Root Fusing Potentials for Nebari—

Nebari is the flare of roots into the soil. If we wish to encourage a strong visual connection with the ground, building the nebari is often the first thing we consider.

Sometimes nebari roots remain distinct. In other plants surface roots may fuse into a connected unit.

Some plants will form a fused ground-level root system with little encouragement, and others only with a great deal of cajoling. A few examples of what we might realistically expect from our trees:

  • Plants that fuse roots easily: Maple, Styrax, Azalea, Winter Hazel
  • Plants that resist root fusing: Elm, Quince, Spruce, Juniper, Pine

Arranging, grafting, and pruning roots to set up optimal fusing is done during the repotting season (and we’ll cover those in a future post). Care during the warmer months solidifies these advantages. 

How do we encourage root fusing for the likely species during the growing season?

Here’s a few thoughts and tricks to fuse roots: 

  • Consider your fine roots to be fusable roots
  • Don’t let young roots die from desiccation
  • Apply liberal applications of sphagnum moss where nebari is desired
  • Place solid fertilizer over the sphagnum moss, near the trunk, to encourage and enhance fine roots in the future nebari area
  • Solid fertilizers are better than liquids in this case, as solids encourage fine root growth in a specific spot, and by absence, limit it in another
  • Just as spring growth is hardening off is a good time to apply this solid fertilizer, to control long internodes


Fused roots on a Japanese Maple. Developed trees like this may not need further nebari development, depending on goals.


A young Japanese Maple with undeveloped nebari, the fertilizer placed where fused roots are desired. Here Osmocote is used, though fertilizer cakes are excellent for this purpose and don’t move around with watering. 


While not the obvious end zone for all trees, a fused pancake is not a total fiction, either. It does happen. This is a Sugar Maple in a park.


Another Maple in a park. Often park trees have grossly exaggerated nebaris, as mowing equipment often creates wounds in the upper root area. This example doesn’t feel too good to me imagined as a bonsai, as the smooth trunk and the knobby nebari seem at odds. Here a smoother nebari might be more appropriate. A trunk with more movement and / or character might look better with this boisterous nebari, had it been small, and in a pot…

 April 2021 Bulletin Board:

  • A couple spots are still open in the Spring Seasonal-lite, May 15-16! More about this fun, two-day online intensive here: Seasonals
  • And in-person Seasonals will be reopening this summer

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  1. I love your attention (examples) of real life situations and their relationship to Bonsai!

  2. RAY NORRIS says:

    Thanks Michael, never thought of that near the trunk.

    Sent from my iPhone

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