ROCK PLANTING UPDATE REPORT

            Over the past year,  the Journal has included a number of rock planting articles to show the range of techniques and applications.  The basic "ASSEMBLY" bonsai strategy will combine two or more components to produce a more impressive collective result.  "Rock plantings" are amongst the most interesting and satisfying of all bonsai techniques.  Bonsai commonly focuses only upon training a single tree and the primary challenging to develop lower trunk and root character within one inch of the soil line and a shallow compact root system within 1/2" of that soil line. 

            Very few bonsai growers have the skill or inclination to try to create such premium plant material as it requires the most skill, best growing environment when the trees are youngest and weakest and the bonsai trainer the least knowledgeable with undeveloped skill. But by creating trunk interest and taper, multiple trunks, and low branches, each such tree has high potential. 

           The primary alternative to creating such high potential trees is to acquire the best possible starter material from all possible sources.  There are relatively few nurseries that produce such high potential stock especially for bonsai.  General landscape nurseries are much more focused on creating strong large plants for their primary market and it is unrealistic that they would do the early detailed work to create lower trunk character when such practices will result in dramatically delaying the development of larger landscaping plants. 

           Another alternative is to purchase "bonsai" on the open market and the odds of finding high potential young starter trees are slim.  So highly specialty nurseries like Fuku-Bonsai are rare and our products are considered expensive.  BUT ARE THEY?  In bonsai you usually pay more than what you get when you're dealing with unknown venders who are often criticized for over-charging and misrepresentation.  Unfortunately much of that criticism is well deserved.  Fuku-Bonsai is committed to highest potential products, but also the highest level of integrity!  We hope to become more known and encourage other bonsai professionals to copy what we do to make high quality plants available.  We invite everyone to join us including bonsai hobbyists willing and able to teach using our plants.

           Using a full range of "Growing-on" techniques,  the character and interest of rock plantings develop much faster than a single tree bonsai.  ROCK PLANTING PRODUCE THE MOST DRAMATIC RESULTS OF A LARGER BONSAI WITH SCENIC INTEREST!  WHILE CHALLENGING,  IT IS IDEAL FOR BEGINNERS WITH A HIGH LEVEL OF BONSAI INTEREST!  

             Dwarf Schefflera are amongst the fastest training of all bonsai.  But if you have just a single tree it seems to take forever to develop.  In that same year or two,  there can be dramatic rock planting results!  This update report includes four rock plantings from the November 2013 issue of the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai posted at: www.fukubonsai.com/MPBFjournal11.November.2013.html 

             Not all rock plantings are the same.  The most common impulse is to find a rock with a cavity and to plant a tree into the cavity.  In doing so, there are two negatives.  First, the cavity made that rock interesting and by planting a tree in it, you can't see the cavity and it is no longer interesting.  Second, if the roots are confined within a dense hard rock,  it will become "pot-bound" very quickly, become stunted, or die of root rot as drainage will be poor. 

             Bonsai should be strong healthy trees and we recommend against planting in a dense rock cavity.  The exception is our Hawaiian Lava Plantings that utilizes soft porous lava rock and Dwarf Schefflera which has the ability to survive in root-bound conditions. Older roots that die will feed new roots. For developing trees, we recommend Root-Over-Rock methods as the roots will enter the potting media in the container and from time to time, the plant can be repotted to revitalize the roots creating stronger long-term growing conditions.

 

Update report #1:  LESSON #12B: BASIC VERTICAL ROCK PLANTING II.

 

           This article told of utilizing the concepts of cliffscapes and valleys to sculpt taller rocks and went through the basics including creating the saddle, the "root trail crevasses,"  lining root channels with sphagnum moss, establishing caches of Nutrient Granules, completion of the rock planting and the use of temporary aluminum foil collars to help the plant get established.  This planting used two larger and one smaller plants.  The trees were larger so after only a 6-month growing-on period, the trees were already well established with the roots in the potting media. In the future, this will go into a larger container that is twice as wide to become a larger wider bonsai landscape. A larger heavier crown will be develop (primarily on the left side to be visually balanced by a large lower broad tree on the right).   

          At this work session, the aluminum foil collar was removed and all roots straightened to stay in the root trail crevasses and with aerial roots to fall straight down.  Small wires pulled down the long low branches of the smaller tree at the base and the top was pruned back to start building  low contrasting canopy.  Branches of the largest tallest center tree where pruned back to allow a lot of light to allow the smallest tree at the base to develop into a stout low wide tree to compliment a nice design. 

           As a general rule,  at Fuku-Bonsai we prefer to use larger older trees that already have extended roots to almost reach the media in the pot.  Larger older trees will develop very quickly compared to planting small young trees on the rock that do not have extended roots. These trees will be growing very strongly and the future owner will have excellent odds for success.

 

Update report #2:  ROCK PLANTING WORKSHOPS AT FUKU-BONSAI  

 

            Paul Bakerman of Arizona did two advanced rock planting workshops utilizing choice selected ocean eroded rocks.  In this situation, the rock is featured and the understated plant is trained to compliment the rock. While the photos above show the rock from the side and behind the plant, it will be most attractive with the rock in front and portions of the plant peeking out from behind it.  One branch was pulled down to be at a different height from a second major branch and the compact crown.

           To show off the rock, it was positioned on a slight mound which tapers down to the rim of the shallow 9" diameter saucer-pot which is less than one inch deep.  Normally if our gravelly media is used, standard watering will wash down and flatten the hill.  For these shallow 1:10 Project plantings,  we grade the coarse bottom, have a medium coarse and a fine all made up of aggregate only.  If tooled when layered, it retains the slope well.  Onto this aggregate hill, we use an organic rich layer with fine dust about 1/4" thick.  This is protected by a full aluminum foil collar that covers the entire surface including covering the base of the rock and the entire exposed roots. The aluminum foil collar is taped down and a lot of air holes are made. Within six months,  the media in the shallow saucer was totally colonized by fine hair roots which held the contoured slope.  Fine aggregate topping was sprinkled over the surface.

           With very fast-draining media and a limited amount of potting media, the arrangement will tend to dry out fairly rapidly and this will result in smaller leaves that will be in scale with the arrangement. Notice that compared to Example #1 which will be developed into a larger bonsai in the future, that Example #2 is intended to become a very small but highest quality bonsai.  So the growth rate is being curtailed by placing it in a low wide shallow saucer to produce a small attractive bonsai that will later compliment the next Example #3 rock planting.

 

Update report #3:  ROCK PLANTING WORKSHOPS AT FUKU-BONSAI 

   

         Paul's second rock planting had a higher difficulty.  It utilized an exceptional rock and we quickly agreed on the position for the dominant tree that would allow roots to fall straight down on one side. We also agreed that a smaller complimentary tree was need but the best position was a protruding point and a visual support would be needed to fill out the void below it.  A small rock was found to be the support that would be almost completely hidden when roots were fully established.  The planning was done so all the most attractive features of the prized rock were kept exposed and the plant and roots to only conceal the least interesting areas.  This required building out sections and a stiff sheet of rubberized plastic and several layers of aluminum foil were tied in place to hold the media. 

 

        Upon removal of the plastic and foil, it was good that the roots were growing very strongly, but the major roots were crossing and floating free.  It was  simple matter to collect the roots that had drifted over the attractive parts of the rock, but to give the roots an attractive appearance,  it was necessary to loosen almost all of the roots and to reset them so they would fall vertically in an attractive manner. 

 

        The roots of the larger tree were more or less secured with U-shaped wire pins to be parallel and undulating in an interesting manner.  Building up the void below the smaller tree was more difficult. The small matching stone was securely wired into position and layers of sphagnum moss, medium coarse, and Nutrient Granules were used to fill the voids.  A wire network secured the materials in the area that was built out.  

 

 

         At this reporting stage, the rock planting is just beginning to show its potential.  The planting of two complimenting trees really set off the most attractive features of an exceptional rock and the third and fourth photos above show two views that hint at what will be in the future.  The seventh and eighth photos above were taken from the ends of the oval pot to show two more potentially more interesting views as there are more depth from these viewpoints. 

         Clearly this is a rock planting with great potential that should be in a larger wider shallower  1:10 Project type container that could be either 18" to 24" in diameter and between 1.5" to 2" deep.  This will allow creating a more attractive continuance of the rock formation by adding a complimentary smaller rock that has similar ocean eroded features.  Some medium size and a few larger smooth rounded water worn stones would also greatly compliment and add interest to the scene and the remainder of the media surface could be graded smaller smooth pebbles.  I believe this arrangement has the potential to be an extremely attractive 360 complex landscape that should be mounted on a turntable in the future.  Currently at 17" tall,  it will likely "finish off" with another 3"to 5" to be an ideal size for display!

 

Update report #4:   LESSON #13A: ASSEMBLING & PLANTING CLINKER FORMATIONS  

 

          At the end of that planting workshop, Paul and I were pleased with the results.  This planting was the first multiple tree planting utilizing Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock (PPBS) that is the basis of all Fuku-Bonsai larger and older bonsai.  With rigid quality control, we are steadily increasing production and such premium older plant materials are currently going to members of the Fast-Track Study Group and now appearing in articles in the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai. 

         Such small trees are ideal to move into the refinement stage and create miniature and small bonsai,  smaller rock plantings,  or multiple tree larger rock plantings like this one or more complex landscapes.  Grown from seeds and complex cuttings,  they are about 6 to 8 years or more in training and are ideal for those who want to create high quality bonsai but who want to skip the early stages!

 

 

         Two months after rock planting, the arrangement was mossed, then moved into the full sun.  As the plants showed recovery,  the trees were defoliated and refinement training began.  New growth points are developing.  PPBS trees have a lot of character and interest including stout tapering trunks, multiple trunks, and strong low branches.  With a lot of growth points,  they are ideal for use in this situation as there's a wide range of strong growth to select to serve as the basic initial design foundation.

          It allows pruning of the extra growth and this creates compact character in the remaining tree. If the small trees are very heavily pruned,  it will result in the appearance of a very stout compact miniature tree and this is what is planned for the tree that is planted at the highest point. Although a "good" small bonsai can result in a higher quality smaller mini-bonsai,  relatively few bonsai growers reduce their trees to achieve the higher quality.  It takes more skill and attention to detail and it is preferable to have a higher amount of light.  But as Jerry Meislik points out in his current article on "Small Bonsai"  this seems to be the trend that as hobbyists enlarge their skills and the number of bonsai in their collections,  there seems to be a trend towards higher quality smaller bonsai.   

         Generally,  Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock have "extra branches" as they were developed to be highest quality plant material that can be trained into high standard bonsai.  This type of plant material is very rarely found on the open market at any price and we reserve the right to make them available only to qualifying members of our Fast-Track Study Group who have the basic experience to maximize the potential of these exceptional plants. 

         These are not for beginners who have not yet proven that they can grow our plants or those who have not yet mastered basic pruning skills.  I don't want to see the potential of these trees reduced by those who have not yet earned the right to train such trees.  In bonsai, the results of a workshop session is pre-determined by the potential of the plant material that is acquired for the workshop.  Visiting instructors chronically complain that the workshop plant materials acquired by the host bonsai club are of such poor quality that even the best trainers would find it difficult! 

          Generally,  critiques of workshop trees tend to focus on the need for having a branch or foliage growth.  Over zealous bonsai trainers-to-be who focus on fast decision making will often impulsively cut off branches that took years to develop.  Bragging about your speed in bonsai training is a poor substitute for cutting off the wrong branches!  There really is no problem if there are extra branches as they will help thicken the tree and can be removed later.  Extra branches are a lot better than starting with scrawny trees without enough branches.  It is far easier to cut off a branch later than gluing a needed branch in place! 

 

CONCLUSION

           This issue of the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai has achieved another major milestone as we introduce the basic concepts of "REFINEMENT" and continue exploring the more complex forms of "ASSEMBLY" as a primary bonsai strategy. Bonsai is complex and there are many forms.

            Fuku-Bonsai's True Indoor Bonsai are increasingly being incorporated into more complex rock plantings and 360 degree complex landscapes and I am enjoying the challenges.  As the editor, my role is to format the articles being submitted by the members of the Beginner and Fast-Track Study Groups.  In requiring them to report how they completed their workshops,  they learn more as they put themselves into the role of teachers.  I hope they will go on to teaching others and with our Introductory Workshop Packages, their students will have a good chance of success!

            I am also enjoying my other editor role in being an informational resource as Fast-Track members take on advanced personal challenges.  I try to assist via email with sketches and information.  Many of the articles that I write for the Journal were intended to help study group members.  It also helps me to summarize and to better understand the basic bonsai principles.  So I have a role also as a teacher, and in doing so,  I'm really learning a lot too!

            I appreciate the kind comments from our readers and past customers and I'm delighted our efforts are bringing joy. When I began bonsai in 1962, there was very little information about bonsai and no viable sources of plants or assistance.  I remember my strong interest in the 60's and 70's when I was asked to teach and in doing so,  learned as much or more than my students.  I also found that I enjoyed teaching others and getting their ideas and these instilled in me a desire to more fully understand bonsai so I can teach principles and this greatly simplifies bonsai!  We've made huge progress in the last 50 years and I invite everyone to join us!  ~~~David (david.f@fukubonsai.com

 

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Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation & Fuku-Bonsai, 2014