Enjoy Nature's Wonders
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How would you make a bonsai that showcases the wonderful views of
nature? Bonsai is not about collecting plants from courtyards, forests or
mountains and replanting them in their original shapes in pots. In fact it is
often impossible to plant a large maple tree with its extensive roots into a
small pot. In order to reproduce nature's spectacular and profound beauty in
bonsai, we must adapt the plant to fit in a pot without compromising its
natural beauty. This concept is called “
Keisho-sodai”, literally ”small size-great
similarity”. “
Keisho” refers to the small size of a bonsai plant, whereas “sodai
means the bonsai plant looks similar to the real plant in nature. “
” is the most fundamental concept in bonsai.
How would you realize “
Keisho-sodai” with plants from nature? We provide
the following basic techniques for your reference.
The roots along with the trunk are fundamental to a bonsai plant. They are
the starting point of making a quality bonsai. In root training, a surface root
structure, called nebari, is important to demonstrating the plant's natural
beauty. You need to develop a quality nebari. What is more important than
a quality nebari is root pruning, which is intimately involved in the training
of the whole bonsai plant.
Remember it is more convenient to prune the roots during
To realize “Keisho-sodai” in bonsai, the roots of the plant must be nurtured
with care in two aspects. One aspect is the exposed surface roots, which can
demonstrate “
Keisho-sodai” if you develop a fine nebari (root spread). The
other aspect is the part of the roots buried in the soil, which cannot be seen
by the eye. Pruning the roots in the soil has a tremendous effect on the
above-ground part of the bonsai plant. It is an integral part in making the
bonsai style.
Exposed surface roots――Nebari (root spread)
Ancient trees in nature have sound and
extensive roots in the earth. To imitate in
bonsai the roots of such tree as the pine,
ficus, and juniper in forests, it is necessary
to develop a quality
nebari in bonsai. For
trees whose trunks grow vertically
upwards starting from the base, the roots
should evenly extend in various directions
to form a very stable shape, for example
“stretching in eight directions” (
), also “roots in eight directions”
happo-ne) in chokkan and hokidachi in
traditional bonsai styles.
On the other hand, take kengai style for instance, the trunk of the bonsai
plant leans in a particular direction. If in the opposite direction the roots are
well developed, then you achieve an overall balanced bonsai. In contrast, if
the roots entwine and cross into each other, or U-shaped gyration occurs,
then these types of roots are called
imi-ne, literally “dreadful roots”. This is
undesired and must be avoided.
You can develop a quality nebari by repeatedly pruning the surface roots
during each
repotting. Here are the details of how to do this. You should
make sure the roots grow evenly in all directions from where the trunk makes
contact with the soil. You then eliminate the superfluous roots and
before planting the plant into the soil in a new bonsai pot. The pruned roots
will grow in the new pot. If any superfluous roots grow out, you just repeat
this pruning process during the next repotting.
It would be too late to correct a poor and unsatisfactory nebari once the
roots have grown mature to some extent. You will need to develop a new
nebari using the technique called
air layering. You need to remove the bark,
cambium, and the phloem of the part of the plant that will be used for
growing new roots. Then you wrap the roots well with a water retaining
media such as sphagnum moss. The new roots will grow from the inside, and
then you can use them as the roots of your bonsai plant.
Alternatively, you can just cut off the bark, the
cambium, and the phloem of the part of the plant
that will be used for growing new roots and leave it
alone. New roots will also grow from there.
Furthermore, you can also graft a young tree to the
part where you want to grow new roots (
The new roots will grow from the roots of the young
The part in the soil, which is not visible to the eye ――Root pruning
The roots are fundamental to a bonsai
plant because they have an important
influence on the plant as a whole.
The roots are intimately connected to the
part of the plant above the ground.    
Depending on the conditions of the
above-ground part, pruning the roots in
the soil will be different.
If you start your bonsai from a seedling or a young tree, you need to
thicken the trunk above ground from the very beginning in order to shape
the bonsai plant. You must let the plant grow fully. So you need to have
enough room in the pot for the roots to grow. Or you can first grow the
plant in the ground, say in the yard, without using a pot. During repotting
you must pay attention and not hurt the roots. The new pot should not be
over-sized. Because the soil will only be dry when the amount of water
evaporation at the surface of the soil plus the amount of water absorbed by
the roots equals the water content in the soil. If the pot is too large, then
there is too much soil relative to the roots. The soil will stay too moist and
thereby reduce the oxygen content in the soil. As a result, the roots are
more likely to rot.
When the trunk has grown thick to a certain extent after a few years of
nurture, you can begin kokejun and bending, and consider positioning the
branches. At this point, you are about to train the plant as a bonsai instead
of merely as a plant. The first thing you need to do is to transfer the plant
into a smaller pot and prune the roots according to the size of the pot.
Air layering
The roots are pruned in the same way as the branches above the ground.
Pruning the branches stimulates the growth of more small branches.
Similarly, pruning the taproot that grows vertically downwards, clipping other
thick and long roots, or reducing the roots in overall abundance all contribute
to the growth of more small roots. The taproot is vital to trees that grow in
nature. For example, a strong taproot can prevent the tree from being torn
down by storms. However, the taproot is of little significance to a bonsai
plant. Not only is any thick root unnecessary, but also thick roots inhibit the
growth of other roots and hence reduce the total amount of roots available
to the bonsai plant. This will lead to sparse branches and thin foliage of the
plant and will compromise the beauty of the bonsai. The roots of a quality
bonsai plant should be made of dense shallow balls of lateral and hair roots.
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2. Trunk
How to Make a Bonsai
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--Article: From Bonsai Primer
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--A fresh start for an established tree, creating new nebari and a more
compact branch structure.(pull-quote)
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