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Building brick mini-house – bonsai project

Building brick mini-house – bonsai project

Generally in winter, the bonsai activities are less and I feel that I have to take advantage of the “free” time to build some of my ideas that were for a long period of time only in my imagination. The following posts will all regard the ideas that this winter became reality. I saw on Pinterest many pictures of temples that were covered by roots of ancient trees. So, this was the trigger that made me imagine an old brick abandoned house that has a tree growing over it and its roots cover the rooftop and some of the walls. So I started designing in my mind the entire project. First of all, I needed miniature bricks. To create these, I took a normal old brick and using an angle grinder with a concrete cutting disk, I cut all my miniature bricks.

The size of these is about 30mm x 15mm x 10mm. I was not interested to have all of them identical in dimensions, as by this the walls of the future house will look even more aged. To stick them together the best, cheapest and simplest solution that I found was to use concrete. However, the natural color of the concrete, that gray, was not satisfactory considering the light red color of the bricks. So, the solution was to mix concrete with red oxide pigment to obtain a red nuanced material to glue the bricks together.

In order to have each time the same color of the final mix, you have to use the same quantity of cement to the same quantity of oxide and water. As you will see, the project cannot be done in one day, but it took more than a week to complete the entire house.

After mixing the concrete, the fist step was to lay a base on which the future bricks were to stay. Normally this base would be under the soil level in the future pot, so it will not be visible but ensures a good stability of the walls.

While the mix was still fresh, I placed the first row of bricks, trying to keep them as leveled as possible in order to be able to easily place the future rows on top of the first one.

 After finishing to place the second row, I had to wait for a day in order for the concrete to dry as the second row was already moving freely and could not support the third one.

Next day I continued and this way, I practically applied about two rows each day till it reached the desired height.

After finishing to build the walls, I realised that there was a challenge to build the cover of the house. I preliminary considered using some wood insertions to keep the top in place, but considering that this will be a future bonsai landscape, by watering the wood would rot away and create further problems to the plants. Finally, I found the solution. I covered the entire top of the house with plastic used for covering food for refrigerators. I strengthened it with an elastic rubber around the walls and started placing the bricks one near the next one. Before I placed the bricks into position I added on all its sides fresh concrete. When placing it into position I pushed it gently towards the rest of them in order to create a good contact area.

This way I built the entire cover in probably half an hour. I left it to dry for about 2-3 days and after that I removed the plastic that was between the roof and the walls.

As you can see in the picture above, the entire roof became one plate of solid bricks. More, using the plastic it got the perfect shape to fit on the top of the walls, and in the middle it has a small hole that will be perfect to fit the tree. The small gaps that remained between the bricks of the roof will became drainage holes for the future planting. After removing the plastic, using a small amount of fresh cement I fixed the roof to the walls and let it dry for another 2 days.

In the end, this is the final product of building the abandoned brick house  that will be covered by the roots in a “root over house” project. I hope that by late spring or early summer I will be able to continue this project, placing on it the tree. At this moment, the future tree is kept only in water in order to promote growth of long roots that will cover this house.

Hope that my work inspired you!
Thanks for the visit

Ficus Benjamina – Root over rock –

Ficus Benjamina – Root over rock –

I have some Ficus Benjamina cuttings that rooted in water mixed with some liquid rooting hormone. For a long time I was thinking about what new design should I approach with these in order to do something different. As I visited Greece this summer, I collected some interesting stones that inspired me for this project, so I started building my design as soon as I returned. So, the new project was established: root over rock of Ficus Benjamina. Usually, all the bonsai masters all over USA and Japan teach that root over rock projects start with adding wet sphagnum moss around the roots till these are established and reach the soil. However, I have a different approach. As usual, we learn from mistakes or from coincidences. I have a root over rock project with a Lonicera tree. At that moment, the rock was too large and the roots of the tiny tree did not reach the soil. I was in a hurry to leave so after I fixed the tree to the rock, I wrapped the rock with the small roots with an old t-shirt that I watered just enough to keep the roots wet. The idea was to continue the next day the work with sphagnum moss. Next day I was busy again, and then the next day thesame … so the tiny tree’s roots on the rock remained wrapped with the t-shirt. I just added water daily to make sure that the roots are wet. In a few weeks, I saw an increasing vigor and the tree started developing new foliage  and normally new roots. By the middle of summer all the roots reached the ground and due to the t-shirt that was tight to the rock, these ran in the close proximity of the rock, following its shape. Today they look awesome, these are thick, shaped just like the rock and again, due to the t-shirt it did not develop any feeder roots, tempted just to grow fast down to the ground. This is how I developed my approach and I will share it with you all as follows.

The rocks that I have collected have many crevasses and these look just perfect for such a project. 

These are the rocks that I have collected. They are pretty tall, so I had to fix them to the pots. In the pictures below, you can see the slim pots that I considered to use in order to put the accent over the tall rocks and their future trees.

In order to fix the rocks to the pot, I found the best place in the pot that advantages the design. I drilled two holes that will allow the wire to pass via the bottom of the pot and the lower side of the rock to make sure there is a strong bond between the ceramics and the rock.

In the same way, I drilled a hole in the rock and cut away the bottom side of the spikes of the rock to ensure a straight contact surface between the pot and the rock.

After fixing the rock to the pot, it looks like in the pictures below. Now you can understand why I chose a slim pot and why tying it strongly to the pot is mandatory.

In the same way, I fixed the second rock to the second pot. There are several good reasons why you have to make sure that the rock is not moving, the roots can grow with no danger of braking and when building the upper part of the design you will have a good and solid base to work.

The next step was to fix the trees to the rocks. For this, I use natural rope because it will keep the tree in position for a period of time till it will develop new roots to establish the position and in a few months it will rot away. Using a chopping stick I also arranged the roots in the desired places. When placing them, always think of the way where these will grow as the roots are tempted always to grow downwards and try to find the shortest path to the soil.

I added the new soil and the roots that were long enough, I placed them already to reach the surface of the soil. I know that as soon as I will start watering the trees, the roots will find their way into the soil. If you push them down into the soil there is always a risk to harm them with the force you use to push them in.

In the end, I added parts of another old t-shirt, tie it with the same natural rope and add some soil mix in the areas where the distance between the rock and the textile remained too big. In case you consider that the textile will dry out too fast, you can use a plastic transparent bag or kitchen wrapping plastic to create a closed environment that will retain the water. However, you have to leave the upper part opened to be able to water and to allow oxygen circulation.

I hope that by Spring of 2019 I will be able to remove the textile and give you all an update on the two Ficus designs. Normally, by then, the roots should have reached the ground already. Just as last mention, I already stated this in other posts. I do not like using sphagnum moss because it tangles between the roots, it never rots away and it encourages developing feeder roots close to the rock and not pushing the elongation of the roots down into the soil.

This is my approach that I found to work quite fine, so be my guest and try it on your own.

Thanks for the visit,

Bhut jolokia – bonchi root over rock

Bhut jolokia – bonchi root over rock

In fall 2016 I received a gift from a friend of mine, a bhut jolokia pepper plant, also known as “ghost pepper”. It was about 40 cm high, grown in a hydroponic system that resulted in a very dense root system, growing very vigorously. My idea was to transform this pepper plant into a bonsai, into a so called “bonchi”. I reduced the height of the plant to about 15 cm and cut all the leaves, branches and fruits. Only the trunk remained, prepared to grow new branches in the desired positions. After hard pruning the pepper, I reppoted it into a small green glazed bonsai pot that I have bought some time ago. You can see in the image below how the plant looked after finishing the pruning and reppoting in fall of 2016.

Over the winter I kept the plant indoors in a room with direct sun and temperatures that did not drop below 20C. The pepper responded well to pruning and reppoting. In only a few weeks new growth started developing on the trunk. I took good care making sure that the soil never dried out. I continuously fertilized it every other week with liquid fertilizer (NKP 6-5-6). By spring 2017 I had to prune back the new branches as those grew quite long. Also in early spring of 2017, the leaves were too many on the plant and light could not reach the trunk anymore. So, I considered to partially defoliate the entire plant, leaving only the small leaves untouched. As the days became longer, warmer and with more sunshine, the plant started growing very fast. It also developed many flowers that I manually pollinated using Q-tips. Due to direct sunlight, fertilization and continuous watering, the plant developed a dense branch structure with long new shoots filled with many peppers. By August 2017 the plant looked like in the image below. Due to long growth and many peppers it was necessary to wire the tree to the pot, otherwise risking it to fall over.

The white spots that are visible on the leaves are because few day prior to taking this picture I sprayed the plant with fungicide. I do such treatments at least once a month to prevent diseases. When I potted the three in the green pot, I saw long roots that I did not prune back at that time. It was back then when I decided that at the next reppoting of the three I will do a root over rock project and take advantage of the long roots. The time has come and in the followings I will present all the steps that I performed for this project. First thing was to collect all the peppers from the three. The bhut jolokia is the 7th hottest pepper in the world according to the Scoville scale. It is more or less comestible as it gives stomach ache even when consuming small amounts of the fruits.

The harvest from only this small three was a dish plate full of peppers. Not all of them reached complete maturity so I had to collect them green. However, I will expose those to direct sunlight and they will turn orange, just like the rest of them. The oldest fruits will be dried to collect the seeds to germinate them in early spring next year. After harvesting the peppers, I pruned back the three quite hard and also cut all the big leaves to let the light to enter and reach the trunk.

I removed the wire that kept the three in vertical position and proceeded to the actual reppoting process. When getting out the tree from the pot, it was quite root bounded on the bottom side as expected due to the excessive growth that I spoke about earlier. The entire root system came out of the pot like a brick as you can see in the image below. On one hand, this is good because for the root over rock project I needed long roots to cover the future rock, but on the other hand  untangling and combing them without breaking the fine feeder roots is quite a challenging process.

However, I started gently removing the old soil and combing the roots in a radial shape. I gave them a good wash with fresh water and combed it again, placing the roots properly to emphasize and to get an image of how those will settle over the rock.

There are many fine feeder roots all over but there are also some long thicker ones that will be useful to cover the rock. I also removed feeder roots that were growing in wrong directions or too close to the main trunk. Unfortunately, as you can see in the image below, the bark of the three on the bottom side rot away because a lot of lime was deposited on it as I water my trees with tap water. This held back moisture and kept the bark wet all the time. I cleaned the lime away together with the bark. In the future I will periodically perform washing with vinegar diluted in water to make sure this will not happen again. I hope that in time, new bark will form and slowly the reverse taper will disappear.

The rock that I have selected to use is a mountain rock that has a hollow exactly where the bottom of the trunk is positioned in the image below. This helps a lot to find the proper position for the tree. The thicker roots will be placed into their final position along the rock in all directions. To keep them in place, I tied them with natural raffia. The benefit of using this instead of artificial raffia is that in time it rots away not cutting into the roots when those will thicken. I placed all the roots in the position ensuring that all are growing their feeders downwards to the bottom of the pot under the rock.

After fixing the roots with raffia, I wrapped around the rock and the roots transparent plastic material used for kitchen purposes. This creates a cavity that I will fill up with fine sand to ensure that all the roots that covered the rock will be keep moist and in the same time it will prevent them to grow to the sides, forcing them to develop downwards. After wrapping the roots, I potted it into a bigger pot making sure that soil fills all the gaps under and around the rock. The soil composition that I use is the same for all my trees. I spoke about how I drill my pots and how I mix my soil in an earlier post that you can read here.

After filling the pot with soil and fixing the tree in the correct position using thin wires, I filled up the wrapper with fine sand. Using a chopping stick I worked it around the wrapper to make sure that it fills all the gaps on the lower sides of the rock. Using water also helped a lot as the sand easily flows into the right position. Finally, a good watering ensured that the sand is in place and moist and the soil on the outside of the wrapper is also wet and ready to accommodate the roots.

In a few months I will gently remove the plastic wrapper and the fine sand, but only after I will see vigorous growth on the branches. This will tell me that new roots are also developing in the soil so I will be sure that the removal of the wrapper and of the sand will not harm the tree. When removing the sand I will also cut away all the fine feeder roots that will eventually grow in the visible sides of the rock. This will promote only the roots inside the soil to develop. At this moment half of the rock is inside the soil. The goal is that in time I will lift the rock over the soil entirely. However I will keep you updated with future posts.