Conifer Bonsai Care

By Jack Christiansen

Learn how to care for conifer bonsai after its shaping. This is part 2 of the author's guide on shaping and caring for bonsai. Click here to read part 1.

This is an example of a conifer bonsai shape that can be achieved over years
This is an example of a conifer bonsai shape that can be achieved over years

Your first bonsai: keep it simple

When I started looking for my first bonsai plant, I had no idea of the various strengths or weaknesses of the many trees. Going to a nursery and choosing just any plant was my demise. I now know some conifers are temperamental and others are more forgiving.

For your first bonsai, choose a juniper, pine or cedar which are all good selections and which will withstand the type of treatment your plant will undergo. If your climate zone permits, you may want to try a spruce or a larch, as they make wonderful bonsai also.

The key criterion for a plant that is bonsai-adaptable is the leaf or needle size. The larger the leaf or needle size of a plant, the larger a bonsai tree must be, in order to achieve a good size relationship.

Close up of twists and contortions achieved by wiring a conifer bonsai
Close up of twists and contortions achieved by wiring a conifer bonsai

Post-Shaping Care

Once you are satisfied with the wiring and positioning of the trunk and branches, you should water your tree and set it aside in a protected and shaded area of your yard. Your plant has undergone unusual treatment and needs to be left alone to recover its vigor.

Gradually bring it back into full sun when the weather is not overly hot. You can then begin fertilizing the tree, making sure the plant is now putting on new growth. It usually requires two to three months after being wired and cut back until you can start making adjustments to the initial styling.

Usually, I won’t put a tree in a small bonsai-type pot until it has been styled over a period of several years. A large container will allow your plant to attain better growth and trunk size more rapidly. Once you are satisfied with the size, it is then ready for a nice bonsai container. Repotting should be done only when the plant has gone into a dormant state, in late fall, winter, or early spring.


Conifer bonsai Thuja occidentalis ‘IslPrim’ Primo® wired for five years

All bonsai trees are wired into position within the container. This anchors the tree in place and protects the small feeding roots of the plant when you are working on the tree and manipulating it. A good training pot has ample drainage holes that allow water to flow freely through the soil and out the bottom. Again, I suggest using YouTube for good examples of how to wire a tree into place within your pot.

If developing bonsai trees becomes your passion, and you truly enjoy it, you will find that, in time, you’ll have many trees in your collection. With an outdoor conifer garden, there is a lot of down time, with nothing to do but watch it grow. With a bonsai collection to care for, you’ll have a constant program of tending your trees that will keep you busy throughout the year.


Multi-trunk conifer bonsai styled as a wind-swept tree. Juniperus chinensis ‘Shimpaku kishu’

A Fruitful, Lifelong Pursuit

Every morning, I spend a couple of relaxing hours outside, working on my bonsai trees. This is the most cherished time of day for me, working on my trees and taking care of their needs. I’m also the president of our bonsai club here in San Jose, California. Many of my closest friends are club members.

Weekly, we attend workshops together and exchange information about our various experiences doing bonsai. My time outside in the environment of my conifer garden, along with having a large collection of bonsai trees, has brought me closer to nature and the joys of life. I hope that you will experience this same joy with bonsai.

I plan to share more articles that will take you even further with this wonderful art form.

Photographs by Jack Christiansen.

Jack is an ACS member, an avid bonsai-enthusiast and bonsai-creator. His garden is an excellent example of creative design and the integration of bonsai into the garden. His knowledge and photographic skills are well-known and widely appreciated. He lives in San Jose, California. Over the years, Jack has been a valued contributor to the CQ.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of Conifer Quarterly. Join the American Conifer Society to access our extensive library of conifer-related articles and connect to a nationwide group of plant lovers! Become a member for only $40 a year and get discounts with our growing list of participating nurseries in our Nursery Discount Program.


Irvin Gershowitz

how do bonsai plants differ in california compared to a bonsai supplier on the east coast examp0le=mississippi?