Lesson #11: ADVANCED ROCK PLANTING CONCEPTS AND
TECHNIQUES WITH OLDER CHARACTER CUTTINGS
Rock plantings are a facet of training bonsai by "ASSEMBLY."
The concept is very simple and although difficult, it
is ideal to teach serious beginning bonsai hobbyists.
That may seem to be overly ambitious and it may be for those
with limited interest or long-term commitment. But
just as Fuku-Bonsai is fully committed to creating the
finest bonsai materials that we can, we want to create
enough so that those hobbyists who have the interest, the
skills, and the resources can take giant leaps into training
advanced bonsai arrangements.
"ASSEMBLY" is putting together a bonsai arrangement made up
of a few or many components. It can be a simple plant
on a single rock. Or it could be several multiple-rock
formations assembled to be a complex landscape with numerous
trees all mounted on a large circular disc with mechanism
that allow rotating it to be able to view the scenes from
"ASSEMBLY" include two-tree plantings where two
imperfect trees are grouped to create a more pleasing
arrangement, but also multiple tree forest arrangements,
tray landscapes, and other forms of bonsai where the "sum of
all parts is greater that the individual elements."
Some forms of bonsai require starting with as much age as
possible and if the quality of the plants are high,
the amount of skill needed by the bonsai hobbyist is very
low. So there are many with the resources but without
the interest or skill who purchase older trained bonsai.
But for the beginner who wants to master the entire bonsai
art, assembly offers an opportunity to start with
younger plants and to sculpture or assemble more readily
available rocks to create exceptional arrangements!
It is said that a person achieves the status of "bonsai
master" when he or she consistently can produce both high
potential complex rock plantings and landscapes and
multiple-tree forest landscapes. For those who aspire
to this goal, this lesson provides the basics and I
invite you to join the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and our
Information about "complex character cuttings" is
Normally when we root cuttings, we trim all leaves in
half to reduce the nutrient draw. This cutting was set
two months ago and already has two new leaves on each of the
two branches. The base of the cutting is about 3/4" in
diameter with nice taper from having been trained as part of
a bonsai for several years.
Few if any rocks are perfect and this one was prepared by
using colored cement to position it upright and by extensive
sculpturing with a drill with 1/4" and 1/8" masonry bits.
Overall, there are three major "root trail crevasses" and in
small areas, the sculpturing has created openings between
the "root crevasses" and these are used to anchor
paper covered thin wire that will rot away.
I prefer to use these to anchor the plants rather than
bonsai wire which do not rot and which will badly scar the
Hawaiian lava is soft enough to sculpt and I prefer to
create bold designs and deep crevasses. All the edges
of the root trail crevasses are lined with damp sphagum moss
and heavier at the top even if you do not plant at the top.
Later when you water the top of the rock planting, the
sphagnum moss layer will transmit water through all
connecting sphagnum moss and you will be watering the plants
through this sphagnum moss water pathway. If deep,
add body mix, another layer of sphagum moss, Nutrient
Granules, another layer of body media, another layer
of spagnum moss, etc.
The recently rooted "complex character cutting" had a number
of roots about 2" long that were carefully guided down and
the cutting positioned in one of the "root trail crevice."
Using the paper-covered thin wire that had been
prepositioned, the rooted cutting is secured in
Additional layers of body media, Nutrient Granules, sphagnum
moss are dibbled into position. The paper-covered wire
keeps it firmly into position. It is preferable to use
pre-trained plants or "complex character cuttings" rather
than young seedlings or cuttings which are weak and harder
Use some type of support so the "root trail crevasses" lies
horizontal as it's easier to fill the various layers of
sphagnum moss, Nutrient Granules, and body media. The
second plant will be mounted just above the "saddle" in the
middle. Note that there is over an inch of open area
above the saddle.
So the plant will actually be sitting on over a 1" thick
"cushion" made up of sphagnum moss, Nutrient Granules and
body media. Because of the way that the root trail
crevasse as formed, once the planting is completed, no one
will guess that there is so much choice media to support the
roots and the plants will very quickly become established
and grow very vigorously.
This is the older "complex character cutting" that was
rooted in November 2012 and now about 9 months old.
The cutting is very well rooted and growing vigorously in a
cut-down nursery 4" pot. The base of the cutting is
about 1 1/4" across. It had been a part of the same
bonsai as the first cutting.
Fuku-Bonsais primary training technique is "massive
reduction-building" that keeps extra branches on the bonsai.
From time to time, entire large sections are pruned off and
these already have a lot of character as soon as rooted.
I estimate the section that was severed had been trained on
the bonsai for 6-8 years.
The cutting was bare-rooted, the roots untangled, and
the leaves removed. These "complex character cuttings"
are ideal for rock plantings or for creating "Sumo Bonsai."
When large sections of a bonsai are removed, what
remains has a greatly improved taper and usually a new
apical direction is selected.
When a training strategy includes frequent "apical
replacement," the resulting bonsai may be smaller, but
have much more character and interesting tapering complex
branches to match exciting trunks. But for this to be
effective, there must be a strong company-wide discipline
and long-term commitment to highest quality standards. A
senior staffer will cut back plants hard when necessary to
maintain that standard!
Separate and spread out the roots to position the tree on
the saddle so the roots run down the sculptured root trail
crevasses. We prefer to work with roots that are
already long enough to reach the media in the pot as these
become established very quickly.
Note that the rooted cutting is pulled down against the
saddle and the securing paper covered thin wires went under
the concrete bottom of the rock. Working with the rock in
closer to a horizontal position makes the work very easy and
fast. Use enough wire ties so the rooted cutting is
well secured and will not move or shake to allow the roots
to quickly form and develop.
If done well, you should have no problem picking up
the entire rock arrangement by lifting up on the plant's
trunk. Some who lack the skill to solidly attach the
plants believe lifting by the trunk is extreme and harmful.
It is not. If done properly, there will be no
movement at all.
But if not done properly, you can't hide the fact that you
did not do it properly. Those who develop the skill
will confidently lift up the planting. Beginners think
it is scary and spooky. But study group members are
expected to develop the needed skills and sending a photo of
a bonsai lifted by the trunk is a standard requirement.
If it's shaky, send a photo and we'll explain how to
correct your technique. It's not hard.
Completing the second tree is similar to the first tree. If
there's a lot of roots, some may cross over into the
adjoining root trail crevasse. Note that only simple
tools are needed: A screwdriver ground down to be a
narrow dibble, an ordinary spoon, and a spoon
bent to be a "semi-funnel" to position material exactly
where it is needed.
The dibble and semi-funnel is used together to pack openings
when the rock planting is standing upright. The
potting media is very coarse and unlike the traditional
Japanese rock plantings, no mud is used. Rock
plantings seem difficult but the techniques have been
developed and we have a very high success rate.
Before finishing, use the paper-covered thin wire to solidly
secure the cuttings in place by going around and tying
tightly around the rock. Two long plastic ties that
are knotted in the middle to form an "x" is threaded through
the holes in a 10"x10"x2" half-flat that is used as a
training pot. Secure the rock planting by looping over
portions of the rock and tying it down.
Fill container with coarse bottom and body media.
Install aluminum foil to protect the roots from drying out.