By Thomas Matkey (Glendora, California) Journal Contributing Editor

              I am going to try two different configurations of media mix.  The comparison is between the Fuku-Bonsai standard unimix/3 component method and the experimental multi-size aggregate-only protocol. I have two plants at similar stages of growth and health.  One has more roots than the other and will go in the standard mix.  The other will go in the experimental multi-size aggregate mix.

              I’ll be potting it so the plant is at a 45 degree angle with the tops of the largest roots up in the air to add interest.  A part of the trunk will be just touching the surface of the soil to encourage roots on that side.  We start with a standard nursery pot and cut it down so that it’s 3 inches tall.  The cut down pot is about 8” in diameter.


            After finding the right spot to cut, use a marker to draw a line around the pot.  Use anything that’s handy to rest the marker on and then spin the pot around against the marker.  That will give you a nice level line.  I used my handy Dremel tool with a diamond cutting blade.  If you use a Dremel tool, use a slow setting, not a fast one.  Too fast and the friction melts the plastic and can jam the blade.



          The shape of the pots have some low spots that are lower than the holes, so I drilled a few extra holes in the low spots.   The plastic strips for tie downs are common green gardening tape.  They will stretch as the plant grows keeping the rock firmly in place.  Some large chunks of lava rock over the holes in the bottom of the pots to keep the media from falling out the holes. Notice the rock at the 1 O’clock position.  The tie down is behind the rock.  That is the wrong way to do it.  When you tighten the tie downs, the tie down will pull the rock away from the hole.  The other 3 are correct.  I didn’t notice that when I was doing the build, but did notice some mix came from somewhere.  I didn’t know from where until I saw that picture.  Mystery solved!


          Using the original Fuku-Bonsai 3-component mix, I first put down a layer of the coarse bottom mix with and tamped it down well.  At first I used a tapered piece of wood.  Every time I pushed down, the mix near the wood would be disrupted.  It was not compacting well.  I needed something bigger  I had a piece of 4X4 handy and I used that.  Much better.   I added some body media before pushing the rock into the media to hold it steady. 



          I had already figured out the best positioning for the plant.  Then added a layer of the body mix which is compacted and pressed around the rock.  I used a small watering can with a long, open neck to pour the media around the rock.  This made it easy to get the media in the small spaces where the rock came close to the pot edges.  Next comes some nutrient granules and then some more body mix.  At this point, the rock is fairly steady and I used the tie downs to really make it secure.  That comes close to filling the pot.  Close to the rock, the layer rises above the level of the pot so the top roots make contact.  On top of that is a layer of the fine, top mix which is also compacted. 


         The next layer is the fine top layer.  Again, I used the watering can to pour the media where I wanted it.  I also built extra top media around some of the roots and the trunk.  I found that wetting the media just a bit made it quite easy to mound up the fine media. This pot is similar to the IWPs, except on a bigger scale.  The hardest part was the pre-planting  planning that went into the various aspects of the project.  Which plant to use, how does the roots fit on the rock, how much tilt to put on the plant, where to move some of the roots and tie them down all went through my mind while planning this project.




         Then I tackled the new mix.  It was screened though ½”, 3/8”, then ¼”, then 1/8” and finally 1/16” hardware cloth screens.  You end up with 6 different sizes of mix.  What gets caught in the 1/2” screen I call rough, 3/8” is coarse, the ¼” is large , the 1/8” is medium, the 1/16 is small and what gets through 1/16” is  fine.  I started the drainage hill with the coarse media.  The drainage hill was off to one side and did not cover the entire bottom.  Over this went some large media.  I shaped it to follow the contour of the hill and a bit higher where the top of the trunk would touch the media. 


        Then the plant was put into position and firmly settled into the drainage mound.  The branches went over across the top of the pot.  Then some nutrient granules went in.  They went mostly in the area of the roots and just a bit below where the trunk will touch.  Then more large media was added to cover the nutrient granules.  A thin layer was added, not a lot. The next step was to tie down the rock.  More large media was added and compacted and shaped to further stabilize the rock.  Then I added the small media and compacted and shaped it. 


         Next was the fine media.  It was at this point when I started having trouble controlling the media.  It started flying all over the place while pouring it in the pot from the watering can.  I also discovered that the finest bits stayed in the pot while pouring.   I had a lot of fine particles were in one spot while other places had very little.  I then tried spooning the media with a mini-trowel, but I couldn’t pick up much at one time and it kept falling off the trowel.  I had discussed dampening the media with David via email.  He’d never tried dampened media, but urged me to try both ways and see what happens.   


            I took a tablespoon of media and added a quarter teaspoon of water and stirred it up.  Not enough water, so I added another quarter teaspoon.  That did the trick.  I got a nice tight mix without extra water.  I dampened about a cup of media in a bowl with water. I just guessed to the water to media ratio.  I used a squirt bottle, gave it a few squirts and mixed things around.  This dampened quite a bit of it, but not all of it.  You could see the color change when the media was dampened.  Another dozen squirts gave me a perfect mix.  The mix stuck together well without having any extra water.  I could pick up two or three times as much with each trowel full, and it didn’t fall off the trowel!

              I started plastering up the rock since I wanted it covered by media completely.  I just put the dampened media where I wanted it, and it stuck right there.  I did build up from the bottom so there was some support under each trowel full, but it was easy to build a slope.  I patted things down well using both the back of the trowel and my fingers.  When wet, the grains don’t stick to your fingers as much either. Then I installed an double thickness aluminum foil cap to keep everything in place.  I used a ¼ inch fold on the foil.  This makes for more contact between the foil and the media to help avoid shifting of the media.  I wasn’t looking forward to making ¼” folds in the aluminum foil though.  That’s a pretty small fold!  My first effort wasn’t too good.  The folds kept getting bigger and bigger.  And I had difficulty keeping them in a straight line.  There has to be a better way. 

              I tried a few more times and then my gaze fell upon my screening boxes.  One of which has a 1/4” screen, just the dimension I need.  I laid the aluminum foil on the screen and pressed the foil down into the screen.  There was a nice piece of aluminum foil with nice, straight ridges 1/4” apart.  The screen wasn’t as wide as the aluminum foil, so I moved the foil over and placed the foil so the existing ridges were at the edge of the screen.  This time I used a vegetable brush to push down the foil and found I could do it much faster with the brush. I still had to fold the foil, but found the ridges in the foil were weak points and when bending, the bend followed the ridges easily (for the most part).  One direction was easier to bend at the other, but after a while, you learn how the foil will react when you bend it.


           Since my pots were cut down from larger pots, there was no lip on them, just a straight side.  You can’t crimp aluminum foil down to a straight side, so I used a line of two sided tape just below the rim.  I ran the aluminum foil against the tape and it stuck nicely.  While using my fingers worked nicely, I gave that same vegetable brush a try and it worked even better.  I’d form the foil to the rough shape being covered with my fingers and then complete the job using the brush.



            A number of air holes were made in the foil using a pencil for air circulation and I put the plant in a pan to soak.  Then I taped the entire aluminum foil together with some strapping tope to keep things in place.  Of course, I should have put the tape on before poking a bunch of holes in the foil.  I had to go back and re-punch a number of holes.




             I was a bit nervous about using the new mix, but I found it was actually quite easy to work with and shape.  I do believe that dampening the top two layers just a bit while working with them helps a lot.  It will stick quite well (like plaster or stucco) when you apply it, you can get more on a trowel, it doesn’t tend to fly all over the place and doesn’t stick to your fingers when you work it.

             It’s a bit more work to put together with the multiple layers, but not any more difficult.  It is easier to mound the mix when you start with a base of large stuff and getting smaller as you get to the top.  And those two layers of fine top soil just helps bind things in place.

             We’ll have to wait a while to see what kind of results we get, and I’m looking forward to that day.  I’ll be doing another set of comparison plants soon with the plants that started my bonsai journey many years ago.  Both were from Fuku-Bonsai's Authorized Retailers.  One was from Dan's Green House of Lahaina, Maui on an early Hawaii visit quite a few years ago and the second from the Kona Coffee Mill and Museum near Captain Cook from a more recent visit to the Big Island. - - - Tom


             As you can see,  Thomas is about as meticulous person as you'll ever find!  Although he's visited us only recently and just completed the Beginner Study Group and has graduated into the Fast-Track Study Group, he's grown our Fuku-Bonsai Lava Plantings for many years and has already developed the ability to sense when the plants need water, etc.  In his reports, he provides a lot of detail and a huge number of photos.  This gives me a lot of detailed information so I can very easily understand the details of his work.  For this article Thomas sent me 36 high-quality photographs.  I used most of his captions and text descriptions but selected just 11 photographs which I think tell the story.

            I am in a very interesting role.  I try to be more of a teacher and resource person and ask the Fast-Track study group member to ask questions and don't start until there's understanding.  But it's always a very pleasant surprise when individuals take my information, interpret it in their own manner, and often produce really nice results!   As you can guess,  Thomas is a lot neater than I am and I'm lucky in having Myrtle and the staff cleaning up after me.  Of course I get hints and statements that I really should be neater. But I tell them:  "CREATIVITY IS A MESSY BUSINESS!" 

           In contrast,  Michael and Edison are a lot neater than I am.  Edison can produce the largest volume of work ---  Michael produces the neatest and highest quality advanced work --- but I'm the guy that is messy but the most innovative and creative.  So I'm enjoying working with Thomas and he's got some very interesting projects in draft form.

          Most of this article was submitted early in August and since then,  Thomas reports that the second plant using the experimental media mix is growing faster.  But it has an aluminum foil and that may be preventing the tree from overly drying outdoors in warm California.  So to try to create a good comparative trial,  Thomas has installed an aluminum foil covering with air holes on the first plant.  To describe the two different methods, Thomas suggests the "O-METHOD" for the ORIGINAL 3-component method and the "X-METHOD" for the current EXPERIMENTAL multi-grade aggregate with heavier fine organic topping.

         The O-Method is used daily at Fuku-Bonsai and is often ordered and sent to our customers via US postal flat rate box of 3 separately bagged components totaling 3-gallons.  This is idea when potting with the media surface below the level of the pot rim.  But for when creating contoured surfaces,  for mini-bonsai, or when doing attractive shallow 1:10 Project potting,  the X-Method is superior.  But it requires screens.  It really doesn't make sense for a hobbyists to have to have a set of screens if they plan to only have a modest collection. 

           The X-Method is superior for those members of the Fast-Track Study Group that are doing advanced projects that may utilized keto-tsuchi and the new concrete keto-tsuchi in addition to more exotic ways of using the aluminum foil collars. Pre-screened X-Method potting media may be offered in the future.

           At one time most considered TRUE INDOOR BONSAI to be a novel inferior form of bonsai.  We're gaining converts.  The article on Mini-Bonsai shows what is very possible with highest quality prepared bonsai stock. The complex 360° landscape has yet to be equaled anywhere in the world. 

          But the most significant reality is that True Indoor Bonsai grows faster,  is much easier to grow,  it can be trained into more styles than any other tree, it can grow indoors year around in ordinary homes and offices, it grows outdoors when night temperatures are above 55°F,  etc., etc.

           It is really the ideal popular American Bonsai and I believe Dwarf Schefflera will one day be the most popular bonsai tree in the world!  We hope that the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai will become the most respected source of information and assistance. 

          We are committed to making Fuku-Bonsai the most reputable highest-value source of the highest quality Dwarf Schefflera.  Those who complete the Beginner Study Group and graduate into the Fast-Track Study Group get special assistance and excess to Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock.  In sharing their progress in reports published in the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai,  it becomes a win-win-win situation.  We request your continuing support and invite you to join us!   ~~~David (

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