Itoigawa Juniper major die back

I have an imported Itoiwawa from Japan. It arrived in Cape Town, South Africa a year ago. Since then primary branches have been dying back. The main trunk sort of branches off midway up the tree and eventually forms the apex region. From that branching off, branch after branch is slowly dying off, starting from the bottom (half way up the trunk). I have checked the roots…all good. Soil is standard 1:1:1 mix and there are no borers under the bark. Any suggestions?

Here’s a picture of the second branch dying back. Notice the yellowing foliage. This was 6 months ago. Currently, the rest of the apex is starting to become yellow and dry. There are also no mites or any other pests visible…

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Here’s a close up of the trunk where die back starts moving upwards branch by branch.

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Do entire branches start dying, or is there a progression from new growth to old, or old to new?

Entire branches sounds like roots to me. There seems to be a lot of water being held directly under the trunk.

Hi Wayne. Thanks for your response. The entire branch starts dying. There is no progression, almost as if the branch has been cut off and left to dry out. It seems as if from that twist in the trunk, sap flow has been cut off as would happen if there were a borer under the bark eating its way around the trunk. There is quite a bit of shari around that section and not much thickening of the remaining living veins moving up. I’m beginning to think that too much shari was created in Japan prior to the sale of the tree, sealing its fate…The tree via natural selection is possibly giving up on that trunk and focusing on the path of least resistance. I removed the tree from its original training container to check the roots then re potted lightly. So minimal rootwork was done directly under the trunk hence the impression of a wet base.

Hi Mark,
Is the rest of the tree in good health? Has the tree been grafted?
I recently tried to introduce a shari onto a juniper and lost 2 branches, one at a time, a few months later, like a timer switch going off. At least I get to incorporate some negative space in the future design!

Hi Andy,
To my knowledge, this tree has not been grafted. Might be possible but there are no signs of graft sites.
The rest of the tree below that “S” bend in the trunk seems to be in good health. If the rest of the apex dies off, which I think is inevitable, I’ll be left with half the height (I would create deadwood from all the remains though). The remaining 4 branches would pose as quite a challenge to design with as they are pretty thick and set low down. Interesting times ahead.
Thanks for your thoughts!


Hi Mark,
At least you will have some cool deadwood.Shame though, looks like a beautiful tree.

You mentioned “as would happen if there were a borer under the bark eating its way around the trunk.” A systemic insecticide would alleviate any worry about borers.

Thanks Wayne… Ryan Neil has suggested that a systemic insecticide would not be effective as this would bypass the section that the borers feed on and be delivered to the foliage instead.
Unless I have totally misinterpreted his session on borers and cleaning the bark on Junipers.

In my humble opinion, that branch is almost better off not being there any way. I think the negative space left will be a blessing in disguise. I realize that’s hard to say without the tree being pruned, but from what I can see, I think it’ll be nice! As far as the culprit, I’d have to say it’s a root related issue. Maybe contact the seller and ask when it was last repotted. On a side note, what exactly did you have to do to import a tree from Japan?

Hi Jesse

I agree regarding the negative space. But it unfortunately does not end there… all the rest of the branches moving all the way up the trunk including the apex is dying.

Regarding the importation, this was done through a local company importing all things relating to bonsai as well as trees.

Oh, I must have missed that. I’d have to then reiterate what some other people have said here and suggest a bottom up inspection for borers. If these branches are all on the same live vein and start from a certain spot moving up. It’s gotta be borers. There’s an in depth video discussing the systematic search and removal of borers in the archive. I’d recommend watching that, and any other available content online to determine if that maybe fits the timeline of events pertaining to your die off. Good luck!

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When trees like junipers get imported from Japan the shock of the change of water conditions do bring some problems. If at all possible only use rain water and if not filter it. Honestly in my experience this has a really positive effect on the health and transition to its new environment. Water quality or lack of it can have a huge impact on the health of all trees.