01/08/2019 Prune or pinch junipers. Right or wrong?

Firstly, I need to reiterate that I am no more than a hobbyist and barely proficient in the art of bonsai, having first ventured into the hobby almost twenty years ago. I acquired my first juniper round about five years later, an Itoigawa that I purchased at a reputable bonsai nursery.  Shortly afterward I attended a juniper workshop where I was introduced to some basics about its care. This included seasonal care, styling and on-going maintenance.

Over the years I obtained various books on bonsai (You can never have too many books) including a specialist book on junipers, where I found advice which reflected the practices I had been shown at the workshop and which I adopted as I sought to care for and improve my prized tree.

On joining the local bonsai society guest speakers reiterated the techniques I had come to accept and I was comfortable in the belief that with my limited skill I was doing the best I could for the tree that was now only one of a number of junipers I had acquired.

The technique I am referring to is of course ‘pinching’ to maintain the growth and shape of the tree. Described normally as using finger and thumb to pinch out growth tips as they extend, which I had been doing for about fifteen years.

Recently we have had speakers at club nights that have both agreed with and advised against this technique. Those who advise against pinching advocate allowing growth points to extend and then prune back with scissors, arguing that persistent pinching weakens the tree.

The image shows growth points around the apex of this tree which are a few centimetres in length. Closer examination reveals numerous other new growth points much shorter in length. The previous recommended practice was to pinch widely with finger and thumb, the newer recommendation being to allow the tips to extend and then prune back with scissors.

Which is the best practice and have I been weakening my trees for years?

A visiting demonstrator to our club when asked for his opinion responded saying that he had been doing bonsai for thirty odd years and had been pinching all that time.He went on to say that when challenged at one of his workshops by an enthusiast who argued he was weakening the tree, he explained that he responded that the guy had better tell the tree becauseit didn’t know that it should be dead!.

Mixed opinions appear to exist among professionals so there is not much hope for us mere mortals.

At the end of the day it is your choice. Do what you find best for your trees, as you can see I am leaving growth points to extend to see whether that is better for the tree.