Most public bonsai training demonstrations tend to show how the portion above the ground is shaped. But although it's interesting, the most important part is properly preparing plants for training. Review the basic rules:
- IS THE PLANT SUITABLE FOR YOUR ENVIRONMENT? Plants that will grow well for you will less likely present unforeseen problems. We've grown the Natal Banyan (Ficus natalensis) at Fuku-Bonsai since 1976 and are very familiar with its characteristics and confident with our training techniques. If you have never grow a specific plant as bonsai, it would be prudent to use much more conservative training methods than shown here. In all cases, don't train a tree that is not healthy and in full growth!
- DOES THE STOCK PLANT HAVE CHARACTER? Bonsai is a creative art that attempts to suggest the beautiful trees of nature as an artistic pot plant. In Japan, it's said that less than one plant in 1,000 is suitable material for bonsai. We agree and cull out inferior plants ruthlessly! It just doesn't make sense to commit to a huge amount of time and effort over many years if the starter stock does not have potential to be a worthy bonsai 30 or 50 years from now. Your success in bonsai will be in direct proportion to your ability to select and acquire premium starter stock. This applies whether you dig trees from the yard or from the mountains, if you're purchasing, or if you train from seedlings, rooted cuttings, or air-layers.
- CAN OPTIMUM GROWTH BE CREATED? If a tree is not healthy and growing strongly, training will be difficult. Training places large stresses on a tree and trees that are not healthy will die-back, become stunted, or die. The primary objectives of the Pre-Styling Session are to orient the tree towards its future styling, to reduce the original stock to the portions to be built upon, to develop an ideal root system, and to create the conditions leading to optimum growth.
WORKING WITH PREMIUM STARTER STOCK
This tree is a part of our oldest Natal Banyans begun from a cutting in 1976. It was once part of a large 4' tall bonsai that developed a beautiful top section with a lot of very long aerial roots. But the trunk did not have a lot of character and it would never be an exceptional bonsai. There were enough aerial roots to support the top so we cut right through the main trunk and "grafted" it onto a dead Kiawe trunk to create a bonsai that depicted a banyan that had strangled a tree and was perched on the dead tree. That tree is one of our innovative successes. This premium starter stock is the root and lower trunk from that cut.
The cut was made in 1993 as part of a demonstration at the Kona Fuku-Bonsai Center. The root stump was grown in a round Mexican terra cotta pot and for the last six years had been watered, fertilized annually, but otherwise not given much care. Our training benches are made of corrugated roofing iron and roots had jumped out of the pot and growing down the table into the ground. Once established in the ground, the plant began dramatic growth and parts of the tree were 10' tall.
Michael Imaino, Fuku-Bonsai's senior plant manager had been in charge of this and the other high potential stock plants and decided it was time to bring the tree into training. He was assisted by Fuku-Bonsai nursery manager Cliff Tanaka.
|This photo was taken before the training began after cutting the root that had entered the ground. To save the root that had jumped out of the pot, it was necessary to crack the pot to remove the tree. The pot-bound tree had a very dense root-ball and a total soil exchange would give exceptional new growth. So the tree was totally bare-rooted.|
|The next day after removing some roots that did not compliment his design concept, Michael decided to tilt the barerooted tree so that the root that had jumped out of the pot is to be at the lower left. The major trunk with the best character with aerial roots forming will be the dominant top. The second trunk was positioned to become a major branch. This orientation allows the most roots to be elevated as part of the design. (June 21, 2001)|
|Note that the major trunk was reduced to exploit the smaller top growth to begin creating taper. The branch was severely shortened to a length equal to two branch diameters. It is easy to create long branches but such branches do not have good character. By starting with a short stub, a more interesting branch will be created. Notice that Cliff is cutting the branch at an angle rather than square across the branch. This will give desirable staggered new sub-branches.|
|The tree is well secured to the plastic tub used as a training container. Holes drilled in the rim allows plastic cord to secure the plant. Michael completes the tie-downs while Cliff starts adding new media and dibbles it between the roots. The new top growth had been allowed to grow 10' tall to create a new 1 1/2" trunk diameter before retraining resumed. As new vigorous growth resumes, portions of the original stump will be carved, as if done well, will not be noticeable even when seen from the "back."|
|Seen from the back, a portion of the original 3" diameter cut can be seen. The new 1 1/2" primary new trunk is blending and the positioned aerial roots will further create a stronger visual taper as they thicken. The plant is secured at the optimum position and some of the root mass is sticking out.|
|By doubling and wrapping aluminum foil under the tie-down strings, a temporary support is created and additional media is dibbled between the roots. High-standard Hawaiian tropical bonsai must be attractive from all sides.|
|Ninety minutes later, the tree has been potted. The ends of the cut branches have been heavily sealed with Vaseline petroleum jelly to reduce drying out and die-back. It will be left in a shady area for a few months, then brought back into the full sun. Training will follow Fuku-Bonsai's "Reduction-Building" techniques.|
TRAINING STRATEGY FOR THE NEXT FEW YEARS
The tree now has exciting possibilities. If new branches pop out at desirable locations, they will be allowed to develop. New growth is very easy to be aimed at the proper angle because growth is flexible. Undesirable branches are removed. Once properly aimed, the branches will be allowed to grow very vigorously until it reaches the desirable thickness. The branch will be shortened and the process is repeated.
Contrary to common belief, the Pre-Styling Session is the most important. If a good styling concept is created, the future shape is pretty much established during this session. At Fuku-Bonsai, we place the maximum amount of emphasis on root management and optimum media conditions. As the plant gets older and more valuable, we certainly don't want any surprises. We, therefore, very rarely if ever do top-training before a pre-styling session that gives us an intimate knowledge of the root system of each tree.
Professional standards dictate that each high-quality bonsai has a unique story, an increasinly clear long-term image of the future shape, and a solid training strategy to progress towards that goal. The plant must be healthy and growing strongly. Most of these objectives are addressed in the Pre-Styling Session. The plant is allowed to grow strongly and then is in an ideal situation for training of the top growth!