When Should You Bend Tosho?

I have 12 young nursery-grown Juniperus rigida that I acquired a little over a year ago. When I first received them they were in pretty rough shape. In addition to getting lost in the mail system for several weeks, it was obvious that many of them were root bound. Some of the smaller trees had been newly up-potted just prior to shipping and much of the loose soil had been jostled from their pots during their long journey.

Finding very little information on the internet and having no personal knowledge of the species, I decided to move them into Anderson flats for recovery and long-term grow out. Normally, I would’ve done some sort of root work during the transition from their nursery containers. Since they were so weak and I received them in the midst of a mid-summer heat spell I simply slip-potted them.

A year later and the trees look super healthy and vigorous. I plan to leave these trees in the garden for many years to grow and thicken them into something that can be used for bonsai.

During the long wait, I would like to maximize their potential as bonsai material by wiring some movement into the trunks. Even though I have watched Ryan Neil’s Juniperus rigida demo’s, I’m still uncertain as to the optimal timing for wiring and bending these pre-bonsai. What I surmised from the videos is that a lot of the work done on Juniperus rigida should take place in the middle of summer. Additionally, the Needle Juniper species is somewhat rigid so it can’t be overly bent and manipulated.

I have one other post on another popular bonsai-specific website (from June of this year) looking for advice on these trees. One veteran bonsai practitioner who has first hand knowledge (and whose advice I deeply respect) suggested that I make bends in the early spring. In one of Ryan’s videos, he repots a fully developed and refined J. rigida in the late Spring however none of Ryan’s videos on Temple Juniper involve major bending.

One thing I gathered from watching Ryan’s videos is that Needle Juniper is a bit of an outlier species having its own quirks and nuances. Although I appreciate all constructive feedback, I am hoping to hear from people with first hand knowledge of actual Temple Juniper (Juniperus rigida) and not about experiences with the often used American substitutes for Tosho . . . Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Shore Juniper (Juniperus conferta), the Foemina Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Foemina’) or the Mediterranean Cade Juniper (Juniperus Oxycedrus).

I am totally confused! Should I bend during the heat of summer or wait until next Spring after the new shoots have leafed out??

Can anyone help me understand when is the best time to make some bends in this relatively hard to find species?

My limited first-hand experience with Rigida is that I killed a young Rigida by bending it a little in Spring. As I haven’t seen a reasonably priced Rigida afterwards, I didn’t get to experiment in a different season.

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Thanks for responding.

Hearing that your J. rigida died after some bending adds to my apprehension.

I believe bending can be done successfully but, I’m hoping to hear from someone who has had a lot of experience and success with J. rigida before I attempt it. Unfortunately, I just don’t think that many of those people exist outside of Japan.


To further muddy the waters… your question made me check my Japanese books.

Gunn’s mini bonsai series has a volume on Tosho, which indicates wiring and bending exclusively in March. This is highly unusual as he normally indicates several periods where bending is possible. I think this is what I did with mine (as it was my only source of information on Tosho at the time).

The “Bonsai Special Course” series (very serious and pricy series for the era - 70s/80s) has a book including Tosho. There is section on wiring and bending, which -if I read it correctly- indicates (over several pages):

the best time is November to March when the sap flow is stopped. During the active season from April to October, the tree is soft and easy to work with. However the species is very slow to heal from wire marks/scars and it’s very easy to kill the branch either by blocking the flow or creating leaks. You especially want to avoid wiring over live raised veins, and should wrap the branch if you can’t avoid it. Branches up to four or five years old can be bent, for trees under development you wire 1 or 2 years old branches to form foliar pads.

Older/thicker branches or trunks will return to their original position/shape when you remove the wire. Use a trunk splitter, bend towards your target position, wrap with hemp (raffia, I’d guess) or vinyl string, bend some more, wire with thick copper and set in position. Keep it wrapped and wired for two years so it can heal into the new position.

Unfortunately, Tosho isn’t covered in any of the Kinbon books series (nothing in the “how to cultivate”, the Craftsmanship book, the “all about Junipers” or in the “learn from working examples” series) so I can’t find up-to-date information on care or techniques in currently published books.

That led me to search online… “トショウの育て方” and/or “杜松の育て方” (How to cultivate Tosho)

On her website, Kimiko Shinto indicates to wire young shoots after cleanup and bud picking from May to September to put them in place as soon as possible. She says that older branches are too stiff/hard to move.

Bonsaimyo doesn’t talk about wiring Tosho, only trimming and bud picking throughout the entire growing season… it’s possibly geared more towards “maintaining an existing tree”.

Q/Tojuen/Kawasaki-Sensei (【杜松】どう育てる?ミニ盆栽を作りながら杜松について教わる【盆栽Q】 - YouTube wiring start at 5:59) indicates to wire young shoots in May to September in order to get radical movement because the branches harden (read become brittle) as they extend. Older branches will require wrapping with raffia

Q/Tojuen/Kanta-San (【杜松】素材から盆栽になるまで【盆栽Q】 - YouTube wiring starts around 7:30) recommends keeping wiring to a minimum by careful selection of branches and shoots. In the video, he’s wiring in late May or early June… so that matches what his teacher indicated above.


I think later this summer would be best. Right now the bark is probably loose on the cambium layer and would definitely tear away if bending is attempted. Also you will need to put it into a greenhouse or other to protect it from winter
If you don’t attempt it this year spring is good.


Additional links :slight_smile:

If you search for “杜松の針金かけ” (wiring a tosho), you’ll find more resources like

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Thank you for your reply but, I need some clarification. When you say, “ I think later this summer would be best”, do you mean right now? We’re starting into the third week of August and there isn’t too much summer left.

You go on to say, “Right now the bark is probably loose on the cambium layer and would definitely tear away if bending is attempted”. I interpret that as essentially saying, “Right now is not the best time”.

Are you saying that bending now would be fine but, I’ll need to greenhouse it this winter until it recovers?

Thanks again for your input, it is greatly appreciated.

Whoa, Michael!

You went above and beyond finding me information! Thank you!!

I tried Google and YouTube but, it never occurred to me to do a search in Japanese! I don’t speak a lick of it but, with all the translation options these days, I am sure I will get something out of these links.

I’m actually starting to lean on the side of bending during dormancy. This last winter was my first with these trees. We had a couple of decent snow falls. When I checked on the trees, the heavy snow had bent the trees 180° fusing their upper foliage with the frozen ground. At one point, I was convinced I had killed them by leaving them in the elements unprotected. It took longer than I expected but eventually, all twelve trees budded out and looked WAY better than when I had first received them.

So, unless I hear from Ryan Neil himself (which is not gonna happen), or discover some new insights from the links you’ve sent, I’m gonna try to work up the courage (between now and late Feb./early Mar.) to bend at least some of these trees.

Thanks again for all your effort in the search for an answer.

I also somehow forgot about this English-subbed demonstration at the 8th World Bonsai Convention (April 2017):

Wiring/bending starts at around 19:20
Around the 21:30 mark, he repeats that the branches are less flexible than shimpaku and that they become brittle with age. Therefore it’s better to wire them in the younger stage of growth.

Later this summer, last couple weeks of September. Tree will need winter protection.
Also raffia application will have to be on point.
Right now not is not the best, although it is at the tail end of the cambium being loose.
Trees do not know what month it is. It relays on light duration and temperature to trigger its response to the seasons.
You should be able to tell if the bark is loose from the cambium by trying to give it a slight twist with your fingers or the grip of your hand. Sorry hard to explain.

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Size matters… 1, “4”? Young tree, older? A photo would help. Younger trees, a little wire and your good… Not going to hurt a thumb sized trunk.
Like the above advice, Larger trunks… wait till late September or October. Heavy wire spline, raffia… maybe rebar! Maybe a little trunk splitting… ROKUBAN! Bend till it pops!
They arnt called ‘rigida’ for naught!
Plan ahead and have everything ready at hand…
(Ryan did say he was pushing the timing…)
Bonsai On!

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