Japanese Juniper Care – How To Grow A Japanese Juniper Plant

by johnah on November 25, 2020

Japanese Juniper Care: How To Grow A Japanese Juniper Plant


The Japanese juniper plant is one of the most popular trees in Japan. It grows very well in tropical climates and it is often used as a houseplant or even as a table centerpiece. It’s hardy enough to survive harsh winters and summers here in the United States.

It is not uncommon to see them planted along sidewalks and streetsides. They are often seen hanging from streetlights, bridges, and other tall structures. These plants are so common that they have their own name; “kotobuki” (秋菜).

Although they grow well in many areas of Japan, there are some places where they do not thrive as well as others. Some of these areas include mountainous regions with cold winters or hot summers.

In addition, certain soils are better suited for growing katakana kanji (the characters used in Japanese writing). Soil types that favor katakana kanji may require less water than soil types that prefer hiragana or other alphabets.

Kanji trees also need good air circulation to prevent mold growth. If the branches get too dry, they will wither and die. If their roots are stagnant water, they will succumb to mold growth.

These factors are all things you need to keep in mind when choosing a pot and soil type for your katakana tree. You can read the rest of this article to find out more information about katakana trees.


Watering junipers too much or too little can be just as bad as not watering them at all. If junipers get too much water, the roots will become weak and the tree will suffer from root rot. If they don’t get enough water, the tree won’t be able to absorb as much nutrients and it will begin to weaken.

Once or twice a month, give your juniper a thorough watering. Before watering your juniper, check the soil. If it feels dry on the surface, then it is time to water your tree.

Use lukewarm water when watering. Water that is too hot or too cold will stress your tree.

You can tell if your water is too hot by holding it under your wrist for about a second. If it feels slightly warm, then it’s the perfect temperature for watering your juniper.

Japanese Juniper Care – How To Grow A Japanese Juniper Plant - Picture

You can also use rain water or bottled water to water your juniper, but be sure to never give it ice cold water! This can shock the roots and cause leaf drop. If you don’t have access to bottled water, let the tap water sit out for at least an hour before using it.

If you live in an area that snows in the winter, you need to be especially careful if there is a heavy snowfall. Before the snow melts and even after, your tree can be subjected to periods of drought or super saturation. Be sure to water your tree at least once every three days during and after a snowstorm until all the snow has melted.


The type of soil you use is very important when it comes to growing junipers. It’s best to use a well-draining, sandy soil that is rich in organic matter. You can use a cactus and succulent potting mix (be sure to get one that is low in nutrients) or you can make your own by combining two parts peat moss with one part horticultural sand.

You can also use a mixture of one part sand with one part potting soil. The key here is to make sure the soil you use drains well.

If you don’t have access to any of these, you can make your own mix by combining equal parts horticultural sand, peat moss, and brick rubble. When using this type of soil, you will need to water your tree more often and pay special attention to the roots to make sure they aren’t rotting.


Junipers can’t stand wet feet for long periods of time. If the soil you’re using doesn’t drain well, don’t mulch around the roots with bark or straw. These items keep moisture around the roots and can lead to serious root rot if used for an extended period of time.

You’ll know you’re using the right soil if you stick your finger into the soil and it feels almost sandy between your fingers.

When watering your juniper, water until it begins running out of the pot. Let the soil dry out slightly before watering again. During the winter months, reduce watering to once every two to three weeks.

The best way to tell if your tree needs water is to lift it up. If the top feels heavy and the bottom light, then it doesn’t need water. If it feels about the same, then it needs a little water.

If it’s heavy at the bottom then it needs water right away.

To prevent salt build up, only use rain water, distilled water, or water that’s been left to sit for at least 24 hours. Tap water contains salts and other elements that can cause leaf burn.

Fertilizing Your Juniper:

Japanese Juniper Care – How To Grow A Japanese Juniper Plant | igrowplants.net

When it comes to feeding your juniper, you’ll need to be very careful. They can be sensitive to the type of fertilizer you use and too much will kill it just as easily as too little.

It’s best to buy a low nitrogen fertilizer with an NPK ratio of around .5-1.5-5.

This will provide just enough nutrients for your tree without killing it with food.

Fertilize early in the year, before the tree starts budding and then again in the middle to late part of the growing season. You can feed it monthly if you want, but this isn’t necessary.

Don’t fertilize right before you prune your tree either. The fertilizer can burn the fresh cuts and make them prone to infection. Wait until new growth begins again before pruning and then feed it.


When it comes to pruning your juniper, less is always better. You should only prune dead wood or any damaged or diseased branches.

To figure out if a branch is dead or alive, snap it. If it snaps cleanly and feels firm then it’s alive and you should prune around it. If it’s soft in your hands and has no give, then it’s dead and you can remove it all together.

Try to maintain the natural shape of the tree and remove branches back to one or two existing branches. Your goal should be to expose the oldest wood (darkest green) to as much light as possible.

As your juniper grows, check it periodically to see if it requires any shaping. Most of the time when you first plant it, the tree will be in a triangular shape because of how it was positioned in the pot. You can lightly pinch the top out to a rounder shape as it grows.

Be careful not to over prune, as this can be just as harmful as not pruning at all. Always err on the side of caution and only remove what you absolutely have to.


Japanese Juniper Care – How To Grow A Japanese Juniper Plant | igrowplants.net

Wiring a tree is an art form that takes years to master. It’s not something most people should try on their own without professional training or guidance. Even then, it takes a lot of time, patience and practice to get right.

Because of this, I cannot cover wiring in this ebook. I just don’t feel comfortable giving someone instructions on something that could potentially kill their tree if not done right.

If you do have experience with wiring, by all means go ahead and do so. The tree will adapt and fill in any open areas you create. Just remember to do so carefully and always think ahead as you’re shaping.

If you don’t feel comfortable wiring, then don’t do it. It’s not necessary for bonsai and it might be best for you as a beginner to avoid these techniques until you’ve had more experience.

Pruning and wiring aren’t everything when it comes to bonsai. Sometimes you have to do a little bit of cleaning. This involves removing any new growth that isn’t desirable.

Most junipers, as well as most other types of bonsai trees for that matter, create what’s called ‘insufficient spines’ or IS for short. These are small little nubs that are sometimes hard to spot unless you’re looking for them.

They usually appear on the top part of the tree and create thin flimsy branches that aren’t strong enough to be used for training. They’ll look like little nubs, but they’ll feel hard, almost like tiny little bolts protruding from the tree.

Over time as your juniper grows and new needles replace old, you may notice a pinkish tone to the new needles. That means the tree is starting to use those spines/nubs for growth and it’s time to clean them up.

You should clean them periodically anyway, because over time they’ll weaken the branch they’re on and eventually break it.

To remove IS, you can use the same tools you used for pruning, but you might not need to go as drastic. Just go in and pinch or snip off the nubs themselves. Over time you’ll learn exactly how much to trim off and the branch will healthily outgrow the nubs.


After creating your masterpiece, it’s time to put your tree in its new home. Remember, this tree is a living, breathing thing and it needs to be treated as such.

The pot you choose to place your tree in is very important. It needs to have good drainage, but hold enough water to keep your tree from drying out. A good general rule is that your tree should be about 1″ – 2″ below the top of the pot.

Also, the size of your tree affects the size of the pot it needs. While height is a factor, more important is girth. Meaning, if you have two trees that are the same height, but one is much larger than the other, the larger one will require a larger pot.

Japanese Juniper Care – How To Grow A Japanese Juniper Plant - Image

It’s not based on weight, but dimensions.

Here are some trees in the wrong size pots:

See how the leaves are touching the top of the pot?

It not only adds unnecessary height to the tree, but also adds a lot of unnecessary work in terms of upkeep. This will require you to water your tree much more than it should need and it will be prone to disease and insects.

Here are some trees in the right size pots:

As you can see, there’s a significant difference between the two. The properly potted trees look much better and will live a lot longer with less stress on your part.

After you’ve placed your tree in the pot, it’s time to add soil and decorate. There are many suitable types of soil out there, but most people prefer a well draining one. This is very important as you do not want your soil to have water sitting in the bottom of the pot for long periods of time.

This is an invitation to insects and diseases. A common soil that many use is called African Violet Soil and is usually available at most garden centers.

Now that your tree is in place and the soil is added, it’s time to decorate. This is where you can truly let your imagination run wild. Whether you choose to add figurines, stones or other decorations is entirely up to you.

Since this guide is about creating natural bonsai, I’ll leave the creative aspect up to you. Just remember, less is usually better.

Optional: Live Plants

There is an option to add live plants to your terrarium. This serves two purposes. One, it adds life to the scene and adds a nice feeling of nature to the overall piece.

Japanese Juniper Care – How To Grow A Japanese Juniper Plant | igrowplants.net

Two, it helps with the upkeep of your bonsai trees.

The type of plant you decide on adding is entirely up to you. The most common types are small flowering plants that aren’t too tall (so they don’t overwhelm the scene). Another popular choice is moss, but this isn’t for everyone as it requires more upkeep than a normal flowering plant.

If you decide to go with live plants, you’ll have to do some research and get your hands dirty (or call a professional) in order to integrate the plants into the scene. There are different types of soil that support different types of plants, so you’ll have to do some research when picking out your plants.


Now that you’ve completed your project, sit back and enjoy it. Although bonsai may seem simple, it’s a very complex and artistic hobby and art. It’s ancient history and traditions date back thousands of years to a time without Pinterest, smartphones and other modern convenience.

With a little hard work and patience, you too can create a living masterpiece that you can be proud of.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do about my bonsai tree dying?

This is probably the most common question I get. And for good reason, it happens to everyone at one point or another. It’s very easy to tell someone what to do in most any situation, but a lot harder to actually do it yourself.

Unfortunately, as with many things in life, there is no sure fire way to guarantee your tree will always be flourishing. However, there are a few things you can do.

1. Research your tree online and see how other people are taking care of it.

Find out what it likes and find out what it doesn’t like. Most beginners don’t do this and just follow the instructions on the back of the fertilizer bag (which is actually pretty bad advice anyway).

2. Repotting can have tremendous effects on your tree’s health.

Some trees thrive off being root-bound, while others require a fresh pot every once in a while. Try to keep this in mind when you repot and only do it every few years.

3. Make sure your tree is getting the right amount of sun, water and nutrients.

This takes some time to get used to, but after a while you’ll get a feel for things.

Japanese Juniper Care – How To Grow A Japanese Juniper Plant | igrowplants.net

4. Be patient and don’t give up.

It can take years to get your tree to grow the way you want it to. Also, enjoy yourself.

Bonsai is a fun hobby and if you aren’t enjoying it, then why are you doing it?

That should help you out in any potential bonsai tree failures you may have. If all else fails though, see an expert to help you through it. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Do you have any books that go into greater detail on this subject?

Unfortunately, most of the books available in bookstores only show you pictures of trees and hardly (if at all) go into the details of how to take care of the trees. As for internet sources, most of them only show pictures and don’t offer any advice or guidance at all.

Sources & references used in this article:

Tolerance of containerized landscape plants to the postemergence herbicides Stinger, Manage and Basagran by G Bachman, C Wilson… – Journal of …, 1995 – meridian.allenpress.com

Aroma and functional properties of Japanese yuzu (Citrus junos Tanaka) essential oil. by M Sawamura – Aroma Research, 2000 – cabdirect.org

Using juniper berry (Juniperus communis) as a supplement in Japanese quail diets by H Inci, G Ozdemir, AY Sengul, B Sogut… – Revista Brasileira de …, 2016 – SciELO Brasil

Nitrate in runoff water from container grown juniper and Alberta spruce under different irrigation and N fertilization regimes by TM Rathier, CR Frink – Journal of Environmental …, 1989 – meridian.allenpress.com

Susceptibility of Japanese boxwood, dwarf gardenia, Compacta (Japanese) holly, Spiny Greek and Blue Rug junipers, and nandina to four nematode species. by DM Benson, KR Barker – Plant Disease, 1982 – cabdirect.org

Preemergent weed control in container and field grown woody nursery crops with Gallery by JC Neal, AF Senesac – Journal of Environmental …, 1990 – meridian.allenpress.com

Junipers of the world: the genus Juniperus by RP Adams – 2014 – books.google.com

Wabi sabi: The Japanese art of impermanence by A Juniper – 2011 – books.google.com

Regeneration of somatic hybrid plants obtained by electrical fusion between satsuma mandarin (Citrus unshiu) and rough lemon (C. jambhiri) or yuzu (C. junos) by T HIDAKA, M OMURA – Japanese Journal of Breeding, 1992 – jstage.jst.go.jp



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