Conifer - Bonsai Lesson Plan

Informal Upright Style Bonsai
Scientific Name: Juniper Chinensis

Conifers I find are also very rewarding to have in ones Bonsai collection. There is quite a variety available. Examples of these are: Juniper Chinensis, Procumbens Nana, Squamata, Shore Juniper, Juniperus Rigida, just to name a few. Varieties such as Squamata and Procumbens Nana are very easy to style and you can achieve a very pleasing result. They are very easy to shape by means of wiring to change the structure from the original growth of the tree. Also the added treatment of jin or shari can give the appearance of an aged tree. It is very important not to overdo the Jin or Shari on younger trees as this can become detrimental to their health.

Placement and exposure:

The foliage on Squamata and procumbens can vary dramatically depending on placement and situation. In a shaded area or just where they receive morning sun, the foliage is plump and dark in colour to the point of nearly dark blue, depending on your feeding schedule. If placed in a very sunny position the foliage tends to tighten and take on a yellowish colour. An example of this is when you compare two Squamata trees that have been placed in each environment, they look totally different.

Conifers like to have a good free draining soil but to be kept damp all the time. Do not let them dry out as the foliage will change dramatically from a yellowish colour to even brown. If this happens it is very difficult to get the health back. An example of this is I have been working on a Squamata for 3 years and only now is it returning to its original health. Time and patients has been worth the effort to regain this beautiful tree.

Soil recipes used in repotting:

Conifers like to have a good free draining soil, but need to be kept damp at all times. Consequently I find that the best mixture for soil is 1 part Akadama to one part of the Debco bonsai mix. As most conifers have a fibrous root system there is no need to add crushed rock to the mix.


The most efficient method of watering conifers is by immersion. For young trees, place the tree in a large container of water so that the soil level is covered. Leave in until all the bubbles have stopped. This will ensure that there are no air pockets left in the pot or tray, thereby preventing root rot or die back in the root system. This is the most preferred way during the summer months. For larger bonsai that can not be easily lifted, top watering is used using a spray connected to the hose. When you are top watering, saturate the bonsai 2 to 3 times until the water freely drains from the bottom of the pot. This method is quite sufficient for the autumn and winter months.


When repotting in spring add a small amount of pellet fertilizer. This can either consist of Osmocote plus (mineral) or Debco Seaorganic, this is a gentle slow release that will last for nine months. The most beneficial method is liquid feeding, because it is absorbed more rapidly. My recipe is 15 mls.of Maxicrop to 15 mls. of Nitrosol, mixed in 2 litres of water. This being a blend of mineral and organics this supports the root system as well as the foliage. I have had excellent results in using this on Squamata, Procumbens Nana and juniper Sinensis. (Application): The day after watering, feed the bonsai with one cup of the mix mentioned above once a week, the reason for this is that you have even saturation throughout the pot and the feeder roots will absorb it straight away. Start your feeding in September and continue until the last week in March, then normal watering until the following spring which is September. Keep an eye on the budding because lately the season for spring has been changing over a couple of months.


The best time for light pruning foliage is in mid spring or early summer. Although I find that you can work on conifers at any time of the year. Major branch pruning is best done in spring because the wounds heal faster. Always seal the wound with honey. With wiring, I usually do this in late autumn or early winter. The reason for this is the tree has more time to adjust and it is lest stressful for it.


The only pest that I have found on conifers in my area is red spider mite. This is best treated with lime sulphur, a mixture of 50:1 is quite adequate. Spray this on and leave for half-an-hour in the late afternoon and then hose off. Keep in a shaded position. Repeat this the following day and for however long it takes to eradicate the pest. You may need to increase the mixture to 30:1 depending on the intensity of the infestation.

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