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A Western Juniper Awaits

Updated: Oct 8, 2020


The last time I was in California was September of 2012 and during that time I got a chance to reunite not with just family and friends but with my trees!  One of them being this collected Western Juniper pictured above.  Since my time home wasn’t very long, I decide to hold off on the structural work and focused more on the roots.  Since Fall is a good time to repot Junipers in California, I decided to do just that.  This is by no means a post about repotting, but more of a way for me to share some of the up and coming projects I have when I return home in June.  In this post, I’m simply going to share some before and after photos of the tree in its new home and some basic information about the characteristics of Western Junipers.  I plan to work on this tree again at the end of 2013 so expect an updated post at that time.   First, lets take a 360 look of the tree itself!




History of the Tree and Characteristics

This Western Juniper was collected about 4 years ago (legally!) and has grown in the same wood box since.  The collecting process didn’t seem to faze the tree at all and it kept growing well.  The scientific name of the tree is Juniperus Occidentalis var. Occidentalis and they naturally grow in the Northwest of  the US such as California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.  Like many other Junipers, they can survive lots of stresses and have interesting dead and live areas.

Lets look at some close up shots to see what are the characteristics of this tree.





Tree Health and a New Home







So what do you think?  What do you suppose the tree will look like in the future? (Please share your comments below)  There are lots of possibilities with this tree and ideas I have running in my head now may change in the future when I see it again.  At the moment, all is up in the air but I am looking forward to figuring this one out.  More on this tree at the end of 2013!

**Updated** 3-12-2013

I liked that many of you commented and it made me realize that I should have added an explanation for the front that I chose in the post.  Some commented that they like the right side of the tree with a bit of a tilt whereas others liked the back more than the front.  Nobody seems to like the left side though so I guess that’s out! Hahaha.

Anyways, here are my thoughts and the reason why I chose the front that I did (though it could still change in the future).

Picking a Front

The first thing I do when picking a front on a tree is ask myself these basic questions:

1. What kind of tree is this?

Answer: Western Juniper

2. What interesting characteristics of that type of tree tends to occur naturally and is something people like?

 Answer: What makes a Western Juniper fun to look are the aged elegant movements in the deadwood and live wood.  The best examples tend to have a lot of curves instead of hard angle changes such as 90 degree bends.  The tree as a whole has a soft  feeling so the  foliage pads themselves tend to be very round and cloud-like.

3. What interesting characteristics does this particular tree have?

Answer: This particular Western Juniper has some areas that are soft and curvy and other areas that are ridged and straight.  There are a mix of young and old deadwood as well as a mix of young and old live wood.

4. Does this tree have a unique quality that cannot be duplicated in another piece of material?

Answer: Absolutely! One side of the tree looks like a duck body with a duck-like head.

Why I Picked This Front


The main reason why I picked this front was because the tree looks like a duck or a goose flapping it’s wings readying itself to take off from water.  The deadwood really gives me a feeling of the wings and the water splash.  Just by that alone, the tree itself looks like it’s moving, though it’s stationary in the pot.  Not many trees can give the viewer that kind of feeling and it would ashamed not to show that feeling.  Why make this tree look like other Junipers?  I can do that with other pieces of material that doesn’t have this unique feature.

Having said that, lets talk about the technical reasons why I chose this front as well.

1. Most of the read bark on the tree’s right is actually not active and will all be removed and turned into deadwood (when I say, “tree’s right,” I mean the left side of the photo that is pictured above).  Once all cleaned up, this front will actually have two visible life lines which will add interest and age to the tree.  The two life lines will be in the belly area and the neck area.

2. This front shows the oldest deadwood areas on the tree which is on the tree’s left and right.  When I work on this tree, I will highlight the old areas by keeping much of them visible and not blocked out by the foliage.  I don’t plan on using all of the deadwood so some of it will be removed.  Small skinny pieces of deadwood will be removed because those tend to make the tree look young.

3. This side shows more movement in the dead and live wood than any other side and it also takes advantage of the full size of the tree.

There are some other small reasons but for the most part, the top three reasons are why I chose this side.

Some of The Reader’s Choices


Many have suggested that they like the back of the tree as the front.  By all means, not a bad choice but there are some issues to think about.

1. We lose the duck! 😉

2. There is a massive piece of uninteresting deadwood right in front, though the other pieces of deadwood seen are very interesting.

3. Onces all the deadwood is cleaned up, we won’t see a life line going into the soil which creates a feeling that a tree is growing out of a piece of deadwood.  This creates a disconnect between the tree and its base.

4. Though there is a lot of movement on this side, the live areas are a bit flat (feels young) and there isn’t a lot of live and deadwood mixed in together (feels young) like the other side.


Overall, this isn’t a bad side at all and if I didn’t have the duck feeling and the mixture of live and deadwood on the other side, I would have probably picked this front.


Some readers have suggested that they like this side of the tree more and that tilting the tree up would help.  Not a bad side by all means but there are a couple of issues using this side as well.

1. We lost the duck!  😉

2. As stated above, the right side of the tree is mostly dead though there is some reddish wood there.  Once it’s all cleaned up, we’ll only see a tiny life line on the opposite side if at all coming from the ground.  Junipers that have visible life lines that go into the ground always looks more stable and real than a life line that comes out of nowhere in the middle of a dead trunk.  There are exceptions of course but those exceptions are rare.

3. Once the deadwood is cleaned up on the tree’s right, the wood will look young and fresh.  We could use all the tricks in the book to try and make it look old but it’s never quite the same as real old deadwood.  The good news is that there is that the oldest deadwood is visible on this side but it’s also poking straight out at us.  We can probably turn the tree slightly to one side to help with that.

4. If we were to use this side, we would have to tilt this tree almost 90 degrees forward so that the trunk is upright.  If we only tilt the tree upright slightly, in person, the tree will look like it’s going away from the viewer.  Then we have to take into consideration if we went with the 90 degree tilt, will it dramatically change the look of this front and make it better or worst?

5. The tree doesn’t look like a solid tree.  The base looks solid but then the tree breaks off into multiple branches like a multi-trunk and we loose the big size feel of the tree.


Overall, I understand why some of you picked this side.  The trunk looks simpler and cleaner in many ways.  It’s easy to look at without so many things going on.  It reminds us of what other Juniper Bonsai tend to look like.  My feelings are that there are many trees out there that has a side like this and it could very well be the best side in those cases and used as the front.  In the case of this particular western, I’m looking to take advantage of the movement and deadwood features that it has to offer.  I also believe that this is a good example of how a 2-D pictures can make the tree look much different than it is in 3-D.

Many Thanks!

At the end of the day, we all have our opinions, likes and dislikes.  There’s no doubt that there are many fronts to this tree and I’m giving you the readers my reasons for why I chose my front.  If this tree was in your hands, it may look very different because we’re all different people.  I do appreciate those of you that spoke up and put in your thoughts on the sides you like and the comments seriously made me think about the other possibilities for this tree.  For that I thank you!  Perhaps when I get back home and look at the tree again, I may decide to go a different direction and ditch the duck!  Who knows!  But whatever I do do with the tree, I’ll be sure to share it here on the blog with you all!

Thanks for reading.

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