In the August issue of the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai,  Rob Andersen was introduced as the newest contributing writer.  From the start, the idea was to train Rob to be able to teach others.  So he selected wife Aly as his first student!  The objective of this workshop is to start extending the roots to prepare the tree for either a larger Roots or Root-over-Rock in the future.  This is a basic "growing-on" bonsai step.  The True Indoor Bonsai Rule is that each tree has an individual owner-trainer so Aly called the shots,  with Rob as the photographer-writer-teacher.

Rob & Aly Andersen
(Pleasant View, Utah)   

          I imagine that many who read these articles must also look at images of the fantastic bonsai that exist. I  am a frequent visitor of the 'schefflera arboricola bonsai' Google search. Many of these trees have been many years in training, and have been cared for by bonsai masters for their whole lives. If you are anything like me,  you want to create such a masterpiece!

          However, these trees did not all start out as they appear. The objective of any introductory package is not to create an interesting, dynamic bonsai, but to prepare the tree to become an interesting and dynamic bonsai. These trees are like children who have all the potential in the world. We must prepare, shape, and mold them now so that they can become the masterpieces of the future.

           This workshop was done by my wife Aly holding her plant before she gets started. She was very excited about executing the project, and convinced she would not let me do anything for her. She wanted to end up with a tall, twisty roots bonsai. To prepare for this future, we must first elongate and thicken the roots.        

      We spent some time examining the tree beforehand to figure out the path we wanted to take. With any workshop, or session you do, have a vision in your mind of the tree's possibilities. To begin, we prepared all the materials, examined the tree, and set off with an image of the future! 


           This is a close up of the trunk of the tree and it may someday become the wings of a flying bird. The branch on the left is very tall (8 or 9 leaves have grown there), so we decided we would trim that one to compensate for any lost roots during the process. You typically want to wait for between 8 and 10 leaves before you do any trimming, as you want the trunk to develop some thickness before making cutbacks.

           Here you can see the tall branch on the left. It has grown to be very tall, but is thin and hasn't gained a lot of girth. Another possibility may have been to pinch the growing tip to encourage some outward growth. Again, always make sure that you have a plan in mind before you get started on the tree.

      Aly carefully removed a lot of media from the plant, but was extremely careful and left many of the small hair roots that will keep this tree alive and healthy. Make sure when doing a roots like this to carefully untangle the roots instead of forcing and breaking them if possible. Remember, we want to extend and thicken these roots--breaking them is not going to accomplish that.

        NOTE BY DAVID:  This is the crucial step to preparing a tree to be trained primarily by "Roots styling concepts."  The roots of a plant naturally spread out at the surface, but if the roots are simply grown long, they will have an unattractive bulging at the base of the trunk.  So while the tree is young and the roots are limber, bare-root the plant and untangle the roots to lead them straight down and lengthen them.  At the base of the trunks, bend all roots to face down and make a 1/2"-3/4" wide band made up of paper or folded aluminum foil to hold the roots all facing down.  Then choke it tighter and hold in place with string or the paper covered thin wire that will rot off before it harms the tree. 

         Aly laid down her plant on the tinfoil. We misunderstood the 'accordion style' folding, and so it was basically a flat piece of foil. It should have a /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ type pattern. Accordion folding allows you to have a narrow opening at the top, and a wider base. We also tied the roots down near to top to help keep it narrow.  Aly had to redo this step 3-4 times, so be patient with yourself. If you're teaching, remember to allow the student to do it themselves. You can do an example one yourself, but let them create their own.  

        Once the roots and outside media are wrapped, fill in the bottom of the cone with media, and tease the media down with a chopstick. Cover the filled cone with a sheet of plastic so that you can turn it right-side up without spilling any media. Carefully place the right-side up cone and plastic sheet down into the pot, and slide out the plastic sheet. Aly had to do this a few times too, so be patient.

       Aly secured her cone in place by sliding the tie-down wires into the tin foil. Notice how the top is narrow, and the bottom is much wider. She also did a good job in allowing enough room at the top of the foil to create a funnel for water. She also made several air holes that will allow a good deal of airflow to the roots that desperately need it.

       This details the cut that was made and shows the top of the cone. We covered the wound with vaseline and it should be a healthy, happy plant. We made the cut as vertically as possible, and tried to leave some distance between the base of the branch and the cut. There was a lot of growth above this point, so we're hoping for multiple growth point from this area. 

       ALY'S COMMENTS: Working on this tree has been a blast. I want more trees to re-pot because now I am just waiting for the tree to be watered and trimmed. Patience will be my virtue in working with these bonsai trees.

       ROB'S FINAL COMMENTS: I think Aly did a great job on this bonsai! She has been taking care of it since the procedure, and it has been healthy. When doing this workshop, be patient, and try not to rush anything. If you're worried about the roots drying out, keep a spray bottle on hand and mist the roots as needed. Aly finished off her plant by placing it on a humidity tray, and has been making sure that it gets enough light.

        As for being my first teaching experience, I think it went pretty well. The part I was most concerned about (removing the media from the roots) was the part that Aly did the best in. I'm glad she stuck with her guns on wanting to be the one to do everything. That being said, when I teach someone to do this process in the future, I will definitely want to have a plant of my own that I can use as a demonstration.


         SOME THOUGHTS FROM DAVID:   Rob and Aly both graduated in December and are moving into their new home so it has been hectic there.  He tells me that he enjoys looking for rocks and minerals and that Southern Utah is an ancient volcanic area that has a lot of interesting material to find.  Their home is surrounded by larger trees so it's a bit shady.  It's also dry and Rob is looking either for bowls or will make "semi-terrariums."   So I look forward to his reports and photos as he creates a system and area to get optimum plant growth. 

         From the start,  Rob was excited about teaching and besides wife Aly,  he has made contact with a few others that are interested in learning.  I recommend that he complete the third most difficult Root-over-Rock workshop and focus on creating an ideal growing area and learning to grow the plants vigorously.  Once he's got some good growth,  then consider planning to acquire a shipment of plants to enlarge his collection or to start teaching.

         Consider bulk purchase of 8 Introductory Workshop Packages to get free shipping plus a 25% discount so your cost per kit is $18.75 each including shipping.  Or order 16 units and get a 50% discount and free shipping so delivered cost is just $12.50 each.  New teachers are offering bonsai workshop classes for $35 per student.  It won't make you rich but will cover odd costs for refreshments, etc.  It's a good deal for the "students" too as if they ordered a single Introductory Workshop Package from Fuku-Bonsai, it would cost them $24.95 + $12 shipping.  Most people would be happier to have a person ordering the materials and coaching them through the workshop.

         The Introductory Workshop Package was a major breakthrough!  I began teaching in the mid-1960's when bonsai was still a big secret and few were willing and able to teach in English.  Most who knew anything about bonsai in Hawaii spoke Japanese and there was no information or suitable tropical plants available. First success came when the Evening Adult Education people reproduced by mimeographing our first tropical bonsai handbook.  But success really soared when we provided prepared bonsai stock from Myrtle's backyard nursery!

         So the Introductory Workshop Package was our "Bonsai Educational Holy Grail!"  It's the finest kit that contains all needed items and features a pre-trained 2-3 year old prepared bonsai stock in 2" pot that has character within 1" of the soil level and a compact, complex shallow root system within 1/2" of that soil level.  It is far more costly to create this workshop package than for us to complete a small potted bonsai.  But we offer it to aid the growth of a True Indoor Bonsai community.  These are offered at major quantity discounts to anyone including bonsai clubs.  Teaching aids including color flip-sheets are available as well as assistance. 

         Some clubs use the Introductory Workshop Packages for beginner classes.  Other clubs use them to create bonsai to be sold for fund-raisers (while getting a lot of experience)!  Individuals (and clubs) purchase quantities at discount for Christmas or personal gifts. To date over 2,000 have been shipped and we are increasing production with the goal of one day being able to offer "Create Your First Bonsai!" workshops at major Big Island resort-hotels as part of the project:  "MAKING THE BIG ISLAND AN INTERNATIONAL BONSAI MECCA!"

        Those who join the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and the study groups get access to other items that are not listed on the Fuku-Bonsai website.  This includes older special stock and workshop supplies that are used for bonsai club demonstrations, programs, etc.  Please contact me for more information.  ~~~David (

              E KOMO MAI  .  .  .  come discover the serenity of nature, the beauty of bonsai, and the spirit of Hawaii!


*** Return to the September 2013 issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation home page
*** Go to Fuku-Bonsai home page
Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013