LESSON #29:  TAIHU ROOT-OVER-ROCK

                   There are only a few general ways to create bonsai:  1)  Building:  creating branching by pinching growth tips.  2) Reduction:  cutting a tree shorter so the trunk become proportionally larger.  3) Rearranging:  wiring or other methods to make straight trunks or sections change directions.  4)  Assembly:  using two or more components so the sum of its parts produces a more impressive result.  5) Creative potting:  usually to exploit root designs.  Most bonsai are single tree designs and we teach the basic techniques in our Beginner Study Group.  If they stay with single tree designs utilizing the initial Introductory Workshop Package,  in time, trees will grow, develop, and improve.

                  Patience is a needed virtue if you only a few bonsai.  Some of us really don't have patience and we enjoy continuing to produce new bonsai. But once we past the basics and move into more complex challenges,  the optimum situation is starting with older more developed high-potential  Fuku-Bonsai Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock already 4 to 6 years in training or older.  These are available only to members of the Fast Track Study Group who have the willingness to share and teach others and the ability to write, photograph and submitted articles to the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai.

                 Once past the basics,  I recommend learning "ASSEMBLY" techniques and the most popular is learning "Root-Over-Rock" .  The easiest rock plantings start with a hole in the rock which functions as a pot and Fuku-Bonsai's Hawaiian Lava Plantings are the easiest care, most successful gift bonsai for anyone, anywhere who can grow houseplants.  But gift bonsai and hobby bonsai are very different in that our lava plantings are pre-trained before being rock-planted and are expected to become root-bound and grow very slowly.  This is ideal for gifts, but the slow growth is frustrating compared to the much faster growth and development of trees planted "root-over-rock-into-pot."

                 When using "assembly" techniques,  the selection of each component will determine the quality of your result.  The higher the quality and interest of your rock will determine the finished result even if you have Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock.  One way to sculpt rocks is to follow the concepts of Chinese Taihu Rocks.  Go to Google images, use the words "Chinese Taihu Rocks" and get ideas. 

               Ryan Chang, our leader of the Fast-Track Study Group has a talent for sculpturing relatively soft Hawaiian welded splatter lava rocks.  We discussed Taihu type rocks and the adjustments needed to make them suitable for bonsai.  I hold Ryan that the more you can carve out, the more interesting the rock becomes.  He asked me how I knew when I reached the limit and I told him I tend to stop when the rock starts breaking. That's shown in the introductory photos that were done in September 2013.

               As some of our newer Fast-Track members advance,  their IWP Roots have roots sufficiently extended to move into root-over-rock plantings. We are also teaching an experimental method of potting that utilizes a different system that we call:  "THE X-METHOD"  (for experimental).  This method uses a larger number of "aggregate only granular sizes" in a sequence and topped with a 1/4" deep fine-organic rich layer and held in place with a generous amount of over-lapping aluminum foil collar.  This method is especially applicable when using shallow containers or when creating contoured surfaces above the rim of the container.  The fine organic rich layer is effective in creating an abundance of fine hair roots that colonize the fine materials and hold them in place.  Larger roots follow the hair roots and over time, it locks in the surface.  In addition to showing a Taihu-like rock planting,  this lesson also shows how to use THE X-METHOD OF POTTING. 

     

          The patched Taihu-type rock wired down to a shallow 9" diameter x 1" deep saucer that has a large number of drilled drain hole.  The Dwarf Schefflera was a Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock that had its roots extended a year or so ago. It was grown out in a 4" standard nursery pot.

 

 

 

 

           When extending the roots,  2 wires had been inside the foil collar to help support it as the roots ran down and thickened.  The media was mostly removed and the roots untangled,  There was a nice division of roots to allow spreading and placing over the saddle in the sculptured rock. 

 

 

 

 

         The media removed was rescreened with a small amount of "extra coarse" caught in the 3/8" screen (right),  more "coarse" caught in the 1/4" screen (top center), and almost equal amount of "medium" caught in the 1/8" screen (top left), some "fine" caught in the 1/16" screen (lower left) and a small amount of "extra fine" that went through the 1/16" screen and caught on the newspaper. 

 

 

  

           Build a "cushion" on the "saddle" where the tree will sit with some roots on each side.  Use damp sphagnum moss with some medium aggregate, more sphagnum moss with some Nutient Granules, more sphagnum moss with more medium aggregate and topped with more sphagnum moss. The cushion is about 2" thick overall and when the plant with the root spread on each side is pushed down into cushion, the cushion will compress and the materials will encourage roots to develop.  Once the tree is firmly seated, with paper-covered bindwire, go over the tree, down and under the rock, and twist-tie.  Go around again in a different location,  pull tight, and twist-tie again.

 

 

           You should be able to pick up both the plant and the rock by lifting up on the trunk.  Guide the roots into position and use temporary bindwire ties. 

 

 

 

 

 

           Lay the rock on its side with the tree on top. Place medium gravel, Nutrient Granules and sphagnum moss between the root where the first tie-down section will be made through one of the Taihu holes in the rock.  Using a 4"-5" x 12" foil strip, fold over 2-3 times to get a multiple thickness strip and position it to clamp the roots to the rock and use a double bindwire tie to hold it securely.

 

 

 

 

             After filling between the roots with medium gravel, Nutrient Granules and sphagnum moss, repeat and install a second clamping of mult-thick aluminum foil strip secured with bindwire.

 

 

 

 

            After filling between the roots with medium gravel, Nutrient Granules and sphagnum moss between the two clamped section, repeat and install a third clamping of a wide mult-thick aluminum foil pad and firmly secure it with bindwire and stand the rock up.

 

 

 

 

             Reattach the bottom saucer to the rock using the original wire ties. After filling between the roots with medium gravel, Nutrient Granules and sphagnum moss,  make a fourth but large foil with accordion folds and complete the upper section. Flair the top like a rain-catchment funnel to make it easy to water the materials in the foil collar.  

 

 

 

           

            Place the extra coarse next to the base of the rock, then the coarse,  mounding it up and firming it down with a trowel-like tool and a back and forth motion.  Sprinkle the remaining medium and keep firming it down,  keeping the material mounded in the shape of your optimum slope.  Keep the material up and away from the sides or rim.  The photo shows medium on the left side and fine on the right side.  Note the surface is smooth and firm.

 

             

            The final top layer is fine material that went through a 1/8" screen mixed with fine coco-peat and dampened to be spread and firmed to hold the ideal contours and slopes.  It's applied thicker near the sides and comes up almost to the rim of the saucer.  The bottom of the foil is flared out and this fine material shoved up and under the foil to fill the base and create a nice blend into the contoured surface of the media in the saucer. 

 

 

 

            Installing the bottom foil takes a bit of practice.  You want to have it heavy and over-lapping on to itself and especially heavy on the outer edges.  For a round saucer, the circumferance is calculated a "pi" x diameter.  Diameter is 9" so I cut a piece of 12" wide foil about 32" long so there's a little extra.  Crumple overall, spread out, and crumple a 1" border along the bottom.  Start in the most accessible area and place the middle of the foil there,  pressing, crimping, and guiding the foil counter clockwise.

 

 

            There's a lot of foil, so inch it down a little at a time to create a lot of crimping.  The foil is not needed over the rock so the full 12" width gets crimped down to just 2"-3" so there's a lot of overlapping to hold the fine - organic rich layer in place to allow the hair-roots to develop and colonize. 

 

 

 

 

 

           Here's what it looks like with the foil going around the other side.  When properly installed the foil really holds all the fine materials in place.  It should be left on as long as possible.  Hair roots thinly cover in 2-3 months.  This is followed by more hair roots and thicker roots.  But if there are no hair roots, you won't get the thicker roots so leave the foil on as long as possible. 

 

CONCLUSION

                This has been one of my most satisfying rock plantings.  It began as the most successful of a number of Taihu-type rocks that I was sculpturing back in September 2013 as I guided Ryan Chang who was doing amazingly original work.  He has the personality to really create outstanding pieces and I tried to teach him a Taihu-like version and was also learning myself.  At that time he was just beginning and we co-authored the article posted at www.fukubonsai.com/4a15c.html That was about one year ago and compare that with Ryan's article in this issue at www.fukubonsai.com/1a94w.html    I'm very proud of him and appreciate that he is willing to share his successes and failures with our readers.  If you enjoy reading his articles,  drop him an email and tell him so!  He's really a nice guy.

                 So that rock sat around and contributing editor Jay Boryczko came up with a spectacular One-Year Report last month with an amazing "Bottom Root-Dragon!"  But Jay's not satisfied and is reworking it to make it more spectacular and I recommended lengthening the roots to the full length first,  then start shaping the roots and in a way this article illustrates this concept.

                 Last month,  new contributing editor Thomas Matkey reported on making shifting screens and a first report on using the experimental media mix.  But he struggled when it was time to put together a really nice planting idea this month.  So this article should help him in both more effectively using the new potting method, but also on how to use a multi-crinkled foil effectively to hold plants and the fine media in place.  I try to include articles that are related to the various projects being done by those in the Fast-Track Study Group.  But it's obvious that both Jeff Smith and Gerardo Ortiz have a lot of skill and potential and they will be requested to take on larger challenges.

                 Whether in the Beginner or the Fast-Track Study Groups,  I enjoy trying to teach and am delighted with the results being made.  I invite everyone interested in learning and getting assistance to contact me at david.f@fukubonsai.com           ALOHA!  ~~~David

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             Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014