Nursery Stock - Repot or Design?

Hopefully starting a new topic for this was the proper step. If not, apologies up front…

I have multiple nursery stock trees that I intend to begin as bonsai. However, I’m currently torn on what to do with them first. I fully understand all of the techniques and information Ryan presents in the streams, so I’m not really asking how to repot or how to design. I’m more so asking which to do first. My biggest question at the moment is how I should go about selecting the front without a repot to see the nebari. Should I just tease away everything until I can see the nebari without repotting, then base my initial styling off of this, and then leave the tree in the nursery container for a season or two? Should I repot into a training pot, at which time I can see the nebari and properly choose a front, then wait to do any styling for a season or two? In the Nursery Stock stream with the fir, Ryan says he would normally not repot and style at the same time. The reasons for this are perfectly clear to me. I’m just unsure of how I should proceed. Trees in question are hinoki cypress, juniper procumbens nana, pyracantha, and spruce. All of which would be styled and/or repotted at the proper times for the species.

Any and all suggestions appreciated.



If Ryan is confident of a robust root system, he will style before repotting. That way, when it’s time to repot, the planting angle is already set and pot selection is easier. If he’s not sure how the tree’s recovery has been managed post-collection, he’ll repot first.

I think textbook knowledge would say to style first and like you said tease away enough soil to find the nebari and work with that. The problem with that is that you may think you found the nebari but it is just a knob or a root or two, maybe significant ones, but the real root flare is further down. In the Nursery stock series 4, Ryan got lucky and the real nebari added a lot to the design he had worked on but he was lucky, it could have been completely hidden in the back and then at the very least you’d have to reposition branches at some point but could have cut away some that could have been useful considering the real nebari. As an anecdote, last year I was teasing away the soil to find the nebari in a juniper in early spring to the point that it didn’t make any more sense to not repot. I end up repotting it and styling it now over the winter. I think I heard more times Ryan saying to repot and use the foliage to rebuild the root system before styling - and even if it end up not being the right angle or the right pot, the biggest step was taken already. Another point to consider is that a lot more work and consumable materials is involved in styling than repotting. As a consequence, if for some reason the tree doesn’t survive repotting, you didn’t spend too much on it. If also during repot a major root is demaged/cut/removed and a branch dies, you simply don’t use it in the design in the future but you have others. Had you styled first, maybe a significant branch dies off and you’re stuck. With repotting first, once a strong root system is rebuilt and you have strong growth to prove it, you can go ahead and style it knowing that next year you can repot it again if needed to fix the angle and also to continue replacing the original soil. So my two-cents is that now I see a lot more advantages in reporting first than styling first.


Thank you both for your responses. You’ve both reinforced what I was already thinking, so it’s nice to hear it from someone else. If anyone else has comments I would appreciate them. Do you two, or anyone else, have a recommendation on training pots to use in this situation? Just the typical round plastic bonsai training pots online? Any sources someone can recommend? I want to order from Graham Potter at Kaizen, as they offer a wide selection, but they have never responded to my emails. American Bonsai doesn’t seem to have quite what I intend.


If you have nursery stock, they should have nice dense root systems. So, following from what I said above, you should style first, then repot next year (or next growing season, if they are very vigorous). Repot into a bonsai pot, maybe deeper than the ideal pot if you’re concerned about too much root reduction.

I usually, on nursery stock, take it tree by tree. You should only buy healthy stock anyway, so initially health should not be an issue. If I can find some good nebari and a front I like, then I go ahead and style the tree first and then repot the next season. If I can’t find good nebari or decide on a front, I go ahead and get it into bonsai soil. Then I look at the tree a lot over the season and style it the next season. Really, I think it goes back to the old adage that you should only do one major operation at a time (and Ryan has said this in the streams a couple times). Hope this helps!


Thanks to you both for the replies. I think I have a plan now. I appreciate the feedback and quick responses.