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Bonsai Progression - Shimpaku Juniper from Nursery Stock

Hey, hey, hey all you bonsai boy and girls! Welcome to another bonsai progression. You can check out my other progressions here or subscribe at the bottom of this page for all my future updates! Today, I'm gonna talk about an old shimpaku I purchased from a local nursery. Before we discuss my tree, let's start with a little tip for all you bonsai beginners.

When I was new, I remember that feeling of wanting “to do” bonsai. I wanted to stop reading beginner books and how-to videos and get my hands dirty. Cut some stuff up. Wire a branch and try my hand at design. In short, I wanted to create. I did what many beginners do, I butchered a bunch of nursery stock junipers!

Here is my tip, before you go buying random nursery stock in the name of "practice", I suggest you focus on finding the right material. Put another way, over the last 6 years, I've bought more nursery stock junipers than I care to remember. Sea Gold, Grew Owl, Blue Pacific, Nana, Blue star (the list goes on and on) but here's the deal, looking at my garden today, there's only one kind of juniper that remains. The shimpaku. Why is that? There are several reasons, let me highlight two.

  1. The shimpaku takes to bonsai training & techniques well. Wiring, bending, repotting, etc. She takes a beating and keeps on kicking. In addition, they hide the mistakes you will undoubtedly make. This allows you to keep them on your bench for years to come without the embarrassment!

  2. The foliage is great. This is more important than the first. Overtime, the shimpaku foliage is small and green. It will make even the crappiest tree look pretty good. (See my example today:)

Instead of going to your big box store and buying crappy junipers, check out my top 5 places to purchase bonsai trees online, and find a great beginner bonsai species (like tridents, shimpakus, ficus, etc). Now onto my progression!

I found this shimpaku at a specialty nursery south of St. Louis in the summer of 2016. I didn't know a lot about shimpaku at the time, but I knew they were popular in the art, so I made the purchase.

Summer 2016

Shimpaku in nursery container

This progression will highlight many of the mistakes I made. My hope is that you can learn from my experiences. Below, you'll see a photo from 2017. First, what am I doing with that wire? It's not remotely thick enough to do any bending. Also, notice the cut I made at the base. Don't EVER cut a juniper flush! Always leave a stub or jin or something behind.

Summer 2017

Shimpaku in nursery container with scissors

One thing I did learn, after a few months in the hobby, was that I didn't know what I was doing. I realized it might be best to just let trees grow. I needed to learn how to keep things alive before I cut them back. So, I didn't do much with this shimpaku until 2018. That year, I placed the tree into large clay pot, and changed the angle of the tree, which is probably the only positive change I made to the tree!

Summer 2018- Before

Shimpaku bonsai in ceramic container

Summer 2018 - After

Shimpaku bonsai in ceramic container with raffia

Ok, a lot to digest here. First, why did I raffia that branch? I'm not sure. Why am I using aluminum wire? Again, I'm not sure. The design is OK, but honestly, this thing is hot mess.

Onto 2019. Here we can begin to see the benefits of using shimpaku. I've made plenty of mistakes and my design is lacking inspiration. Through it all, the tree is doing OK. It's growing itself out of my incompetence.

Summer 2019

Shimpaku bonsai in ceramic container
Back Side of the Tree

As I have shared plenty of times, I moved in 2020 and Covid happened, so I don't have many photos to share. I repotted in 2020 into a contemporary Chinese container and created some deadwood features. You'll just have to trust me. I chose a round because at the time, I didn't know where the front of tree was ultimately gonna be. And I'm glad I did, because as you'll see below, this tree is starting to become something!

Summer 2021

Shimpaku juniper bonsai in round pot

Ok, now we're cooking with fire, right?!? Check out how clean, crisp and gorgeous the foliage is. Small, compact and green, green, green, just the way we like it!

In closing, you can see how many mistakes I made with this tree over the years. To be honest, I made the same mistakes with countless other junipers. The reason this tree remains on my bench is because the shimpaku is an excellent cultivar of juniper. It takes my abuse like a champ. It's hard to believe this is the same tree from 2018, but I assure you it is.

Go out there and take your time finding the right starter material. Remember, the goal here is to grow and train a tree for many, many years. Doesn’t it make sense to take your time before making a purchase, being sure you've found a great piece of material? Even if it is only for “practice”. I wish I had, maybe I'd have even more cool shimpakus on the bench.

2016-2021 Progression

shimpaku bonsai progression

So, what do you think? Have you, like me, butchered your fair share of nursery stock junipers? Have you had success with shimpaku? Leave me a comment below and be sure to subscribe to the blog for all my future updates, including my monthly newsletter. Until next time, Peace Love Bonsai!

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B Ell
B Ell
Feb 03, 2022

Nice progression! Did you use a particular fertilizer or do anything else to get the bright green foliage? My Shimpaku has had pale gray-green foliage ever since the 2nd year I had it. I'm hoping a nitrogen-rich fertilizer and more sunlight will help this year.




Adam Brabant
Adam Brabant
Jan 23, 2022

I got half a dozen green mound junipers a year ago or so, from Lowes. Each one had two trees in them. Some need a lot of work, a couple look great just by trimming. I'm definitely going to do that again this year.


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