By Ron Davis,  Contributing writer    (Bozeman, Montana)

             Roots Over Rock is a unique style of bonsai design. It adds a third factor   rock    to the standard tree and pot combination. The presence of both organic and inorganic elements conveys a sense of interaction, compatibility and time. There is also an underlying tension created by knowing that the plant will change while the rock will not (at least in our lifetime). The viewer has a feeling that rock and plant have become one entity that has found its niche in nature.

2006    I got this tree from Fuku-Bonsai in May, 2006. Initially I thought that its columnar shape should be developed into a tall elegant trunk with a full dense canopy. At that time I had little experience with this species and even less artistic vision for designing bonsai. But there was something about the well developed roots and inclination of the foliage that prompted me to consider other options. 

             Searching through my collection of “someday” rocks I found this piece of almost perfect lava about 5” long and 6” tall. The broad saddle depression made a flat foundation for the plant and the upswing at the ends added interest. Then I got a deep clay pot and mixed 90% small lava with 10% crushed pine bark for soil. The rock was almost buried in the soil to encourage the roots to cling closely to the rock near the top. A few leaves were pruned. During potting the plant was angled further into its natural direction with the thought that perhaps the design would turn into a cascade style. This was done on September 22, 2006.

             The plant spent the long Montana winter in a south facing window beneath two tubes of artificial lights that were on for about four hours a day. It was immersed in Schultz fertilizer at 12 drops/gallon once a week and had another plain watering from the top during that week. Growth was surprisingly good during the winter. This may be due to the bright sunshine it received through the south window plus supplemental light before dawn.


2007      The tree got its first major branch pruning in February at which time the fertilizer dosage was reduced to 8 drops/gallon. The tree responded very well to the pruning and kept up its rampant growth. It was a good time to make a change.  On March 14, 2007 I transplanted the tree into a plastic rectangular pot. It was elevated above the surface and a foil collar was applied around the exposed roots (sorry, no photo). This collar was gradually reduced in height through spring and summer. In August, 2007 the collar was completely removed. As this photo shows, both the root and foliage growth indicates that this was a healthy bonsai. It lived well during the winter.

2008 - 2010      On March 22, 2008 I rooted pruned this tree and put it back into the rectangular pot. It had a fair amount of new roots and by September it showed balanced growth and healthy new foliage. I did some radical branch pruning on November 15. Between January 17 and 24 of 2009 the plant was totally defoliated but the branches were not pruned. It was placed in a larger south facing window. There was fresh new growth on all branches by late March. The tree grew easily with occasional trimming and moderate fertilizer throughout the year. On May 2, 2010 the tree was repotted into a lower but larger rectangular pot with the intention to let the roots grow outward. Frankly, I’m not sure what my thinking was on that. It seems a little misdirected for the final design. But anyway, that’s what my notes say for that day.


     2011      This was a formative year. The tree had been pleasantly responsive to care and was growing well. But it just didn’t look good in that wide shallow pot. It was time for another drastic change. On April 24 of 2011, I performed a radical top reduction and a transformational repotting all at the same time. The 6"-8” branches were cut back to 1.5"-2.5”. To do these techniques together was, for me, an extreme procedure. I had never done this before. But I have learned over time that this technique in its many forms is used regularly at Fuku-Bonsai. The turnabout in pot design, from rectangular to circular, was a successful decision. The 12” mica pot has the visual weight to anchor the rock and tree to earth while the moderate taper gives a buoyancy to the overall image. The first new shoots appeared on May 9  

        2012     January saw another cutting back of most branches to 3-5 leaves. The tree was fertilized every 2 weeks with 10-15-10 and allowed to grow wildly. MagAmp was also added as fertilizer in March and July. Big growth was encouraged during the summer by putting the tree outside for a few hours of sunlight. 


       2013     These photos were taken on June 25, 2013.   I really like this stage of development. The roots fulfill one of the primary requirements for a convincing Roots Over Rock bonsai: the roots must firmly contact and embrace the rock with few if any spaces from base of trunk to soil line.   Around July 4th I did some branch reduction to clean up the canopy and as of August 12 there are many new shoots and an unusually high amount of back budding on the branches. It’s a happy tree. The roots need to be cleaned up and have the smaller ones removed to expose more rock. I still like the pot but someday that too will change. This plant tends to be a bit more coarse that other Scheffleras so the next phase of development may be leaf reduction. I’ll need David’s guidance for that.

            Roots Over Rock is an exciting bonsai style. As a work of art it has contrast, movement, diverse elements and a story to tell. Take your time to find an interesting rock. This one is rather mundane but it has an excellent seat for the plant. Keep the roots close to the rock from the beginning. Let it grow rampantly and then cut back drastically. Give it lots of light. Be patient. Enjoy the journey.
          COMMENTS BY DAVID:   I've always been very impressed by Ron ever since his first visit to Fuku-Bonsai in 2006.  At a time that many were struggling to keep plants alive,  Ron demonstrated that it is very possible to obtain optimum growth with Dwarf Schefflera!  He's a gentle and thoughtful person and I've encouraged him to write and teach others and he has!  Fuku-Bonsai's website went up in 1999.  A few years later in 2002,  I asked Jerry Meislik to write an introductory article about his amazing lighting system in his Montana home.  Over the years,  Jerry contributed a number of articles to the website and a portal page was set up to keep his articles together and when we began publishing the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai,  it was only natural that I ask Jerry to be Contributing Editor to help guide the effort and he's done a great job.

          Montana is the Big Sky state and there are great distances and until recently Ron and Jerry had never met.  But they got together recently and there's growing bonsai interest in Montana.  Ron earned his portal page in 2006 and it's posted at and he has agreed to join our Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai editorial effort  as a contributing writer whenever he can break free from his busy schedule to put together an article for us.

          In this introductory year,  many articles are by those beginning bonsai and I'm delighted with the progress that everyone is making. I've posted the links to each issue on the Fuku-Bonsai website home page and believe that those that are just now getting started will have a wonderful resource to understand the overall bonsai concepts from sequentially going through the Journal issues from the earliest issues.  Anyone tracking through the Journal who follows the progress being made by Ryan Chang will clearly be convinced that it is possible to make a lot of True Indoor Bonsai progress as Ryan's report in this issue is just seven months after he first started!

         This article by Ron Davis is especially timely as he shows the progress that can be made in just seven years!  Ron is much more meticulous than I am and he's created a system of documenting significant status changes of his individual trees and this article shows the great value of such a system.  I've encouraged all members of our study groups to create such histories so they can share the development process. 

         In 2006,  Ron started this bonsai with a 4LL8-Roots Potted Bonsai that was 3 to 5 years in training.  Now seven years later, Ron's tree is about 10 years or so in training.  For those starting out,  ten years may seem like a lifetime!  I started out in 1962 and 10 years later, I did not have anything approaching Ron's progress even though I had ideal Hawaiian year-around outdoor full sun growing conditions.  Dwarf Schefflera was just not available!  Now those growing True Indoor Bonsai can start training these intermediate stage trees within six months of beginning and those who are impatient are starting with Workshop II packages and many are successful too,  especially if they take a workshop at Fuku-Bonsai!  

          There are a growing number of study group members and for those who are serious and project making bonsai a life-long hobby, we recommend starting off by formally joining the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and purchasing three each Introductory Workshop Packages (IWP) also known as Workshop I.  This will be formalized into a more efficient effective teaching system.  Right now,  most of the reports are showing up in the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai.  But in the future,  it is likely that only those reports that have interesting incidents or innovations will be published.  I will try to have a mix of beginner (IWP) articles, but will increasingly move toward Intermediate Workshop II articles and Ron's article could show such articles a few years from now. 

         For those who complete the beginner study group and advancing into the Fast Track Study Group, there will be increasingly more challenging projects.  Ron used a rock from his collection and rock planting will likely become an achievable effort in the future.  Basic rock planting information begins in this issue and we will be covering all aspects in coming articles. 

         I thank Jerry,  Ron, Ryan, Russ, Travis, Rob, Ryan and Burton as our editorial team and the two study groups keep growing!  True Indoor Bonsai are the fastest to train, the most successful to grow, and the most satisfying!  We're delighted that those previously dedicated to the most disciplined traditional outdoor bonsai are also starting to grow True Indoor Bonsai (including outdoors when weather permits).  We are getting more interest from bonsai clubs in all parts of the U.S. and am trying to train qualified instructors for the future!

         It is increasingly clear.  Dwarf Schefflera is the ideal tree for anyone, anywhere who can grow houseplants!  But the real key to rapid success is to start with high-quality, high potential prepared bonsai stock that have a lot of character within one inch of the soil-line and a compact, complex root system within 1/2 inch of that soil line.  Along with teaching study group members basic techniques, we are encouraging them to root cutting and bring them up to the standards of our prepared bonsai stock provided with our Introductory Workshop Packages.  This may take 3 to 5 year or more depending upon your growing conditions, but if you don't start now, you'll never get there!

        Those advancing into Intermediate Workshop II are working on small well developed potted bonsai and are learning that they can quickly advance into nice medium bonsai as shown by this article by Ron.  Those who completed the beginner study group like Ryan Chang are moving into more advanced work starting with either 4LL8, 8LS8, or specially prepared but unlisted stock available only to members of the MPBF study groups.  We are well into the development stage of creating "Fast-Track Bonsai" for those with strong interest!  I invite everyone to join us!  ~~~David


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    © Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013