John completed his first Sumo and Roots last month and breezed through the Root-Over-Rock --- the first time!  That shouldn't be.  That's like going through the motions and being satisfied with just a small percent of the potential learning experience.  I had a problem!  Should I allow this fellow to think he was naturally gifted or tell him what I thought of his first effort? 

             I really don't like to lay out heavy critiques but decided it was a better route.  So a praised John for a great job by Michigan standards (where very few can or do outstanding rock plantings), but that he fell far short by Hawaii standards.  I gave him a choice and he decided to raise his standards.  It was tough to teach a guy who thinks all rocks are like the round glacier-shaped hard rocks of Michigan!  It was made harder because John had a tiny Dremel tool that took forever! 

           But like Rob McLean's last month's article ( John struggled with his Dremel at first but eventually got to produce a rock with the more desirable features that will serve as a higher standard for his future work!  Those who adventure into Root-Over-Rock have an interesting journey ahead and I encouraged John to provide a lot of details!


By John (Jay) Boryczko,   (Farmington Hills, Michigan)

             As I began, I could see this workshop was going to be a little more challenging.  My mistake is I said a little more challenging.  In fact, it was a lot more challenging; I will share those challenging moments with you.   I first laid everything out in front of me to take stock of the work ahead of me. (3.1)

            The first part was to look over your rock for any interesting features and get an idea of which side of the stone presents itself best as a front.  Well at least I got that part right.  I went through the steps in the instructions and the pervious posts on this project by others who have come before me. (3.2)

             As I have done in all of the other workshops, I looked over the plant to get an idea of which side of the plant presented itself best as a front.  In addition, now I have to take into consideration the roots and try to maximize their impact it is after all a roots workshop.  I took some inspiration and some hope that my roots over rock would eventually look as good as Ron Davis’s did in the August issue of this newsletter. (3.3)



           This photo shows the rock as it would stand in the pot and I have marked where I thought the stone provided a nice planting point for my little tree and this marks the point where I went all wrong and it was downhill from there. (3.4)  What I thought was a good spot and after inspecting the roots of my little tree.  I noticed a side that had very little roots and thought that should be the side that mates flat to the rock.  I used the stones natural crevasses to run the roots along, used the binding wire to mount the tree to the stone.   I made the usual aluminum foil collar with some soil and nutrient granules.  Then I submitted my pictures with my report. 

           The reply I received back from David was, “I hate to tell you this as by Michigan standards, they'll say you did okay.”  “But by Hawaii standards, you fell far short”.  David recommended I remove the tree from the rock, replant in a pot, and start over.  David sends back the pictures of the stone I sent him with locations of where the tree should sit and where the roots should go.  (3.5) (3.6) (3.7)


             After removing the plant from the rock and replanting in a pot, my rework of the stone began.  One of David’s suggestions was to angle and flatten the bottom of the stone to allow it to stand by itself at an angle instead of straight up and down.  Of course while sanding the bottom per David’s recommendation on a corner of my cement driveway it broke. (3.8)   Since that portion of the stone broke off it allowed me to rotate the broken piece to a more interesting position.  Clean and dry the stone and glue it with liquid nails and it will be complete again.  Only after all of your carving is complete. (3.9)  With my Dremel and a tile-cutting bit, I started carving the crevasses recommended by David.  (3.10)


              After several exchanges and reworks over the course of two weeks, David felt my stone was ready to plant the tree.  In addition any grinding, drilling, or sculpting of any kind one should wear the appropriate personal protection equipment, in this case safety glasses.  (3.11)

             These pictures show some of the extensive carving to make room for the root ball of the tree.  I carved out a pocket (Saddle) where the majority of the root ball will sit along with a bed of moss, nutrient granules, and soil.  The saddle area is in the upper right corner of the first picture.  This is a long way from my original planting position in the middle along the left edge.  

             In addition, evident on the first two pictures in this group you can see the crevasse I carved for the roots.  David was extremely patient with me on the carving of the crevasse.  I would widen some and deepen some, send pictures and he would say they needed to be wider and deeper.  This wider deeper exchange went on twice a week for two weeks. 

            After receiving the OK from David to plant my tree on the stone, a light went off in my head.  I finally “got it”, what David was trying to tell me with the wider and deeper recommendations.  Prior to this, I had spent several days looking at the previous submissions from my peers and realized this workshop was a little different. 

            The other workshops considerable amounts of soil end up in the foil with the plant prior to being placed into the pot.  In this workshop very little soil goes into the foil collar prior to planting.  The crevasses that you are carving need to be large enough to accommodate moss, soil, nutrient granules, and the root. 

            The root will not grow along the crevasses you carve very easily unless you provide the root with the proper growing conditions.      With a sufficient amount of soil, nutrient granules, and moss as a moisture conduit, this creates the optimal growing condition. (3.12; 3.13)


              I mentioned in the beginning of this article about gluing pieces of the stone back on that have broken off during carving.  I ran into an issue with gluing some of the pieces back on.  The issue was the squeeze out of excess glue.  Take this advice especially if you always seem to apply too much glue as I do.  The tip is to save some of the dust from the carving of the stone.  While the glue is still wet, sprinkle the dust on the wet glue.  Presto, the excess glue appears to be gone or camouflaged.  My stone looked best when leaned back and would need a wedge to keep the stone from falling over.  After gluing my wedge to the stone, I applied the same camouflage technique to hide the wedge as I did to hide excess glue. (3.14, 3.15, 3.16)


              Let the planting begin, again, picture shows my tools and supplies at the ready. (3.17)     This pictures show the “saddle” for the tree in the upper right side of the stone with some of the root crevasses in view.  In the lower left is one of two holes drilled through the rock to secure it to the pot. (3.18)


               These show with a little more clarity some of the crevasses and the new angle with the wedge stabilizing the stone.  Before the planting, I did a better camouflage job on the wedge.  The wedge will probably be covered with soil but I wanted to make sure just in case.  (3.19, 3.20)



            Now beginnings of creating the moss saddle for the tree, notice the nutrient granule in the pocket.  I managed to get a few more buried throughout the moss during the construction of the saddle.  (3.21)

            These depict the completion of the saddle and the putting down the moss with nutrient granules in the root crevasses that I carved out earlier. (3.22, 3.23, 3.24)


              Here is the tree planted on the stone with the roots in the crevasses and soil packed into the crevasses.  Notice the paper coated bindwire that will rot off after a few months so not to scar the tree.  I went around the tree and rock at intervals of approximately 1 inch and top to bottom a few times.  This tree is not going to move from its saddle or the roots from their crevasses. (3.25, 3.26, 3.27)     Now the whole package is in the pot waiting patiently while I take pictures before securing it.  (3.28, 3.29)


                  SOME FINAL THOUGHTS FROM JOHN.   In the spirit of things, I posed with my redo of my root-over-rock with aluminum foil collar in one of my Hawaiian shirts.  Sorry David it is getting cold here and needed to remind myself warm weather is only six months away.

                  This workshop by far was the most difficult to get my head around.  As George pointed out in the September issue of this newsletter, it can be a guessing game.  Where and how large are the roots that I have to work with and get the whole package assembled in a pleasing way.  I was fortunate; I guess you call it fortunate because I had to redo mine to meet the requirements of this workshop.

                 I had the advantage of seeing the roots below the soil line before carving my stone.  My tree did not stress at all during this whole process. I was misting the roots and the sphagnum moss during both attempts at planting the tree.  These little trees seem tough and do not know if David would go along with un-potting the tree taking pictures of the root system from many angles and replanting the tree.  This would allow one the time to carve their stone appropriately to match what the tree has for a root system. 

                 Carving the stone after all take a few hours, that is if you do not break pieces off as I did.  It could be that we are transforming the tree to fit the environment we create?  We create that environment by carving the path for the roots to follow.  My advice to those getting ready to start their root-over-rock workshop is do your homework.  Read the articles and lessons on the website.  Study and learn from the mistakes of those who have come before you.  Once you have, this workshop will flow very smoothly. 

                 Remember always enjoy the journey.   Mahalo!   - - - John


                 A LOT OF THOUGHTS FROM DAVID.  Back in 1985,  I had the opportunity to visit Gerry Gilmore in Traverse City in northern Michigan who collaborated with me to create the molds for the Fuku-Bonsai plastic bonsai pots and saucers.  I was very impressed with the round, hard glacial rocks of that area and one of my treasures is a smooth roundish glacial rock that split twice with the sharp cracks rounded off a bit.  Compared to the soft, highly textured lava rocks of Hawaii,  it's not much to look at.  But it's a special rock for me because of all the wonderful memories associated with it. 

                The visit to see the Gilmores and the factory was a fringe benefit of being invited to headline the American Bonsai Society's Symposium that was hosted by the Ann Arbor Bonsai Society in East Lansing.  It was there that I first met Jerry and Rhona Meislik,  Jack Wikle,  Rosemary Pope,  and other fine people.  I got to see their collections and to understand a bit of the challenges that they have in growing traditional outdoor temperate climate bonsai.  I could see that Jerry, Jack, and others loved bonsai so much that they created extraordinary facilities to be able to grow tropical trees while the outdoor trees had dropped their leaves and everything was covered with snow!  It's such memories that fuels my efforts to introduce True Indoor Bonsai especially to the states in the northern parts of the country where houseplant bonsai is ideal!

                Several who have written articles for the Journal are from northern areas who have some knowledge of traditional outdoor bonsai.  Jerry Meislik (now of Montana) is amongst my oldest bonsai friends.  Ron Davis (also of Montana) have visited us several times and has been impressively successful in getting optimum growth with limited facilities!  Russ Mann and George McLean (both also of Montana) are doing well.  Like John Boryczko,  they all have some bonsai experience.  To date,  they've had limited experiences with rock plantings and so one of my goals was to try to set a higher standard.

               Those who do rock plantings generally fall into two camps.  Those who think that rocks should be used as natural as possible (like John's initial effort) and those who want to create exceptional bonsai using every possible technique!  If you're fortunate to have exceptional rocks available,  there are still several additional techniques that can improve them and rock planting will likely become more popular as readers see others become more successful.

               Even just in Hawaii,  there are many attractive rocks to use in bonsai.  Some are naturally beautiful and the challenge is to figure out how to position the rock so its most beautiful features are exploited and to plant in a complimentary manner on the least attractive part of the rock!

              In other cases, the challenge is to create an attractive rock by sculpturing, gluing and assembling, or any other effective technique.  So George and John are study group members who took on the challenge.  If you want to join us in learning and to be a part of the study group, please email me at

***  Return to the October 2013 issue of Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai
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