Every so often, I have the pleasure of identifying a new hobbyist with very strong potential and I have the great pleasure of introducing Robert Andersen of Pleasant View, Utah.  Rob joined our study group and began with three Introductory Workshop Packages and a few complimentary items that may not be widely available or at hand. He did his homework, found that we offered study group members "overgrown" stock to allow him to immediately prune and begin efforts to root cuttings.

              His order was scheduled to be shipped on Monday, but that's the day that tropical storm Flossie hit the Big Island and FedEx closed down and did not pick-up.  So his order arrived a day later but he got right at it and wrote:

             "The trees arrived yesterday and they look fantastic! The trunks all have so much character and are well prepared to develop into strong future bonsai. I plan on working on the sumo first, the root second, and the roots over rock last. I also appreciated that each plant has the potential to create a rooted cutting (which I will certainly attempt). I have read the instructions and feel relatively comfortable with the process.

             Climate Report:   Utah is typically pretty dry so I plan on keeping the plants inside for the most part. Two of of the plants will stay at my home, which stays relatively humid due to our evaporative cooler. I will place them next to a large, north-facing window, and place a fluorescent light directly behind and below them to supplement their light intake. I will turn them once a week for even exposure. The third will come to my workplace where it will sit 4 feet below fluorescent lighting with a small amount of outside light. I will very likely have to get some other sort of artificial lighting in addition to a humidity tray to supplement its growth. Temperature will be pretty consistently in the 68-75 Fahrenheit range in both inside locations. I may try some outside testing with the rooted cuttings in the future."

             He asked a few questions,  planned,  and reported as follows:


By Rob Andersen (Utah)

       Step 1: This is the plant still in its pot before I began. I got all the materials ready and had studied what I had to do to execute the potting.


       Step 2: As the instructions asked, I prepared the pot, mound in the middle, and media around the side, plastic tent in middle.



       Step 3: I removed the plant from the pot. It was of course root bound and I was a bit intimidated to get started. It took me a second to get into it, but I gained confidence as I worked.

         Step 4: Here is a picture of the freed roots. There were some nice aerial roots, and they were very well distributed around the trunk. There is a heavy root going almost straight down that doesn't show very well. I was of course scared to trim it, so I continued to examine.


        Step 5: Another view of the roots mentioned above. I trimmed some of the medium sized roots that were not producing any of the small white roots needed to keep the tree alive. I did not trim the large aforementioned root.

          Step 6: I placed the accent rock on what seemed to be a conservative section of the plant. I rubber banded it in place, and then set the plant in the pot. Notice that heavy root I mentioned earlier sticking out of the right side.


        Step 7: This is the plant in the pot. It was basically turned a bit on its side, with the main branch sticking into the air, not too far from where it was before. The large root is near the surface on the right side of the pot.

          Step 8: This was my planned trim, with planned growth expected to come towards the camera (I felt that it would grow that way because of a leaf cluster that had fallen on that side at some point in its past).


         Step 9: This is the tree after the trim, and vaseline. I was pretty happy with the trim, and am attempting to root it. 


         Step 10: After watering, putting on the finishing material, and making sure everything was ok, I placed a collar of aluminum foil around the backside of the plant in hopes of creating some aerial roots. I could not fit the collar around the front of the tree because the branches are hanging so low. 


          LESSONS LEARNED:  I took some final pictures, and contemplated what I had up to this point.  After examining how the tree was sitting, I realized that I should not have been afraid to cut the large root. I had originally not cut it because I was afraid that the tree would not get enough nutrients, as I was not planning on making the cut of the leading branch. However, I was emboldened enough to make the cut, but didn't think about how the tree would sit afterwards. With the large root removed, I would have been able to position the tree with the large branch very close to the ground, while pulling the other 4 developing branches further out of the ground creating a wide, low base. That being said, I learned to not be so hasty in making a long term decision such as orientation in the pot without more careful consideration. This was my first bonsai, and I was a bit timid about how long it would be out of the pot. All-in-all, if I decide to just let it grow as is for a while, I could always attempt to adjust its orientation at a later date. I mostly just feel like I missed an opportunity to  really capture the spirit of this bonsai because I was afraid of the unknown. - - - Rob Andersen

          CRITIQUE BY DAVID:  I complimented Rob on his good work and raised issues to improve:  1) Shorten the apical cut to only two diameter lengths from the previous cut to keep the plant compact. If new growth comes out at the edge of the cut and Rob retains it, the tree will always have an overly long ugly section.  2) Remove the top growth of the strong branch to encourage side growth.  3) Cut half of large root and leave small ball of sphagnum moss to cover the cut end.  It included options and discussion of rooting cutting techniques.  ~~~David



          Step 1: This picture is a view of the side of the tree with the large root. It extends almost to the edge of the pot. One advantage of this root is the potential for some great surface rooting later on if I play it right. For now, however, I will need to trim it.

         Step 2: This shows the exposed root before cutting. I pulled the wiring out of the way so that I could get clean access to the root.


         Step 3:   I made a vertical cut halfway between the trunk and the pot edge to allow the roots some more room to grow. The cut section had some white hair roots, but with the trimming I will do later, this should not be a huge loss.

          Step 4: I put some of the provided moss on the end of the severed root to help retain moisture and promote more root growth.


           Step 5: I covered everything that I had done, attempting as best as possible to cover the moss to help retain moisture. At this point I noticed that that nice aerial root going from that high branch may have been damaged at some point. I will make sure to cover that with aluminum to help it gain strength. This is a feature that will really make this plant pop!

         Step 6: I reinstalled the aluminum collar, making sure to cover the one long aerial root. Again, I was not able to bring it very well around the front of the plant due to extremely low branches. I then prepared to make some final trims to the plant. This shows the work I had done previously. The highest branch was left slightly long and would eventually become unsightly and odd. I made a vertical cut a little below the existing cut. Also, because the plant was turned in potting it up, I opted to remove the branch held in my fingers just below the growth to hopefully promote more branching that I can use to bring towards the back side of the plant.

           Step 7: This is the plant after the planned cuts. I left the aerial root in hopes that it will strengthen and grow.  Pardon my finger in the way, I was holding back the more dense front foliage so the two cuts could be easily seen. I took every care in making sure the higher cut was vertical and the lower cut was horizontal to ensure optimal growth patterns.

           Step 8: Overall, I was very happy with how the final product turned out. I prepared two cuttings to be rooted, and I have some great potential for new and continued growth. My greatest concern is that I will be able to give the plants everything they need to be healthy and happy in their new home. Over the next few days I will work to create a terrarium-like environment for my sumo to help really bring this tree some vigor and aerial rooting. I would like to especially thank Fuku-Bonsai for their excellent stock. These truly are amazing little trees that are so fun to work on. I look forward to the challenge of roots and roots over rock that surely await me!


        SOME FINAL WORDS FROM ROB:   David, thank you for all your help and guidance. I hope that I will be able to worthily stand upon your shoulders and keep this tree up to your high standards. Thank you for being so willing to help those interested in bonsai.  I do not know what I would have been able to do without such a steady hand helping me to understand the principles involved.   Mahalo! - - - Rob Andersen (Utah) 

         SOME FINAL COMMENTS BY DAVID: Rob is a joy and so easy to help!  He does his homework and seems to have high standards and open to recommendations.  Trying to help via email is difficult and there's a lot of guessing because often the photos don't show enough details and its like being a surgeon willing to assist in an operation while not actually being there to examine the patient in detail.  So although still challenging, Rob made it much easier with good photos and a fair amount of detailed emails that are not part of the published report.

          Rob's challenge is to now create the optimum environment to get good growth in Utah.  He'll work on his second Introductory Workshop Package in a "Roots" concept.  I advised him to plan it as a long-term strategy that will allow a fair amount of time to allow significant roots to grow with another major training session a year or so from now when the roots have been lengthened and the crown a bit filled out and ready for some detailing. 

         At this stage,  I want Rob and other beginners to recognize that there are different objectives in each of the various initial training sessions. In this first Sumo workshop,  the objective was to enhance the various positive aspects of his tree and he produced what has a lot of high-potential.  Now he should focus on growth and over-growing and not do any pruning until each growth point has at least 7 or more new leaves.  Until it gets there he can guide the directions but not do pruning and definitely not do anything to reduce the size of the leaves as that will slow the growth and stunt the tree. So it will be awhile before Journal readers see this tree again and in the meantime, I'm looking forward to Rob's next Roots report.  Congratulations on some nice work Rob!  ~~~David

***  Go to August 2013 issue of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
***  Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
***  Go to Fuku-Bonsai website
          Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013