THE BASICS OF FUKU-BONSAI STYLING:       "SUMO!"
Short and stout; healthy with lots of character and extra branches!
        TRUE INDOOR BONSAI is a major break away from traditional temperate climate bonsai that is very serious, complex, and requires attention to detail.  It tends to be a disciplined craft with a lot of codification, rules, or guidelines. 

         We wanted to reduce the formality and create our own terminology and "SUMO" seemed the best descriptive word to connote stout trees with multiple trunks, low branches, and a heavy trunk rootage.  We needed a visual symbol that conveyed a light happy form of American-Hawaiian popular bonsai.

          Daughter Joni cleaned up my draft sketches for our Sumo logo design!

        "SUMO" is the primary original Fuku-Bonsai styling and initially,  all plants were trained into this style because initially Fuku-Bonsai produced only Hawaiian Lava Plantings.  Trees that grow on rocks tend to be shorter with stout heavy trunks.  They are more attractive when they have multiple trunks or heavy low branches.  Plants were pre-trained prior to rock planting.
         We began training Dwarf Schefflera in 1974 but initially we had a very hard time creating small bonsai and originally it was offered only as medium and large size lava plantings and as 8LS8 size Living Sculpture.  Brassaia was our specialty.  But after the 1989 spraying of defective Benlate that was contaminated with weed killers, we could not grow Brassaia to our former standards and forced to develop a new specialty. 

          It took us many years to figure out how to grow Dwarf Schefflera as small bonsai.

         This is a "typical Sumo" bonsai.  It's generally slightly wider than it is tall with multiple trunks, longer lower branches, a dome shaped crown, and impressive trunks, and root buttressing.  In nature, the lowest branches tend to droop down a bit to get out from under the shade of the upper branches and in doing so, may actually hit the ground, root, and keep extending out.  So from a distance, such a banyan may appear to be a very wide dome with the crown reaching down to the ground! 

         Banyan bonsai tend to have low branches and multiple apical growth to create a heavy crown. 

         Dwarf Schefflera needs to have a lot of character within 1" of the soil line BEFORE ACTUALLY STARTING BONSAI TRAINING!  Notice the untrained tall plants on the right.  Even a bonsai master would not be able to do much with such stock. 

         But notice the potential of Fuku-Bonsai's prepared bonsai stock on the left and EVERY TREE HAS GOOD POTENTIAL!  Fuku-Bonsai is committed to help everyone to be successful by supplying premium plants that already have a lot of character and potential!

           We made the major breakthrough and began converting in 1997 (15%), 1998 (42%), and 1999 (82%). In 2000, we discontinued Brassaia and completely switched to Dwarf Schefflera as our new specialty.

           In 2001 we introduced the smaller potted 4LL8 Living Lovables in Sumo, Roots, and Dragon stylings.  Since then, the quality has greatly improved and the demand for bonsai workshops increased.

            In 2001 we also introduced the Premium Keiki (young child) Bonsai Workshop Package that included all items to make a potted bonsai from our small size Dwarf Schefflera Lava Planting.  We also introduced "Conversion Kits" with pot, various potting media, instruction and other needed items.  It was very successful but because of the size and advanced plants, the costs exceeded the budgets of casual beginners.
            The Workshop Handbook was steadily improved and we made another major break-through in 2007 when we created the INTRODUCTORY WORKSHOP PACKAGE;  which was the long sought Bonsai Educational Holy Grail needed to effectively and economically teach bonsai!  It featured a pre-trained 2 to 4 year old plant along with 9 other carefully researched and selected components.  Customer success rate soared!
            In addition to high potential prepared bonsai stock in 2" pots that are part of the Introductory Workshop Package,  Fuku-Bonsai produces "Sumo" as small bonsai (4LL8-S), medium bonsai (8LS8-S) and large Custom Collection that are individually photoed and priced.  Prices range from $350 + shipping to thousands of dollars for our oldest trees that are 30 years or more in training.  Our oldest trees are in Sumo styling.
            This is a close-up of an exceptional Sumo Custom Collection that was shipped several years ago.  Like the younger tree in the above photo, Sumo trunks are heavy with multiple trunks, low branches and impressive trunk buttressing and roots.  At Fuku-Bonsai we focus on producing the essence of the tree as it is more difficult to create a tree with exciting potential.  "Finishing" the bonsai by creating the crown and refining the branches is a much more doable challenge if the older stock has good potential!  
            We established very high standards that required a lot of trunk character and low branches within one inch of the soil line and a complex, compact root system within 1/2" below that soil line.  With such exceptional plant materials available, those just starting out had an excellent chance to successfully grow houseplants that would survive, but which also had the potential to become high-quality bonsai.  We recognized that it is much easier to create good medium size bonsai if you started with good small bonsai and much easier to create good larger bonsai from good medium bonsai! This resulted in creating Intermediate Workshop II and Advanced Workshop III!
              In 2010, we increased staff training to more effectively teach the larger number of visitors who came specifically for our workshops.  To again set a higher staff standard, we launched the "1:10 Project" which used very shallow saucer-pots that were 10 times as wide as they were deep.  This focused attention on the bonsai rather than the overly deep pot. 
              One of our oldest 1:10 Project SUMO in a 9" diameter saucer-pot.  Sumo become heavier with each year and it requires heavy selective pruning to keep the tree in scale with the shallow pot.  When training Sumo trees, raise up the height of the tree a little each time you repot to create the heavy trunk-root buttressing that is a feature of old tropical trees.  This tree is about 25 years in training.
              Another 25 year old 1:10 Project SUMO in a 9" diameter saucer pot.  To keep in scale with the shallow saucer-pot, new roots that develop are pruned off to keep the focus on the oldest knarled roots.  Entire sections are carefully pruned to reduce the visual bulk and the tree continues to establish a grandeur that only comes with age.  A bonsai is never completed.
             18 months ago, newest Fuku-Bonsai staffer Antonio Diaz planted a young 2" pre-trained prepared bonsai stock that met the Introductory Workshop Package standard (then about 3 years in training) into a shallow 7" diameter saucer.  This photo was part of an article:  "Introducing the 1:10 Project to the Fuku-Bonsai Staff"
             This photo shows the progress made in just 18 months!  With good skill and growing conditions, Dwarf Schefflera will develop faster than any other known tree trained as bonsai.  Fuku-Bonsai's accelerated growth techniques can be used in homes and offices throughout the United States.  The coldest night of the year here is about 55F and by afternoon it has warmed to 70F and visitors inform us that's close to the temperature range of their heated homes.  So it may be possible to get the same growth that we get and this is part of the research being done.  You're invited to participate!
             Another small Dwarf Schefflera SUMO in our 1:10 Project collection that started being trained less than 6 months earlier.  This tree is in a 5" diameter melamine dish that is only 1/2" deep!  The tree is about 4.5" tall and most of the leaves are about 1" across with the largest compound leaf about 1.5" across.  Compare this with the natural size Dwarf Schefflera leaf from a tree growing in the ground which is 9" across.  Dwarf Schefflera makes high-quality long-lived small and large bonsai and will one day be the most popular bonsai!
                  SUMO training produces exceptional trees with stout heavy trunks with taper, character and interest.  It produces strong lower branches and outstanding roots.  Some claim that they don't grow it "because it's too easy!"  But increasingly beginners like the idea of training beautiful bonsai that will thrive for them in their homes, or to grow outdoors whenever night temperatures are above 50F.

***  Return to MPBF Journal #1: January 2013

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Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai 2013