Juniper Grafts

Posted by on Jul 23, 2015 | No Comments
Juniper Grafts

Road to the Cup – Part 2

If you’re not grafting on junipers that you have in development then you’re likely not making really great bonsai, it’s that simple. While trees grown from cuttings can become really good in time, much of the juniper trunk stock that exists either from old landscape plants, wild trees or nursery-grown stock is not of sufficient quality to style without grafting. Even high quality juniper stock can sometimes benefit from grafting to improve taper, reposition branching or shorten lifelines.

Grafting often takes on the air of an elite activity that only a few can use and even fewer can master. Despite this unfortunate reputation, it is a technique like any other that can be used to further your design goals. If you never try to learn how to graft your own plants then you’ll certainly never learn. Take a piece of material that has little promise and practice by placing a dozen or more grafts on it in various places. Observe which take and consider the reasons.

What grafting does so efficiently is allow for the placement of the foliage of your choice onto the plant in the position of your choice. Grafting also allows for roots to be added at any location along the lifeline to make a juniper shorter or to remove problematic root formations. Because grafting is such a versatile tool it can accomplish the transformation of mediocre material into great, or rangy material into compact given the right placement and design decisions.

Grafting techniques are well-documented, see the links at the bottom of this article for some further reading.

A great juniper in the yard of Takeo Kawabe.   Mr Kawabe is a former apprentice of Kimura and does some really amazing work with junipers.   In this case he is using two different types of juniper, one is faster growing and used for grafting on roots and for creating larger branch structure and trunk sections.    The other is a Japanese favorite for foliage - Itoigawa - which is used for the foliage that will ultimately be in the design of the tree.

A great juniper in the yard of Takeo Kawabe. Mr Kawabe is a former apprentice of Kimura and does some really amazing work with junipers. In this case he is using two different types of juniper, one is faster growing and used for grafting on roots and for creating larger branch structure and trunk sections. The other is a Japanese favorite for foliage – Itoigawa – which is used for the foliage that will ultimately be in the design of the tree.

Selecting positions for grafts is not always as clear cut and rote an exercise as the act of actually placing them on the tree. To select a graft point, orientation and type you need to be thinking about the design goals for the tree that you are trying to improve.

A successful but poorly-executed approach graft.   The graft was too shallow so the attachment point is weak and may never properly fuse to the recipient branch.

A successful but poorly-executed approach graft. The graft was too shallow so the attachment point is weak and may never properly fuse to the recipient branch.

For approach grafting, a small container supporting the plant that is attached is hung from the larger tree that receives the graft.   Approach grafting is better suited to larger material and for adding trunk sections, roots or large branches.

For approach grafting, a small container supporting the plant that is attached is hung from the larger tree that receives the graft. Approach grafting is better suited to larger material and for adding trunk sections, roots or large branches.

A bagged scion graft.   The graft is growing and healthy about a year after being added, but the bag is not yet removed.   Removal in stages ensures that the new foliage will not dry out too much and die.

A bagged scion graft. The graft is growing and healthy about a year after being added, but the bag is not yet removed. Removal of the bag in stages ensures that the new foliage will not suddenly dry out too much and die.

The small mediocre juniper from my last post.   The tree didn't have any foliage near the base.    The graft will ultimately allow the tree to be created to match the design at right.

The small mediocre juniper from my last post. The tree didn’t have any foliage near the base. The graft will ultimately allow the tree to be created to match the design at right.

The tree that I’m taking to The Artisans Cup was created using two carefully placed scion grafts. At the time a third graft was added but it ultimately failed to survive. Additionally, I did a couple other practice grafts that did take but were later removed with a branch of the tree that was not usable for the design. Once you’ve got your grafts positioned and alive on the tree you’ve got some waiting to do….making good trees takes time.

Some further reading on juniper grafts:

Grafting a Utah Juniper
Grafting aftercare
Removing the original foliage on a Utah juniper