Paul Bakerman of Phoenix, Arizona has been here twice before and last year's workshop is posted at  (left photo).   He's competed in the prestigious Kona Ironman Triathlon seven times. To qualify, he won his age group division last year at Ironman Arizona.  He's quite an athlete, but also a pediatric intensive care physician caring for children with heart problems.  His dad was also a physician, and authored Bakerman’s ABC’s of Interpretive Laboratory Data, a lab test interpretation guide for medical professionals. Since his father’s death, Paul has been updating the book, and spent the last 5 years working on the 5th edition, which was just completed this summer!

             Paul is attracted to very high quality rocks and he brought over two small sample Arizona rocks that he thinks has promise, but they are too dense for me to sculpture with my masonry tip drill bits.  He's experimenting with two sizes of horizontal grinders with a diamond discs and report success in shaping the hard dense rocks that have a good amount of surface character.  With his professional challenges behind him until the next revision is needed,  he's looking forward to making more bonsai progress.



            The cove planting (  was sent to him last year and the two that he did last year have developed well here.  This year, in addition to a class on how to select branches from the regrowth of a major cut-back,  Paul was scheduled for a root extension of a premium Rainforest Banyan custom collection tree shown below.  He had reviewed Ryan Chang's Rainforest Banyan and I had a modified procedure in mind that will eliminate one of the two-step process that was used with Ryan's.  The plant, temporary frame, and plastic covered cardboard collar are shown above. 



             The first step was to affix the tree to a wood support stick to allow  cleaning out, straightening, and adjusting the roots to hang straight down like the especially elegant and beautiful Rainforest Banyans.  These are possible only with trees that have a profusion of roots and Paul had reserved the best one I had.




                Paul went to work with the tree in a large plastic tub with a single root hook to separate and untangle all roots.  Some trees produce a profusion of roots while others don't.  Most start developing aerial roots after 8 years or older.  While some may be present when we move the tree into the larger Custom Collection pot,  this one was originally trained as a Sumo that was planted quite high to show off the roots.




                  To create a Rainforest Banyan where the aerial roots fall straight down,  it is necessary to first remove the very heavy trunk-root buttressing that were once the original surface roots.  On this tree those roots were impressive and heavy. Paul is shown removing them as close to the trunk as possible.  These large roots cause the aerial roots to flare outwards and by removing them, the aerial roots can fall straight down.




                  With the heavy horizontal roots removed, the aerial roots have been untangled and guided down.  The roots nearest the central trunk that previously were flared out have been loosely tied to the stub of the original trunk to fall straight.  Aerial roots that were angled out that could not be straightened were removed. 




               With the support stick suspending the tree, Paul is loosely tying bundles of roots with bindwire.  This is tedious work to try to get roots that were wildly pointed in all directions to all point down without crossing and trying to make it appear that they grew naturally like that.  Of all banyan bonsai variations, I consider that the Rainforest Banyans with free-falling roots are the most attractive --- but also the most difficult and requiring choice premium stock.  It is very likely that Ryan's and Paul's trees, while smaller, will surpass the quality potential of the two original Rainforest Banyans to stay in the Fuku-Bonsai permanent exhibit collection.




               With root work complete, the support stick was placed on two sifting screen frames, the prepared oval pot placed below it, and the coarse bottom hill with Nutrient Granules installed.






                 The 6" high plastic lined cardboard collar was positioned and body media mixed with equal parts of coarse bottom. The fast draining media was carefully dibbled between the aerial roots with efforts to try to keep the roots straight up and down.






                A triple thickness aluminum foil collar is added and using a U-shaped open top funnel, Paul easily adds and positions more coarse body mix and dibbles it in place.  Paul adds enough media to go a bit higher than where the thick surface roots were removed as the bottom section of the tree is only supported with the soft flexible aerial roots. 





               With the bottom plastic ribbon ties attached to the trunks and branches all is solidly secured and Paul has no problem lifting the heavy planting. Like the last two years, this year's workshop trees will be sent by FedEx to Paul next year after it has some time to develop and grow well.  We'll ship other trees after he arrives home including other premium prepared bonsai stock and older selected stock that he'll be preparing for creating future rock plantings there.



                After a refresher class and a discussion and establishment of long-term styling plan, Paul starts pruning. On this trip, Paul is noticeably more confident and was able to make good decisions.





                Paul is renovating his home to accommodate his growing collection. He doesn't want the trees to become too tall.  So he pruned back heavily and will begin refinement training to develop a compact, complex banyan crown that will grow out over time a bit larger than the oval pot.  The smaller tight complex crown will allow the profusion of free-standing vertical roots to stand out and I foresee an impressive specimen in the future.



               I had never seen a banyan tree in real life until I visited Hawaii for the first time, and one of the things that I love about True Indoor Bonsai is how they mimic the root pattern of these trees. When I saw Ryan’s workshop, I  was excited to try something similar. Although I love the rock plantings, the opportunity to plant an extended root Banyan style was too much to resist!

              The workshop was a success, and I look forward to seeing the results. As I contemplate where I want to go with my own plantings, root extension is an important skill. I have several rock plantings “in the works”, and getting strong root extension, either before or after planting bonsai on a rock is an important skill. Thanks again to David for guiding me through the workshop, and to Ryan, who is a real pioneer. I see the work of these guys, and I just say WOW! And it makes me want to try some of the techniques.



                 A few days later, Paul called me and reported that he had his best performance ever in the Kona Ironman Triathlon.  He competes in the 55 to 59 year old division that had 107 entries this year and came in 15th with his best time ever.  Being experienced he was able to pace himself, followed his strategy, and came out in good shape after the rough water swim and the lengthy bike portion. 

               The marathon run is the killer, but he felt great compared to previous Kona triathlons.  Five miles from the finish line, he was closing in on a runner that he knows competes in his division.  He set his mind to past him, but the guy speeded up too! Both runners gave it their all but the fellow crossed four seconds before him.  With that last rivalry,  both produced their best times ever and it was a great race!



                The second 2-day workshop was more on learning a full range of techniques and knowledge of different styling strategies. The two rock plantings that Paul did last year have developed well. A few months ago, the trees were cut back and new growth had developed profusely.  We discussed details and options and Paul made notes, marked parts of the trees with surveyor ribbon tape, and plans to review and study.  He'll start refinement pruning after the plants are sent to Phoenix.  The first day of the second part of the 2014 workshops was mostly theory.


           Paul has done some serious study and his knowledge of concepts and principles have greatly increased.  But with still relatively few plants to work on at home, he just needed more opportunities to work on a range of plants.  For his third and final day,  I wanted to expose him to a full range of plants.  So six trees that were in the second major grow-out stage and being trained toward six different concepts were selected.  It's not often that I'll give this type of class as each tree is different with a full range of varying objectives.

          Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai are totally different.  Those who only have experience in traditional Japanese temperate climate outdoor trees are overwhelmed.  When John Naka spent a few days here in the 1980's,  he remarked that American Bonsai was developing very differently from the traditional Japanese Bonsai due to the different trees and different cultures and Tropical Hawaiian Bonsai is the most different.  Because of his overall bonsai knowledge and mental flexability, but the end of his trip Naka had a good understanding.  Paul and Ryan Chang don't have a lot of Japanese Bonsai knowledge so they've been able to quickly grasp Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai principles.  I tease Jay that it's harder to "unlearn" a knowledgeable person that to teach new hobbyists and it's true. 

           Although we grow most of our trees toward Sumo, Roots, and Dragon stylings,  a percentage of trees have uncommon features.  These are often trained using new techniques or concepts to expand our range of styling. One of the distinctive techniques used at Fuku-Bonsai is to allow trees to grow wild for one, two, or three years as this greatly produces thick heavy trunks. It takes a fair amount of skill and a lot of confidence to train these trees quickly.  Even those with a lot of bonsai experience have a difficult time as most bonsai growers almost never have an opportunity to work on high potential trees in this rapid grow-out stage. Even though the trees are larger and older,  they are completing their first and second major grow-out phases and a no-nonsense straightforward severe pruning is necessary.

          One tree at a time, we discussed the options.  I kept challenging Paul to think more creatively and once his thoughts evolved into a good plan, I authorized the pruning --- but with the rule that once the pruner touches a branch there can be no hesitation and the branch MUST be quickly pruned. I don't tolerate indecision by Fuku-Bonsai staff or Fast-Track Study Group members that are here to learn.  Dwarf Schefflera is very forgiving.  It will resprout with new growth and even if you make a bad decision, if the tree is growing strongly, a new branch will likely emerge if you cut the wrong one off by mistake.  But trainers MUST prune with confidence and must not get into the habit of being indecisive. 

           Keep the pruners away from the plant, but once you have a plan,  make the entire series of cuts rapidly and move on!  This is a difficult styling exercise as most hobbyists just don't have the time to work on the huge number that is necessary to develop the intuitive skills of bonsai professionals.  Paul did well and I hope that he continues to increase his confidence and skills.  I think he'll be an excellent teacher one day.   


            This was an important workshop for me. We all recognize the years and skill necessary to produce these striking specimens! But what do you do when you get them home and you are not under the guidance of the teacher? Fear sets in a little. But David is right, Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai are more forgiving than traditional bonsai. So the plant is on your side and will likely bail you out if you make a mistake!

            The first key is to have a tree that is vigorous and healthy. This means that the plant should have a fertilizer and regular watering routine. I think in Arizona, the optimal time to trim will be in the Spring and Fall, when I have the plants outside for prolonged periods of time. Then study the plant to decide where the apex is or where it will be. Also study the lower branches. Determining location of cuts in these two locations will determine how the crown will develop. When you've determined the location of the cuts, carry out your plan without hesitation. If you hesitate, it means that you have not thought through your plan.

            The first cut is on the apex, generally within two diameters of the trunk. The cut is a vertical “dive-bomber” cut, ideally selected to anticipate that best growth will be from the first node opposite and below the cut, thus coaxing the plant in a particular direction. Next are the cuts to the lower branches, which are horizontal cuts, with cut surface facing upward, to promote growth from the lower part of the branch. Again, you don’t want to go out too far on this cut to keep the crown compact. Once these cuts are made, the rest are easier, because they are all going to be in a straight line between the apex and lower branch cuts. Important things to keep in mind here are to look for branches that can enhance the apex (accessory apex), and consider removing branches that cross or are parallel to another. If you have doubts, leave them until you see how the tree branches out.

            This workshop was valuable for me because it gave me the opportunity to trim a number of trees with different characteristics, and think through the decision making process for each. David teaches that once you make the decision on how to trim, do not hesitate. Make the cuts!




           Paul was asked to help me field test the new PIWP with an advanced Roots effort.  We selected an older plant with some heavier roots to be extended.  Paul is especially interested in rock planting so extending the roots is a skill that he must develop. 




          PIWP uses a larger pot that has larger drain holes so a plastic hole screen is provided to cover two holes.  Roots result in tall plants, so untwist the x-wire and join for one long single wire and thread through the bottom holes.  Add half of the coarse bottom provided, saving the other half to mix with the body mix to create a faster draining media in the tall foil column.  For PIWP we recommend not using the accessory rock and the plastic separator. 



           With large heavier roots,  it is helpful to use a "Cinching Collar" made up of a piece of 6" x 12" foil folded first into a 6"x6" and then into a multiple thickness 3/4"x6".  One by one limber by bending heavy roots back and forth until they face downwards. The choke them tight, place the cinching collar tightly around them, and hold in place with double bindwire.

          Paul is really preparing extended roots to be used in rock plantings.  A 1/2" round ball of aluminum foil was flattened into disc and inserted as high as possible to separate the roots.  This will allow half of the roots to be on each side of the future rock planting saddle.


         From a 12"x12" piece of aluminum foil, fold to double, crumple, straighten, and make accordion- folds every 1/2" and spread with the folds evenly. Add a little sphagnum moss along the top edge.Mix the remaining half of the coarse bottom with an equal part or more of the body mix to create a faster draining media to be in a tall foil column. To assure media on all sides of the roots,  carefully lift one side of the foil while pressing it against the roots until the foil is straight over the middle and pointing up. Lift the other side in the same way and join the two edges by folding over 1/4" of so. 


         Choke the top and top half and with the bindwire or tape close the top tight so media will no leak when you turn the column upside down.  Shape the column to flare out the skirt so the bottom will be a bit wider than the top.  Add media to fill the column and use a dibble to get it down while shaping the column.  When complete, with your hand over the bottom holding media in place (or with a paper, plastic or cardboard to be slipped out),  turn the column over, position, slip out your hand, and adjust your positioning.



             On the right is the sketch from the Premium Introductory Workshop Package for the second "ADVANCED ROOTS OPTION #2".  If you study the sketch carefully, you'll understand the different concepts.  Only a small amount of Coarse Bottom is needed to assure drainage and the remainder is used within the foil column mixed with the Body Media. 

             The sketch shows the "Cinching Collar" and how the single anchoring wire pulls down the plant and is tied in the middle of the foil column.  One end goes around and pulls up all slack, it looped and tied to the other end to hold the column secured.  A litte more body media is added to keep all stable but it is not necessary to fill the pot.  There should be extra materials for other projects. 





            Paul had no problems completing the PIWP including making air holes and pruning the tree to start to create a crown.  We discussed the rooting of cuttings and various ways to start training rooted cuttings.  I recommended that he learn to limber the newly rooted cuttings and to learn wiring to start creating "Dragon" styled trees.



          The new PIWP was very straightforward after doing the advanced workshops, but very important to be able to advance in rock planting. I can take small bonsai and train long roots, but it makes more sense to pre-train smaller bonsai for longer roots so that they will be more ready for rock plantings. I have a number of rocks that are suitable for rock plantings as is, but I intend to try carving as well. I think having small bonsai that already have well-developed 6” roots will be ideal.



              Paul is one of the strongest active Fast-Track Study Group members that has been here several times and I'm sure you'll be hearing more about him in the future.  Since we first met, he has learned a lot and made strong progress.  I saw photos of the Arizona stone that he's carved with his diamond blade grinder and was very impressed and pleased that he incorporated some rarely used techniques in his planting.  He'll be cleaning it up and submitting his rock planting article in the future.  Now that he's completed his professional challenge, he'll have more time to explore for rocks,  continue to build his knowledge and confidence, and thinking about sharing what he's learned. 

              Somehow those in Arizona think they live in the driest place on the planet and use that as an excuse as they kill their trees by over-watering.  So far Paul is not having any problems and is building a display area that will incorporate a "semi-terrarium" concept to add humidity. 

              Paul has shown me photos on his cell phone of the beautiful Sedona rockscapes that could be major design inspiration for saikei.  So I'm encouraging that after he builds an inventory of extended roots for future rock plantings, that he consider creating mini-bonsai to be enjoyed separately or to be used in multiple tree future saikei arrangements.

              In just a few weeks,  Paul will be competing in the Phoenix Ironman.  I hope he places first or second in his age group to again qualify to compete in next year's Kona Ironman Triathlon and if so, we'll begin to start planning his 2015 workshops at Fuku-Bonsai. In the meantime Paul will be looking for a source of Arizona Pumice that he thinks may be similar for sculpturing like Oregon Pumice.  I'm looking forward to testing out some!  Stay tuned!  ~~~David  (

*** Return to the November 2014 issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
             © Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation & Fuku-Bonsai, 2014