Plant a bonsai on a mountain side in a shallow dish

A friend gave my wife a beautiful small bonsai dish and then a few weeks later, the same friend presented me with a carefully-chosen small evergreen that was well shaped and only needed a touch up to become an excellent bonsai starter. The plant is chamaecyparis obtusa nana lutea

The dish was rather shallow and my friend suggested that I should get a deeper container for this beautiful (and expensive) plant. I decided to show off. Here are the pictures of me doing exactly that.

I like to use a good, porous potting soil for the process. I check out the plant to see how it will fit and to get a mental picture.

blog dwarf bonsai 1

I like to use a good, porous potting soil. The plant should like this just fine

I study the relationship of the plant to the container. I move it around and study the placement possibilities. The main rule I am following here is to “stay out of the center.” I get an idea of my direction with the project.

blog dwarf bonsai 2

Take lots of time studying the placement possibilities. Stay out of the center

Take the plant out of its container and study the root structure. This is the “soul of the plant” and sometimes that soul needs a bit of re-arranging. (I’m sure you can understand that).

blog dwarf bonsai 3

study the root ball to determine how you will modify it to fit the container

I carefully break up the root ball. Sometimes I have to use a hack saw or a knife to cut the bottom from the root ball but this one is easy. Pruning the roots of a plant adds strength to the plant by encouraging the remaining roots to branch out and develop more feeders.

blog dwarf bonsai 4

break up the bottom of the root ball so that it will fit in the container

After determining the placement of the plant, I place the soil around the root ball, packing it down firmly, and this gives me the basic shape for the “mountain.”

blog dwarf bonsai 5

Pile potting soil around the root ball and shape the mountain (sort of like with modelling clay)

I start to “build a mountainside” around the plant by adding well-chosen rocks which support the plant while they keep the soil in place. The rocks, in essence, increase the depth of the container in an attractive manner. At this point, I take care to make sure all roots are covered.

blog dwarf bonsai 6

continue to shape the mountain and add a rock or two if needed to hold the soil or stabilize the plant

Dekie and I keep a bucket of “neat rocks” that we have picked up here or there. Collecting rocks is fun. My next step in this project is to use a few of these to build “cliffs and mountainsides.” I make sure that everything fits tightly so it won’t fall out when the plant is moved.

blog dwarf bonsai 7

On a stable surface, pack the soil around the rocks and plant so that nothing moves.

I used to have to go to the aquarium department of a pet store to find the polished rocks, but I had spotted these flat, polished, black rocks in the Dollar Store one day. I bought them for just such an occasion as this. I start adding a stabilizing and attractive “ground cover” with the black rocks. As I work, I pack the soil over and over to make sure it will stand the test of time.

blog dwarf bonsai 8

add decorative roocks and perhaps a bit of gravel to paint a picture.

We cleaned off a prominent place on the patio for the mountain bonsai to live. After a couple of years of meditative pruning it should be a masterpiece.

blog dwarf bonsai 10 chamaecyparis obtusa nana lutea

The mountain bonsai looks good enough to earn a place of prominence.

And here’s a top view

blog dwarf bonsai 11

We named it “Betty.”

 

Other articles that pertain to this subject:

The basics of pruning-Pruning as an art form

A few years ago Dekie and I visited a bonsai show in Nashville at the Cheekwood gardens Here’s the story

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How to build a portable rock garden

I published this article four years ago. I thought it would be a good time to dust it off and put it back up for my new readers.

Several years ago, I figured out how to build a portable rock garden.  The concept hit me when a client’s sister who was visiting from New York looked one of my large rock gardens and commented, “I wish I could take that home with me”.  I thought this was such a good idea that I went home and spent several days of experimentation and trial and error.  It felt really good to put my first specimen in the back seat of the lady’s car as she left to return home.

A truly portable rock garden.  Who would have thought it?

A truly portable rock garden. Who would have thought it?

I haven’t built one of these planters in several years, but I thought one would be a perfect birthday present for Bob Hicks.  Bob is one of those people who have two of everything—but he didn’t have one of these.  Here’s how you do it:

I started by gathering my materials.  I picked up some nice sandstone specimens from the side of a mountain road and found a suitable  piece of flagstone for the base (there are rock dealers all over the place these days).  I got some moss from the back yard where the grass won’t grow, and some smaller rocks from a friend’s driveway.

find just the right rocks

find just the right rocks

The rocks will be glued together with a polyurethane caulk.  You will need a tube of this and a caulking gun.  These are pretty inexpensive and one tube of caulk will do three or four gardens.  I have tried other types of caulk but have found that nothing will do better than polyurethane.  I use PL polyurethane construction adhesive.

A caulking gun and polyurethane caulk for an adhesive

A caulking gun and polyurethane caulk for an adhesive

Be sure to use newspapers or some kind of drop cloth.  The caulk is very hard to clean up.  I got some on my jeans a few years ago.  I still wear the jeans—the caulk is still there, also.

Begin by laying the decorative rocks out on the flat stone that will be the base.  Experiment and get the rocks just as you want them.  Some times it takes quite a bit of adjustment and experimentation.  Take your time.

rocks laid out to perfection.  I'm happy with this

rocks laid out to perfection. I’m happy with this

Cut the tip of the caulking tube about ½ inch from the end.  It works best if you cut it at an angle.  Use a nail or something like that to poke a hole through the seal at the bottom of the tip.  Insert the tube into the caulking gun and you are ready to go.  If you’ve never used a caulking gun, it may take a little experimentation but it is relatively easy.

Next, carefully turn each rock to the side and spread a bead of the caulk on the base.  When this is done, turn the rock back down on the base so that any excess glue will be pushed to the inside.  Mash the rock down good and hard and then try not to move it around any more. Go slowly and do one rock at a time.

Use enough adhesive, but not too much.  Squeeze to the inside

Use enough adhesive, but not too much. Squeeze to the inside

When the gluing is finished, it will be time for the hard part.  The hard part is that you must let the project dry and cure in a dry, warm location for a few days.  Waiting is always difficult for me, but if you get in a hurry, you will mess it up.

Now for the hard part--wait a few days

Now for the hard part–wait a few days

After the glue had dried, examine the project and look for little holes where dirt might run out and stuff little pieces of moss here and there to plug the holes.

plugging the leaks. Do this from the inside

plugging the leaks. Do this from the inside

Now it is time to plant.  You will need one larger accent plant.  I am using a jade plant that has been pruned following the directions in my previous post “The simple basics of pruning”.  Place the accent plant in the correct position—you will want to experiment.  The root ball of this plant should be up high in order to form a “terrace”.

try the plant in several different positions

try the plant in several different positions

Finish filling the planter with good potting soil.  Pack it in around the accent plant and water everything.  This will be a good time to wash off the excess dirt.

water it in and wash the rocks

water it in and wash the rocks

To keep the feeling of a true rock garden, I like to build terraces with smaller rocks.  Sometimes, if the shape and feel is right, I like to use aquarium gravel for a “river bed” or flat rocks for a “stepping stone path”. At this point, pack the dirt and the rocks in so they will stay.

Terraces make the finished product look better. Be an artist.

Terraces make the finished product look better. Be an artist.

After studying the garden, I have decided to enhance the Ikebana effect with a smaller plant in one of the crevasses.  I am using a haworthia here. This will give me a three tiered effect with the difference in elevations of the jade, the haworthia, and some moss. An essay on Ikebana will be the subject of a future post.

just for effect

just for effect

Now, I will pack moss on top of the soil and tuck it in around the rocks.  The moss will live well if misted on a regular basis.  The effect I am looking for is a woodland scene with the moss representing the garden floor.

oooh!  Pretty moss will finish it off

oooh! Pretty moss will finish it off

Here is the finished product ready to be watered in and set in a place of honor.

Water it in and clean it up.  Be sure to set it on a trivet to keep from scratching your table

Water it in and clean it up. Be sure to set it on a trivet to keep from scratching your table

Look at this.  Now Bob will come in for his birthday dinner, admire the planter, and we will say “happy birthday”.  The plants will grow well in good light with a weekly watering.  The moss will probably need misting every couple of days.  As the jade plant grows, proper pruning will enhance the bonsai effect.  Yay!! I’ve changed this picture from the original article because the rock garden–four years later– is visiting our house for a bit of R&R. Bob kept it alive for all that time

I first documented the building of this garden four years ago. It's still

I first documented the building of this garden four years ago. It’s still going strong.

For more adventures of johntheplantman, read “Requiem for a Redneck”, a novel by John P. Schulz.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

 

How to build a portable rock garden

How to build a portable rock garden

Several years ago, I figured out how to build a portable rock garden.  The concept hit me when a client’s sister who was visiting from New York looked one of my large rock gardens and commented, “I wish I could take that home with me”.  I thought this was such a good idea that I went home and spent several days of experimentation and trial and error.  It felt really good to put my first specimen in the back seat of the lady’s car as she left to return home.

A truly portable rock garden.  Who would have thought it?

A truly portable rock garden. Who would have thought it?

I haven’t built one of these planters in several years, but I thought one would be a perfect 84th birthday present for Bob Hicks.  Bob is one of those people who have two of everything—but he didn’t have one of these.  Here’s how you do it:

I started by gathering my materials.  I picked up some nice sandstone specimens from the side of a mountain road and found a suitable  piece of flagstone for the base (there are rock dealers all over the place these days).  I got some moss from the back yard where the grass won’t grow, and some smaller rocks from a friend’s driveway.

find just the right rocks

find just the right rocks

The rocks will be glued together with a polyurethane caulk.  You will need a tube of this and a caulking gun.  These are pretty inexpensive and one tube of caulk will do three or four gardens.  I have tried other types of caulk but have found that nothing will do better than polyurethane.  I use PL polyurethane construction adhesive.

A caulking gun and polyurethane caulk for an adhesive

A caulking gun and polyurethane caulk for an adhesive

Be sure to use newspapers or some kind of drop cloth.  The caulk is very hard to clean up.  I got some on my jeans a few years ago.  I still wear the jeans—the caulk is still there, also.

Begin by laying the decorative rocks out on the flat stone that will be the base.  Experiment and get the rocks just as you want them.  Some times it takes quite a bit of adjustment and experimentation.  Take your time.

rocks laid out to perfection.  I'm happy with this

rocks laid out to perfection. I’m happy with this

Cut the tip of the caulking tube about ½ inch from the end.  It works best if you cut it at an angle.  Use a nail or something like that to poke a hole through the seal at the bottom of the tip.  Insert the tube into the caulking gun and you are ready to go.  If you’ve never used a caulking gun, it may take a little experimentation but it is relatively easy.

Next, carefully turn each rock to the side and spread a bead of the caulk on the base.  When this is done, turn the rock back down on the base so that any excess glue will be pushed to the inside.  Mash the rock down good and hard and then try not to move it around any more. Go slowly and do one rock at a time.

Use enough adhesive, but not too much.  Squeeze to the inside

Use enough adhesive, but not too much. Squeeze to the inside

When the gluing is finished, it will be time for the hard part.  The hard part is that you must let the project dry and cure in a dry, warm location for a few days.  Waiting is always difficult for me, but if you get in a hurry, you will mess it up.

Now for the hard part--wait a few days

Now for the hard part–wait a few days

After the glue had dried, examine the project and look for little holes where dirt might run out and stuff little pieces of moss here and there to plug the holes.

plugging the leaks. Do this from the inside

plugging the leaks. Do this from the inside

Now it is time to plant.  You will need one larger accent plant.  I am using a jade plant that has been pruned following the directions in my previous post “The simple basics of pruning”.  Place the accent plant in the correct position—you will want to experiment.  The root ball of this plant should be up high in order to form a “terrace”.

try the plant in several different positions

try the plant in several different positions

Finish filling the planter with good potting soil.  Pack it in around the accent plant and water everything.  This will be a good time to wash off the excess dirt.

water it in and wash the rocks

water it in and wash the rocks

To keep the feeling of a true rock garden, I like to build terraces with smaller rocks.  Sometimes, if the shape and feel is right, I like to use aquarium gravel for a “river bed” or flat rocks for a “stepping stone path”. At this point, pack the dirt and the rocks in so they will stay.

Terraces make the finished product look better. Be an artist.

Terraces make the finished product look better. Be an artist.

After studying the garden, I have decided to enhance the Ikebana effect with a smaller plant in one of the crevasses.  I am using a haworthia here. This will give me a three tiered effect with the difference in elevations of the jade, the haworthia, and some moss. An essay on Ikebana will be the subject of a future post.

just for effect

just for effect

Now, I will pack moss on top of the soil and tuck it in around the rocks.  The moss will live well if misted on a regular basis.  The effect I am looking for is a woodland scene with the moss representing the garden floor.

oooh!  Pretty moss will finish it off

oooh! Pretty moss will finish it off

Here is the finished product ready to be watered in and set in a place of honor.

Water it in and clean it up.  Be sure to set it on a trivet to keep from scratching your table

Water it in and clean it up. Be sure to set it on a trivet to keep from scratching your table

Look at this.  Now Bob will come in for his birthday dinner, admire the planter, and we will say “happy birthday”.  The plants will grow well in good light with a weekly watering.  The moss will probably need misting every couple of days.  As the jade plant grows, proper pruning will enhance the bonsai effect.  Yay!!

near a window or under a floor lamp is perfect!

near a window or under a floor lamp is perfect!

For more adventures of johntheplantman, read “Requiem for a Redneck”, a novel by John P. Schulz. You can purchase the Kindle version here

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

or read the customer reviews on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

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