‘Shari’ is the Japanese term for dead wood along the trunk of a bonsai. Dead tips of branches are referred to as ‘jin’.

A quote attributed to various bonsai teachers says: “A juniper without deadwood is like a dog without fleas – unnatural.” For those of us who live in temperate climates like Australia, adding deadwood to bonsai seems just a little too much but in the areas where junipers grow naturally the climate is so extreme that few, if any, trees in their natural habitat mange to reach maturity without having some parts killed by extreme heat, cold, wind or landslides. When walking in juniper country, almost all trees have some dead parts so it is natural that bonsai artists seek to include this factor in their bonsai as homage to the trees in their natural habitat.

This is one of the ‘contorted’ junipers I’ve been developing after discussing these topics with Joe Morgan-Payler. While studying bonsai in Japan Joe spent a part of his time wiring and bending small junipers so, as they grew, the nursery would have trees that simulated wild collected stock to sell. If it is good enough for Japanese bonsai nurseries it’s also good enough for Shibui Bonsai here in Australia so I’ve also been growing and bending this species with the aim of having really high quality junipers available in future.

Shimpaku March 2017 before

One of the problems with these junipers is the slow growth rate. This tree is now 8 years old. It has been wired and bent at least 3 times over those years and you can see that sacrifice branches have been left in an attempt to speed up trunk development.

I’m hoping that this one will end up in the shohin size range – under 25 cm so the time has come to add some more features, in the form of dead wood to the design.

Today I used my grafting knife to remove the bark from areas I wanted to highlight with dead wood but you can use any sharp implement to outline the area and remove the bark. Make sure you scrape right down to the hard wood or the area may just heal over if enough cambium remains. I’ve tried to make the dead area flow naturally with the contours of the trunk.

Shimpaku juniper after.

As the tree grows and thickens this jin will probably be widened and extended to maintain an attractive bleached area of dead wood along the trunk.

The advanced junipers in the recent Shibui Bonsai Juniper catalogue would be ideal candidates for shari and jin techniques to produce really stunning juniper bonsai. Click on the link below to see the trees currently available.

Junipers Feb 2017

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