At Fuku-Bonsai, we want to preserve the unique features of rock. Trees should be planted to compliment and enhance rock features. I showed Paul how the rock could be positioned in various ways and the challenge was to create a mental scene, to find the right tree, and to reproduce the visual image.


       The first top rock positions are okay, the third more interesting, but the fourth the best with a companion banyan with roots falling straight down!


         Paul liked the concept but didn't feel he had the skill to do it. We discussed the scene, he asked me to do it, and I agreed. So he picked out a tree, made a deposit and I was committed to a new challenge!


By Paul Bakerman (Phoenix, Arizona)

             I came up with the idea of a bonsai with a unique lava rock in October 2011. I had seen some rocks at a store on my way around the south side of the Big Island returning to Kona after visiting the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center. I bought a rock and planned to return to find a suitable plant to put in the rock. In October 2012, I took the same route around the south side of the island, and stopped at the same shop. I found another rock, about 8” across, shaped like a bowl. This time I was headed toward Hilo and the Fuku-Bonsai Center. I arrived late in the afternoon, and began looking around for a suitable plant.


             I got to talking to David and went to the car to get the rock to show him, thinking that he could help me find a plant that would look good in the rock. When I showed David and told him my plan, he said, “If you put the bonsai in the rock, you cover up the unique shape. When I look at that rock, I see on ocean cliff and I would put a bonsai on top with roots extending downward. That way, the best qualities of the rock are enhanced, and not hidden.”


             David wanted to teach me how to plant it, but it would take some time. Unfortunately, I was leaving the next day for Phoenix. I loved the idea, and knew that I could not just plant a bonsai in the rock, now that I could picture the scene of the rock with the bonsai perched on top of it.

So I asked David if he would be willing to do the planting for me. He said he would, that it would take about 6 months, and he would send pictures of the process. I agreed. Three months later, David sent me photos, stated it would make a nice article and if I could write an introduction to the project, and give he permission with my “before” photo with the rock and the plant I selected. I agreed.


             I have a couple of other rocks that are unique and considering sending them to David to prepare. So this year I will be taking private lessons and actually do the planting myself. I look forward to sharing this story in the future along with some new techniques that are producing exceptional bonsai growth indoors in our dry Arizona climate.










         Preparing rocks is the key to success. Make a plan and do it! Prop the rock at in the proper position with sticks and tape. Mix colored cement and on a piece of aluminum foil, make a concrete pancake. Embed the anchor wires into the concrete and lower the rock onto pancake, and create interest by adding rounded smooth rocks in the concrete base.



          Preparing rocks for planting is the key to success. Make a plan and do it! Prop the rock at in the proper position with sticks and tape. Mix colored cement and on a piece of aluminum foil, make a concrete pancake. Embed the anchor wires into the concrete and lower the rock onto pancake,

         Add complimentary beach rocks, detail, and set it aside to cure. Two weeks later it was time to rock plant.


          CORNSTARCH KETO-TSUCHI MUCK is made at Fuku-Bonsai with 1/3 cup of cornstarch mixed with one cup of water. Cook while stirring until it becomes thick like pudding. Allow it to cool and mix with equal parts of damp long-strand sphagnum moss and coffee-grain size lava pumice (with all dust removed).

          The proportions can be adjusted to make it stickier or stiffer. Clockwise from left shows the cooked cornstartch, damp long strand sphagnum moss, and the coffee-grain size lava pumice. In front is the keto-tsuchi muck that was formed into a ball and ready to use.


           THANKSGIVING DAY - 2012. It was a holiday and a quiet time to concentrate on the task at hand. The materials were assembled: prepared rock, pot, plant, sphagnum moss, keto-tsuchi, and aluminum foil.

           The tree selected was a 8LS8 - Roots with strongly established exposed roots with a nice crown with well placed branches already developing sub-branches.

       When the plant was bare-rooted and held in place with a chopstick, it was the ideal height with the roots about 2 1/2" short. That's ideal as it would allow the creation of a buttressing root base to suggest that it was well anchored and a permanent part of the scene.

        Paul had selected a tree with strong outer roots and when the central older roots were pruned out, the tree would be partially seated on the beach rock with roots falling to the right, front, and to the left.

       Note that when the rock was at the chosen position, the rock did not appear to be stable. But when the banyan was attached, straight roots fill out that space which gave more room to hide a lot of potting media for good growth.


       Rock plantings are much more attractive when they are vertical instead of horizontal. But to be effective it must be visually and physically stable.

        Some purists like rocks natural. I favor chipping or propping it up and using a very stable concrete base that will not be noticeable when the bonsai is completed.

       Keto-tsuchi was smeared on the rock and a layer of sphagnum moss was spread over it that was heavily covered with potting media, another thin layer of sphagnum moss, some Nutrient Granules, and another heavy layer of potting media. The materials formed a soft loose layer that was almost 1 1/2" thick.


     The bare-rooted plant was positioned, rocked back and forth and firmly bedded down into the layered materials. Using plastic ties, the top section of the tree was firmly tied to the top of the beach rock. With more plastic ties, the tree was well secured to the concrete base. In this crucial stage, the tree must be firmly secured to the rock until it will not shake at all.

       Use more ties if needed as it will help to hold a generous amount of media in place. Once completed, no one will guess that there really is a large amount of potting media between the rock and the outer exposed roots and this media will allow the tree to grow very vigorously.

       With a chopstick, pry roots apart and dibble potting media firmly into very opening. Continue to probe, compress roots, and insert more potting media. Where the roots are not against the rock, make a flattened disc of keto-tsuchi, cover this with sphagnum moss, and hold it up against the roots while you add more media.

      With paper covered wire, form a "net" between the plastic ties to help to hold media and sphagnum moss in position. If done carefully, a surprising amount of potting media is placed between the rock and the bare-rooted plant.


       Near the base of the rock, be sure to include a generous amount of coarse bottom material to insure good drainage. Use a minimum amount of sphagnum moss and keep the moss primarily on the outer edges just to help keep the gravelly potting media in place. Do not use too much sphagnum moss as it holds too much water and cause the roots to rot!

         In sections where the potting media is not supported. Use more plastic ties and anchor to anything solid. In this case, the bottom anchoring wire was used to create three ties that bridged an area and with additional ties, a netting was formed. This allowed potting media to be packed in and the network of ties supported a thin layer of sphagnum moss that prevented the potting media from falling out. This was time consuming, but the tree was firmly attached to the rock and once fully established and the ties removed, it will appear as if the tree had naturally grown in that location.

          With the plant well secured to the rock, the four anchor wires were threaded through the bottom drain holes, adjusted, pulled tight to secure the rock planting to the pot and the ends of the wires trimmed neatly.

         This is the bottom of the Fuku-Bonsai 17"x12"x2" oval plastic pot that I designed in the 1970's and available from Spring Hollow of Michigan. In designing the pot, I opted for more 1/2" diameter drainage holes.

         Complete potting to protect the exposed roots with an aluminum foil sheet. Add a few more rocks to complete the scene. Prune and detail the foliage to compensate for any loss of roots.

         Note that this rock planting was done in Hawaii in late November with the plant becoming established in about three months. Temperatures here were in the high 50's or low 60's at night and in the 70's during the day. In cooler climates, it may be advisable to do such work with Dwarf Schefflera only during warmer months.















           THREE MONTH REPORT (February 2013): The foil was checked and loosened after two months, removed two weeks ago and the roots allowed to harden off. Most of the ties have been removed. Roots are actively developing and there are an abundance of white roots that indicate that desirable vigorous growth is taking place. This is an interesting "blocky" composition that will become more attractive as the crown enlarges and develops more massive bulk. The smoother lighter colored river rock contrasts nicely with the dark lava rock and the tree should do well when sent to Paul in Arizona.

              Note on the lower right bottom of the photo, a heavy wire device was constructed to hold a large root in position. It will be easily removed when no longer needed. The area behind the device is totally unsupported and holds a large amount of potting media which is effectively producing strong growth! In dry Arizona, Paul has been successful with a "semi-terrarium" to increase humidity. Other projects are being planned and future reports will add details.


FINAL REPORT: September 2013

Paul left the rock with me in October so it's been 11 months. The rock preparation was completed in the first month and the tree planted in late November. As predicted, the planting could have been shipped in about six months. But it made sense to do the first major pruning and to send the planting to PauL as the new growth was emerging to allow him to select branches to be the primary structure of the crown.

At this point the structure is very compact and there are extra branches. If all branches are allowed to grow out and pruned back, the crown will steadily increase in size and it could be attractive even if Paul allows it to become twice as wide and another 6" to 8" higher. The mass of the roots is just slightly off-center and the mass of the rock creates an interesting balance from the primary view.

The other view has the solid mass of the rock with less roots showing. Two small roots walked across the top of the rock and dropped down. Other roots are spreading across the back and I'll leave it to Paul to decide whether he should remove them or create an interesting root design network across the face of the rock.

The views from each side are also interesting with the left side showing the most roots with just a little of the rock showing. The right side has the most interesting view of the "cave." The cave was the initial feature that dictated the design. Basically the choice was whether the rock would be compliment the tree or whether the rock would be positioned to be at its most massive position. I'm pleased Paul went with the most prominent position and that the rock will be a dominate feature!

To add interest smooth water stones compliment porous rough lava. The photo shows mostly 1" to 2" stones, but a bag of smaller stones will be sent to allow Paul to completed the presentation. I wrote to Paul the plant was ready to ship, but he told me of plans to be in Hawaii and we set a date to visit on October 5 and two days later in the month.


















COMMENTS BY PAUL BAKERMAN (Phoenix, Arizona) October 5, 2013

             A year later, I have the opportunity to return to Hawaii. David offered to send the bonsai before the year but I thought it would be better to have him advise me directly about how to go about thinning the roots and training the top. I was amazing to see the result after one year. David is a true artist!

           I plan to spend several days with David at Fuku-Bonsai and learn some of his techniques. I is a great honor to have the opportunity to work one-on-one with an artist at the apex of his career. David loves to teach and pass on his knowledge. It is much easier to learn directly than remotely and I have progressed tremendously and have more skills and experience to apply. Thanks for his patience and willingness to share his art.

          FINAL COMMENTS BY DAVID. In the past year, Paul and I have corresponded and I've entered his world as he has entered mine. I learned that Paul is here due to participating in the Kona Ironman Triathlon and he has done well in the past, coming in ninth in his age group. That's quite an honor and achievement for the grand-daddy of the grueling competition includes a roughwater swim, a full marathon, and a lengthy bike race! It's certainly not for wimps and is limited to 2,000 entrants that must qualify and be in the top 2% of regional triathlons! He travels with his gear including a disassembled bike!

          Paul loves to collect rocks in his travels and originally we discussed him sending over selected rocks and his special diamond blade tools. But I suggested that we focus on techniques that he can use in his own way and that he assist me in creating a complex landscape utilizing a unique rock in my collection that I have been thinking about planting for several years. So with a kindred soul alongside, this is the year and I look forward to Paul and I sharing our rock adventures of the future! Stay tuned!

*** Return to the October 2013 Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to Fuku-Bonsai website
© Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013