1:10 SUMO BY TRAVIS FARGHER

               AN INTRODUCTION BY DAVID.   Travis is our newest study group member with an introductory report in the last issue posted at www.fukubonsai.com/3a1d.html.    Travis is different from most in our study group in that he has a nice collection of a number of years and that he lives in Long Beach, California where Dwarf Schefflera True Indoor Bonsai can grow outdoors for most of the year and just brought in during a relatively few nights when temperatures drop below 55°F.  So instead of starting with our Introductory Workshop Packages,  I recommended the 1:10 Sumo into a 9" saucer,  conversion of his 8LS8-Roots into a 1:10 shallow 12" saucer, a 4LL8-Roots into the empty 8D2 pot that had held the 8LS8, a challenging Hawaiian Dragon dangling from a tallish rock,  then something to go into the empty 7" shallow saucer that he would drill his own drainage holes. 

                 Travis had previously purchased a Custom Collection and 8LS8-Roots and began to see the possibilities of working with premium advanced bonsai stock.  He sent a sketch of a cascading dragon that caught my attention as I had created a rock formation that really looked like his sketch!  I began to see the possibilities of having an obviously creative more experienced Journal contributing writer on our editorial staff.  Travis very quickly grasped the concepts of the 1:10 Project and breezed through his first 1:10 Sumo challenge as seen by his report. It really wasn't much of a challenge.  Travis tells me that most of his collection is small shohin size bonsai and this is an area that has been only very lightly explored. So I look forward to some more complex interesting articles ahead.

 

1:10 PROJECT #1- SUMO
By  Travis Fargher, Long Beach, California
 
               Bonsai has become a large part of my life. I have been an enthusiast for some time now, having a small collection of bonsai that I have stumbled across in various places. Some have been gifts, others bought as “finished” pieces, others as pre-bonsai stock to be manipulated and trained, and others have been collected from the wild or rescued from a swift demise composed of a gardener with a smoking line-trimmer.  But no matter how I have come across my collection, one thing is certain, each has specific needs.  Being a little on the nomadic side of life, my wife and I have moved around quite a bit and try to travel when we can. This poses quite the dilemma when being a bonsai enthusiast.  Again, each little gem in my collection has specific needs, and these needs have to be met whether I am home or not. There have been times when I have had to literally write care directions for my collection that encompassed three pages.  Even then, I will usually have to rehabilitate at least one bonsai (and that’s a best-case scenario)!

              After our last move, this time from Northern to Southern California, we ended up living in an apartment outside of Los Angeles, with minimal outside space for gardening.  I had to end up splitting the collection for storage at a few places.  As for the bonsai I kept at my apartment, my larger bonsai were kept outside (hoping they weren’t going to be ripped off), and I moved my shohin bonsai and dwarf bamboos into windows that received at least 5 hours of morning sun a day.  Having a slight understanding in basic horticultural skills, I understood that this could be a tragic move for these bonsai, even if it was a temporary solution.  Thus I began studying every word I could find written about growing bonsai indoors.

               Since relatively little has been written about growing indoor bonsai, I quickly found the Fuku-Bonsai website and became a fan of David Fukumoto’s philosophy.  After studying the information provided by the website, as well as from the early correspondences I received from David, I came to the understanding that the dwarf schefflera is a perfect format to work on indoors.  It is a hardy plant that can handle a little over-watering and a little drought, yet, under the right growing conditions, can be trained into some of the most interesting  and dramatic bonsai possible.  Could this be the perfect plant for my lifestyle?  I had to find out.  Soon, I tracked down some dwarf schefflera from local bonsai nurseries.  The plants may have had potential, but were far too lanky.  The only way to counter the growth would have been to drastically prune the plants to force new growth close to the trunk.  I personally didn’t want to buy a bunch of plants that may not have even survived the initial pruning.  A few months later I had in my possession some Fuku-Bonsai treasures that could survive both my travels and nomadic movements.

               After a year, I felt that the time was ripe to start planning some exciting projects with the dwarf schefflera, and I contacted David about some possible 1:10 projects.  The Fuku-Bonsai 1:10 project have resulted in some spectacular outcomes, and appeared to this novice as a great way to learn advanced and even cutting-edge horticultural skills.  With the eagerness to share his wisdom and the enthusiasm he has for experimentation with the dwarf schefflera as an indoor bonsai, David quickly responded to my enquiries.  The following is a short essay on the first of five projects, my 1:10 Sumo project.  

               The purpose of this first project was to transplant a Fuku-Bonsai 4LL8-Sumo into a 9” pot with a depth of 1”, for the function of moving attention away from the pot and into the schefflera itself. With dwarf schefflera a massive buttressing root system can be developed using David’s innovative techniques, despite the ultra thin 1” depth of a saucer transformed into a bonsai pot!  With an initial design that will hopefully produce a thick, wide crown above a dramatic, flaring root system, I followed David’s specific methodology and began at step one --- a scale, cross-section drawing of a hypothetical finished product, after which the actual planting was to take place.

        I began preparing the pot by running the tie-down wires through four of the drainage holes closest to the rim.  Pulling the wires to even lengths, I bent them outward to get them out of the way for the time being.  Using the coarse media provided, I found larger rocks to place over the drain holes to act as a screen and keep the smaller particles in the pot.  After spooning in and leveling a half inch of coarse media, and packing it firmly with a spoon, I began building the hill in the center of the pot which would support the plant once placed.
         Next, more coarse media was added and shaped into a small hill that protruded 1” above the top of the pot, after which it was tamped firmly using a spoon.  Once the hill was firmed, a round plastic divider was placed on top to ensure proper drainage as well as root-flow.  This small piece of plastic will force new roots to move around it on their way to find water, and ensures that the center of the root system remains hollow.  Thus, the majority of the longer, older roots are on the outside, while the inside of the root system is where the new-growth forms into the body media.
           Once the coarse media was firmed and the plastic divider was added, the body media was added by hand to create a steep hill in the center of the pot above the divider.  After firming the body media, the hill stood 4” above the rim of the pot.    
        With the pot ready, the next task was to prepare the dwarf schefflera, which has been pre-trained by Fuku-Bonsai using their sumo technique.  Through drastic and selective pruning, the Sumo technique creates a tree with a massive root system and low branches capable of being trained into impressive banyan trees. To prepare the dwarf schefflera, I cut the tie-down wires used to secure it into the pot, then used a chopstick to loosen the soil around the edge of the pot, and lifted the plant out, exposing its roots to this climate for the first time.
         The 4LL8-Sumo out of the original container.

         Using a chopstick, I gently combed out and straightened the roots.  The root system was so shallow, root-pruning was unnecessary.  I managed to comb the roots out, untangle and straighten them without breaking more than a few new growth roots beneath the main trunk.  This should prove beneficial to the plant, since root pruning can cause shock in many types of plants.

         What surprised me most about the comb-out was the fact that the thicker roots were only the outer-most section of the root system.  The longer and older outer roots form a hollow cone just inside of it.  This inner “cone” is where the new fibrous roots form and grow into body media when repotted.  Thus, the hill that was formed in the pot should match the shape of the hollow cone formed by the outer roots, and once placed, the schefflera should sit flush on the top of the hill.  Pictured here, the prepared dwarf schefflera sits upon the mound of soil that was combed out of the root system. 

        Finally, both schefflera and pot were prepared and ready to be brought together.  The hill was formed to fit the inner cone of the schefflera, and the plant was placed on top in a flush-fit.  After the placement, the roots were straightened over the hill with the idea that during growth, the roots would follow the contour of the hill to the bottom of the pot, resulting in an impressive root mass.  After placement, the tie-down wires were brought to the plant, and weaved through the roots twice to secure the plant to the pot tight enough to pick the pot up by the roots.

         After sending the first round of pictures to David for criticism, he offered me the advice to try the placement again.  I initially had a slight lean to it that needed to be corrected to follow natural horticultural guidelines.  Thus, the wires were removed, the hill reformed, and the plant was replaced and tied down for a second time.         

The final task was to create and place the aluminum foil collar over the base of the roots and entire hill.  The use of a collar is a horticultural innovation that is more than necessary in a 1:10 project. 

        Following the guidelines laid out by David, I created the foil collar by using a 27” by 12” piece of foil.  I folded the foil so it was doubled-up at 6” wide, and began to flute 3” out of the 6” width so it would start to create a volcano-like shape.  Once the foil collar was complete, I worked it around the hill and the base of the schefflera until it wrapped completely around. 

 

         Once joined, I packed the foil firmly into the hill and sealed the ends of the collar together with tape.  The top of the collar was left a half inch longer than necessary so it could be bent outward to make a water cache necessary for easier watering.   The final step in the collar placement was the creation of air holes poked into the collar with a chopstick about an inch apart all the way around.  The air holes provide a greater air circulation necessary for good root growth as well as for the over-all health of the plant. 

           After the collar placement, the finished piece was placed in water up to the rim of the pot, and soaked for thirty minutes.  The plant was also watered from the water cache by using a turkey baster.  After watering, the sumo schefflera was placed in an east-facing window in partial shade, where it will stay for a few weeks. 

          Once it is determined that the plant has made it safely through the change of environment and a repotting, it will be placed into an indoor position that receives much more direct sunlight.  The dwarf schefflera will be watered according to the Fuku-Bonsai guidelines of submersion, and, with the ongoing support and suggestions by David, should blossom into a dramatic and lofty 1:10 Sumo….given much time and patience of course!

 

          SOME FINAL COMMENTS FROM DAVID.    It is a joy to welcome Travis as a Journal Contributing Writer.  He writes,  photographs and edits well and this article has needed the least amount of minor editing.  It is very satisfying that Travis is able to perceive non-standard Fuku-Bonsai techniques that result in our non-standard high-standards.  He is able to interpret our methods with small personal tweaks that make sense.  Although I tend to develop efficient standardization for the Fuku-Bonsai staff,  I'm not fussy and hope all hobbyists and customers will develop protocols that fit their situation. 

          In the future,  I am confident that Travis will be able to take our plants to the next level.  For those who have a clear vision of what they want to create and who send me a sketch of what they want to create,  I'll be happy to check the inventory to see if we have a plant that can fit your criteria.  For me, bonsai has been a wonderful career and it is wonderful to have strong individuals like Travis becoming an associate.  I welcome other to join our study group regardless of your level.  The only criteria is a lot of bonsai enthusiasm, and ability and willingness to share and help others.  If we can create such a True Indoor Bonsai community,  it will become more challenging and inspiring for me too!  That makes it a win-win-win!

        Mahalo Travis!   ~~~David (david.f@fukubonsai.com)

 

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