Looking for Brutal honesty for a beginner!

Hi all.

My name is Mike and I just joined Mirai Live. First off, I am really digging the Bonsai Mirai Live library and forums. It’s a great resource for a beginner like myself. (Although sometimes it’s difficult to get my head wrapped around the bigger theories and ideas at the stage I’m at!).

I watched the 8 beginner videos that Kendall posted in the beginner forum and I though maybe it was time to put my early education to work and try it out on some inexpensive nursery stock. I found a 5 to 10 year columnar common juniper that had an interesting trunk line, and there wasn’t too much inverse tapering down near the roots ( a little though as I found out later). Imagine a dwarf Lombardy poplar, that’s what the original stock looked like. All branches pointing at extreme up angles.

Before moving to New Zealand I spent some years in Northern California and am very influenced by my memories of the Bay Area trees, Yosemite and Sequoia. I thought I’d give a try styling this first tree like some of the older Douglas fir type trees that live in my tree memories. (Informal upright)

It was my first time cleaning, choosing a front, pruning and wiring a tree, I’m sure I messed up a lot! I feel like I butchered the poor thing and probably took like 90 % of all the foliage off! I’m trying to set up the branches for future ramification…

I’m a little unhappy with how symmetrical it turned out but overall I think its ok.

But please, lay it on me! What jumps out as a classic noob mistake? What should I be thinking about when working on a tree this young?

Was this tree too young for me to just jump in and start wiring and pruning? Is there a rule for how thick a branch must be for you to start wiring? Some of them were really green and thin (matchstick).

Also, as I got to the top, I realised I know nothing about design of the apex and didn’t know what to do… are there any resource videos for that in the library that really explain that?

Just trying to make mistakes and learn from them before getting into older, more established trees!

Thanks so much.


Hi Mike. Welcome to the wonderful world of bonsai and of course Mirai. The tree looks quite good. You have taken off rather a lot of foliage. Junipers get their energy from the foliage so you will have to nurture it along for a while. Being too brutally honest could seriously dent your enthusiasm so I’ll be gentle :wink:
As your in NZ and in the winter you may have to provide cold protection depending on the severity off the weather in your location.
Try to let it have as much winter sun as possible to regrow the foliage. Other than watering when required, don’t do anything else to the tree.
The design is good for the first iteration. You have got the basic shape laid down. A couple of the branches aren’t quite at the same angle as the others, but are ok for now.
There is no hard and fast rule for how thick a branch must be for wiring. That all depends on the level of your experience and what you want to achieve. The simplest way (for now) to form the apex on this tree is to simply lower the left and right branches and the leader bend it to the front but slightly offset.
Now for a bit of reality. I’m afraid you could lose part or the whole tree, as you have rather taken off too much foliage, but before you do go out an buy more potential material ready to style in spring! Then it won’t seem as devastating…
Everybody, and I do mean everybody who gets into bonsai either partially loses or actually loses trees. While this is disheartening it is also a fact of bonsai life and part of the learning curve.
Through this winter you could be learning about trees, especially the indigenous species and whether they are used for bonsai. How and where they grow, pests, winter hardiness, varieties etc. This knowledge is invaluable and will seriously build up your arsenal of vital tools, help to keep your trees alive and make you more successful as a bonsai artist.
Is there a bonsai society near you, or anybody else practising in your area? Obviously you now have Mirai with the various streams. Watch as many videos as possible and I also recommend watching all the Q & As in the library if you have chance as just this resource alone is like a bonsai encyclopaedia.
Hope all this helps Mike…
Keep going it get’s more exciting with each tree…


Welcome! I really like that you posted a image of a tree that inspired your vision.
Remember that if you do get die back, you might be able to use that branch as a Jin or trunk die back as Shari. Since this is the first structural styling, don’t worry much about its symmetry, You’ll be able to correct that later. It’s a young tree so you can let it run and gain strength. My only suggestion is don’t get bogged down to much by rules and bonsai speak. You’ve been inspired so go with your inspiration. And it looks like a fine tree to translate the upright with subtle movement tree you posted.

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Thanks for the reply @Keith-in-UK that’s just what I needed. I think I wasn’t really being species specific in my pruning process while removing the juniper foliage. Lesson learned!

I’m in a coastal area in the North island so we don’t get extremely cold, just very intense gales from time to time. This guy will go in the sunniest spot in the yard and yeah, I’m just gonna be babying him for a while I think. It sounds like juniper roots are pretty sensitive as well!

I have been learning about NZ trees for bonsai, and to be honest its very similar to the California Bay Area. Radiata, Macrocarpa, and Pohutukawa for the area that I’m in. It’s very interesting to see how different the same species look in a different environment. The presidio in San Francisco has some very dramatic, tall coastal Monterey cypress while the ones here are lower, spread out and wilder. I have some cuttings of a cryptomeria rooting, as well as a cotoneaster growing.

Thanks @Reno_David It seems like every young tree will naturally have the symmetry curse that needs to be trained out of it for the older, more twisted look. And yeah, if there is a ton of die back ill try and go with the extreme lower break-off jin feel. Like an old Jeffrey Pine. New inspiration for a half dead tree! Haha

I actually haven’t seen too many bonsai with that look… It seems right up Ryans alley. I’m guessing there’s a reason that I can’t yet grasp for why more people don’t make those.

One last question… How can you tell when nursery stock needs more time to grow (pot or in the ground) or when its ready to be styled? Is it just thickness of the trunk?
Thanks again!

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As Ryan would say. It depends on what you want to accomplish. Slender, more elegant or even a more juvenile feel may be what your looking for. For more thickness, you might want to put it in the ground or a larger constrained before going for a set style. There’s so much info at Mirai that it can be overwhelming, but the more you hear that you start understanding, the less intimidating it becomes and you might feel less pressure to make sudden moves. Ryan just talked about how many Pacific Northwest trees from California have been moved to NZ with great success! Peak around your nurseries and you may find some nostalgic trees from your past.


sharing after 6 months of spring/summer growth. Only lost two branches


It looks nice and healthy which is good. If you are planning to keep and use the lower branches you will probably want to cut back some of the strong upper branches to drive the energy to the lower ones and to prevent the upper ones from becoming too thick.

I honestly thought the tree was going to die. Good on you for keeping it going. I love the style you went for.

Start watching the repotting videos, if you think the tree is strong enough for next spring, though I might even give it one more year. Definitely manage the growth, to keep it nice and tight.

Amazing first tree!

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Thanks for the love guys. I have a few more trees in the works but I learned a lot about junipers on this one!
Will keep you posted next year, and thanks for all the advice!

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Hi Mike, really chuffed it survived. It is looking good! Save the dead branches and turn them into jins. That’ll add age to it. Keep going and soon, like the rest of us, you will have a garden full (and I do mean Full) of trees in pots… :wink: