Carol Tingley of Apex, North Carolina ordered three Introductory Workshop Packages, became a member or the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation, and joined the beginner study group.  The plants arrived in good shape and her mom, Priscillajoy Tingley also got to do her first bonsai!  SUMO #1 AND #2:

             The plants arrived safe and sound.  Two were “sumo”, and it was easy to tell which one was more of a “roots”. The “roots” is not repotted yet. My mom, age 86, was also interested so she did one of the sumos while I did the other one.  My Sumo has a very thick and lovely trunk.  It also turned out to have a very thick and hardened root on one side.  We secured the rock to the other side across from the root. Since the large root was not bendable, we planted the whole tree quite high with some of the roots above the edge of the pot.  After taking the photos, we put foil around it so it wouldn’t dry out too quickly.  Eventually the large root will be  an aerial.

              Mom's Sumo’s trunk is not as thick and the roots turned out to be fairly evenly distributed and still bendable,  We put the rock more or less in the middle, although it still shows. It is planted fairly even with the top of the pot, but set off to one side.  My mom worked on Sumo B. It seems a little sideways, but she said that’s how she wanted it.  She had a great time.   - - - Carol


             COMMENTS FROM DAVID:    Carol,  I think you and your mom did fine but here are some fine points.  Although that heavy root seems thick and hardened,  try to use the accent rock in a way that compliments that root and trunk by turning it until it "fits,"  then put a little fine body media on the rock and snuggle it up against the trunk and root.  Use cotton thread to bring down the smaller roots to nicely grasp the rock and plant it high, using a doubled up 2" wide strip of aluminum foil around the rock and plant after it is potted.  Put a little fine media, then choke up the foil at soil level.  Put in a little more fine media and choke up the foil around the middle of the rock and trunk.  Put in a little more fine media then flare out the top of the foil so you can use a turkey roaster-baster to water the upper area.  The foil should stay on for at least a few months so roots won't dry out.

              As to trimming,  try to leave just three compound leaves on each branch and remove excess older leaves closer to the roots.  This will reduce the draw and off set the loss of fine hair roots.  Later when time to prune, prune only the most vigorously growing branch after it has grown out 7 to 8 leaves from the last place it was cut. Prune off a 5 to 6 leaf cutting,  remove all but the newest leaf,  trim leaflets in half, wrap a little sphagnum moss around the base and root the cutting for your next bonsai-to-be!

             I recommend that your mom pot her tree about 1" higher and use the low foil protection above.  Unlike temperate climate trees,  tropical trees have a large heavy root system that pushes the tree above the soil and heavy roots provide a visual anchoring to the ground.  So always plant a bit higher, but protect that mound with foil until hair roots and medium size roots develop.  Use finer media in this area.  If you remove the foil too early and/or use too rough media,  a nice rising buttressing will not form.   



             I received three Introductory Workshop Packages on October 24.  I set one aside to do a “Roots” later, gave one plant to my mom, and she and I each did our first “Sumo” together last Saturday.  I described the Sumos in my first study group report.  After one week, new roots are already growing so I think the Sumos are happy in there new homes.

             I started to work on the third tree using Roots technique   because it had the most aerial roots of the three.  Once I started, however, I realized that might not have been the most important factor. Like one of the Sumos from last week, this tree had thick and hardened roots that were not very bendable.  In retrospect, the youngest tree of the three, which had smaller and more flexible roots, would have probably been the best candidate for a Roots styling.  There is just no substitute for hands-on experience to understand the textures of the roots and the lava-based media.

            I decided to continue with the Roots technique anyway because I really wanted to try it and I did not want to redo the other plant, which my mom is thoroughly enjoying.  Hopefully, the tree is adaptable.


               Roots unpotted. Some of the roots are still bendable but several are thick and hardened.  Roots unpotted on the other side.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the foil column before I wrapped it up. I did not have any particular problem, though.  It felt secure and seemed to have a good taper. The wires threaded through the bottom holes were too short to reach the top of the column, so I made loops and attached extra pieces of wire to secure the trunk. The result was nice and strong, with no wiggle in it.

                My only question is how to be sure that the water is going up into the column each week when I put it in its water bath. On the web site, I see some more mature Roots styling with very tall columns. Does the water still come up from the bottom?  The finished tree close-up shows the foil column secured by extra wires. Another close-up of the foil column.    The foil cover is just to hold in moisture, because the tree is planted high with some of the roots above the soil. My only question is how to be sure that the water is going up into the column each week when I put it in its water bath.   On the web site, I see some more mature Roots styling with very tall columns. Does the water still come up from the bottom?         - - - Carol


               COMMENTS FROM DAVID.   Giving a Roots critique is impossible as the major technique takes place after your photo #4 and before your photo #5!  You need to understand that Sumo and Roots are two opposing training strategies with different objectives. 

              "SUMO"  will have very heavy widely spreading buttressing roots rising above the media in a pot.  To make all sides attractive,  the accent rock is positioned to create more interest next to a plain section of trunk,  OR PLACED UNDER THE TRUNK AND ROOTS TO FORCE THE ROOTS HORIZONTAL AND OVER THE ROCK TO CREATE A MORE PROMINENT ROOT SYSTEM.

              "ROOTS" will be taller and more elegant with roots largely trained to be vertically like a visual extension of the trunk.  Right after your photo #4,  all roots growing outwards should have been bent down and string or bindwire used to secure them in position.  The largest root should have been straightened to the extent possible and all roots should have been clustered around and secured in place with string or bindwire as if you are trying to create the upper form of a carrot.  Then using the "accordian fold" method for the aluminum foil,  lay down the tree,  add media, bring the two ends of the foil together,  wrap and over-lap,  choke the top securely near the base of the trunk,  and tape it tightly in place.  Turn the foil up side down, spread roots to outer edges,  add media, dibble in tight and add more media until full.  Place a heavy plastic or cardboard to cover and turn column over onto prepared pot.  Squeeze the column tightly and tape it tight while pressing down hard.  Wire into position so it will not move.  Finish potting and make a lot of air holes about 1/8" to 1/4" in size every 1" apart to provide air into the foil column.  Is this what you did?  If not, it may make sense to redo if you want to understand and train using roots techniques.

              You should know that each of the three plants could have been used for Sumo or Roots but in training them one way or the other, you're moving them to have characteristics that will become more apparent 2 to 4 years from now when its time for the next training session. 

             So where do we go from here?  It depends upon your situation, how large a collection you want to create --- do you like small, medium, or large bonsai ---  how large an area do you have --- do you plan to grow only indoors, or outdoors whenever night temperatures are above 55 degrees F.?  Do you plant to use window light or one day have supplemental light for superior growth and a larger collection.  I can advise you once you give me a better idea of your situation and where you want to be say 10 years from now. 

             We support and work with every possible level.  Some older customers have had one or two of our plants for many years and each time they visit the Big Island, they bring photos and get recommendations.  Other young beginners are starting off with a bang!  By the time they complete their first three, they are ordering the 16 IWP special with full intention that these are all for a personal collection.  We call them "THE FAST-TRACKERS" and their recommendations are customized for their situation so their pre-training is planned and deliberate with each tree having a reference number and a folder containing photos, recorded dates of activity done, future training ideas, etc.  These will likely become major True Indoor Bonsai regional instructors in the future.

             So whether you stay with limited objectives or go all out or somewhere in between,  take some time to think about where you want to go.  Then write to me and I'll help where I can, including giving you a preview of the range of products that will become available to members of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and study groups in the future.  In the meantime,  thick of others who may enjoy bonsai as an Introductory Workshop Package may make a nice gift and Christmas is just around the corner! 

             Regards and aloha,  ~~~David (

   ***  Return to the November 2013 Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
   ***  Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
   ***  Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
          ©  Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai 2013