branches as he was styling each one.  I looked up the winners of the trees, which were raffled off at each Rendezvous and was surprised to learn that they had lost no branches and that the trees were healthy and happy even 2 years after the first one was done.  His insight is amazing!


Now back to the tree I purchased.  I didn’t have my choice of trees because by the time I finally decided to purchase one, there was only one tree left.  It had an impressive 2 inch trunk but had this man made spiral shape.  Still I had to have it, even at $195.00.  It sat on my bench all summer and went into my winter storage hut in November.  I decided to style it for this meeting back in December but did not sell it to the club as I did the other 2 types of junipers which are being styled by Paul Weishaar and David Higgins.  It was hard to come by and I don’t know if I will ever be able to get any more this size.  I was able to purchase 3 much larger Blue Alps Junipers last fall and have a couple of them for sale if you are interested.  Below is the tree as I purchased it.

Rob Pugh and I began working on the tree in my garage on Sunday, January 15th.  The first decision to be made was what side of the tree needed to be the front.  We placed it on a turntable and looked at every angle.  The factors that were considered in making the decision was to looking for a powerful first branch, follow the line of the tree up the trunk to see how the remainder of the branches were going to fit in the design and had to find the apex which was actually growing away from the viewer.  I had do what to do with the apex in order to make it look more appealing to the viewer and make it believable.  After taking all of that into consideration I decided on the side shown in the above photo. 

The first task we performed was to remove the small insignificant branches below the selected first branch on the right side of the tree.  I made sure to cut the branches which were ¼” or larger off long so as to be able to carve them into to jin later on in the process.  We followed the whorl of branches up the trunk and removed any small branches and growth along the way so we could better view the entire trunk of the tree.  This allowed us to decide what other redundant branches had to be removed, again leaving the larger branch stubs long for carving later. The we began carving some of the jin and that led to incorporating some shari.  This should take the viewers eye away from the man made spiral which was so obvious.

Next we concentrated on the apex.  The dilemma I had was that the obvious apex was growing away from the viewer, a no-no in bonsai design.  We began looking for a better branch lower in the top which could be styles into the appropriate direction for the apex.  As soon as we decided on that  branch we began removing the growth from the natural apex and stripping the bark in order to create some really interesting jin which could be even further enhanced by carefully carving to make it more weathered looking and believable.

After removing the bark form the old apex, I moved back to the base of the trunk and began creating a spiral shari incorporating the stubs of the branches that were removed before.    It is important to note here that when styling junipers, up to 70% of the live vein can be removed without harming the tree.  The tree will recover by rerouting the vascular flow of the cambium in order for the tree to survive.  They are amazingly resilient trees, perfect for bonsai. 

After finishing the rough creation of the jin and shari it was time to start the actual styling of the tree.  Rob stayed for the wiring of the first 2 branches so that I could show him exactly what I had planned for the remainder of the branches.  I also made sure that he knew what I was going to do with the new apex.  I stressed to him the importance of anchoring the wire when applying the wire.  This can be done by using one wire to style 2 different branches.  The size of the wire must be decided by judging the rigidity of the branches being styled as well as how far you plan on moving them.  You can test this by using one of the branches removed.  The Blue Alps Juniper is surprisingly flexible and the branches were able to be moved into their desired positions with ease.  For larger more rigid branches 3M Vetrap or raffia should be applied.  I did not have to use it on any part of this tree.  After applying the main wire to bend the branch into the desired position I used smaller gauge wire, approximately ½ the diameter of the branch you are wiring, to style the remainder of the growth, even the smallest growth was wired in this case.  This is called detail wiring.  I Love to wire a tree!  It is like meditation to me.  I lose all sense of time and all of my stress is completely relieved.   

It is important to remember that when preparing to style a branch several factors come into play.  Eliminate all forks, 3 or more branches growing from one point.  Find alternating branches to wire.  You can shorten a branch in 2 ways; cut it or put some movement in it.  All movement should be in the same direction of flow; notice this in the branch pictured below.  To start the pad development in the correct manner, to give the illusion of a heavy old branch, carefully train the branch down and create the pad.  Make the pad of foliage as flat as possible taking care not to cross any branches on the same pad.  Loop the wire at the end under the end of the branch and then bend back to the pain wire in order to secure the end of the branch so that it doesn’t slip off of the wire.  Then train the end of the growth up slightly.  Remove all of the growth under the pads and trim any growth that is too high for the pad.  Use your own judgment when making this decision.  This will allow the entire pad to receive maximum light and will trigger lots of buds on top of the branches to fill out the pads. Also remove any growth from the inside of the curves.  Below is a photo of the detail of one the wired branches. 

I worked my way up the tree wiring the branches from bottom to top.  Some of the branches were in just the right place while others may be redundant.  When deciding what branches need to be removed look at your choices and ensure that they have enough strong growth on that branch to become part of the overall design, then remove the unwanted ones.  When removing the branch you need to make a decision to leave a longer stub for jin or if it is not needed you can totally remove it. 

Another point I wanted to state here is something I learned from Bjorn Bjorholm a couple of years ago.  Some branches may not grow from the tree in exactly the right place.  In that case please remember that it doesn’t matter where the branch originates from the tree, it’s where it ends up.  In other words, if 2 branches originate from the same point on the trunk and you need a back and a left branch, where they end up is the most important part of the overall design of the tree.

After wiring and styling the entire tree, I make sure all of the branches are arranged correctly and the overall silhouette of the tree is a scalene triangle.  Then I started work on carving the jin on the apex and cleaning up the rest of the jin and shari using a wire brush and various bits on my dremel and larger rotary tool.  I carefully carved some spiraling in the deadwood, commonly seen of old junipers in the wild.   When it is dry, in a couple of months, I will treat it with lime sulfur.

After the carving was complete I took a look at the entire tree and made any adjustments necessary to complete the design of the tree.  I adjusted the front, turning it to the right slightly, and soaked the tree.  Important since I let the soil dry out prior to styling so that the branches were more pliable.  After that I photographed the results.  I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.  I will be repotting it during the summer dormancy period or late next winter.  Hope you like it!

Here are photo details of the top jin and of the tree from overhead.  Note that there are branches radiating from the trunk in all directions.  Perfect!


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