Never pinch junipers!
I’ve been ripping off valuable tidbits from Michael Hagedorn’s Crataegus Bonsai for a long time (always attributed and linked of course). Micheal is a noted American bonsai artist, teacher and author and a voice for a common sense approach to bonsai.
Michael’s latest post is titled ‘Never Pinch Junipers.’ In his own words… Basically, we don’t pinch junipers. We cut new long extensions with scissors…and I know that will raise some eyebrows. I think the idea of pinching junipers with fingers started long ago in translated Japanese articles written by those who did not specialize in or have much experience in junipers. And then we bought into the idea of pinching because it seemed like a way to have fun with our junipers. But pinching, especially over-pinching where every growing tip is removed, has been killing junipers for decades. There’s more here.
When Michael mentions “the idea of pinching junipers with fingers started long ago in translated Japanese articles written by those who did not specialize in or have much experience in junipers” I thought uh oh, could it be Bonsai Today that hes’ referring to? The early issue of Bonsai Today were translated from Japanese to Spanish to English. The person doing the Spanish to English knew absolutely nothing about bonsai and, at that time, almost no one else in the West did either (quite possibly including the person translating from Japanese to Spanish). So it’s easy to see how misconceptions could be passed on and be interpreted as bonsai gospel.
Which brings us to an article in Bonsai Today issue 28 (1993) where Kunio Kobayashi (he’s famous and it’s well earned) where he is quoted as saying “The objective of pinching is to remove the leaves in areas of strong growth, so that you keep the strong branches from growing too long and, at the same time, bring into balance the vigor of the tree’s strong branches (which are pinched) with that of the weak ones (that are not pinched).” There’s more, but you get the drift.
Pinch! If you look at this photo (from the Kunio Kobayashi article in Bonsai Today 28), it looks like he’s showing us how to pinch juniper foliage. When you combine the photo with the text (even considering all the possibilities for mistranslation) it’s seem that he clearly advocated pinching (at least in 1993).
A way out of our dilemma
I’m loath to disagree with Michael on any bonsai topic, but equally reluctant to disagree with Mr. Kobayashi. Fortunately, I think there’s a way out (beyond the old saw about reasonable people disagreeing); it’s when Michael says “But pinching, especially over-pinching where every growing tip is removed, has been killing junipers for decades. So, maybe you can still pinch your junipers, as long as you don’t over-pinch. Or…?