Root Over Rock Chinese Elm Update

Happy New Years folks. Here’s the last project for the year. It’s a root over rock chinese elm I grown from seed. I thought I’d share more of it’s history before I describe the work I’ve done to it.

The tree began as a doner seedling from a mature elm tree in my neighbors yard. It grew freely for 1-2 years before I decided to dig it out. I gave it an additional season to grow in a pot and doubled the size.

mother tree
Identically aged elm but never dug out

It spend the entire growing season in the ground with the roots firmly braced with seram wrap and external anchors. Here is the tree from roughly 1 year ago:

Neglected to take progression shots, but here is the tree prior to wrapping the roots

I dug it out today, slightly early but mind you chinese elms in Southern California leaf out in late January to early February. For most trees it would be ill advised to do heavy root work and pruning in early winter but given the vigor of elms as well as the mild socal temps I can get away with it. Given it grew freely in the ground it has more than enough stored sugars to recover.

Leaders cut and some roots removed

I took off all the seram wrap and checked all the roots. I did some reduction and cut off the 4 foot leaders from the trunk. Everything was reanchored with wires tying down any major root to the rock.

The intended front of the tree. The large root in the front may be split later but for now I’m leaving it alone as it’s one of the main anchor roots
Union is not too bad but rock can still be pulled off roots
Grew like gangbusters on the other side. Some reduction done here to expose more of the rock

I organized the roots evening the spread and cut back to where I could get some division or ramification. The nebari will need further refinement over the years but I need to wait until it’s firmly attached to the rock before additional work.

Repotted, with the roots slightly exposed. Every year I will plant the tree a bit higher showing more of the nebari and rock

My intention with this planting is to have exposed roots hanging off the left side of the stone. Next year this should be achievable and will make for a interesting tree with character. I’ll begin primary branch development this season as well. Hope you enjoy the update and have a great 2018!



I’m fuming. The steam’s cracking out of the lid. Convention tells me otherwise and my insecurities tell me no. I’ve heard it all. Both from myself and others. Stabilize your career and keep it on the side. Do it in the future after you have more money. Better to have it as a hobby than to fail and not have it at all. If you leave your career now you won’t be able to return in a few years. So I spent a year to let it simmer and to ask myself, “what is it that I really want?”

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(I actually wasn’t thinking anything like that in this photo. I was just trying to pose for a cool shot. Felt fitting to throw it in though haha)

People who know me well know that I have a lot of hobbies and interests. A job in high school for a knife dealer exposed me to metallurgy which led me to my current academic pursuit, material science. Outside of academics I’ve involved myself with cycling, climbing, photography, and recently even boxing. I try to invest enough time and effort in all of them so that I have some degree of competency…but at the same time I’m never quite “good”. I don’t have the talent to excel at something with minimal work.

(A favorite local cycling route while I was working at Argonne National Lab this summer)

Between school, my career, and long term goals I’ve spread myself thin with too many half-way commitments. It’s mentally straining for myself, but also unfair to my peers and employers who expect my full attention. I realize that if want to succeed in my career aspiration as a bonsai professional I need to give it my 100%.

(These aren’t my hands, just some random dude’s I photographed during a workshop)
(A daiza I hand carved myself, the first and only, for an interesting mountain suiseki)

Am I afraid of failing and fucking up my current career? Hell yeah! Do I really want to pursue bonsai? Hell Yeah! At the end of the day all I know is how I feel. I love working with my hands and building things. My current career is not sustainable for me in the long run. I ain’t a rash or dumb guy. I’ve taken time to understand my current industry and directions for career growth as well I asked for advice from many people well seasoned in it. And after a year of thinking I know it’s not for me.

At this point it ain’t gonna help me by throwing more what ifs around. I just have to give it a shot and if I fail it’s on me. I can’t say I’ve been completely unsupported either. I’m fortunate to have the support of my parents and a few mentors I’ve gained in the past year who’ve greatly helped and encouraged me to pursue my goal. Hoe, Jeff, Owen, Bob among others who’ve helped me out.

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(Ben Oki repotting stick Jeff gave to me during my stay in Chicago–Ben Oki is considered one the early influential bonsai artist when bonsai was in its’ infantile stage in the US)

If I had to give myself a New Years resolution it would be to take the first steps in my career and begin an apprenticeship. My chinese is complete ass right now but I’m beginning to practice and study with the intention of possibly apprenticing in Taiwan.

I’ve been working on a letter to send over to some of the professionals to explore the possibility of apprenticeship.

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(Big thanks to Hoe Chuah for giving me some contacts to look into and my Dad helping me with translation and writing this letter)

To help me learn and better retain commonly used words and characters used in the bonsai scene I’ll be attempting to translate a Taiwanese bonsai book. The idea is to translate pages containing techniques (perhaps some unfamiliar to the domestic scene) and share them on my blog! Perhaps this is too ambitious but I hope to translate and share 1 page or technique a week. At best all I can understand are the pictures and some characters I learned in high school so it will be quite the challenge.



During the interim between college graduation and an apprenticeship but also to give me more of a buffer to improve my mandarin I’m looking to study domestically briefly. I recently applied for a paid internship at the US National Arboretum Bonsai Garden so we’ll see if that pans out.

I am equally hopeful and afraid, but mostly excited to try my new venture. I hope I can find the support of my readers and invite you to watch my success or failure.

Happy Holidays.