Planting on a tile - did I do it right?

Hi Mirai. I’m loathe to start a new topic in order to ask my question but did a quick search for ‘tile’ and couldn’t find a suitable topic to post this too. Perhaps, as it is repotting time for many species, others will be able to add their first experiences ‘planting on a tile’ and get feedback also.

Here we go, a series of images to show my method of planting on a tile the first time. I’m using a 3l pot, the Telperion soil mix (40% pumice 40% composted bark 20% composted horse manure). I tried to spread the roots out in a circle when I placed the plant on the small layer of soil covering the tile

All feedback welcome, two areas where I may have gone wrong is listed separately below.

Requests for specific feedback.:

  1. As my seedling/sapling had a tap root I cut it off (so I could sit the plant on a tile) and in doing so removed approx 60% of the root mass which was emanating from low down on the tap root. My reasoning is that the plant could not have sat on the tile with such a long taproot (I could have bent it in hindsight) and I want the higher roots to become thicker as they’re what will show when the plant is eventually turned into a bonsai.
  2. I did not cut a hole in the centre of the tile. This would have enabled me to poke the tap root through the hole and then spread the roots I envisage keeping on the tile.
1 Like

That’s basically what I do, but I’ve since learned that I should go ahead and plant the tree and/or bag at an angle. That way you go ahead and build in movement at the base. For the ones that I didn’t do (read: all of them :weary:) I put movement into the trunks at a later date with a wire spine secured to the tree with raffia. I use a spine as a way to avoid wire bite because the trees are swelling rapidly.

1 Like

if I’ve got the right idea about what you mean then that’s really clever! Instead of wrapping the trunk/branch in wire you make a splint out of wire and then raffia the trunk to the splint?

Correct. I just push the wire down into the ground until it’s nice and secure. If you’ve watched the juniper raffia stream it’s basically a lot like the wire spine that Ryan uses except I don’t remove half of the trunk lol.


Oh, forgot to mention that typically the raffia deteriorates by the time the tree has swollen enough to need to remove the raffia. I just wrap it evenly and not too tightly. I’m not looking for compression.

1 Like

I have found that it can be a bit difficult to keep the roots moist and the tree anchored when planting over a tile until the tree grows new roots down around the edge of the tile. Tying the tree to the tile with raffia or a cord that will deteriorate in a few moths should work to anchor the tree. Using a slightly finer soil mix about the tile will help keep the roots in the shallow soil moist.


Very good to know, thank you. I’ll do that on my next few

1 Like

I forgot to mention that you should poke around with a chopstick outside the tile a little to intermix the two soil sizes a bit. That will help prevent a perched water table with a very dry layer at the top of the coarser soil. However, don’t mix it up too much since we actually want the smaller soil to hold the water a bit longer.

1 Like

Hi folks,
why you’re using a deep container after cutting off the tap root?
By looking the cryptomeria stream yesterday and now reading your article this idea flashes to my mind. Years ago I planted trees for a beech forest in shallow container - and I forgot that. For years I also use “normal” pots like you for young material. So why not to use shallow container? We need no tile, the nebari looks more natural and there is no cold core in the soil. I think these are the best requirements for good root growth. What about trying both techniques to see the differences.
The other thing with tile, they produce a more horizontal nebari with a more unnatural arc of the roots like air layering. :thinking:

1 Like

Hi @satsuki61

I’m using a deep container because this is a (large admittedly) seedling approx 3 months old. I’m growing it as pre bonsai material and it is my belief that it will grow quicker in a larger pot. I’ll pot it up to 12l next year if the root growth this year is sufficient.

Ok. Having planted a few <1yr old deciduous seedlings onto tiles I am now moving onto my 1yr old Scots pines. These have more roots understandably, and I’m being cautious given the advice “never bare root a conifer’.

Planting a comfier sapling with a lot of roots on a tile without removing so much of the old soil mix for it to class as bare rooting is proving difficult.

Either I:
A. Remove 80%+ of the soil in order to be able to manipulate the roots over the tile and get the base of the trunk to within centimetres (approx 1/2 inch) of the tile
B. Don’t remove as much soil, which results in the base of the trunk sitting on an inch or two of root mass with that root mass sitting on the tile.

Which is advisable?

When I hear ‘planting on a tile’ I interpret that as spreading the roots out flat like option A. But that doesn’t seem possible without untangling the roots which results in most of the soil mix dropping off.

Would be greatful for your advice again

I bare root pine seedlings all of the time with >95% success in order to work on the roots This includes both first and second repottngs which are generally at the start of their 3rd year (2 years of growth) and the 5th or sometimes the 6th year. I shake the soil off, untangle, spread, and trim the roots. I do not wash the roots and I use some of the old soil as top dressing to bring along any beneficial microbes.

I also tend to use shallow to moderate depth containers when developing these young trees as @satsuki61 commented upon. I have used the mid weight plastic plant saucers after I melt in 1" (2.5 cm) drainage holes. These range from 6" x 1.5" (15 x 3.8 cm) to 14" x 2.5" (35 x 6.5 cm). Right now I am making small boxes that are either 5 or 7" x 7" by 2.5" deep (13 or 17 cm x 17 cm by 6.5 cm deep) with 1/8" (3 mm) mesh bottoms. I like the square pots because I can put several of them into a flat for handling.


Thank you Marty, I’ll be a bit bolder with the next batch of seedlings then. I’ll experiment with using shallower containers also.

Toby, things like zelkova, maples and hornbeams do better in a flatter pot when younger. It encourages a better nebari and it follows you get a better taper. As they get bigger I usually plant in a deeper pot for a couple of years to encourage growth then back into a flatter pot.

This looks good. I think you should / have to cut the taproot when doing this.

In addition to what Bentley said about planting at an angle (saves a lot of time and effort later), another thing I’ve started to do differently is to use thick felt instead of tiles as the root barrier. They can be cut to size and shape which is nice. You can also more easily pin roots down to get them to spread like you want them to. Just pin them right through the felt. It’s also water permeable which I think helps create a more uniform soil moisture level.


That’s a great idea. I have to dig up and rotate a bald cypress today. I thought I had it in a root bag like the other BC I planted at the same time. I did not. However, I noticed that it’s thickened a lot more than the bagged BC. I hope I at least planted it on top of a barrier. Likely a lid to a bucket, but I want to give this felt thing a try.

I was transplanting some 1 year old Acer campestre (field maples) yesterday and and was reminded of Chapter 9 of Micheal Hagedorn’s Bonsai Heresy where he comments upon nursery workers transplanting plugs from cells that contain 3 Tablespoons (45 cc) to those containing 6 Tablespoons (90 cc) of soil. His point is that the trees will colonize the entire soil mass in a growing season and there won’t be any cold, wet areas for root rot or similar problems to set in. This is why yamadori are normally potted in pumice using the smallest box that will contain the root system.

In my case the larger (4" = 10 cm tall) ones are going into 4" square pots while the smaller ones (often under 2" = 5 cm) are going into plug tray where the cells are less than half that size in all dimensions. They all had their tap roots cut along with the longest roots. I hope to get enough growth on all of them so I transplant again next year and do some further root arrangement towards a good nebari.

I got the roll of felt I am currently using through amazon, but I am considering getting this next when I run out - RootBarrier Fabric – My RootMaker Garden Store

Could you post a link to the Amazon product please? I aim to find something equivalent here in the U.K.

I use boards as it gives the tree stability when you plant it back in the ground or box and better leverage when you are trying to move around thicker roots… I drill a pilot hole through the center of the board at an angle and also drill a hole through the bottom of the trunk at the same angle then screw the tree tight to the board. Here are some young airlayers I did last year and some other airlayers that have been in the ground for a few years: