Chrysanthemum bonsai on a slab is a unique project. This page is all about how -to create one in full detail!
by Guest Author – John Capobianco
The intention of a slab planting can be to depict a lone tree on a cliff or a forest on an island. One is only limited by their imagination. Slab plantings start with a flatish piece of rock or ceramic as the container.
When selecting a slab, look for one that is relatively flat, and oblong. If it has steps, and crags, and an irregular outline, so much the better. Flip the slab over, and turn it around 360 degrees to find the view that is most interesting.
The majority of the slab will be covered with soil, so don’t worry about any imperfections in the middle
An odd number of trees make the best groupings. However, grow more than you need for the planting.
Some (often your favorite ones) will get damaged, eaten by slugs, attacked by insects, or missed during a watering.
In a conversation with the late Carl Young (co-author of The Art of the Chrysanthemum), Carl told me …
“Chrysanthemum bonsai is a numbers game. Expect to reject about 50% of what you grow.”
Put some plants in 2” containers, some in 3” and some in 4” and one or two in 6” containers. This will give you a variety of sizes when it comes time to plant. When making a group planting, trees should be of different heights and thicknesses.
“Pinch” the trees to encourage branching.
If the line of a trunk needs to be altered, apply some aluminum bonsai wire. When wiring, be careful not to break any branches, and don’t trap any leaves under the wire. They are easy to break and difficult to hold while wiring. Practice on rejects, it will hurt less when you break one.
Preparing the Slab
After a summer of watering, feeding, pinching, wiring, shading and occasional up-potting it’s time to assemble the planting. Get your slab, and get ready to make a mess.
You will need to make or purchase something we call ‘peat muck’. Peat muck is a very goopy and plastic concoction of peat moss, fine soil, and clay. You can also use ‘Bonsai Super Muck’ or “black Michigan peat”.
Black Michigan Peat is the black peat moss sold by the Michigan Peat Company. (Available in some of the higher end nurseries.) It has the consistency and plasticity that you need for molding and holding. What are you molding? What are you holding?
You are shaping a retaining wall to hold the soil in place.
Placing the Trees
When constructing a Chrysanthemum bonsai slab planting, follow the rule for creating any bonsai forest. The #1 tree sets the tone for the planting. Start with your thickest, usually also tallest tree. Place the #1 tree either left or right of center, not dead center.
Gently comb away (using a chopstick) some soil from the root ball in order to facilitate placement and avoid having all the trees looking like they just came out of nursery pots.
As you place the trees, put additional soil underneath them to raise them up, and around them to hold them in place.
Once they are soiled in place, you can work on changing the heights, by trimming the tops. When the trees are in place, alter the retaining wall a bit.
Make it look ‘natural.’ Lower it a little here and move it out a little there. Try not to make it look like an earthen dam, even though that’s what it is.
While you are growing the trees in their nursery containers, have a rough idea of the future placement of the trees on the slab. This will help you to work on branch placement.
On a single bonsai, the branches are placed so that the tree is three dimensional.
In a group planting some of the trees can be two dimensional.
If one of your chrysanthemum bonsai starters has perfectly placed branches suited to a single bonsai, consider saving it for a special individual container.
Chrysanthemum Bonsai Finishing
I use a shallow rooted ground cover to add a finished look to my plantings, often selaginella. Selaginella is a fern ally and has a very fine toothed look to it.
You can also use moss or baby tears. Place ground covers between the roots (not over) to help make the roots stand out.
The final dressing for the planting is sand. I use two types of sand, tan – all purpose builder’s sand, and white – pool filter sand. The tan sand is used to accent rootage, intimate foot paths and riverbanks.
The white sand is used to imitate running water. Use sand sparingly. Have the sand trail off into the distance and avoid straight lines that lead the viewer out of your grouping.
Bonsai, including slab plantings should be displayed on stands.
The stand should always complement the bonsai, not overpower it. When your Chrysanthemum bonsai slab planting is on display, the ultimate compliment is to have a viewer remark …“Wow, that looks like a forest, it makes me want to walk through.”
Copyright © 2012, John E. Capobianco
John Capobianco has been growing Bonsai for over 20 years. He is a professional horticulturalist working in the greater New York City area.
John has been the bonsai instructor at the NY Botanic Garden, past president of the Bonsai Society of Greater New York, and past president of the Long Island Chrysanthemum Society and member of the National Chrysanthemum Society, Inc. USA
Where to Go From Here?
If you missed the Chrysanthemum article by Dale Cochoy, it’s another article about Chrysanthemum as bonsai.
main page on Chrysanthemum Bonsai Article 1