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Fig1. In this case, the root ball was rotated and the side roots became topside. This required heavy pruning of the roots and reshaping of the root ball.

By George Haas,
School Coordinator

The Bonsai School 2017 offered at the Golden State Bonsai Federation (GSBF) Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt (BGLM) just completed its third year of classes in bonsai. The last two sessions were held December 9 and 10, 2017, and led by the Bonsai Garden’s Curator, Kathy Shaner, on styling and repotting. Now is the season for repotting and the students were given the opportunity for hands-on repotting of mature, quality bonsai from the Bonsai Garden’s collection. Assistant Curators were on hand to assist.

Fig. 2. Kathy and Assistant Curator Rick Trumm work on pruning the roots and shaping the root ball.

The students completed ten full day class sessions at the BGLM Workshop, which started in March of this year. Topics covered care  and maintenance of a variety of tree species, all selected from the Bonsai Garden’s collection of historic and legacy bonsai. Garden Master Gordon Deeg helped in the instruction.


These last two sessions dealt with light styling and seasonal cleaning and repotting. Each student working under the supervision of Kathy and an experienced Assistant Curator participated in repotting Bonsai Garden flowering deciduous trees. In repotting, sometimes it requires a different position in the same or new pot. It could change the entire style of bonsai. For example, a semi-cascade might be repotted as an informal upright.

Fig 3. Roots protruding upward were pinned down by using chopsticks hammered into the root ball and strung together with rappia.

The tough decisions were made by the instructor. Students learned advanced bonsai techniques for difficult transformations of bonsai styles during the repotting stages. A key factor in repotting is selection of the correct bonsai pot. Such factors as size, width, length, depth, oval or rectangle, round or square, color, quality, and aesthetics play important roles in repotting. Fig 1. Close up of root pruning and shaping of the root ball in order to fit into the bonsai pot and change the style of a Japanese wisteria.

A wet cloth covered the pruned roots and root ball. Later on, the cloth will be replaced with sphagnum moss in order to keep the roots moist and allow them to grow into the root ball.

The BGLM offers a four-year bonsai school taught by Garden Curator Kathy Shaner, Garden Master Gordon Deeg, guest instructors, and Assistant Curators. Students completing the above year will move on to volunteer work on BGLM bonsai under supervision of Kathy and experienced Assistant Curators. They will complete their bonsai education in two more years, graduating as Assistant Curators for BGLM.

The purpose of the four-year bonsai school is to identify and instruct potential students to become Assistant Curators for the BGLM who will take an active part in the care and maintenance of the Bonsai Garden’s historic and legacy bonsai. A new class of year one students is forming now with a starting date of January 20, 2018.

Fig 5. After the repotting procedure was complete, the Japanese wisteria was put back on display.

1. Complete an application for the BGLM Bonsai School.
2. Tuition of $250 for years one and two.
3. Attend 10 full sessions of instruction at the BGLM workshop for years one and two.
4. Perform a minimum of 36 hours volunteer services in caring for and maintenance of the Bonsai Garden’s bonsai, years one through four.
5. Student must be accepted as an apprentice by an Assistant Curator at the conclusion of their studies to continue years three and four.

Learn more about the School by clicking here.


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