By Travis Fargher, Long Beach, California

                My first project was a 4LL8-Sumo conversion into a 9” saucer with a depth of less than 1”.  The project flowed smoothly from the start, and the plant continues to appear healthy, despite a change in environment and a repotting.  Once my first 1:10 planting was complete, I prepared to email David some idea’s for my second assignment, an 8LS8-Roots to be planted into a 12” saucer with the depth of just an inch or so.  According to David, once I understood the concept of the 1:10 Sumo and completed a conversion, the 1:10 Roots project wasn’t going to be too difficult.  It’s really not much different; a little harder of course since a tall foil collar was to be created held up by a kickstand-like wire frame, but the potting concept and media ratio was very similar. 

               So why did I have problems from the start this time?  Why did I struggle with the design and placement? This article will detail not only the conversion from an 8LS8-R to a 1:10 Roots, but will also detail the problems I encountered along the way.

                Previous to my first project, David and I corresponded much about the philosophy and methodology behind a 1:10 conversion.  I sent him a sketch detailing the soil ratio in the pot and hill, and I also sent pictures of each step of the process, and waited for criticism before moving along.  If changes needed to be made, I fixed the issue(s), sent David the updated pictures, and again waited for a response before moving to the next step. 

                 Project 2 was different from the start.  Instead of discussing the design with David, I got “inspired” and completed what I’ll call “stage 1” of the project without any advice.  Since I am somewhat of a neophyte horticulturalist, and new to the innovative Fuku-Bonsai techniques, the outcome was foreseeable.

       The first photograph shows the gathered materials before the planting.  I began with a rough drawing to follow as a guideline through-out the process.  As you can see from the drawing, even though the collar is split into two parts (a foil collar that was to be secured onto a 3” plastic nursery pot formed into a plastic collar), the plant has a noticeable flare.  But here is the beginning of problem one --- there is no transition at all between the collar and the soil in the pot.  If I had sent this drawing to David, it would have been the first problem  I would have had to change before I began repotting.    

          Photo two shows the 8LS8-Roots trained by Fuku-Bonsai.  I have had this plant for a year now.  It has not received any major pruning (obviously) other than trimming off the older leaves on each branch as new leaves grew.  It is a beautiful Schefflera arboricola, and I was a bit hesitant to experiment with this plant when David asked me to use it for a 1:10 project.  But I did use it, and with proper maintenance and advice from Fuku-Bonsai, it will develop into an elegant tall roots design.
          The pot was initially prepared using two thinner gauge wires for tie-downs, and run through the outermost drainage holes.  Coarse media was added to the 12” by 1” pot in a flat grade to just below the rim.  The plastic divider was placed in the center of the pot.   Coarse media also filled the bottom third of the plastic collar once it was placed above the divider.  Body media was added above the coarse media and firmed flush to the rim of the collar.  The pot was prepared.
           To remove the schefflera from its original pot, the plastic tie-downs were cut using wire-cutters, and a chopstick was used to loosen the soil around the outer edges of the pot.  Once the soil was loose, the plant was easily removed by grabbing the trunk and pulling it out.  Once the plant was out of the pot, the chopstick was used to remove the old soil embedded in the root system, as well as to comb the roots out straight. 

          All of the roots, despite how straight they ran above the soil, twisted and turned in all directions beneath the surface.  Once removed from the pot, it proved quite a chore to untangle and straighten them out.  During the comb-out, a lot of old foil was also removed from deep inside the plant revealing that it had been previously trained using foil.  Once the roots were combed out the plant was placed on the mound of old soil to keep the roots moist while the foil collar was prepared.

       The root system has been trained to be very shallow.  To prepare the foil collar, a 10” by 12” piece of foil was laid on a table top.  A few tablespoons of body media was placed about an inch from the top of the foil, and the schefflera was set onto the foil so about 6” of previously exposed roots would still be exposed above the collar once wrapped.  After this placement, soil was added by hand to cover the inner roots, and the outer roots were straightened again and pressed into the mound of soil that covered the inner roots. Afterwards, the top of the collar was wrapped entirely around the root system and tied tight with a wire to stop the soil from spilling out of the collar once the plant was flipped up-side down to build the remainder of the collar.
    Once flipped, the rest of the collar was slowly formed into a very-slightly flaring tube by adding body media little by little, and packing firmly to form the contour.  After a few inches of this, a small-gauge, paper-wrapped wire was twisted around the foil tube to secure the shape.  This method was used until the entire collar was formed.  Once the foil collar was packed tight with body media and wired securely, a thin plastic disk was placed on the top of the media so the plant could be flipped over and placed on the prepared pot. 

      After the plant was flipped, the foil collar was positioned above the plastic collar that was previously prepared, the plastic disk was removed, and the two collars formed into a single unit.  After this placement, the collars were bonded together with electrical tape and the tie-wires were moved into place and secured to the top of the collar.  The top of the foil was then formed into the necessary water cache and holes were poked at one inch intervals for proper air circulation necessary for root growth. 

       The wire supports were strong enough that the entire plant and pot could be lifted by the collar.  Now that project 2 was complete, I could sit back and admire the plant before starting to write the report, right? 

         I placed the plant down to examine the work and immediately realized that everything was off target- the collar, the transition hill, the pot grade, and even the wire supports. Though my initial sketch appeared ok (except for the fact that there was no transition hill in the pot), I found that my intentional deviations from the drawing really sent me in the wrong direction.  I figured that I could push the height limit ever-so-much without realizing that I never created a flaring trunk profile and a contoured grade in the pot for a strong transition.


         The profile looked more like a Washingtonia Palm than a tropical schefflera!!! The overall height was 19”, and the collar itself was 12” high. This was much taller than my initial design laid out in the drawings. Even worse, there was no flare at all.  My intention was to create a slight flare from 2 ¼” to 3 ½”, but ended up with none at all.  Combined with the fact that there was no transition in the pot, I ended up staring blankly at one goofy looking project that contradicted horticultural standards.

          Worse yet, I must not have packed the plastic collar firm enough. Because of the weight of the top collar and plant resting in it, the body media in the plastic collar set and the foil slipped slightly into it.  I realized that the use of two collars that form a single unit is redundant for the creation of a roots design.  Likewise, the circumference of the plastic collar was far too narrow and thus could have been constricting to the roots.  There was no way that this was not going to be a redo.

          I took pictures and sent them to David and impatiently checked my emails for a response throughout the remainder of the day.  That evening I got his response, and a much needed critique.  My suspicions were correct.  The first thing David brought up was the fact that there was no transition at all between collar and pot.  He suggested that I remove the plant and build a hill as a good root transition much like that in a sumo conversion.  David also suggested that I bail the plastic collar for a single foil collar, and use his method of a kickstand-like wire armature to support the plant. Oh, and he also reminded me in question form if I “remembered to add some Nutrient Granules to the body media for root growth?”  Thus, Stage 2 was to begin.


          Somehow the first report by Travis sailed right through so easily and he made the more difficult "1:10 Project" seem simple!  (See www.fukubonsai.com/1a6r.html in the May 2013 Journal issue).  So it was great that he had enough confidence to move into this second workshop without the normal pre-review I require of beginners.  In that same issue, I myself had problems with an aggressive root extension (See www.fukubonsai.com/1a6m.html)  My problem had a different cause, and rather than redoing,  I patched / salvaged and it came out okay in the end. 

         Upon seeing Travis's first submittal of the #2 project, as part of the critique,  I pointed out how I could have or would have done the Roots project. I was pleased that Travis decided to a redo and instead proved out the recommended route.

         I should point out that for many of us in Hawaii,  there are no bonsai teachers or students and that we are all equals and strive to be friends.  Friends have no problem letting others do things differently and sometimes it's an improvement.  But when something doesn't work, we try to bring each other up.  At this point, we're still discussing "TECHNIQUES."  For some,  techniques are everything.  But for many of us,  techniques are just the "tools of bonsai."  There are different tools that can be used in different ways,  but once the bonsai is created,  it really doesn't matter which technique was used or how it was used!

          THE ESSENCE OF BONSAI IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE BONSAI AND ITS OWNER-TRAINER!  It really doesn't matter who trained it or how it was trained.  When requested, we can help each other to offer suggestions to improve specific bonsai or to improve its health. But in the end,  it's important for the owner-trainer to guide the tree and I have a lot of respect for how Travis handled the situation!


:         Instead of using the foil collar I’ve already created, I decided to redo the entire project.  For supports, thicker-gauged wire was used.  Next, coarse media was spread evenly at a depth of a ½ inch across the pot.  Coarse media was also used to create a hill in the center of the pot that stood an inch above the rim.  The plastic divider was placed on the coarse hill, and the body media was added by hand to the hill until it stood 3” high.  This steep hill that was created would produce a much needed root transition that was missing from the first attempt. 

          Next, using the same technique as in stage 1, a foil collar was created, only this time it had a much greater flare for balance and aesthetics.  The thicker wire supports were then run up the sides of the collar and secured in place with tape. 

          The overall height of the plant was now 15”.  With a height loss of four inches yet an increase in root flare and transition, the schefflera was now much more visually pleasing, and may have a chance to become very special. 


:      Foil was also added to the transition hill, secured to the collar with tape, and air holes punched into the foil with a chopstick.  The plant was watered by submersion for 30 minutes, and also watered through the water cache with a turkey baster. 

      Again, I took pictures and sent them to David for criticism.  I was pleased with his response.  It appears that I have fixed the problems that plagued the first stage. 

      Once the schefflera has recovered from a major change in climate and two repottings in the course of a day, it will be moved into an indoor position with lots of sun, watered according to Fuku-Bonsai standards, and will be pruned to reshape its crown.

                SOME FINAL THOUGHTS FROM TRAVIS:  This experiment has been a challenge, but the problems I experienced with the initial repotting could have been avoided, and a much better outcome could have resulted without a redo.  More so than cutting edge horticultural skills and indoor bonsai experimentation, Project 2 has given me a refresher in the topic of patience.  

                 Sure, with the fact that the schefflera is such a hardy, strong plant that also has the beautiful ability to be forgiving, the first planting of this project would have survived and may have even thrived…..but it sure would’ve looked ugly in the end. 

                 Next time I get the “inspiration” to rush into a project when I am still learning new techniques, I’ll take a deep breath and wait for needed advice from that someone enthusiastic enough to share his wisdom and insight with people he has never even met. 

                 Anyone learning from Fuku-Bonsai is in a great position to excel in these techniques because of the utterly open communication lines with David.  In my experiences, most people who have truly honed-in on their art form are very reluctant to share their trade secrets with anyone but those who have earned their respect over long periods of time.  In this regard, we are very fortunate.   

                 - - - Travis Fragher (Long Beach, California) 


                 SOME FINAL THOUGHTS FROM DAVID:   I appreciate Travis's kind words and hope he'll consider this.  Although I've been doing bonsai for over 50 years, I still remember my early days when there were very few who would share their bonsai knowledge.  The exception was Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro who was very generous in sharing what he knew.  I was very appreciative and thanked Papa,  asking how I can repay him.  He told me that in his life,  he was helped by many.  When he asked them how he could repay them, they said,  "now its your turn to help someone else!"   When we formed the 501(3)(c) Hawaii Bonsai Association (HBA) and later the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation,  we made it a point to open membership to everyone who supported our goals and upon payment of membership dues.  There would be no "screening committee" but it was made very clear that there should be no secrets and those who wanted to retain bonsai secrets were not welcomed into our organization.  With this principle,  HBA went on to play a major role in developing International Bonsai in the 1970's to 1990's.  That's what I hope the True Indoor Bonsai community will become!

                 E KOMO MAI  .  .  .  come discover the serenity of nature, the beauty of bonsai, and the spirit of Hawaii!


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       © Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013