Materials needed for root-over-rock workshop. The additions are a suitable rock on which to perch the tree, some moss, and a heavier gauge wire.
By David Raikow (Volcano, Hawaii) & David Fukumoto (Kurtistown, Hawaii)

                It's a bit different when a promising study group member lives nearby, who is excited about learning, and is willing and able to assist in a win-win manner.  David's first IWP was done at Fuku-Bonsai with Edison Yadao as instructor.  He forwarded a report of sorts, did a lot better for IWP #2, and still better in IWP #3!  This is posted at

                David does great photography, writes well, and very quickly responds quickly.  These are traits that are very valuable as we seek and train Fast Track Study Group members.  But because of his interest and willingness to participate,  I accelerated his learning curve with an emphasis on greatly improving his report writing ability. The best way to do this is to write informative report of what you are currently learning!  So instead of him learning with me explaining, he doing, and me photographing and writing it up --- we switched it around.  I did the work,  explained what I was doing, while David took the photographs and made notes. 

                Photos are best if taken without flash and with the camera mounted on a tripod.  But because of the low light and close-ups,  you need to take the photos carefully to not have blurry photos caused by camera shake.   I edited, cropped, selected the usable photos,  set them up in a MSWord document, and sent them by email to David with a short deadline to fit it within this issue.  So here's our first article collaboration!   



            We chose this rock because it was tall and narrow enough to fit in the standard Workshop I kit pot. We’ve prepared the base by chipping away at it with a drill to produce three points on which it can stand. This surprised me because I would have thought we should sand the base flat. The three points form a tripod, and allows drainage, whereas a flat base would not. Also, we’ve drilled a hole through the rock near the bottom horizontally.



             The top of the rock was formed into a “saddle” in which the tree could sit. Into this crevice we stuffed some Nutrient Granules, and then sphagnum moss on top of that. This will allow slow diffusion of the fertilizer and gives insight into the level of control of the soil media possible and necessary for growing healthy trees. It really is an artful application of necessary elements: nutrient supplements, soil, moisture, and drainage.




            David removed the tree from the 2" nursery pot, removed the media from the top, sides and bottom of the root ball.  the roots. He's inspecting the tree to decide exactly how to place it in the saddle. We must to decide how to best position the roots to flow over the rock. This tree had three main roots and a lot of smaller roots.  The granular potting media was very easy to remove with a root hook.




          We’ve positioned the tree with the main roots flowing down either side of the saddle. Notice the moss of the rock. We built up a thick "cushion" made up of several  layers of sphagnum moss and potting media so the roots will have soil media as it travels down the rock to the media in the pot. The moss serves as an internal water distribution system that is very effective and largely the key to the very high success rate of Fuku-Bonsai root-over-rock plantings.




           Pulling down and tying the tree firmly into the saddle in the rock determines how we are training the tree to grow over the rock. We used paper-wrapped thin bindwire that will rot away without damaging the roots.  Note that the tree is tied very securely so it is possible to lift the rock and tree by the tree's trunk without any shake.  This is important.




            Adding another layer of moss and soil will protect the roots and provide media for them to grow through. Note also we have fished a heavy gauge wire through the horizontal hole at the base of the rock. It’s okay to be a bit messy with the soil and moss.






            We're preparing the foil wrap. This sheet of foil is folded over once, and then a small edge folded over again. It’s a small detail, but helps to strengthen the edge.





          Crumpling the foil was another surprise. By crumpling, you create an irregular surface that will better grab the soil and moss underneath.







            Folding the foil into an accordion shape serves two purposes. First it will allow a tighter fit against the media when it is wrapped against the rock. Second, vertically-oriented channels will encourage roots to grow downward as opposed to sideways. This is another great detail and illustrates the insight of David's  long-term experience of training these trees.


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           We’ve added shredded moss bits to the edge of the foil, and soil within the folds. I love this detail. Placing media in the foil was a step I did not expect. The moss at the edge will help retain moisture.




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           We wrap the tree in the foil. You don’t want to just pick the foil up and try to wrap it on the tree, as this would dump the material. There's some moss and potting media on top of the rock. Carefully lift up one side of the accordian folded foil and press it against the rock so the media in the folds will cling to the side of the rock. Then hold the edge up as you carefully lift the other side of the folded foil so media is all around the rock.  You want to form a cone that is wider at the base.



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           The foil skirt is then sealed shut by folding the vertical edges together. Now the foil is compressed against the rock and soil. This step was yet another great detail. I had not realized that foil, in general, should be compressed against the soil. I had previously been passively laying the foil over the soil. Compressing the foil really holds everything in place.


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           The cone is widened and shaped a bit, and potting media soil is added and packed in. You can see the cord holding the tree to the rock, and the wire that will hold the rock to the pot.  Fill the foil cone full and make a hill of coarse bottom that will be the start of the drainage layer.



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          Bending the wire into prongs, we fish through the holes in the pot. There is a detail here that taught me something about the difference between bonsai pots. I went into town and looked at some bonsai pots, and they only had one drainage hole, which would make wiring nearly impossible, not mention poor drainage. The pots used by Fuku-Bonsai pots have multiple holes for wiring and drainage to actually function properly,  .



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         Twisting the sire to secure the rock in place.





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           Packing coarse soil media around the base. You can see the moss around the rim of the foil. You can also see the roots at the base of the tree. I like how the stock used in these “starting” workshop kits already has so much character.




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             Yet another detail I would not have thought of --- reinforced tape to really pack the media tight and keep the foil in place.




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            Holes need to be poked through the foil to allow air flow and let the soil dry out between watering. Ready for another detail? Poke large holes oriented downward. This crumples the foil against the soil and prevents soil from being washed out when water is applied from the top.



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                    CONCLUSION TO IWP #4 ROOT-OVER-ROCK.   The final product at the end of this initial training stage. We are not going for aesthetics at this point. I have to learn patience, as I want it to look great now. But applying all these training steps and details will ensure a great looking bonsai in the future.

                   EVALUATION AND COMMENTS REGARDING THE BEGINNER STUDY GROUP'S FOUR IWPS:   I like that I can make four styles, “regular”, Sumo, Roots, and Root-over-rock with essentially the same materials. I’m also very pleased that the initial tree stock looks great right out of the planter. It gives the tree a head-start in terms of character and aesthetics compared to other species and really drives home how much better the stuff from Fuku-Bonsai is compared to cheap products touted as starter bonsai.

                   Getting instruction and feedback in the four-part introductory workshop also taught me a lot more than I would from reading books alone. Sometimes you just don’t know what you’re doing wrong, or even that you’re doing something wrong, until an expert takes a look at it. The workshop format of submitting updates and getting feedback is a rare opportunity to learn from a Bonsai Master. From here I need to pin down care of the young trees: where in my home and office provides the best light, and watering and fertilizing schedules. Once I’m confident the trees are thriving, I’ll try taking care of older more established Schefflera bonsai. Then I want to experiment with other species as outdoor bonsai, including those that are common here in Volcano village like O’hia and Pukiawe.

                 - - -  David Raikow


                    Many years ago when I began,  Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro took me under his wing and was willing to teach at a time that bonsai was a secretive past-time of older Japanese men. They really didn't know a whole lot as bonsai back then was simply a whole bag of tricks that did or did not work.  Papa's trees were nicer than most and he really worked at it. It was a real honor to sit in that potting house in a corner of his yard that was part working area and part greenhouse where he rooted cuttings. 

                  Papa was "old school" using very conservative training techniques that we now call "building" which is "training by nipping tips to build out structure."  He did some wiring. Back then there were fast acting strong chemical fertilizers and natural organic fertilizers like bonemeal, fishmeal, manures, soybean meal, etc.  Plastic coated granular "slow-release fertilizers" had not yet appeared and he was constantly experimenting with different fertilizers.  Every time he learned of a new "improved" fertilizer he would try it and told us about it.  But we learned to wait and too often on my next visit, that test bonsai would be dead.  Papa never claimed to be an expert and he asked me not to call him "sensei" or teacher. 

                 Instead he wanted those who grew bonsai to be good friends who shared what they knew, but who each followed his own bonsai path. Papa could never bring himself to cut large branches as it would leave unnatural scars.  When he visited me for the first time after I had moved to the Big Island and had begun training by "Reduction-Building" which is a more radical form of the penjing "clip-and-grow" technique,  Papa hated it and scolded me!  But before returning to Honolulu, he graciously accepted some really radically pruned plants that he finished beautifully! 

                  After having the privilege of working bonsai for over 50 years,  I've run more trials than most people.  Working under the discipline of a difficult business requires handling a huge amount of plants and making careful observations of what works and what doesn't.  I was very fortunate to be influenced by Papa and later some of the most famous bonsai greats of the past generation. In spite of huge losses due to Benlate fungicide that was contaminated with weed killers,  we were fortunate to survive.  As we begin a new era, a lot of planning has gone into Fuku-Bonsai's post-Fukumoto future.

                 It's wonderful to have a great staff and the help and friendship of Jerry Meislik, Ryan Chang, Jay Boryczko, and the others in the study group.  I believe and hope that David Raikow will be a major part of our future and I've asked him to assist in allowing more Saturday activities here as announced in the article posted at   Bonsai can be anything that you want it to be --- a very casual hobby with just a few plants,  or a major part of your life! 


*** Return to the August 2014 issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
© Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014