Hibari Elm

In late 2016 I purchased a large variegated elm at a steal of a price. Within the thick canopy hid a region of significant inverse taper. Perhaps problematic but I immediately recognized the potential as a layer candidate. As a weaker ulmus parvifolia cultivar you don’t too many of em that has grown this big especially with such dramatic taper.

(missing progression pictures added)

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Can you see it in there?

Here’s a closer shot:

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My best find to date

The large mid trunk bulge was likely produced through many years of pruning at the same node site. You can actually see a few old pruning scars on the trunk. At the time of acquisition it was mid summer in Southern California. Our growing season extends all the way to September giving me more than enough time to begin an air layer.

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Cambium thoroughly removed with concave cutters

A common reason why airlayers fail is due to remaining cambium on the girdle. The brown exterior is the cambium while the immediate layers of wood underneath it is the xylem. When creating a girdle you forcibly prevent sugars in the cambium from returning to the roots. At the same time the wood underneath can still supply water and nutrients to the tree. Sugars and hormones build up at the cut site which over time generate new roots. If you mistakenly leave a strip of cambium the tree will actually heal or “bridge over” preventing the formation of roots. Airlayers always should be started after the leaves flush out and harden and take anywhere from 3 weeks to a year depending on species, age of wood, as well as the size of layer.

I neglected to take full progression shots but my layer medium is chopped spagnum and fine pumice. Chopping the spagnum in very small bits is important. It makes it a lot easier to remove the old spagnum in future repottings.

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Here is the tree in fall. Another desirable feature of the hibari elm is the fall color. I’ve consistently seen the weaker variegated varieties producing nice fall color while their hearty landscape counter parts turn green to brown. It’s possibly the smaller amount of chlorophyll present in the leaves allow fall colors to emerge better.

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The winter image. At this point I have not cut anything back. The more branches and growth I leave on the tree the faster it will grow new roots at the girdle site.

The layer was severed around May if I recall right. It took around 6 months to complete this layer. Another important note is that unless you live in a mild climate like me with no freezes do not layer if it won’t be finished before winter. Freezes will kill the new fleshy roots forcing you start over in the spring.

The tree was transplanted into a pond basket and had several primary branches cut back. It grew very well and was exceeding healthy in the spring.

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Unfortunately this summer I was unable to personally care for my trees when I moved near Chicago for work. From a watering issue, disease, or pest the tree dropped all of its leaves mid summer. Fortunately it rebounded back but I did lose some low primary branches.

I repotted the tree recently and was happy to find a lot of roots. I did some minor cleaning but did minimal pruning.


I screwed the tree to a piece of plywood prior to repotting. This encourages the tree to focus on lateral root growth producing a better nebari. Ideally I would want to clean the roots completely and put them flush against the board but given its weak state I do not want to risk the tree dying. As an older piece of material with high potential to be an excellent tree in the future health is the main concern.


Decent mat of roots. Black regions are actually some dead roots which correspond to the branches that died.


Some of the main trunk has died back but there is plenty enough green for new buds to rebuild lower branches from.


Repotted and rigged to my water system. Underneath the wooden board I used almost entirely 3/8ths lava. On the sides and top I used my standard bonsai mix with a little bark added. My soil is one part lava, one part pumice, and one part diatomaceous earth. I’d like to cut back but the tree is not strong enough. I will allow it to grow relatively unrestricted to rebuild strength before significant work.

Assuming a strong growing season next year I’ll really work the roots and begin building the nebari. There are actually many usable surface roots that in time will build the base of the tree.

On a different note I still have the lower half and will be using it to grow cuttings. Later this year I’ll he selling cuttings from the hibari elm and possibly other nice hard to find varieties. Be on the lookout.

Julian

Root Over Rock Chinese Elm Update

Happy New Years folks. Here’s the last project for the year. It’s a root over rock chinese elm I grown from seed. I thought I’d share more of it’s history before I describe the work I’ve done to it.

The tree began as a doner seedling from a mature elm tree in my neighbors yard. It grew freely for 1-2 years before I decided to dig it out. I gave it an additional season to grow in a pot and doubled the size.

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mother tree
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Identically aged elm but never dug out

It spend the entire growing season in the ground with the roots firmly braced with seram wrap and external anchors. Here is the tree from roughly 1 year ago:

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Neglected to take progression shots, but here is the tree prior to wrapping the roots

I dug it out today, slightly early but mind you chinese elms in Southern California leaf out in late January to early February. For most trees it would be ill advised to do heavy root work and pruning in early winter but given the vigor of elms as well as the mild socal temps I can get away with it. Given it grew freely in the ground it has more than enough stored sugars to recover.

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Leaders cut and some roots removed

I took off all the seram wrap and checked all the roots. I did some reduction and cut off the 4 foot leaders from the trunk. Everything was reanchored with wires tying down any major root to the rock.

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The intended front of the tree. The large root in the front may be split later but for now I’m leaving it alone as it’s one of the main anchor roots
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Union is not too bad but rock can still be pulled off roots
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Grew like gangbusters on the other side. Some reduction done here to expose more of the rock

I organized the roots evening the spread and cut back to where I could get some division or ramification. The nebari will need further refinement over the years but I need to wait until it’s firmly attached to the rock before additional work.

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Repotted, with the roots slightly exposed. Every year I will plant the tree a bit higher showing more of the nebari and rock

My intention with this planting is to have exposed roots hanging off the left side of the stone. Next year this should be achievable and will make for a interesting tree with character. I’ll begin primary branch development this season as well. Hope you enjoy the update and have a great 2018!

Julian

Hinoki Cypress Progression

It’s been a bit overdue for a post so here’s an update on a project I’ve had in the works for a few years. I’ve been busy but more good stuff to come in the future!

Hinoki cypress progression

In 2014 I purchased a young clump Hinoki cypress which at the time had 4 trunks.

This is one of my first trees from my early bonsai career and I lacked a lot of horticultural knowledge to keep the tree healthy and vision to give it direction.

Here was the first, and maybe my first ever styling of a bonsai tree. Some basic branch selection was done and the trunks were spaced using a bamboo stick:

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I soon removed the 4th trunk seen in the photo. At the time due to a lot of misinformed second hand knowledge I was convinced the nursery soil it was in was the bane of the bonsai world and I needed to change it asap. Having sat in a nursery can for perhaps all it’s life the root ball was a block of cement. I opted for a slip pot where I worked the outer roots and planted it in a large container with coarse substrate.

What ensued was a sick and weak tree for the next 2 years. Water, seeking the path of least resistance, freely flowed through the outer rim of new coarse soil while no percolation occurred in the more dense center. The lack of air and fresh water resulted in a weak root system and an equally weak tree. It wasn’t until the roots colonized the outer rim of soil that it began to perk up again.

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4th trunk removed, yellowing foliage
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Health improving by late 2015

During the 2015-2016 growing season I experiment with approach grafting. Hinokis are notorious for their lack of back budding on old wood and all my lower growth was very leggy and unusable.

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Branches selected for approach grafting

I neglected to photograph the approach graft process but overall it was unsuccessful. Some graft unions did merge but I had unsightly bulging branches crossing the trunk. Overall it was poorly executed and did not improve the tree. I decided to remove all grafts and lower branches and building the tree in a new direction.

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Second styling fall 2016

The tree received a rough preliminary styling positioning the trunks and primary branches. I mistakenly cut off one too many branches in the back resulting in one bare spot that I will remedy with grafting. Fortunately it is minor and out of sight.

The tree was repotted during the spring of next year and allowed to grow freely over the next several months. At this time the original block of roots were completely replaced with a new dense root system growing in a coarse inorganic mix (lava, DE, pumice). It grew very well and gained lots of vigor. A second wiring and pruning was done later.

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Summer 2017

Foliage pads will be defined over the next several years and the aforementioned bare spot will be fixed by grafting. Surprisingly over the past 3 and a half years the trunks have began putting on some girth. Since this tree is still very young in it’s development stage I tend to let it grow freely most of the season with only doing refinement work once a year. I’d like to let the trunks thicken more before I really begin stunting the branches through more aggressive work.

Thanks for taking a look and subscribe for future updates!

Have an awesome day!

Julian

Utah Juniper

A few months ago I received a yamadori Utah juniper from my time at the Hidden Gardens. It’s been growing well in the warm Southern California climate with new growth tips showing all over the foliage.

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As a collected tree it’s abundant with character. A sizable hollow is found in the center of the trunk and natural shari lines are present along many branches. The extremely fine growth lines on the deadwood indicate a great age too.

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For all the character this tree has there are still some flaws. As common with many yamadori this tree lacks good branch placement and structure. Most of the foliage sits on leggy branches leading the eye away from the key features of the trunk.

In order to compact the tree and give me more design options, I’ve decided to graft this tree. But rather than grafting the much finer shimpaku or itoigawa foliage I intend to graft the native Utah juniper foliage. The larger and coarse foliage will be slightly out of place on a smaller tree but in turn I’ll get to keep the beautiful icy-blue color which for me is one of the best features of the tree.

In February I will repot the tree to expose buried nebari and will begin approach grafting whips of foliage lower on the trunk.

I do not have a design envisioned for this tree yet but will upload a virt when I do.

Thank for taking a look.

Nandina Bamboo and Summer Update

Last year I dug out an old nandina bamboo from a home undergoing construction. Nandina are seldom seen as bonsai. Trifoliate leaves and small trunks leave little to be desired. Atypical of most nandinas this specimen boasted thick corky bark and a sizable trunk. The reliable display of fall color in a Mediterranean climate SoCal was icing on the cake.

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Earlier in the year I brought the tree to a Will Baddeley workshop seen here. Over the summer the tree has grown extremely well. I thinned out unnecessary shoots only leaving ones to be developed as future primary branching. Branching is difficult to develop on nandinas due to their growth habit and trifoliate leaves.

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New growth is sent out as a stalk with leaf petioles wrapped around it. Internodes can easily run long here so I would not fertilize until growth has hardened. This stalk eventually lignifies and in time looks branch like.

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Trifoliate pattern of new growth

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I’m experimenting with branch development on this tree. My plan is to remove any lateral growth and base shoots and allow the stalks to grow out at least for 1-2 years. Without consistent pruning the tree will not prioritize branch growth and will continue to throw out new foliage near the base of all the shoots.

Before it completely lignifies I will cut it back and new growth should emerge from the petiole stubs. Updates to come in the future so subscribe to see it firsthand.

Interestingly this tree began throwing out a lot of mushrooms on the soil line. This is indicative of good soil and root health. When digging out the tree the root mass had a lot of mycelium so I can only assume these are the fruiting bodies from it. I took some macro photos of them you may find interesting:

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Summer has come to a close and autumn is upon us. I spent most of it by Chicago where I worked at Argonne National Lab. In that span I was afforded many professional opportunities, making great friends at it too. But more than just a job, working there presented me with an invaluable opportunity to reach out to the bonsai community. Living only 4 miles from the Hidden Gardens I commuted there by bike whenever I had the chance. Doing so enabled me to meet Jeff and talk to Owen providing me with insight and a sounding board for my professional bonsai ambitions.

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Hand carved Ben Oki repotting stick, parting gift from Jeff

Planning for the future is daunting and even more so intimidating with an “unconventional” career path in bonsai. I graduate in a year and will finish up my degree at UCR. In this time span I intend to find a foreign apprenticeship I can pursue after graduation. Bonsai means a lot to me. More than anything I just want to find a sustainable way so that I can practice and pursue this art for many years to come.

I will document my efforts on this blog in hopes that I’ll not only garner support but to provide something interesting for you to follow.

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My family cat, Sammy, recently passed away. At the age of 16 he’s been with me for over three quarters of my life. Although you can say he’s just a cat, it feels strange without him around and I miss him very much. It feels as if his passing marks the end of one stage of my life. I will respectfully move on and look ahead to the future.

 

Thanks for reading, Julian.

On a side note I have been getting into photography and now include a gallery section on my blog. Please check it out for high quality photographs.

 

Large Coast Live Oak and Labor Extortion at Kimura Nursery

I was recently offered a spot in a Will Baddeley workshop. Bob informed me that some space was open and in lieu of the workshop fee I could also trade in work. I didn’t have $200, but with the onset of spring break I did have time. With a few trees that could use carving as well as an opportunity to meet more members of the bonsai community I gladly accepted. I spent the last few days working at his nursery doing anything asked of me. If I could sum up the 15 or so hours of work in one word–deweeding.

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In seriousness it was good to spend some time outside and I enjoyed talking to Audrey and Bob. I will be attending the Sunday April 16th workshop and look forward to meeting those there.

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Great weather on the days I came

 

Updated picture, see rest of post for progression!

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Anyhow on to the tree. Winter of 2015 I picked up a large coast live oak from Barry Altshule. I visited his home and was able to get first pick before he brought the trees to that year’s GSBF Convention. It had good character, gnarly deadwood, and decent taper. All in all it looked like an interesting tree and I picked it up.

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As seen in the picture, the whole front of the tree died off at some point. The heath of the tree as purchased wasn’t the best either and lacked a lot of foliage. .This was caused by borers of which were still in the tree! In the successive growing season I had to treat the tree with a systemic as well as physically removing the borers and treating the points of entry. After a year and a half of strong growth I can confidently say that the borers are gone and the tree is healthy.

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Tons of character on the wood. These trees were collected and the slow growth with subsequent weathering produced gorgeous deadwood.

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There was also significant dieback at the top of the tree as seen by the “L” shaped line. Despite the tree’s character and nice deadwood there were many design challenges. For one the tree lacked good primary branching not to mention the awkward transition to the apex as well as random bulges on the back. The tree was fed well to prepare for the major repotting.

Oaks being a semi-evergreen tree hold their leaves year round. This makes repotting difficult and many have reported losing their trees post repot. I was advised to defoliate the tree prior to repotting as to avoid transpiration loss and presumably a weak or dead tree.

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The tree responded well and leafed out 1-2 weeks later. The top chop would be carved and and some preliminary wiring was done. In retrospect I should have cut back the front branch at this time to get better budding closer to the tree. But given that it was weak and had borers I feared the front of the tree dying and losing the bridge of live tissue between the top cut and the main deadwood.

Anyhow here is the tree several months later having pruned unnecessary branching as well as wiring some primary branching in place. As far as cut-backs for oaks the best time is mid-late winter right before the buds start swelling, and right after peak summer temperatures when (at least for coast live oaks) begin a second strong flush.

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Spring 2016

I missed the window to do cut backs on the larger primary branches due to my concerns of dieback. Due to my impatience I cut back the front branch with poor timing. It did throw out one tiny bud, but it was burned up in the heat. Fortunately I was able to get some side primary branching going.

Here is a shot of the branch structure developed at this time:

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Late spring 2016

With several months of strong growth primary branches thickened substantially.

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Summer 2016

From my brief experience, coast live oaks develop SUPER fast in Socal. All the branching in this photo was developed from scratch.

At this point development was done for the year and I fed the tree aggressively to prepare for the big cut-backs to be done

I cut the tree back some time in late January. Just before the tree starts sending up sugars so food would not be allocated to branches that would be thrown away.

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Exposed

A few weeks later

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Fast forward nearly 2 months later it it became a head of green.

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Yes leaves and outer nodes are monstrous, but the node length for the first few pairs are short and usable. I tried out these dried hard balls of composted chicken poo and turns out they had much more nitrogen than I anticipated. Thankfully it was slow release so my initial growth didn’t come out with poor internodal length.

Unfortunately I did not get buds directly on the big branches I cut back. I did however get plenty of buds near it and opted to approach graft branching in place. My top side branch was removed entirely and will allow an adjacent shoot to fill in the space.

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It’s a bit chaotic but I will be allowing the new growth to grow unrestricted until late summer when I do the cut backs. This will help me thicken my primary branches and give strong back budding when I do the cuts.

On the tree I did a total of 3 approach grafts. One in the front and 2 in the back. Unfortunately the front stub is dead but the cambium behind it bridging the gap between the top chop and front deadwood is alive and strong. Meaning graftable.

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Cut is probably too deep

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Few dormant buds on my branch that should wake up after cut backs

Not the cleanest grafts but I have confidence in them. As long the cambium underneath is alive and strong the branch should eventually fuse as it thickens up. Least I’m counting on it.

Here is the finished tree post spring styling. Extensions will be cut back and after a year the basic form of the tree will be set! Hard to believe it has developed this much in under 2 years. It’s hard to see the form with all the leaves but I will post an update when I do my cut back later this year.

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Syringe is for the tree, not me

A quick before and after showcasing the current progress:

Thanks for taking a look and I hope you’ve the read. Feel to leave me any comments. Have a great day! 🙂

 

Here is a more updated picture of the tree from April:

It is healthy and developing well.

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Fall 2017:

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Windswept Kishu Shimpaku

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Before
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After

I acquired a new tree, a kishu shimpaku, from Bob Pressler discussed here. I had wired most of the tree during the recent Bonsai-a-thon but was unable to style it until now.

I’ve had a few major wiring projects this past winter but for the most part have little experience shaping junipers. That said this project proved particularly challenging and took me a fair amount of time to set on a design path and execute it.

My criteria for styling the tree was as follows:

  • Use as much of the tree as possible
  • No grafting
  • Good silhouette and structure not dependent on foliage

In short I wanted the best design possible utilizing the qualities of the tree. With that in mind I had several options. Semi-cascade and windswept were the obvious ones with literati if I wanted to get really creative. Literati required that I have a good trunk line and interesting movement. I’m not the best with virts but they do call me the MS paint master. Here are the main trunks highlighted:

juniper trunk line

For literati I could remove and jin the larger lower trunk utilizing the top one. The trunk line seemed interesting enough but I lacked good branch options. Overall it would be a difficult design to pull off and would entail removing most of the tree. Plan scrapped!

I went back to drawing board. I wanted to do windswept but I was extremely cautious in doing so. Based off images of windswept bonsai and actual tree I found it crucial that the “windswept” quality be conveyed in every part of the tree–from the trunk line, branches, and the foliage.

Here is a nice article with images discussing this point: Bonsai Bark Windswept Critique

I was not confident in pulling it off so ultimately (at that time) I decided to run with semi-cascade. I began wiring out the lowest layer of branching and all looked good. Then I ran into a huge dilemma. Everything in the mid section was extremely leggy. I looked into folding the apex over itself or other hefty bends but new changes constantly led to new compromises. It was looking grim.

I then asked myself how could I utilize these leggy branches in my design? I recalled in many images of windswept trees branches oriented towards the wind would be swept back–not only lending interesting movement, but effectively shortening the branch. Here is an image uploaded by Boon with a juniper I stole from this Bonsai Bark article: http://bonsaibark.com/page/97/

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Image does not belong to me

I decided windswept would be the way to go and went on with the plan. In order to convey this image and to perpetuate the windswept quality throughout the whole tree I wired the tree with an imaginary wind in mind. In reference to images of my trees imagine a wind blowing from right to left. This means that any growth initiating towards the right, up, or down, would be swept back and consequently wired in the opposite direction. I tried to follow this pattern as much as possible throughout the entire tree to create better cohesion.

On a side note, the best times to wire junipers is generally in the winter. Because of the reduced flow of sap, bark is less turgid and constricts around the branch more tightly. Meaning that when wiring the bark is less inclined to split. In the below image the cambium of that branch split a good deal. It may not be necessary but I decided to treat it as a graft and put a little baggy on it to ensure I don’t lose the branch.

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Growth exiting right side is swept under the branch to the left
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Foliage is kept in same orientation throughout the entire tree
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Same idea as in first image

Because the lower large trunk was nearly horizontal I opted for an angle that at least to me, would provide more realistic movement. I used guy wires to maximize my bends on the large trunk while the larger wire and raffia proved sufficient in bringing the top trunk down. All growth on the right side of the tree, although minimal, was removed and jinned. Any super leggy branches were jinned as well and even wired with the same aforementioned movement.

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progress picture

I cleaned up the apex and jinned any excess branching. I still have trouble capturing depth in my pictures and the overlay of branching can create clutter on a flat image. Here are shots of the finished tree in different lighting.

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The back of tree needs to fill in and after more growth I can continue to refine the foliage. The mid section does look a bit chaotic but will look better in successive stages of refinement.

Next year I will begin work on the root ball to accommodate the angle change and maybe a new pot. I’m thinking of adding shari on the backside and should fit well with the windswept design. Here is a rough virt of what I have in mind.

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All in all I am satisfied with the styling but will listen to any suggestions or critique (hopefully not too negative) anyone has to offer. Working on this tree really tested my creativity and gave me lots of practice on styling junipers.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and if you are so inclined, you can subscribe too!

Update: Unfortunately this tree and all my other junipers faced a heavy spider mite infestation when I was working in Chicago over the summer. I am fortunate that branch die back was minimal but I did get some reverting to juvenile foliage.

I hope to do a second refinement in the winter but instead will allow the tree to grow freely for at least 1-2 years to rebuild strength. Health of the tree is always first.