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Digging For Nebari With Nursery Stock

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

We all know how important Nebari is when it comes to good Bonsai Design, But where do we start and how can we improve on this? Lets take a look.

Ficus Root Base Nebari Root Flare

Most advanced Bonsai Practitioners will begin this Nebari work early on in the trees development, As we know and as i have preached here many times, we need to concentrate on the tachiagari which is the area from the root base too the first branch. This is usually the hardest place on a tree to fix issues if there are any. Usually when an advanced practitioner gets Bonsai Material they will focus straight on the Nebari. If you ever take notice of when you look at a Bonsai you will notice that you start from the base of the tree at the Nebari and work your way up the tree then back down, You will almost always look at the base of the tree even before you take notice of the pot. This is why the Nebari is very important in Bonsai as it serves almost like a first impression.

So how do we set our tree up for the best success with a good Nebari? One technique i often use is when i get a tree i will dig down a few inches from the soil surface, Usually when growers are cultivating this material they slip pot a lot and sometimes the base of the tree is actually a few inches under the soil surface so you have to do a bit of investigation. Sometimes you will strike gold under there and have a nice root flair that has already grown naturally which you can begin to build on, but sometimes you come up with nothing!

The above tip is also good if you are potting up a tree for the first time, always dig from the soil surface first before you start taking soil away from the bottom of the tree, see what you have under that top layer of soil before beginning any other work.

Now that we have done some digging and investigating we need to plan our next steps, if you already have a good natural Nebari started then you can find a way to continue to build on that buy bring other smaller roots near the surface and placing them in a position that you feel adds to the trees base, in this situation much like a branch you will want to keep growing that root nice and thick and elongated so it continues to thicken near the base. This is why its important to do this while the tree is still in development because if you try to achieve this with a tree in a bonsai pot you wont get far. You need that dense nutrient rich organic soil and the maximum amount of growing space for the root to allow it to run and thicken over time.

A common trick used with deciduous tree is to plant the tree on a tile so that the roots grow out sideways before they grow down giving you a great spreading root base. you will need to leave plenty of room in your pot for the roots to grow down over the side of the tile eventually.

A good way to think of growing Nebari is follow some of the same steps you do to grow branches. If you want it thicker then don't prune it, once you are happy with the thickness then prune it back to where you want the new finer roots to start growing from.

Before i go i want to leave you with 1 last quick tip, if you want the root base on maples like you see in Japan where they look like i big melted together base then you need to grow a lot of roots side by side with each other, as they grow and thicken over the years they will eventually fuse together making essentially 1 big root base with no gaps.

I hope this has helped you understand the beginnings of Nebari work and taken away a little of that haziness we can all get when learning new things.

Until Next Time, Enjoy Your Bonsai Journey.

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Aug 04, 2021

Hi Josh

ive been trying to do bonsai for a few years now with some success and many fails

but since I discovered your sight and YouTube channel I’ve learned so much you have definitely helped me on my bonsai journey

im keener than ever to get my tool roll out the shed once more

im pretty lucky here I live I Somerset England and we just visited a bonsai boot sale

it was pretty awesome lots of hobbyists selling off there excess trees and old pots

cant wait for your next instalment

great read and very helpfull

thanks again



Aug 04, 2021

Hey Josh, great article. I just had a quick question. When developing nebari do you remove the tap root and other downward growing roots? Or do you leave these to maximise growth, and remove them when it comes time to move into a bonsai container? Cheers.

Aug 04, 2021
Replying to

I would remove bigger Tap Roots as this will save you a lot of work closer to refinement. as for thicker roots while in development leave them on and wait till you are ready to go into the Bonsai Pot and start using in organics before removing them. If the larger roots are coming from the base of the tree you can lay them out and use them for your Nebari. this will require you to essentially repot the tree back into growing medium but you can try and pull the roots to the surface and lay them out and leave all the fine roots tips intact. Eventually you can cut it back closer to the trunk when you are…

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