Beginner Japanese Yew Repot Questions


After about a month of reading forums and watching Ryan’s videos, I decided to purchase a Japanese Yew (Taxus Cuspidata) from a local nursery. I also ordered some soil mix (1:1:1 / akadama, lava, pumice) and a training pot (14.25" x 11.25" x 4.5"). Once I got the yew home, the bottom of the pulp container fell off, but the sides are holding strong. Additionally, it’s clear that this is a clay-heavy soil and water percolation is not good. So I’m glad that I planned ahead and have the materials ready for a repot. I’m wondering if the pot is too small. What do you all think? I can order another pot size up (16.5" x 13" x 5.5") if needed. I’m trying to play things safe and slow. I have no desire to rush. At the same time, I feel that I have some first-time jitters. I tried to get the best pictures of tree-to-pot comparisons, but there is only so much that I can do with a picture.

Also, I took a picture of my potential front. I’m not too worried about getting everything perfect as I won’t be styling this tree for some time. But as you look at the picture, you can see the roots on the right side of the trunk. I feel these few smaller roots are subpar. However, if I were to remove them, I would generate a straight edge on the right side of the trunk. How do you all feel about the matter?

Lastly, any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for you all’s the time!

Showing the pot’s depth in comparison to the pulp container.

Showing the pot’s width in comparison to the base of the yew.

The potential front

Showing the tree’s foliage mass.


Hi @MackleB,

Looks like a killer nebari!
It can be difficult to gauge appropriate pot size before digging into the root system. I generally like to have a few size options when trying to reduce an unfamiliar root mass. That said pot selection hangs on your goals for the tree. Is reducing the root mass something you want/need for this tree right now in it’s development. Do you have a sense of how you will work/style this tree? I imagine a trunk chop is on the table and for that a newly repotted tree is not so well suited. So tell us, what are you trying to accomplish?

In any event, my sense is that this pot will be too light weight to keep the tree from toppling over in wind.
Maybe try and find something ceramic with a wider foot.



I would probably go with the larger pot and put some heavy rock in the bottom of the pot to add stability. @ryan.marin suggestion of a ceramic pot is good, but that drives the cost up quite a bit.

You might also want to build a simple wood box for the first repot since the base will be the same dimensions as the top and therefore be more stable. If you have minimal woodworking skills I would go to the local lumber yard or big box store and buy a 6 ft. long 1x8 (it will be 0.75" thick by 7.25" wide). I would then cut it into 4 pieces that are 18" long (they can help or the big box stores have a place to cut molding to length). These 4 pieces are then attached at the corners with either screws (if you can drill pilot holes) or nails if you just get a hammer and nails to give a box that is 18.75" square on the outside and 17.25" square on the inside. Also get an 8 ft. long 1x4 and cut it into 5 18.75" long pieces for the bottom with small gaps between the boards. That will give you a good solid grow box that is stable and big enough to easily contain the root ball with some room for the roots to spread a bit. You can make the box a little smaller if you like as long as the the inside dimension is as large as the current root ball. I was basing upon common USA lumber.


Hey @ryan.marin!

Thanks for your response. My main concern right now is getting the yew out of the clay-heavy soil and out of this pulp container. I’m not too worried about root mass reduction at the moment. The roots span the width of the container. However, with the bottom of the pot gone, I can’t see any roots at the bottom of the container. So, I’m not sure how much root mass there is.

I’ve been looking around, but I do not see much bigger ceramic pots for $250+. I’m okay with spending around $125 or so. Maybe I’m looking in all the wrong places or have the wrong expectations. :sweat_smile:

As for my plans for the tree, you are correct on the trunk chop. I was planning on doing the chopping and structural wiring sometime around early winter.

This is a rough idea of the direction I’d like to take the tree in the future (should it survive) and is highly dependent on how the tree behaves. With the dense foliage, I drew out the backbone of branches that run throughout the tree to give you an idea of what I’m working with. I want to utilize the right side branches as the taper and movement are better. The middle picture shows where I’d like jin (red) and how I’d like to take the branches (green to blue). The right picture is a sense of the long-term design (again, rough idea).

I’d love to hear your thoughts and pick your brain about what you’d do with the tree! Thanks again!

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Hello @MartyWeiser !

Thanks for your response. After looking into the prices of ceramic pots, I may have to take a drive back to the farm. We’ve got plenty of supplies and all the tools I’d need to build the box. It would be easy. I do have a question regarding the bottom of the box. Do you think I’d need to tack down a fine wire mesh to retain larger soil particles? If so, that may be the only thing I’d need to buy.

Plus, while I’m back on the farm, I can take a hike through the woods to see if there are any trees that I could use in the future. We’ve got about 500 acres. I’m not sure what native trees grow in Missouri that would work well, but I can do my research.

Also, I don’t know if you saw my plans for the tree in response to @ryan.marin, but in the time that I’ve been a part of Mirai, I’ve seen a lot of forum discussions with you all involved. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the plan and what you’d do with the tree! Thanks for your time!

Both @ryan.marin & @MartyWeiser are wise.

500 acres!! Wow that’s great! Once, I was told to look around and if a tree doesn’t naturally grow within 100 mile radius of you to rethink your choice of tree. (That can be in a pot, in the landscape or in the woods) I wish I listened more closely to that. I have found that working with natives to the area is very rewarding. I makes for more digging opportunities, more curb collection, less fussy maintenance, overwintering, the bonsai shuffle, etc. So I encourage you to explore your farm, I find that fence rows can be great.

I also really like your plan for this tree. Don’t be too attached tho. All of us have had grand plans dashed by a piece die back or break in an odd accident. Be open to change.

As far as moving into a box you don’t really need mesh, just small gaps like in a fence or a deck. This allows for some expansion of the water soaked wood as well as O2 exchange and drainage. The gaps need to be small enough that your larger aeration layer does not fall out, but still allow air flow. If you use a carpenters pencil the flat/small side is 1/4 inch. I use that for my guide and space just smaller than that. Put feet on your boxes as well.

Bonsai On!

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I agree about just leaving small gaps between the boards and adding feet. If you leave wider gaps you can cover them with screen. I like to use hardware cloth. I suggest waiting to deal with the tree design until it has become established in the training box. it may decide to shed some branches as @moon stated and that will give you time to really understand what is under the bushy foliage.

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Hey @moon!

Thanks for all the feedback! 100 miles sounds like a good rule of thumb to live by. I’ll be sure to walk as much fence row as I can stand. I’m not too familiar with the practices of collecting yamadori but that is something I’ll have to research. For now, I’ll be sure to mark the locations so I can come back another time should I find a good candidate.

I’ll be sure to keep my plans fluid and maintain an open mind. Nature is spontaneous and whatever happens, happens. I appreciate you keeping me in check!

As for the box, no meshing makes my life simpler. I’m sure this box will be a lot better than the plastic pot I thought would work. Thanks for your time!

I think I’m going for the smaller gaps for the box. As for the design of the tree, it is a rough idea of what I’d like to accomplish. I figured the drawings would convey my goals better than I could. At the end of the day, I understand that I have to roll with the punches.

I just wanted to say thanks again for the push to make a box. @Bonsai_Bentley made a box utilizing the yakisugi technique, and I decided to follow suit.


It’s so beautiful :heart_eyes: What are you going to put in it?

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Thank you for the compliments and the post about yakisugi! I plan on repotting my Japanese Yew into it. I’m just waiting on some more akadama to arrive later this week.

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Is your Yew in development or refinement?
If you are trying achieve girth/size in trunk and branches then using akadama will inhibit that large growth.
One reason we use akadama in our soil mix is to scale the roots, “make smaller”, in turn it will make smaller foliage. Foliage and roots are a mirror image of growth and health.
As Ryan has mentioned a few times, for development you would want to use a nursery mix that is suitable to your area and watering demands.
Akadama will definitely inhibit any development you might be trying to achieve.


Thank you for your post. As a beginner, these are the question I appreciate being asked since I didn’t think to ask myself this question in the decision process. I like the size of the trunk as it is now, but I haven’t done my first iteration of styling and structural wiring (waiting for this early winter if the tree is in good health). So I really don’t know what branches I’ll have or need to develop.

Please correct me if I am wrong. I would assume that I would be in the ramification stage following my styling since I would need to establish more density. As you mentioned, foliage and roots are a mirror image of growth and health. Therefore, I need more dense roots.

The mix I was going for was the akadama, pumice, lava mix Ryan mentioned in the Beginner Series: Repotting (11:36) and in the Taxus Pruning video (1:26:39).

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Hey @MackleB,

I can see the dense clay that this tree is in. Yet the tree has grown, likely for many years, in this condition.

Without digging into the roots it difficult to say what you will find. But what we can see is pretty clear and may give some indications as to what you will find. We see a flaring base with roots of various thickness and my guess is that you will be able to reduce the bottom of this root ball significantly in one go. Now maybe there are some thick gnarly roots growing straight down, but those smaller roots give you something to reduce back to.
So why not just go straight into a bonsai container right now? Well, with that much foliage in a bonsai pot, keeping it sufficiently watered may become an issue. So what do we do?

I might prune this one and remove some foliage first; let the tree push some of that energy into the branches you want to save. Then come back next spring and try to get this tree into something that looks really nice.

That box looks great, but if you repot into that now I feel like you’ll use the foliage to build roots you are going to cut off later. Rather than leveraging the existing strength to build the structure you want.
Putting a tree in a grow box with bonsai mix is good’n all, but it will slow the tree down a lot this year and I don’t believe this step is necessary for this tree.
As for the deteriorating container; if you have a spot in your garden that you can set the tree directly on the soil and leave it, the roots will start to grow into the ground and give the tree an extra energy bump all without having to disturb any of the roots.
Others will have to chime in on timing for pruning as I am not familiar with taxus.
Whatever path you choose it will be a learning experience. Bonsai on.