Root Over Rock - Bonsai Lesson Plan

Root Over Rock
Root Over Rock

Here we will be examining the processes to grow a tree over a rock (in root over rock style) which will create quite an appealing bonsai. The example above is an umbrella tree which is the first bonsai I attempted it is 27 years old.

This style consists of when the roots of a plant are made to cling or grip the rock-spilling over it and eventually the roots grow down into the soil. This is to copy a tree developed from seed that has naturally grown on a rock. As the tree develops it needs to send out its roots in order to receive nourishment which will ensure its survival.Once the roots reach the soil they toughen up and proceed to grow around the rock and now the tree can develop using food and water that it gathers from the ground.

Development: The first step to develop a �root over style� is to select a plant and a rock. These are both important you need to choose a rock that doesn�t overpower the tree. The next choice is to select the appropriate tree. I find for a tough variety you can use is either umbrella or ficus species to begin with although I have had great success with Japanese maples, both Acer palmatum and Trident maples.

You need to select a tree that has long strong roots that you can drape over the rock in order to create the look that the trees roots have naturally grown down the rock.

Once you have successfully selected both the rock and tree you will have to attach the tree to the rock by binding the roots to the rock with grafting tape or raffier tape. When attaching the tree to the rock have some help. One person to hold the tree over the rock with the roots draping down, while the other person binds the roots to the rock.

Materials that you will need: Concave Branch cutters, Bonsai Secateurs, Scissors, Knife, Plastic Grafting Tape, Root Hook or Fork and good clean sharp river sand.

  1. Having selected a tree with long roots, remove all the necessary foliage usually half, this is to allow the tree to direct the growth to the root system. Then remove as much soil as possible away from the root ball of the tree by hand taking care not damage the roots and then wash away the remainder of the soil with a garden hose.
  2. Root Over Rock
    Root Over Rock
  3. The next thing to do is place your tree over the rock and keep adjusting it until you find the position that is most pleasing to you. Place the roots so that it can be viewed from all directions. Look for interesting crevices and nooks and cracks in the rock so that you can position some of the roots in these as you want to make the tree look as natural as possible. At this point you can even overlap some of the finer and under developed roots, which will eventually merge together and give a very pleasing effect. Root over rock style you will find, to be one of the most rewarding effects that you can achieve in bonsai presentation.
  4. Now you can proceed to set the roots in place. There are a number of techniques used but in my opinion grafting tape is the easiest and most effective. (Try and have someone help you with this.) With one person holding the tree in place over the rock, the other person will bind the roots around it fairly tightly being careful not to damage the roots and to allow them to protrude below the rock into the soil. Make sure that there are no gaps in the grafting tape where there not supposed to be.
  5. Having set the roots in place be sure that all the roots protrude from the bottom of the rock then bury it with the plant in a pot of clean sharp sand. Make sure that no part of the rock is visible and that the base of the trunk is visible. May I suggest that you obtain your washed sand from a concrete supplier such as Boral or Readymix. The reason for this is that their sand is washed so many times it minimizes the amount of impurities and rubbish within the sand.
  6. Next thing is to thoroughly water your bonsai. The duration that it will stay in the training pot is usually 1 to 2 years. Personally I prefer 2 years because this allows the roots to become well established and really adhere to the rock. Although the roots may seem small and weak now, in just one growing season they will really thicken up and depending on placement will give a very pleasing result.
  7. After the required time has elapsed, the soil is removed by gentle scraping and then washing in order to expose the rock and the rootball. Make sure that you don�t damage any of the newly formed roots as this will stress the tree. Check that there are no gaps in the grafting tape and that any roots have escaped need to be trimmed in order to retain the original growth pattern of the root system.
  8. Now remove the grafting tape with a pair of sharp scissors, make sure that you don�t cut through the roots. After 2 years, the roots will have really bonded themselves to the rock in a pleasing manner and will have grown considerably as well as the lower trunk of the tree, now you can get an appreciation of the overall development of your creation along with a concept of what it will look like in the future when it is repotted in a ceramic pot. But for now it needs to be repotted back into a plastic training pot with the rock above the surface in order to regain its health. Leave it now for a few months.
  9. Now is the time to choose a suitable ceramic pot with which you can display your newly formed bonsai. May I suggest a shallow oval pot as this will enhance the overall appearance of your bonsai, (root over rock style) and as for the colour I would choose natural subtle tones such as an unglazed brown pot or alternatively a pale green glazed pot as this will enhance the colour of the foliage.

    Remember for your first root over rock style I suggested either an umbrella tree or a fig as they are both strong varieties of tree and will develop reasonably quickly as compared to say Japanese maples. The umbrella tree is an excellent choice for indoor bonsai in a well lit position. Just remember to give it 1 to 2 mornings of sunlight as trees need vitamin d in order to retain good health.

    Overall, (root over rock) is a very effective and aesthetically pleasing style which mimics how trees can grow in the wild. It is an advanced style, although not to difficult to achieve with a bit of patience, practice and the right materials. I sincerely hope that the information that I have provided will give you a very rewarding experience as well as a truly beautiful bonsai.

"Bonsai is the creation of living art and the blending of elements"

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