Part 5 of 5
The hard part is over. After Removing the tree from the pot and Preparing the pot; after Working on the roots and Securing the tree in the pot, we’re left with the finishing touches. The first is adding more soil to the pot. I like using bonsai scoops.
Pouring in the soil
To make sure the soil gets where it needs to go – between the roots – chopsticks come in handy. I usually jab lightly at the soil with one hand while holding the pot and soil in place with the other. Skipping this step can result in air pockets that make it tough for the roots to take hold in their new environment.
It’s fun, at this stage, to wiggle the chopsticks about. Wiggling really works the soil into place and is especially effective at filling in pockets between large roots or cavities beneath the trunk. Over-wiggling, however, is epidemic. Unless there is a big gap to fill, it doesn’t take much.
Working the soil between the roots with chopsticks.
Before getting a final level on the amount of soil in the pot, a careful bump can settle things a bit. When doing this, I very carefully hold the tree and pot in place with one hand while bumping – just once or twice – with the other. Careles bumping can upset the soil and occasion a do-over. I usually find the soil settles just a bit during the bump. If the soil drops dramatically, it’s a sign that I didn’t use chopsticks enough to work the soil into place.
Bumping the pot
A small broom can help get the soil to the proper level. Of broom-technique: holding the broom at a high angle makes it hard to level the surface of the soil and can easily gouge out additional soil. Holding the broom close to parallel to the surface of the soil pulls the largest soil particles out of the mix and makes for a nice level.
Leveling the soil in the pot – improper broom-technique
Proper broom-technique – the broom is nearly parallel with the surface of the soil
A trowel can make the surface neat and tidy. I’ve seen long trowels and short trowels, custom trowels and mass productions. I have two, but I rarely use them. I like patting the surface of the soil with my hands instead. It works almost as well and is much faster.
Tamping the soil with a trowel
Tamping the soil with my fingers
As soon as this is done I run out and water the tree. The rule about watering until the drainage runs clear is sound. The more particles you can wash from the soil, the better the soil will drain. It’s at this point that I gauge the effectiveness of the work. If the drainage is inexplicably poor, I need to start over.
Watering the tree
The tree is now set for this year. Soon I’ll add moss to the surface of the soil for exhibit. Once the exhibit has passed, I can sit back and wait for the new shoots. In the meantime, my main job is to protect the roots from hard freezes – a rarity around here.
The above covers many of the repotting basics. But as with so many bonsai techniques, there is a lot more to say on the topic, and pictures only go so far. Video can fill some of the gaps. I highly recommend Boon’s video, Repotting, Japanese Black Pine, for the task. It’s far easier to learn good chopstick technique by watching rather than reading. It’s the next best thing to being there.
Return to the beginning: Part 1 – Repotting a trident maple