Progression: Restyling A Clump-Style "Old Shimpaku" - Design input requested

A very, very delayed progression update on this shimpaku clump, with details on the work... Photos are from earlier this month; of course I failed to take a pic after the major pruning...

After a few months of pondering last Winter, decided to forgo a repot and focus on restyling this tree. The roots seemed in good shape based on overall vigor of the tree and good percolation into the media, and I saw a bigger need to start foliar work than "peak under the hood"... In Feb/March '23 I worked through each trunk by bending the branches by hand and seeing which got to a place I desired, and then getting rid of the branches that did not. Since everything was crowding upwards, I wired each trunk/primary branch as I pruned so I could clear space and start to build out a design. It was challenging and took a few weeks, but this approach worked out really well for me.

Over all I removed about 50% of the canopy this way and wired out as many branches as I could. I did not wire all branches, and in fact very little detial wiring, as this was my first wire project and I knocked off some foliage when I tried to go to the ends. I also definitely tore some small primary branches while trying to wire, so I stopped while it felt like I was ahead. I purposefully did not clean up the pads on the remaining foliage given how much I had removed overall. I was nervous about over working and killing the tree, so I kept it in mostly sunny spot with noon shade during the year. It pushed some new growth, but not a ton, and was overall very healthy. I gradually added a bit more detail wire to better position the branches in the fall.


In general I think the tree responded well to this level of work, based on some positive growth and a lack of die back. There is still a lot of foliage to be removed, probably 50% of what still remains, but the overall shape is coming through. Very hard to see the trunk lines in these pictures, but they are developing. In the coming weeks I will clean and thin the pads and wire or remove a couple more branches where I wasn't sure what to do.
 

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I like this tree, or rather, I like what it can become. You’re off to a good start, take care of it.
 
I like this tree, or rather, I like what it can become. You’re off to a good start, take care of it.
Thanks, I like where it's headed too. Going for an alpine lakeside aesthetic with a strong push to the right side. Long ways to go but I'm happy so far.
 
Spring restyling is done just in the nick of time. Removed another 50+% of the foliage, getting rid of unnecessary branches and thinning the pads. I rewired some of the trunks/primary branches and finally got the detail wires on. I think I over-thinned some of the lower pads, but a good portion of that foliage was weak stuff pointing straight up or backwards towards the center of the planting, so not particularly good to keep.

The foliage is starting to brighten up now as I shuffle it inside/outside every day. It would probably be fine at 32F night temps, but being extra cautious given the pruning.
 

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Great first stying!

Now one might consider going back and deciding how to strongly vary the heights of the different trees in the clump. This will be a challenge as each trunk grows over time. So best to figure this out now. Purpose to vary the heights which will keep the trunk diameters different too.

cheers
DSD sends
 
Great first stying!

Now one might consider going back and deciding how to strongly vary the heights of the different trees in the clump. This will be a challenge as each trunk grows over time. So best to figure this out now. Purpose to vary the heights which will keep the trunk diameters different too.

cheers
DSD sends
Thanks! Couldn't agree more about varying the heights. Hard to see with my shoddy photos but the center tree is the tallest, and I will keep nurturing that. Hoping to get some good growth in the apex after thinning it out. The front 2 upright trees are the next tallest and I'm trying to keep the varying assymetrical throughout. I think a taller composition will help balance the current width too. It was a challenge to bring the branches in tight with my wiring skills (or lack thereof).
 
Would differentiate sooner rather then later to keep the height:girth differences great.

It’s the old vexing issue with clumps. The trunks in a clump all tend to become the same girth/height, getting out of scale over time unless strong measures are taken from the start.

Just a thought.

cheers
DSD sends
 
Would differentiate sooner rather then later to keep the height:girth differences great.

It’s the old vexing issue with clumps. The trunks in a clump all tend to become the same girth/height, getting out of scale over time unless strong measures are taken from the start.

Just a thought.

cheers
DSD sends
How would you go about differentiating the height? My plan was to let the desired trees grow out to add height and diligently prune back growth on the ones I want to keep short. Any way to facilitate that? Would I thin the trees I want to grow more so theres a single shoot to dominate?

I thought about cutting back some of the tops and raising a new apex, but then the height seems out of proportion with the branches on said trunks.
 
Yep, that’s the issue now
How would you go about differentiating the height? My plan was to let the desired trees grow out to add height and diligently prune back growth on the ones I want to keep short. Any way to facilitate that? Would I thin the trees I want to grow more so theres a single shoot to dominate

I thought about cutting back some of the tops and raising a new apex, but then the height seems out of proportion with the branches on said trunks.
There are three small challenges here, height, length of branches and taper that are all solvable over time.
The trimming back and wire out as a pine somewhat limited the choices at this point.

Perhaps similar to what you were thinking…

1. Prune chosen thicker, higher trunks to grow upward more, while taking advantage of inner branch growth to push all branches inward.
2.. If possible, given the limited choices now, lower trunks on the intended thinnest lowest trees and again push back all branches to take advantage of inner branch growth to push back inward.
3.. Don’t worry about taper right now as this is a fun, years long project. Apexes will naturally grow strong over time If trees are treated properly.

Love to see your progress.

cheers
DSD sends
 
Perhaps I missed it in the preceding comments. But a discussion over the techniques on how the goals will be accomplished seems to be missing. One focus quite rightly is on the changes needed. Accomplishing the same is dependant on the condition of each trunk with respect to the ability to cut back and create new growth allowing the shortening and compacting desired. The discussion seems to be missing the " grow out aspect" that will be required to successfully accomplish the goals suggested! .
Just additional thoughts from afar!
"First ensure that there is enough strength remaining to create new growth in the areas desired."
Simply put the slower approach over time will yield better results, the multiple goals require chasing back growth which requires time for extensions first.
Removing the weaker foliage is a good move, allow for extension of new growth before further cutback would be my suggestion. Both on the trunks and branches. Unless you can already cut back to a strong shoot as desired and there is a good amount of foliage left to continue a healthy growth pattern. Slow the process in a year that requires a repot.
Nice potential in this clump style. definitely worth taking the time.
Look forward to seeing the progression.
 
Perhaps I missed it in the preceding comments. But a discussion over the techniques on how the goals will be accomplished seems to be missing. One focus quite rightly is on the changes needed. Accomplishing the same is dependant on the condition of each trunk with respect to the ability to cut back and create new growth allowing the shortening and compacting desired. The discussion seems to be missing the " grow out aspect" that will be required to successfully accomplish the goals suggested! .
Just additional thoughts from afar!
"First ensure that there is enough strength remaining to create new growth in the areas desired."
Simply put the slower approach over time will yield better results, the multiple goals require chasing back growth which requires time for extensions first.
Removing the weaker foliage is a good move, allow for extension of new growth before further cutback would be my suggestion. Both on the trunks and branches. Unless you can already cut back to a strong shoot as desired and there is a good amount of foliage left to continue a healthy growth pattern. Slow the process in a year that requires a repot.
Nice potential in this clump style. definitely worth taking the time.
Look forward to seeing the progression.
Thank you for the insights. The "grow out" was somewhat implied, but should be highlighted explicitly. Now that I've focused where it will grow (so not wasting all that potential) I can give it a healthy amount of sun and moderate fertilizer and see where it takes me. I wasn't thinking about cutting back on the lower branches, but that does make sense for a more compact shape. Will see how this year's growth plays out :)
 
"First ensure that there is enough strength remaining to create new growth in the areas desired."
Glancing through this thread, I keep seeing a consistent theme... this is a weak tree that is showing all the signs of desperately needing to be repotted. All the styling and wiring in the world isn't going to help the tree develop if it is root-bound in poor soil. You are at the tail end of the repotting window. I'm not sure why you keep resisting the idea of repotting, but I would highly recommend you consider it.

This is what healthy kishu foliage looks like. It is thick and tight, with a dark blue/green interior and bright green growing tips. Weak kishu foliage is sparce, leggy, and has a grey/green color.

kishu.jpg
 
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Glancing through this thread, I keep seeing a consistent theme... this is a weak tree that is showing all the signs of desperately needing to be repotted. All the styling and wiring in the world isn't going to help the tree develop if it is root-bound in poor soil. You are at the tail end of the repotting window. I'm not sure why you keep resisting the idea of repotting, but I would highly recommend you consider it.

This is what healthy kishu foliage looks like. It is thick and tight, with a dark blue/green interior and bright green growing tips. Weak kishu foliage is sparce, leggy, and has a grey/green color.
Thanks for the photo and insight, that's some beautiful foliage! Pardon the ignorance but are kishu and shimpaku the same cultivars?

I haven't repotted because the soil percolates well, it's still the right texture when I peek under the moss, and it is not pushing up out of the pot to suggest it is really root bound. Also a healthy dose of fear to not botch it while I learn if I am being very honest. The foliage was incredibly dense when first acquired and in dire need of thinning, so I prioritized that given my novice observation that the soil drained well and seemed fine. It responded well to the pruning and light thinning and grew moderately even though I had it in partial sun instead of full sun to see how it responded. It's in full sun now so I expect denser growth. Will be extremely telling in the next 3 months if the growth is poor.

Either way I intend to repot in the 2025 season so I can see what the root and soil condition are like. By then I'll have practiced on some sacrificial stock and be more confident in the process.
 
Over all I removed about 50% of the canopy this way and wired out as many branches as I could
here is still a lot of foliage to be removed, probably 50% of what still remains, but the overall shape is coming through
A good guideline for development is to set aside the foliage trimmed in one pile. When you have removed approximately 1/3 of the total foliage it is a good time to stop! trees progress much faster when they have the strength to fuel recovery and new extension growth. This is a guideline that has been taught by professionals as a good starting point. Just thought it was a good idea to throw this out for those following this thread.
 
Thanks for the photo and insight, that's some beautiful foliage! Pardon the ignorance but are kishu and shimpaku the same cultivars?
There are many cultivars of Juniperus chinensis.

The most famous variety is the Itoigawa Shimpaku (Juniperus chinensis var. Itoigawa) found in the Niigata Prefecture. Other varieties used for bonsai in Japan include the Kishu Shimpaku from Wakayama, the Tohoku Shimpaku from Tohoku Prefecture and the Hokkaido Shimpaku from northern Hokkaido, Japan. These juniper species with scale-like foliage are all referred to as Shimpaku.

The three most used junipers for bonsai are Shimpaku, Kishu, and Itoigawa. All are referred to as Shimapku. Folks say each of these types can have its own variations. There are many other cultivars, such as Fudo etc. used for bonsai. (brw: Fudo is less often seen due to its relative rarity)

A complete history of the discovery and subsequent exploitation of Itoigawa juniper was posted by @Brian Van Fleet

Cheers
DSD sends
 
This is the best explanation of shimpaku and the cultivars Itoigawa and Kishu that I’ve seen from someone who studied and lived in Japan (and now does once more) and speaks the language.

 
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