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Bonsai Training Notes

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Working with slabs


Preparing Muck:
The wall material is made of one part very heavy organic (black) clay soil; one-part potter's clay mixed with animal or human hair (as a binding agent and slow release nitrogen). Add a small amount of seaweed juice for micro nutrients and soil microbe activation. Variations of this formula work fine (this is a formula of muck used by the Japanese when plastering trees on rocks). The important thing is to create a muck that does not crack away from the slab when it becomes partially dry (the hair fibers help prevent this).

Building the Wall: Prepare flat slabs for planting by building a wall or dam around the periphery. For naturalness do not follow the edge precisely. The wall is usually deeper in some areas than others. To help create the illusion of depth perception, make the thickest and tallest part of the wall towards the front. Decrease the wall toward the rear of the slab.

Dawn Redwood on flat slab
Note that once the wall is built, the flat slab has been turned into a concave bonsai container suitable for all styles of bonsai except the cascades.

Placing the Trees: The tree or trees can be wired into the slab through the drain holes or new tie holes can be drilled exactly where needed. Using the appropriate bonsai soil, fill in around and under each tree. If your planting is a forest or grove you can plant the small trees to the back in the 'distance' to create depth perspective.
 
Final Touches: The use of coarse mosses or small accent plants in the foreground and fine textured moss in the background also helps to enhance the illusion of depth in your planting. Push moss or accent plants into the wall or dam all around the slab. This provides erosion protection. Remember the moss used on the actual bonsai soil should be free of any clay soil that may have been attached to it. This is crucial to avoid ruining the drainage properties of the soil mix. It also creates a 'clay shield' that makes a thorough watering impossible. Pushing small pieces of rock that matches the slab into the muck is an interesting option if available. Your composition is now complete. The naturalness of a good slab planting is impossible to beat! Dwarf Alberts Spruce Grove on concave slab

Final Touches:
The use of coarse mosses or small accent plants in the foreground and fine textured moss in the background also helps to enhance the illusion of depth in your planting. Push moss or accent plants into the wall or dam all around the slab. This provides erosion protection. Remember the moss used on the actual bonsai soil should be free of any clay soil that may have been attached to it. This is crucial to avoid ruining the drainage properties of the soil mix. It also creates a 'clay shield' that makes a thorough watering impossible. Pushing small pieces of rock that matches the slab into the muck is an interesting option if available. Your composition is now complete. The naturalness of a good slab planting is impossible to beat!

DaSu Slabs: We offer two types of slabs at the Studio. A lightweight flat slab, like the one used in the article and a heavier concave slab. The heavy concave slabs are very natural in appearance and do not require a muck wall or dam.


Codification of Training To Create a Gallery Style Tree: A Brief Overview

Codification of Training for A Single Mature Specimen
By Dave Lowman

Gallery Tree Notes

Rules: (To be carried out from the trunk to the tip of every branch)
1. 1 to 6 ratio, from width of trunk base to height
(Not written in stone but a good place to begin)
[i.e.: if width of trunk is 2", ideal height of finished tree will be 12"]
2. End of every branch should be the finest diameter that the tree produces
(The very tip of each branch should be a fine tapered point)
3. Rule of 4's (as applied to a 48" tree) *
(Within every four inches you should see)
A. A bend (gradual, sensuous curve)
B. Diameter change(taper change)
C. A branch origination
D. Angle change (acute or obtuse)
E. Any combination of the above
F. All the above
4. Position scars away from the front (rear of tree is ideal)
5. Leave a sprout at the scar site. This will help the scar heal fast
6. Limit overly large roots and encourage smaller surface radial root display
7. Leave some lower branches for "sacrifice branches".
You can use these to help thicken the trunk.

Sweating a branch:

After heavy pruning of a branch it may be necessary to sweat the branch to encourage bud break.
1. Wrap branch with a plastic wrap or clear plastic bag
2. Moisten some Canadian sphagnum moss or paper towel and place in the plastic wrap or plastic bag
3. Seal around branch
4. Place in sunny location
5. Keep the towel or moss moist
6. Check for bud break (as buds begin to break remove plastic)

*Rule of 4's applied to other heights:

  • 36" tree=movement every 3"
  • 24" tree=movement every 2"
  • 12" tree=movement every 1"
  • 9" tree=movement every 3/4"
  • 6" tree=movement every 1/2"
  • etc.

You will not expect to style every tree in your collection by this method. But, perhaps a number to strive for that "gallery quality" specimen.

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