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Bonsai Trees – No such thing as Impossible Material - Raft Bonsai

Looking at this Chinese Juniper, you may think making it into a bonsai would be impossible. However, I believe there is no such thing as impossible material.
field grown chinese juniper - raw material
We potted this juniper around 13 years ago and it has been rather neglected since. You can see it has become very leggy.

The first thing I’m going to do with the Juniper is take it out of its pot.
chinese juniper with no pot
This juniper has been growing in its pot for so long that we have a lovely little oak seedling here. This will make a nice bonsai in its own right, so I’m going to take it out of the soil.

Then, I’m going to think about what I can do with this monster!
wild juniper
All bonsai projects present a challenge. With this tree, I can see a couple of things that could be done to make it into a nice bonsai. One thing we could do with it is cut the left and central branch off, and turn the right branch into some sort of literati tree. What I think I’m going to do though, is turn it into a raft style bonsai.

What I think I will do is lay the bonsai on its side, and bring some of these branches up… to create an interest forest design.
chinese juniper on side
I will begin by clearing some of these dead branches as they are useless.
removing dead branches
Now that we’ve got rid of all the dead twigs and branches, we can start to think how we will style this piece of almost impossible material. My plan is to make it into something rather unusual.

I mentioned earlier that a stray oak seedling had grown in the pot. You can see this seedling has quite a thick trunk, and it will certainly make a nice bonsai of its own.
oak seedling
What I’m going to do to make this raft style bonsai is use these side branches to create little trees, and I will make a forest.
juniper side branch
When creating bonsai it’s important to think ahead. At the moment I’m, thinking about how my desired composition will fit into a pot. We need to train it first so that it roots into the container. This will be a temporary container.
bonsai container
The first thing to do to get this tree into its new container is to tease the roots.
teasing juniper roots
This tray is actually a plant carrying tray, so in order to keep the soil in I’m going to place some mesh at the base.
mesh tray
I then secure the mesh in place with some wire. This wire will also help me to bend the tree into shape once it is in the pot.
wire secure mesh
Upon examining the roots I discovered that this main taproot is actually a bit of a branch that I air layered many years ago, that means that this plant is actually a result of air layering!
juniper tap route
I have cut down the taproot to allow the tree to fit into the container.

This tree is going to be a raft, and I want roots to grow from the underside of this branch. So, before I lay the tree on its side, I’m going to scrape some of the bark away. This will encourage roots to grow.
scraping roots
I’m also going to dust it with some hormone rooting powder.
dusting roots with hormone powder
I’m now going to saw into the branch to help bend it into shape.
sawing juniper branch
I then use my foot to stabilise the branch as I bend it.
bending juniper branch
This is the raft, I’ve just added some moss to the top of the soil, I shouldn’t really do this yet but I Just wanted to give you an impression of what the raft will look like once completed. In about two year’s time, I will take the tree out of this tray and plant it into a bonsai pot.
 
I’m now using the wire I previously threaded through the mesh to help shape the tree.
shaping branches with wire
I’m now wiring these individual branches to make them into trees for the forest design. Technically speaking, this type of design is called a raft.
wiring branches to create raft bonsai
I had an idea to take this branch and use it to create several small trees, rather than one large tree. To do this I wire the branch so that it lays flat.
small trees raft bonsai
As you can see, I have now wired all the individual branches. I’m going to put sphagnum moss in the tray. Sphagnum moss is my favourite medium for generating roots. I’m treating the raft like a giant air layering project. This will encourage the formation of roots, much quicker than if I had just used ordinary soil. Sphagnum moss is also very useful for reviving sick trees. This moss will stay in here for at least 1 – 2 years, by which time, there should be a lot of new root growth from the original branch. When roots start forming from the original branch I can then cut off the large root ball and the tree will fit into a nice bonsai tray.
sphagnum moss raft bonsai
This is the raft, I’ve just added some moss to the top of the soil, I shouldn’t really do this yet but I Just wanted to give you an impression of what the raft will look like once completed. In about two year’s time, I will take the tree out of this tray and plant it into a bonsai pot.
raft bonsai in tray
Here is a raft I made exactly two years ago. It’s from the same sort of Juniper, and as you can see, this was a plant that had many branches.
juniper raft bonsai
Here is the original trunk. You can see all the roots that have formed over the course of two years.
raft bonsai trunk
raft bonsai roots
I cut off the main root ball after a year and planted it in a deep plastic pot so that it would generate more roots. Its final pot will be something quite different. Perhaps something like this…
raft bonsai in pot
raft bonsai before
raft bonsai after