Archive for the ‘roots’ Tag

Dealing with Problem Roots   1 comment

If one does bonsai long enough, they will deal with problem roots many times in their bonsai career. When your new to bonsai these problems can be very difficult to deal with because trees can’t fit into pots well when roots grow all over the place. Hopefully I can show some difficult root cases and what I have done to help save some time dealing with these problem trees.

Case no. 1

This maple was purchased last year in 2018 and has been in the branch training mode since it had been newly dug from the field. I anticipated having some problems this year when it came time to repot since it is a wire embedded in the trunk specimen and these tend to have a terrible base at soil level. I had chose this one because it looked like it did not suffer from that problem.

I was wrong!! I figured it might be a problem but did not anticipate this. What I have here is two seperate root systems. Since the base was so bad, upon removal from the filed the plant was just planted deep in the sell pot and the plant pushed roots high on the trunk. Rather than the grower taking a risk and losing a plant, just sell it unsuspecting and let the new owner deal with it.

So my solution it to now remove the base of this root ball and replant it and hope like Hell that it survives. What this will do is cause me to lose two years in getting the tree into a show pot. One year to gain strength and then another year repairing what I had to do this year. Next year it will be cut back on the roots and planted in a small colander forcing feeder roots to grow close in.

Once I had the tree cut free of the bottom set I decided to plant it because it may shoot being trunk tissue and not root tissue. We will see, nothing to lose and maybe another tree in the future. There are two ways to deal with problem roots. One can cut away conservatively and work with it over the next five years or a little more aggressive and cut away to problem part and keep working. I have a lot of trees and have little time to deal with nibbling away at a root problem so I take the more aggressive approach. If you only have a couple trees and lots of time then the more conservative route might be your approach.

The “tree” is planted out and treated as a cutting. It has good roots and a viable trunk with some interest. Fingers crossed.

The tree in training goes back into a grow pot and will stay here for another season growing roots.

Case no. 2

This small elm came from the same grower. In this case the root mass was quite manageable and really did not need tweaking. Once again this plant has had training on the top as this year was a throw away also since these two trees had been taken out of the field and I didn’t want to disturb the planting. What I did want to do is see if there was a way to remove the big root so prominent in the front of the front view. Elms are very aggressive growers and cutting roots from a healthy elm is a no brainer. I felt that if the large root did not support all of the tree I would be able to take it.

Upon inspection the root was a throw away and could be removed with no problem. Just cut it away with the concave cutters and saved it for replant. After removal it was no problem fitting it into this April Grigsby pot. Now I can see under the trunk and see the movement in the trunk undisturbed.

The big large root was planted as a cutting and will sprout. It had some interest with a U-turn at the top where it was cut away from the trunk. Once it sprouts I will continue the movement in what grows and try for a twisted Literati.

Just remember on elms that they can handle pruning aggression very well. Will usually reward you with increased growth after an amputation. Always throw the root cut-offs into a small container of water to be dealt with after the days work. Look for interesting shapes and things that can be manipulated into a bonsai. Plant these out in containers and treat as though they have roots. In a few months they will, and lots of them.

Case no. 3

 This Kiyohime maple was also field grown. I have not ever seen the roots though I have owned it for three years. As purchased it had a crown nearly three feet in diameter. I had to hack it back to be a Shohin tree. After the first pruning I was happy with the shape but I knew that growing ramified twigs on those long internode primaries was going to be a problem.

So, I took it back to the main primaries. It has thick trunk divisions but it will be a chunky maple so I left it.

It has grown hard over the tree years and I keep it hedged weekly never allowing anything to grow out more than three pairs of leaves. Its the only way to manage this tree. If I let up, the internodes just revert back to where it was and all the compactness of the tree will be lost. I had a long root that was exposed on the right and in this pic you can see where I just sawed a section out.

Today was the day to see what I had in the can. Boy, was I surprised. These roots are an exact duplicate shape of the can. The grower did a great job of providing a radial cut upon removal from the ground, but then neglect caused the roots to bolt straight down for four or five years the grower said. That’s the root I cut hanging on the left.

These roots are very much like wire and do not have a lot of feeder roots on them. They are red and hard and each feeds from the tip. I decided to take it back to where it had been trimmed when removed from the ground. I know it has lots more roots than it had then so I feel safe.

I was able to plant it in it’s first ceramic pot.

Three years later and much finer canopy.

Repotting the elm cuttings   6 comments

Last year this time I made cutting from a elm tree that I repotted. The cuttings were mostly set up to be cascade and semi cascade neagari style trees. Neagari style means stilted roots.

New Picture (3a)

This is the  elms after a season in a basket. Good growth about three feet.


The cuttings were originally selected to be in the neagari style from the get go. Root sections were chosen for the shape and not so much for the size of the trunk. These will all be shohin size trees so size was not much of an issue.


Once it is out of the basket I set to work looking each cutting over to make sure it has good strong roots in which to support the tree in the future. They also must come from the end of the root in such a way as to be compact to form the long claw that will make the base of the tree.


This cutting will require a piece of wire around the roots pulling them down into a longer thinnish shape. This cutting has not had any of the roots trimmed yet and is full of feeder roots. All of the feeders from nearly half of the root system will be cut away leaving only the thick strong “stilt” root




This cutting has a nice bend right at the intersection of roots versus stem. This shape will make a nice semi cascade neagari style tree.


I use my hand to pull all the roots into a long cylinder and affix a wire to hold the shape.


The wired roots look like this. I need the roots to keep this shape while they grow next year. The following year I can seperate them and make them look more artistic if needed, but right now I am just building foundations.


Each tree was planted into a cut down water bottle to keep the feeder roots into some soil as they continue growing down. Each tree was cut back to a apex leader and a cascading leader. Branch building will start now while I work on the bases.


These are the only two non-cascading trees and these will be trained as broom style trees at the same time.



First Steps with No Bai De ~ Elm roots   Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago during repotting I showed a method for planting out elm roots for making new plants. It is simply a method of propagation that is popular with elms because the roots are very aggressive and they will grow on after removal no matter how large they are.

Just to refresh out memory lets look the process again then an update. This victim was hacked to death to allow it to be potted down. Even though the tree is small the roots were huge. It was in a huge can with open mix and it just grew large and obese.


The roots are cut off using a large Japanese clever. The root sections are thrown into a bucket of water.



After the repotting of the victim, I can attend to the bucket of roots. I just did a few, but I could have made over a hundred trees from this bucket. The roots can be cut into 1 inch long pieces and as long as you know which end was down, it will grow roots. It is fun to plant some upside down and they will grow all crooked trying to right itself, which it will do by mid summer.


I used some of the larger roots since I wanted to work on some larger trunked sumo elm shohin. I have not seen any sumo elm trees and since they grow like tridents I will utilize my trunk fattening techniques to obtain a few of those.


Root sections like this are fun because they can be utilized for future exposed root style trees and cascades. That is what this will be later down the road, an exposed root literati cascade.



All the trees are planted in a large colander.


The update as of today. The cambium ring which is in the ring dividing the darker ring from the lighter core. Now it is easy to see where the buds come from. They begin to expand and will turn purple, making a purple ring between the light and the dark. It is here that the small pin prick green buds will form. It will be a huge green ring in another week.



In fact, this one shows some green buds already. You guys in the frigid east that have not started repotting yet, this is a good technique to try this year and grow some larger material for shohin in about 5 to 6 years. Keep the green side up.




Posted March 4, 2015 by California Bonsai Art in First Steps with No Bai De

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Almost too late   2 comments

I looked over the trees on Friday and had a trip to the coast planned for Sat. The buds on the maples looked good and I felt I had some time to repot. Good…I can go to Santa Cruz on Sat. and repot the maples on Sunday. Got up Sunday and decided they would wait until next weekend. Big Mistake! Never put off to tomorrow what you can do with your lazy ass.

Came home from work today after a 74 degree day after the small rain storm on Friday and Sat. The buds on the tridents had jumped right over the swelling stage and bolted right to the green leaves unfurling stage. No time to lose, move the table into the yard, get the buckets of soil already made and wire for the pot this is “go time”.

The tree was already in a state that need repotting for sure. The tree was pushing the root pad up and out of the pot.


The tree was unwired from the pot and the whole root pad was lifted from the pot. It was thick as the pot and dense and fiberous. The entire rim of the pad was removed from the tree. In past years I have taken this even shorter to the trunk but this year the nebari is finally improving to the point that cutting back too short means getting into larger roots and I don’t want to disturb those yet.


This is how short the pad was made this year. At this point it still has a small layer of soil on top and the pad is full thickness, about 1.5 inches.


I then rake the bottom of the pad to dislodge the roots from the bottom. These are allowed to hang down and then are trimmed flush with the hard bottom of the trunk.


Now the old soil is raked off and the roots teased for the new soil. At this point the root pad is about 3/4 inch thick. The tree is oriented for aesthetics and then placed directly on the bottom of the pot with out soil. It is wired firmly…I mean firmly, so that it will not push away from the pot. I want all the energy of the first growth spurt to be against a hard surface to get maximum girth on the roots around the tree and to swell at the soil line. The tree at this point is starting to get a good flare at the soil trunk transition and this is due to planting directly on the pot and firm tie in of the tree.


The tree is tied and I can pick it up by the trunk and the pot does not move. The tree at this point still has no soil in it. Just a tree and pot. The soil for the whole tree is backfilled around the depression around the edge of the pot. The soil in the roots from the previous season are not washed from the root mass. This allows the new roots to fill the new area with roots while the roots next to the trunk can inarch and graft together to help form the nebari.


The tree is now backfilled and watered in and placed back on the bench. It will be full of leaves by Friday.



Five Trees on a Plate Update   2 comments

Last year in Feb the five trees was placed thru a large terra cotta water saucer. The rim was cut off and five holes were drilled into it. The hole saw I used made an 1 1/4 inch hole. The trees I placed into the holes were trees grown out from cuttings I struck in 2010. The trees were about 5/8 to 3/4 inch across at the base.

This planting was grown out this year in grow stones only. No other planting medium was used. The grow stones are a synthetic pumice made from recycled glass. The medium worked good, and was a successful planting medium. I also planted a California juniper into the same mix so that I could compare which trees do better in the mix. Article coming soon on the results so far.

Here is the plate all prepared with the holes. The outsides of the holes form a circle about 5 inches in diameter. I plan to have a circle of roots with a fused base of about 8 to 9 inches or cover this saucer.


In this shot we can see that there is quite a bit of room for the trees in the holes.


This is what the whole thing looked like in the grow stones. The entire top of the planting was covered with an inch layer of long fiber moss.


This is what it looked like today. The trees have grown to about 6 feet tall.


This tree is the only one that grew large enough to start the girdle process. Once the tree is larger than the hole, the trunk begins to swell really fast.


The trunk is a full 1.75 inch across.


The other trees have some catching up to do, but that will be accomplished next year easy.


The pumice was piled above the plate as well as the inch of moss. The moss was successful in keeping the trunk wet during the day. The trunk is still wet after pushing back the top layer of pumice. What this did was cause some of the roots to sprout much too high on the trunk. I have taken the liberty to remove those now. I wish the roots to be right at the plate and start knitting there.





Whats cool about baskets is that if you set them on the ground, you get all the benifit of growun growing, but can still be lifted awy to take to a workshop if necessary. These roots will just be pruned away in spring.


It is my contention that I did not see the rampet growth from the pumice product that I wanted. The tree needed much more long lasting hydration than the fast drying pumice could produce. In spring, the entire planting will be changed out for a traditional ALP mix. The addition of akadama will get me the hydration reserve I need to keep the plant growing all day. This tree was in full sun all year 105 temps for weeks at a time. Next year will be no different except that the planting will stay cooler and wetter longer. I should see a huge improvement in the way the planting performs.



My technique for flare and roots.   5 comments

I have had this trident maple since 2001. It has gone thru a succession of work periods and mishaps over the years. This past year has been particularly hard on all my trees. My wife has undergone treatment for breast cancer and taking care of her this past year has taken alot of time and care to make her comfortable. Also, I had a spring wrestling match with a tribe of snails. I had no idea how fast they can strip a trident maple over night. I learned that a trident no matter how strong it is will only allow one mulligan in having all its leaves stripped. They ate the second bud out a week later and some trees gave up and died right on the spot. I have never had this happen in thirty years of bonsai. This year was different in that I had lots of tridents in pond baskets on the ground in front of my benches. The pickens was just too easy.

In the past they really never bothered the trees on the benches and it was like that again while the trees on the ground were decimated. A little background on this tree. I will not bore you with the beginning, but will take up after cutting off some large roots a few years back and the subsequent work done thus far.

The tree starts out here in 2008. The roots are awful. The tree swings out of the soil to the right giving the impression of some flare over there. A large root on the right gives the impression of trunk flare on that side. The problem is when seen at certain angles, there is daylight between the roots and the trunk. A large verticle root comes straight down on the right starting fairly high on the trunk.


A few weeks after the above photo was taken I decided to remove the large offending roots. I had a great dense root pad and so was not in the least bit worried that removing such large roots would set the tree back. I sawed them all off leaving only the fibrous roots to support the tree. They do all the work anyway and the large roots only offer support. I must admit that after removing the large roots the tree was much harder to tie into the pot. The tree would actually wobble like a rag doll at the hinge line at roots/tree intersection.





The largest root was a full inch and a quarter across.


After the tree was repotted this is what it looked like a year later.The tree is much higher in the pot now increasing its height by 2.5 inches. The large root scar on the right is now a full three inches above the soil line whereas before it was at the soil line.


In 2009 I had some roots now growing around the perimeter of the tree. Things were looking good and I was now able to concentrate on having a better showing base on this tree.



In 2010 I was able to show the tree in the second annual Kazari in which I won second place.


In 2011 I entered the same tree once more except this time i was able to show it in Winter since the Kazari had been moved to a Winter format instead of Spring. Again I placed second for the second time in a row. As can be seen the base of the tree has started to flare and the rootage has grown much larger with roots nearing 3/8 inch.


The Giant Squirrel Scourge of 2013

In 2013 squirrels had chewed off every root exposed on the tree. They had dug up large parts of the root matt to bury things and had done a lot of damage.


All I had left was stubs where large roots used to be. I was very angry and soon bought a CO2 BB pistol and began going all Wyatt Earp on the bastards.



To help save the root stubs that I had, I built a collar and and back filled it with pure akadama and covered that with sphagnum moss.


A couple months later I inspected my work. Sure enough I had new root emerging from the root stubs and was very lucky that they had not dried out too long.


At the end of the 2013 season I had some pretty good roots. It was now time to try something different. Over the last couple year I have been planting out many tridents on terra cotta water dishes turned upside down with hole drilled in them. I thought about that and decided to try that with this tree except I would not use a disk to plant on, but the bare bottom of the pot.


In Feb. 2014 I would start the repot. The tree was removed from the planter and pruned back in preparation for planting. The bottom of the root pad was planed like I do every year and the roots removed from the base. The pad was cut back by at least half.


The tree was planted directly on the bottom of the pot without soil. Just sitting right on the ceramic bottom. The real secret is to tie the tree in very well. Not just a two wires over the ends of the root pad to keep it from falling out of the pot in the wind, I mean TIE the tree in. The wires are left very long from the holes in the pot and the first wire tied together are those adjacent to each other. With one of the tails, move to the next hole and twist together with pliers very well. Continue moving to each successive hole ending with the first long wire at the starting point. Now you should have a continuous loop of wire around the whole root ball.



This is when the Cancer treatment started and not having the amount of time to devote to the tree I would like. I was able to keep the tree very well hydrated and did not prune it for months at a time. During the first part of the spring and summer I was using the siphon feeder with miracle grow and gro power with humic acid daily. I had shoots on this tree at times over two feet long. The fertilizer and hot summer as well as little pruning allowed the tree to turn into a sort of Bruce Banner type of plant. In the shot below much of the canopy is sunburnt and the leaves are really shriveled up. None of the twigs have suffered as it is under shade cloth but gets pretty good sun till about noon. The base of the tree is covered with soil and one can see poo balls on the surface also. I had removed the siphon feeder in June but have reconnected it just prior to the photo. About two weeks ago. I am feeding with fertilizer injected daily for winter strength build up.


I began noticing the root pad pushing up out of the pot along the edges. This is the only place it can do that since the tree is really tied in.



I was able to sweep back the soil and see the nebari that has manifested itself this season. The knobby places around the base are from teeth marks left by the squirrels


I pruned out all of the dead leaves, removing about half of the canopy. I still have at least two months left of growing season and this will bud out and push more leaves before winter. The photo shows the new larger flare I have gained by tieing in the tree so tight and planting it directly on the bottom of the pot. The tree can only push up against the wires and do nothing but make larger roots and flaring the buttress.


This is the really cool part. This tree is growing in no soil. The only soil in this pot is the 1/2 inch layer you see on the top of the tree. All the soil that was around the cut back root pad has been pushed out of the pot and is scattered around the bench and on the ground. I have shared this as testament to my ramblings over the years about plants.

1. Plants do not need soil to grow.

2. Plants do not drown in water as long as the tips can find air.

3. Soil mix just needs to retain some moisture and allow air for the plant to thrive. What you use for that is sorta moot.

I will be back this spring to detail taking this plant from the pot and showing the no soil pics. I figure the squirrels set me back about two years from where I would have been. By now I would have had some fusing of roots and should have started to see some plating.  That reminds me, I need more CO2 canisters and another 5 pounds of BB’s!


Some updated photo’s of the nebari on this trident. Looking good so far.

Posted October 9, 2014 by California Bonsai Art in Trident Techniques

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Colander or Colonder?   2 comments

It must be Colonder because my Smart Ass Wife says I have my head up my ass and these will not work cause “these “pots” are full of holes and the soil will just fall out”.

Hah! just go back and take another nap and let me do the growing of trees. She is so helpful that way. I went back to the Super Asia Market and bought another load of baskets for all the projects I have with tridents this year.

The pink baskets I bought last week. This week I bought the larger ones and the smaller ones.


The green ones are 12″ x 3.5″, pink are 14″ x 5″, first blue is 18″ x 6″ and the big one is 23″ x 7″. I have no idea what I am going to put in the big ones yet. I think Frokensteen will go into the smaller of the two big ones.


I wish to talk about volume. A five gallon bucket filled to the brim holds 80 percent of a cubic foot. Most bagged soil amendments are sold by the cubic foot on the bag, sometimes it is in dry quarts or similar. The nursery container called a five gallon can at the nursery holds 3.5 gallons. It is pretty close to holding a half a cubic foot. The bucket holds my base mix, pumice and lava 50/50. To this I add the akadama. and sometimes huyga.


I put the large blue basket in my wheelbarrow and it barely fit. I poured in the contents of the bucket of mix and it came within two inches of the top leveled out.



On top of that I placed a bag of akadama. A bag of akadama contains half a cubic foot of material. I figure that this container will hold two bags of akadama easily, or about a cubic foot of soil. Thats a pretty big basket.


This is how much white space was left after pouring the bag of akadama into the bucket.


Oh I remember now. I know just what I am going to do with the big one. Savin that for a future super duper project.

Posted December 27, 2013 by California Bonsai Art in Repotting

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