Juniper trees traditionally fall under the Cypress plant family. Juniperus virginiana is a species of juniper which is mostly found in the Eastern region of North America, stretching between South Eastern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It is also called the Eastern red cedar or red juniper, and can be found in the region east of the Great Plains as well. Despite being called Red Cedar, the Juniperus Virginiana is not a true Cedar. In the western regions, the Juniperus virginiana is replaced by the Rocky Mountain Juniper and Ashe Juniper trees.
Juniperus virginiana is an evergreen tree which grows up to a height of 50 feet. These trees have a very diverse form of growth structure, ranging from columnar, oval-shaped or pyramid-shaped. The leaves are lush shades of green. Their foliage width can go up to 15 feet in sunny locations. These coniferous trees have fragrant and durable wood, with the lower branches growing horizontal while the upper branches shoot upwards. In winters, the Eastern Red Cedar can develop a reddish-brown tint. Ornamental blue-colored berries grow on the female Juniperus virginiana, and birds often feast on these berries and help in the dispersal of their seeds. Juniper berries are also used as spices and for flavoring alcohol.
Juniperus virginiana or the red cedar has diverse growth habits. It can grow up to tall heights whereas in case of poor soil conditions they can remain even a shrub. It is usually found in two varieties – the virginiana and the silicicola. Many botanists do not distinguish between these two varieties.
Junipers, if given sufficient time and training, can be used for most bonsai styles. They are often considered one of the best options for bonsai due to their versatility, durability in sunlight and moderate to low water requirement. The only bonsai styles that will not suit the Juniperus virginiana are the cascade-styles and semi-cascade styles, due to the high apex dominant feature of this tree.
This guide will be helpful for all levels of bonsai enthusiasts who want to know more about Juniperus virginiana bonsai tree care.
How long does it take to grow Juniperus Virginiana Bonsai?
Juniperus Virginiana or the Eastern Red Cedar is a slow-growing, dense coniferous perennial tree. It grows poorly on poor soil but can grow up to 20 meters tall with a trunk diameter between 30-100 cm. The trees mature in 6-8 months from planting to pollination. The age of the bonsai can be understood by the type of leaves on the tree. If the leaves are sharp and needle-like, the tree is still juvenile. This indicates that the tree is at most 3 years old. The oldest known Juniperus Virginiana was from West Virginia, USA which was reportedly be 940 years old.
Before enthusiasm takes over and you feel like taking on a challenge, we have compiled the basic prerequisites regarding the best conditions for your Eastern Red Cedar or Juniperus virginiana bonsai.
Position and lighting
Juniperus Virginiana trees should ideally be kept in open spaces with adequate sunlight throughout the year. During winter, special care should be taken such that the plant is frost free. In conditions resembling drought, the plant should be kept moisturized.
The Eastern Red Cedar is generally hardy when taken care of in USDA Growing Zones between zone 2 and zone 9. It can tolerate most climate differences within these zones.
The Juniperus Virginiana grows best in moist, well-drained alluvial soils but it can also grow on rock outcrops and wet swamps. Slow organic fertilizer can be used during growing stages to ensure the best growth.
The Eastern Red Cedar bonsai tree requires water daily in the growing season, preferably sprayed on the foliage. If the soil is dry to a depth of 1 inch, water immediately. It is advisable to never let the soil dry out completely.
It is recommended to feed Juniperus virginiana bonsai trees from spring to autumn-end for proper growth. Feeding should be done every 20-30 days with a slow-acting organic fertilizer. However, fertilizers should not be added during peak summer or if the tree is weak.
There are many styles of juniper foliage. Most junipers can be divided into groups of scale-like foliage and needle-like foliage. Junipers with scale-like foliage include Chinese, Japanese and Californian Junipers. The ones with needle-like foliage include Japanese Shimpaku, Japanese Needle, Rocky Mountain, Sierra and Green Mound Junipers. Most bonsai styles are suitable for Junipers except cascade and semi-cascade styles. Multiple trunk styles can be done by advanced bonsai enthusiasts.
How to Plant and Grow Juniperus Virginiana Bonsai
You want to know how to plant and grow Juniperus Virginiana bonsai. That’s great! But first, you need to know about the commonly available Juniper species and those usually recommended for bonsai.
- Juniperus Virginiana/Eastern Red Cedar – Evergreen species with scale leaves arranged on an acute apex. Blue and purple berries grow on female trees. Cones are larger in size, between 4 – 7 mm. This variety has a reddish-brown bark.
- Juniperus Virginiana Silicicola – it is also known as the sand juniper/redcedar or the southern juniper. This variety’s name means a “flint-dweller”. It has its habitat along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. They have smaller cones of about 3 to 4 mm. Their bark is orange-brown, and they have blunt scale leaves at the apex.
- Juniperus Chinensis – One of the best options for Juniper bonsai trees, the Juniperus Chinensis or Chinese Juniper comes in a variety of sizes. It can be as small as 3 feet. It needs 6 hours of sunlight on a regular basis. Leaves come in various colors ranging from bluish green, to greyish-green. Adult leaves are convex shaped while juvenile leaves are awl-like.
- Common Juniper – Also known as Siberian Juniper and Dwarf Juniper. It is of the moist deciduous variety and has needle-like leaves with glossy under surfaces. It has purplish-red berry-like cones.
Now that you know about the popular Juniper bonsai species, it’s time to get into the specifics of how you can actually plant and grow them.
Juniperus Virginiana is propagated mainly through cuttings and layering, be it air layering or ground layering.
Pruning and wiring
Juniperus virginiana is a very easy tree to prune, wire and style because it handles aggressive pruning very well. This means that the tree can have many styles depending on how you like it.
The tree should be pruned only in summer or springtime. The Juniper also should not be trimmed like a hedge as removing the growing tips will make the tree weak and the needles will eventually start to turn brown.
Red Juniper bonsai should be repotted every other year up till it is 10 years old. Older trees should be repotted every 3-4 years. The best time for repotting the Juniperus virginiana is during springtime, but it can also be done in autumn if necessary. Juniper needs to have its roots pruned when it is being repotted. However, if you are repotting in autumn, extensive root pruning is not advisable.
It is recommended that a 60% soil, 10% peat and 30% coarse sand mixture be used for any kind of Juniper bonsai. The tree should also be protected from wind and direct sun for at least 2 months after repotting. Good soil is essential for better growth of Juniperus virginiana bonsai tree as that keeps it from becoming shrub-like.
How to Care for Your Juniperus Virginiana Bonsai
To assess the water requirement of the Junipers, the “chopstick method” is recommended. Here, a chopstick of wood is taken and stuck in the soil at about one or two inches below the ground. The chopstick is made to stay that way for about 10 minutes. If the chopstick comes out to be damp, then no more water is needed by the bonsai. Whereas if it is dry, then watering is a must. While watering, ensure a proper drainage, otherwise the junipers will rot.
Spray the foliage with a spray bottle daily. It helps the bonsai to breathe better indoors. Re-potted bonsai need to be sprayed compulsorily for some time otherwise they might get dehydrated.
Junipers need to be kept in sunlight or partial shade.
Junipers need to be fed with slow-acting organic fertilizers from the early spring to autumn season for every 20 to 30 days. Using fertilizers during the hottest part of summers or on recently repotted trees should not be done.
Pests and diseases
Bonsais are basically miniature versions of full sized trees. That means, your Juniperus virginiana bonsai can be affected by the same types of pests which attack full sized Juniper trees. If your bonsai is taken care of well and positioned ideally, it is pretty resistant to pests. Foliage Pads getting too thick are a problem for the tree as it is the area where pests love to nest.
In winter, the Juniperus virginiana bonsai needs to be positioned such that it has enough light. Regular checking under the foliage should be done so that no pests can nest.
Juniperus Virginiana are susceptible to spider mites, aphids, needle miners and web worms. Regular Insecticide sprays can be used to get rid of pests, but finding the root cause is also very important. Remember to prune out any dead branch tips to avoid rusting, twig blights and galls.