Secret of an oak repot

15th November 2016 - 6 minutes read


People have asked why this oak is potted in an unusual way, hanging over the side of a deep pot. I have tried to be a bit elusive but when pressed I have had to admit that it was not done for the artistic merit but for the sake of a healthy bonsai. I will reveal the secret of what I meant by this evasive answer now that the time has come to repot the tree. It is normal to place the tree at the back of the pot with it leaning over the soil and the apex in line with the far edge of the pot. If it were not for the heavy pot this tree looks like it would topple over. It is certainly ‘dynamic’ but this is not a good look for this tree. So let’s see what we can do…img_0538

I have selected a much more usual pot for the shape, size and style of tree. This is a lovely oval with a natural glaze that I picked up second hand but to which I was immediately attracted. The tree will be happy in this pot for many years to come.


Now comes the reveal. Once the tree was removed from the original pot and some soil removed the healthy root system was obvious, with many thick runner roots that need removing. The amount of root trimmed is shown for interest. The hard woody trunk carries down below the soil surface to such a depth that the tree would not sit comfortably in the new pot, so some wood is skimmed off the very bottom. This helps explain why the previous pot was so deep – the tree would previously have sat too high above the pot rim. Only now the volume of root has increased significantly am I confident in cutting up into the trunk like this.






The roots are trimmed back to the useful fibrous root system and you can also clearly see this root ball is very much located off to one side of the trunk. For a tree styled with a left-hand lean this is the wrong side. As the trunk should be placed against the right hand side of the pot the position of the root ball means it cannot be placed against the right-hand edge of the pot as required by bonsai ‘rules’. Note that the white tag points to a major woody root that cannot at this stage be removed:






At this stage the tree is introduced to the pot. It fits well enough and so it is wired in. This photo shows that I can lift the tree and pot up once it is wired in, it should be that secure so as to prevent any movement  which would lead to root damage. You will also notice that the roots only fill half of the pot. I am happy with this at this stage in the trees development as I want to give it room to grow to develop the crown which it will not be able to achieve with constricted root space. The soil is in-filled and moss applied to help prevent soil being washed off when watering.img_0549 img_0550






The final image:


There are a few things to point out here that may pass the casual observer by that I feel are worthy of note:

  • The apex of the tree is now over the pot and so the image looks much more stable, the lean gives some interest but does no longer feels unstable.
  • The soil is not placed evenly in the pot, this is intentional. I am an advocate that each tree should ‘tell a story’. The image here is of a tree that at one time was hit by a very strong wind that partially uprooted it, lifting the root-plate on the right side. The angle of the nebari, the lean of the stem and the bulge of soil all indicate this and so work harmoniously together.
  • The first branch on the right is a undeveloped but important as it gives further credence starting at what would have been a horizontal angle before the tree blew over. It then continues its growth at a new horizontal – explaining the big bend.
  • The original crown now forms the main branch off to the left and a new crown is growing into the apex

So there we go – a much better image created despite the limitations of the actual tree!

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