Last fall I cleaned up an overgrown Kishu shimpaku juniper that had many long runners on it. Whenever I see a tree that has a large straight base to it and then a bunch of tightly controlled branches it makes me want to propagate and work on tiny little seedlings and cuttings. There’s some sort of tragedy in all that work being done to a tree that will only ever be mediocre. At the same time, properly grown and developed bonsai are quite expensive. So starting from scratch, even though it may take 15 years, will perhaps give you a better result for less initial investment if you have the skills to make it happen.
These cuttings had about an 80% take rate; only a few small ones in the batch completely failed to root. The procedure was relatively simple:
1.Cut off unwanted branches from a larger tree
2. Normalize the size to about a matchstick by cutting larger pieces into multiple small ones.
3. Remove enough foliage that there is a bit of a stem to stick into the soil
4. 70% Perlite/30% sand rooting medium
5. Carefully trim the cut end with a grafting knife to ensure a clean cut, dull scissors can slightly smash the end.
6. Dip in rooting hormone powder
7. Make a hole with a chopstick in the rooting medium and insert cutting.
8. Place container full of cuttings under a bench (shady, more moist than on top)
9. Water like other bonsai.
A year later the cuttings have put out a significant amount of new growth, enough that I’m sure they have rooted and should be separated into individual containers. Kishu cuttings can be used for approach grafts onto collected native junipers either as roots or as foliage, or they can be grown as their own composition. If you were going to use them for approach grafts you’d want to encourage the tree to grow relatively straight and in a small container so that it would be easy to position the graft and the roots that sustain it while it’s bonding to the recipient tree.
In my case, I decided that I’d like to make some shohin and mame size trees. The styles will vary, but there will be quite a bit of movement. So, rather than let them get stiff and hard to bend I decided to wire all the trees now while they can be twisted into almost any shape.
For the trees that are intended to be shohin I took the larger cuttings and used the same technique but made the bends slightly larger and potted the trees into 4″ containers rather than 2″ containers.
I’ve previously tried making tiny trees by a different method – bending the vigorous whips on a large plant while they are still attached and then air-layering them off. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out as well for some reason and I have only one plant as a result of the efforts.
Taking cuttings from Kishu seems to be pretty simple. I recall failing at it a decade ago when I took something like 100 of them and ended up with only 2 or 3 plants. The differences are numerous so pay attention to the advice from people if you want a higher success rate.