How to grow Ne-agari style

By Pieter Janse van Rensburg

The exposed root style is not a very popular style, but it is relatively easy to grow and a very dramatic picture can be "painted" with this style. Exposed root or ne-agari occurs naturally in areas where the topsoil is continuously being washed away exposing the roots, ego on riverbanks. The roots then actually become the trunk.

This style is easier to develop from a seedling or a rooted cutting. To grow long roots is a simple exercise. Use a tall plastic nursery bag, fill it with course sand or quarry dust, untangle the roots and plant the seedling or rooted cutting in the bag in such a manner that will encourage the roots to grow down. An off-cut of a 100mm diameter drainpipe works very well too. You could also use an off-cut of approximately 30cm embedded in a plastic flower pot filled with soil, plant the seedling or rooted cutting in the tubing filled with coarse sand or quarry dust.

Re-pot every year during spring and trim the roots for the desired effect every time it is re-potted. As the roots grow longer and thicker it is possible to plait them or bend them to create the focal point for the future bonsai. The roots of trees that fuse well can be plaited which will create a very weather-beaten looking "trunk" in the future. To create the style that appears to be standing on stilts the roots should be shaped every year at re-potting time. Bend thick aluminium wire to the desired shape and tie the root to the wire with something that will slowly rot, ego raffia, florist tape or masking tape. Re-pot and cover the roots with an open mix to promote root development.

Allow the tree to grow wild during this developing stage.

After three or four years the roots should be thick enough to start exposing them. In the beginning the roots should still be supported with wire. When the roots are exposed they will start to develop bark and blend in with the rest of the trunk. The top section of the trunk can be shaped into a semi-cascade or any of the upright trunk styles. Wire the branches to complement the shape of the trunk and exposed roots. Take the flow of the exposed root section and trunk into account when shaping the branches.

Popular bonsai material like elms, stinkwood, zelkova, privet and figs work well. Conifers could be used with outstanding effect. Remember to expose the roots of figs at an earlier stage, as they thicken quicker when exposed.

Suitable pots for this style: if the trunk is shaped in a semi-cascade style, use a medium deep pot to give the planting stability, if the trunk is shaped more upright, a shallow to medium deep oval, round or rectangular pot can be used. A very natural setting can be achieved if the finished bonsai is planted on a slab, slasto or slate.