Almost any conifer species can be grown as a bonsai. The cedar, taxus, juniper and pine families all have many subspecies and varieties to choose from. Japanese black pine, Shimpaku juniper, cypress, white cedar, spruce, Japanese white pine and larch are among the most beautiful when trained as bonsai.
Some species are more challenging than others. Pines are the most difficult because the growth pattern of their needles is much different than that of other conifers. They make beautiful bonsai but their structure must be carefully studied before training or pruning begins.
Bonsai is the Japanese art of creating miniature trees. It has been done for centuries and is still practiced today as a living art form. It takes a lot of talent, excellent skills and tons of patience to be able to create a bonsai tree. All trees can be trained and refined to become a bonsai but not all trees are easy to work with. Some trees require more time and definitely more patience to form and a coniferous tree is one of them
Coniferous trees bear cones, hence the name coniferous. Most of these trees grow in places that have tough cold weather and therefore you can probably guess now that this type of tree needs this kind of weather to survive.
Conifers come in a variety of species. There are cedar, taxus, juniper and pine families of conifers with numerous subspecies. Some coniferous species are known for their enchanting beauty and hence grown as prize-winning bonsai trees. Shimpaku juniper, cypress, white cedar, spruce, Japanese white pine, and larch are popular for their enchanting beauty especially when these are turned into bonsai trees.
And while some conifers are known for their beauty, some are popular for being a handful when it comes to training. Pine trees are among the hardest to turn into a bonsai because of the growth pattern of their needles. Therefore the key to turning regular conifers into bonsai is to study their appearance, growth pattern and growing needs to become successful.
This tutorial will help you grow coniferous bonsai trees. By following these you will be able to have strong and healthy coniferous bonsai trees worthy of display.
What you need to follow this tutorial
- A coniferous bonsai tree
- Most bonsai growers prefer to use an already potted bonsai tree. This is the easiest way to begin styling a coniferous bonsai. Basically, new to growing bonsai and styling bonsai trees start with this method. There is no need to start from a seed or cutting, all there is left to do is to train and groom your tree according to the style you want.
- Coniferous bonsai seeds
- Using seeds to grow coniferous trees is one way to grow your own bonsai. But take note that it can take years before you can have a healthy tree, ready to be pruned and wired. Nevertheless, this is a good way to start from scratch. You will have the possibility of refining your tree while it is still at a young and pliable age.
- Bonsai Pot
- You may use a plain pot, a fancy planter or if you want to follow true Japanese tradition, you can use a jade pot. But no matter what type of planter or pot you use, make sure that these have adequate drainage at the bottom or at the side of the pot so water and fertilizer can easily drain from the soil.
- Balanced fertilizer
- Coniferous trees need to be fed a balanced N-P-K fertilizer only when bright green buds appear at the branch tips. Be sure to read manufacturer’s instructions before using any kind of fertilizer.
- Sharp scissors
- A pair of sharp scissors is needed to prune or cut your coniferous bonsai trees. You also need a pair of scissors to cut pieces of the bark and to prune roots if needed.
- You need a pair of pliers to cut wires to use on your bonsai trees. You also need a good pair of sharp pliers to remove wires carefully to prevent injuring the delicate bonsai branches.
- Wire for wiring
- There are two types of wires that may be used on bonsai trees: aluminum and copper wires. Aluminum wires are for bonsais with softer and younger trunks and branches. On the other hand, copper wires are harder and are recommended for harder and more mature branches. Conifers have very hard trunks and branches and copper wires will be able to hold these branches into position without hurting your bonsai tree.
- Clean water
- Your bonsai trees need good clean water daily. This should be watered but never over watered. And whether you use rainwater or tap water, it’s best to have this checked for safety.
- You need aggregates in potting soil to improve its drainage and aerating properties. There are a variety of aggregates that you can use: Akadama, decomposed granite, diatomite, pumice, sand with coarse grains and turface. You may also use soil with aggregates added to the mix.
- Growing soil for bonsai
- There are many types of soil for growing bonsai and the best is a sandy clay soil. This type of soil will hold more water and nutrients and will drain fertilizer as well. You will find growing soil from garden shops or you can order bags of soil online.
Step by step instructions
1) Understand fast facts about Coniferous bonsai trees
There are a variety of coniferous bonsai trees and to be able to grow any kind of tree, you need to have excellent knowledge of the growing needs and the general appearance of each tree.
And before anything else, you must understand that aside from all the materials that you need to follow this tutorial, you must also have a lot of patience with coniferous trees. These could be very stubborn trees and are mostly grown outdoors. When bonsai trees are grown outdoors, these are more susceptible to a variety of conditions that can affect its growth.
Outdoors, bonsai can fall prey to hungry pests like caterpillars and mites which can devour your plant in a heartbeat. Your bonsai will also be exposed to critical growing conditions such as a change in weather or climate, extreme heat or cold and so on. So it’s up to you to protect your bonsai tree and give it the best care so this can grow into a lovely miniature tree.
To describe coniferous trees is to present the different conifer species that are mostly used as bonsai.
Japanese Black Pine
Japanese black pine trees can grow up to 40 feet or more in the wild. This tree has a slow but steady growth even if the right growing conditions are met. Japanese Black Pine trees are irregularly shaped but graceful as a bonsai tree. Ask most bonsai growers and even successful bonsai growers and they will tell you that this is among the hardest to grow.
The Shimpaku Juniper has tender foliage making it the easiest conifer tree to work with. This conifer tree has a soft look and flexible branches but doesn’t take this as a sign of weakness. This tree can withstand extreme cold and heat making it a versatile bonsai tree to grow.
One of the most beautiful trees is the bonsai because of its enchanting weathered look. This tree can be curved and trained over time making it a fantastic bonsai tree to start for beginners. You can plant cypress bonsai trees alone or arrange three or more of these in a planter to look like a mini forest.
What’s striking about the White Cedar tree is that it has an aromatic wood and foliage. This type of tree is also perfect for planting in groups and is known for being popular in bonsai growers that practice deadwood techniques. Overall this is a lovely bonsai tree to grow and collect.
Another difficult conifer tree to train is the Spruce. But despite its stubbornness when it comes to training, many growers say that it is all worth the effort. It grows slow but steady with small needles that are prized by experienced bonsai enthusiasts.
Japanese White Pine
This tree has a striking pyramidal shape which makes it a dramatic bonsai subject. Compared to the Japanese Black Pine, the white pine has paler green leaves and a grayish, cloudy cast. It has dense foliage which makes it a good candidate for many bonsai tree designs.
This is a deciduous conifer tree that has a bright autumnal color. A dominant dormant period occurs in larches which makes it more interesting to grow for bonsai enthusiasts. A larch bonsai can be fashioned into a variety of styles to show off its lovely leaf colors season per season.
Coniferous trees are found all over the world especially in the cold regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Coniferous forests are composed mainly of trees like junipers, cedars, pines, and hemlocks.
Coniferous trees need full sun to thrive however some species may grow well even in the shade. Coniferous trees like dry, well-drained soils. Coniferous trees are more tolerant to cold and can live even in the coldest regions of the planet.
- Coniferous bonsai trees may be kept slightly drier during the cold season.
- During the rest of the year, water your trees daily but never overwater
- Overwatered soils can lead to root rot.
- Water only when the soil is high and dry.
- Coniferous tree varieties that can tolerate dry conditions should do best when under-watered
- Coniferous bonsai trees need balanced nutrients to be able to survive
- Feed coniferous bonsai trees with balanced N-P-K when bright green buds appear at the tips
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to feed fertilizer to bonsai plants.
Leaf and branch pruning
- Coniferous bonsai should be aggressively pruned during late autumn and early winter time.
- Leave a small stub when cutting branches to encourage new growths
- Pinch buds in the spring to stimulate thicker growth at the ends of the branches
- Clip off candles with sharp pruning scissors
Re-potting & growing medium
- Coniferous bonsai can be placed in any type of container.
- Soil for coniferous trees should contain 70% organic material and 30% grit to drain well
- When repotting trim off roots when necessary to prevent bunching of the roots.
- After pruning the roots, choose a larger pot and new soil
- Repot conifers once a year and use slightly larger pots every time
Wiring a coniferous bonsai tree
- Coniferous bonsai tree branches may need to be manipulated with wires and clamps to grow in the shape you want.
- Copper wires or thicker wires are preferred for coniferous trees
- Wires should be removed as scheduled to prevent injury to the bark and branches of the tree
Conifer bonsai trees are lovely and are very hardy provided that these are grown according to proper growing techniques. Since these plants thrive in cold places, it is therefore grown outdoors. Do not even try to grow these indoors because it might be detrimental to your plants. And to be able to successfully grow a coniferous bonsai tree, study the type of coniferous tree that you wish to grow. Only when you equip yourself with knowledge and skills that you will be able to grow a healthy and strong coniferous bonsai tree.
2) Distinguishing coniferous bonsai trees from other bonsais
Coniferous bonsai trees are easily distinguished from other bonsais because this type of tree lives mostly in cold climates. Conifers have cones and are mostly evergreen trees. There are many types of conifers, each with their particular appearance and distinguishing features.
3) Purchasing coniferous bonsai trees
Usually purchasing a coniferous bonsai tree is the best way to start with bonsai growing. There is nothing wrong with starting bonsai growing from by using a young tree. Just make sure that you purchase a tree from reliable retailers, nurseries and garden shops.
If you are looking for low-cost coniferous trees then you can find one from large garden stores together with pots and growing accessories. If you are looking for quality coniferous trees then you will surely find one from top rated specialized bonsai sites and nurseries.
If you have coniferous trees from your yard or from your neighborhood then you may use these to grow a bonsai. You may either harvest seeds or you can take cuttings from healthy trees.
4) Growing coniferous bonsai trees from seeds and cuttings
You will also be able to grow coniferous bonsai trees from seeds and you may either purchase seeds from seed banks and shops or you can get pine seeds from trees in your yard or neighborhood. And when purchasing seeds, please don’t fall victim to buying bonsai tree seeds. There are no bonsai tree seeds. All bonsai come from actual or regular trees. Trees are merely redefined, designed and styled according to the kind of bonsai tree style you want to achieve.
Growing coniferous bonsai trees from seeds
Coniferous tree seeds germinate first before these are planted in a regular pot. Germination is when the taproot emerges from the seed and then afterward, the first small leaves and stems the time when the taproot appears from the seed. It takes weeks for coniferous seeds to germinate and during this crucial time the seeds need sun and moisture to survive.
Before you germinate seeds you must determine which seeds can go the next step and which ones need to be discarded. This is easy to do and all you need is water and a glass.
- Fill a glass or a transparent container with clean water.
- Place the seeds in the water and let the seeds settle.
- You will notice some seeds will sink while some will float.
- Take the floating seeds and discard these because this will not germinate.
- Take the seeds that have sunk and used these for germination.
What’s the difference between these seeds? Seeds that have sunk are seeds that are viable and have viable insides and that are ready to germinate. Seeds that float are empty or do not contain any viable insides. These will not germinate no matter how long you plant them in the soil.
Now that you have fertile seeds ready, it’s time to germinate these seeds. Prepare your materials and have your seeds ready before starting.
- Use a large pot to germinate seeds. If possible, use a large but shallow pot so this can hold up to three or four seeds.
- Fill this large pot with peat seed sowing mix. You will be able to purchase peat seed sowing mix from garden stores and shops.
- Place the Coniferous bonsai tree seeds on the surface of the mix. Let your germinating seeds have a lot of sunlight. Never cover them.
- Water the soil to keep it moist. Your germinating seeds need a lot of moisture. Initially, let the water run off the sides of the drainage holes of the container.
- Place the seeds outdoors in full sunlight.
- Keep the soil moist at all times. Check your germinating seeds frequently and keep the soil moist. These seeds will germinate in a few weeks.
Once your coniferous seeds are open and small leaves and stems have emerged, let these gain strength so it will be ready to be transplanted to individual pots.
- You may transplant Coniferous bonsai tree seedlings to individual pots once these have gained strength.
- A small and shallow bonsai pot would be a good bonsai pot to use for coniferous seedlings. This pot should have two holes along sides and at the bottom of the pot to drain excess water and fertilizer.
- Place a layer of coarse substrate or aggregate. This will be the first layer that will remove excess water and fertilizer from the plant roots. Aggregates will also improve aeration which is crucial to forming the roots of trees.
- After the layer of aggregates, place bonsai potting soil. This is available in any garden center or bonsai accessories store online or offline. You must choose potting soil that will drain excess water but should hold nutrients to benefit young seedlings.
- Create a small hole, big enough to place your coniferous bonsai tree seedling in. Place another layer of bonsai soil and compact the soil with your fingers to hold the seedling in place.
- Water your young plants regularly to keep the soil moist.
Growing coniferous bonsai trees from cuttings
Harvesting cuttings from a tree are one way to grow another tree. Using cuttings or clones has been used for many years and is deemed as the easiest to do rather than growing from seeds. But there are actually some advantages and disadvantages of growing from cuttings.
First, it is easy and less time consuming when you grow from cuttings. But cuttings still need to gain more roots to be planted as a bonsai tree. Trees that grow from seeds have a taproot or the initial root of a tree where all the complex root systems emerge. The taproot provides stability to trees and helps it absorb more nutrients in the soil. This is not present in cuttings, therefore, you still need a lot of time to cultivate the roots of cuttings.
But nevertheless, using cuttings can save you time. Here is a simple guide on how to get cuttings from mature coniferous trees.
- Select a healthy Coniferous tree as a donor.
First of all, you should only collect cuttings from healthy trees. This must be a tree with new leaves and stems. This tree must be free from molds and any infestation. Overall, the tree should have a healthy disposition.
- Take cuttings from the Coniferous tree. This should be a healthy stem.
- Use a clean (preferably sterile) cutter or a sharp knife to harvest the cutting. You must cut the cutting diagonally.
- Place the cutting immediately in water to avoid air pockets from entering the newly cut stems.
- Let the cuttings develop roots. When the cuttings have developed thick roots then these will be ready to be plated in the soil.
- Water the cuttings daily and keep the soil moist. This should be watered regularly and pay attention to the plant’s overall state of health as it grows into a young tree.
5) Caring for a coniferous bonsai tree
Coniferous bonsai trees need extreme pruning during late autumn and early winter. It must be given balanced N-P-K fertilizer and should be repotted at least yearly to control the root system. Since you are miniaturizing very large trees, you must be keen on pruning roots. You must pay close attention to wiring the tree’s branches to be able to achieve the look you want. And lastly, conifers need the sun and proper humidity levels, therefore, these should thrive better outdoors.
6) Soil and re-potting a coniferous bonsai tree
Coniferous bonsai trees may be cultivated in any type of container but it’s best to use a larger and deeper pot to ensure that it can hold this tree’s complicated root system. The pot may be made of any material but should contain adequate holes or drainage holes to remove excess water and fertilizer.
Re-potting is crucial to the growth of your bonsai plants. When re-potting, place close attention to the roots of your plants. These should be trimmed or pruned accordingly to prevent bunching or knotting. And when you are done pruning the roots, re-pot your bonsai in a larger pot. Take not that this has to be done religiously since your tree will start to grow taller and make more roots. Re-pot at least once a year.
The soil needed for optimal growth of coniferous trees is a potting soil with 70% organic material and 30% grit to it can drain well. You must choose soil that can drain water and excess fertilizer well and soil that can retain needed moisture and nutrients. Soil used should also have good aerating properties which mean that it must allow oxygen to enter the roots and keep the roots healthy.
7) Watering a coniferous bonsai tree
Coniferous bonsai trees need regular watering and soil should be dry and high before it is watered again. Since most coniferous plants receive less water during the cold winter and during its dormant time then you must lessen watering.
Take note that overwatered soils can lead to root rot and the development of mold in the tree roots. And to prevent overwatering, water only when the soil is high and dry. Water your tree but never over dry your soil.
And whether you want to use rainwater or tap water to water your bonsai, use only clean water. Has the water tested for trace minerals and other toxic substances?
8) Pruning and shaping a coniferous bonsai tree
Pruning is one of the basic ways to shape your coniferous bonsai tree. Pruning will also be able to encourage new leaf and stem growth and this is crucial if you want to style your tree accordingly. Coniferous bonsai trees need aggressive pruning. Pruning should be done in the fall and early winter time because the tree’s growth occurs during the spring and summer months.
When you prune your trees, leave a small stub when cutting branches to encourage new growth.
Pinch buds in the spring to stimulate thicker growth at the ends of the branches as well. Clip off candles with sharp pruning scissors. Use shears that are clean and sterilized to prevent passing diseases and mold that can affect the health of your tree.
Wiring bonsai trees
A coniferous bonsai tree may be designed according to a variety of bonsai tree styles. But to be able to get the style you want, wiring and physical manipulation have to be started early. It has to be done while the trunk of the tree is still soft and easy to move. Wiring mature coniferous bonsai trees can injure the tree. Wiring is also difficult for mature trees because its wood is stiff and wiring can lead to fractures in the tree trunk. Fractures can become dark, unsightly marks on trees.
There are a variety of wires that you can use and these will be discussed later. Copper wires or thicker wires are preferred for coniferous trees because this is stronger and will be able to hold hard coniferous tree branches really well. Wires should be removed as scheduled to prevent injury to the bark and branches even for hard coniferous trees.
Wiring bonsai will let you achieve a number of styles. The Coniferous bonsai tree may be wired and styled to achieve a variety of styles like the cascading style, a flowing style or a broom style and so many more. Always take note that although wiring achieves the style you want for your bonsai, it has to bed done carefully on Coniferous bonsai tree trunks. This should be removed on the same season it was attached as well.
Important wiring techniques
You can position and style coniferous trees according to a number of styles. Here are top basic bonsai styles that will surely be amazing when a coniferous tree is used.
Shakan Bonsai Style
This is a very popular bonsai tree style that may be applied to a variety of coniferous tree species. The Shakan bonsai style is the slanted bonsai tree style which mimics a slanted tree in nature. The trunk protrudes from the soil in a slanted way while the rest of the tree straightens outwardly. The trunk is in a 60-80 degree angle that gives it a natural slanted style.
To control the coniferous tree trunk and branches to achieve this style, you need strong wiring. Wiring will control the height of the branch as well. You may also use strong lighting on one side of the tree to coax the tree to grow towards one side only. You may also tilt the pot so that the plant will orient itself as it grows but this may lead to accumulation of water in one side which can rot the roots. Extreme pruning should be done on the leaves and roots to be able to shape the tree according to slanted style.
The Dramatic Fukinagashi is like a windswept head of hair in a storm. A coniferous bonsai tree will look great in this style. In the Fukinagashi style, the branches and the trunk will grow to one side to create a realistic effect of strong wind blowing coming from one direction.
This design is achieved by wiring the trunk of a coniferous tree care and pruning the leaves well to create that windswept plume.
Shari Bonsai Style
The Shari Bonsai Style is all about shaving the bark of the tree to keep new growth from appearing. This style is also known as the stair effect because the branches could be long or short. The design is achieved through wiring and much pruning. The leaves at the top of the tree balance the overall design. The Shari bonsai style is depicted from the natural development of trees and plants. Most of the time a bald or barkless area on the trunk is seen in a Shari bonsai style and this is because of the natural effects of harsh weather conditions.
Seki-joju or Rocky Terrain
The Seki-joju or Rocky Terrain style is showing off the aerial roots of bonsai trees. This style is all about growing bonsai roots around or through obstacles in the soil. This could be anything like a jagged or smooth rock. This occurs in nature when roots of trees grow underneath and along the side of rocks. Roots will simply crawl around the rock surface and these happen as the trunk of the bonsai forms. The rest of the tree will grow in a straight manner even when there are obstacles along its path. The Rocky Terrain bonsai style is done in trees that have good and healthy roots and is achieved by excessive root movement planning, pruning and wiring of the roots to move, lift and shape it.
The Literati style is a bonsai style that can be achieved with coniferous bonsai trees. This design has a skinny trunk and curved leaves and many say that this style is all about the struggle in nature for even the smallest form of life to exist. You will find a few bald spots along the trunk that will look like dead branches and this is simply natural in this style. The Literati bonsai style is found in nature in trees that grow in densely populated areas such as forests. Growers achieve this style by excessive pruning and maintaining a good trunk height and branch design by wiring.
The Han-kengai bonsai style has a cascading effect that looks surreal. A part of the trunk grows straight as a branch grows outward and then slightly downward. A small part of the trunk may be seen before the area where the thick branches are located. These branches grow and develop in different directions and then grow low-lying leaves. A bonsai with a Han-kengai design requires a deeper pot to maintain this style and design. A grower must enforce regular pruning, excessive wiring, and constant re-potting to control the growth of coniferous plants if you want to achieve this style.
You must start wiring coniferous bonsai tree as soon as it is strong but still young. You may start wiring any time of the year though. Apply wire carefully on the branches that need to be repositioned apply this during the growing season or as the branches start to become thicker.
Remove the wire when it is due to be removed. Overlooking this rule can lead to severe injuries and can even kill your tree. When the branches are wired, check your coniferous bonsai tree constantly. Remove the wires by cutting it piece by piece, so you won’t risk injuring your trees.
The type of wire to use
There are two kinds of wires that you can use: anodized aluminum and annealed copper. Aluminum wires are for deciduous trees which have harder and stronger trunks. Copper wires are for species that have harder or tougher trunks like conifers and pines.
If you are just learning how to wire bonsai, use anodized aluminum wires because these are easier to bend and handle. This type of wire is also readily available from any hardware store. Wires are available in a variety of thicknesses as well and the most commonly used gauge is the 1 mm to 4 mm wires.
Take note that although most bonsai is created using wiring, this may still cause injury to bonsai branches especially for a young bonsai tree. Raffia may be used to prevent injury in branches and trunks. Raffia is palm fiber that is readily purchased from garden stores. This is soaked in water and wrapped along the tips of the branch or bark. Raffia will protect these parts from damage especially when the branches are wired and repositioned.
Step by step instructions on how to wire a bonsai
- Choose the type of wire according to the type of tree that you going to wire.
- Choose the thickness of the wire you will use. For coniferous trees, copper wires with gauge 4 mm is a good wire to use.
- Measure the length of wire that you need to use for a branch.
- Take one end of the wire and wrap this around the branch. Wrap it in a 45-degree angle and wrap the wire neatly in line along the extent of the branch.
- After you have completely wired the entire branch, cut the excess wire with pliers.
- Bend the branches slowly into position.
- To bring down branches that are too high, use a guy wire. Wrap moist raffia around the branch and place a hook at the end. Use a wire on the hook and anchor it on a strong root that protrudes from the soil. This will keep the high branch lower. If you want to raise a branch, the wire should come from above.
- Check wired bonsai trees regularly.
- Remove the wires during the same season.
- After wiring, take note of the growth of your Coniferous bonsai tree. Place your bonsai in a shaded area of your garden and water it daily. Apply balanced fertilizer according to the type of fertilizer your coniferous bonsai tree needs.
Post-wiring care for your Coniferous bonsai tree
After wiring your Coniferous bonsai tree place it in a shaded area of your garden so it can regain its strength. Never leave it in direct sunlight because this can dry the soil and stress out your trees. Give your newly-wired bonsai enough nutrients from balanced N-P-K fertilizer so it can recover from wiring and pruning.
Always remove the wires on schedule to avoid damage to the bark and branches. Remove the wires by cutting it one section at a time and not by loosening it. Cut it at every turn. Never reuse the wire for wiring other branches. Remove wires at every turn by using pliers. Monitor the health of your bonsai tree before wiring and pruning it again next fall.
9) How to prevent pests and diseases
Coniferous bonsai trees are hardy trees but could be prone to mold and root rot so don’t leave it overwatered. Water only when the soil is dry and high and never when the soil is still moist or wet. You must use the ideal pot for bonsai that has good drainage to avoid root rot and mold growth. A good pot will also drain excess fertilizer which will prevent nutrient lock in the soil.
Protect your coniferous bonsai trees from pests. The most common pests that can affect this tree are caterpillars, spider mites and more. Don’t take pests for granted. A small bug means that there is probably more lurking nearby. Take note that you must only use organic pesticides. Use water in a spray bottle to spray pests away. When you see a bug or pest, spray with water to push these away. Be diligent and inspect leaves very well.
There are some garden creatures like ladybugs that can kill pests like mites and aphids. Always inspect your trees for pests and start treatment to remove pests right away. Be diligent and you will be able to protect your bonsai even when it is outdoors.
Because this kind of bonsai tree prefers the outdoors, you must also learn how to protect it from severe weather conditions like severe cold and dry conditions.
Coniferous bonsai trees have a large number of species. Each of these has specific growth requirements and special strategies on how to refine each one to make a bonsai tree. It takes special skills and patience to take care of coniferous trees and cultivating a healthy coniferous bonsai is something that will give you a lot of contentment for years to come. With these techniques, you will be able to grow your own coniferous bonsai tree with no sweat at all.