Ryan Chang flew over on Friday, February 8, 2013 for a full day of advanced workshops. We were joined by Larry Sullivan of Oregon City, Oregon. That report is at www.fukubonsai.com/1a94d.html   This is a three-month update of the trees of that workshop by the three who participated.

By Ryan Chang (Waipahu, Oahu, Hawaii)

                  I start with my biggest mistake.  ROOTS was the most exciting plant I had at that time because it was the first that I had planted with a high aluminum foil collar that was hopefully going to provide longer roots in the coming years.  I was so excited that in the first week that I brought it home, I put it into the full sun. 

                  Then about a day or two later we started getting lots of rain.   I figured great, no need to water.  I let it rain overnight then came out the next morning to find all plants were doing great except for the ROOTS which was lightly droopy due to all the rain.  

          When I look back on it, the plant wasnítí really that bad, but I panicked and put it under a glass jar and left it in the full sun to dry out.  That was big mistake! 

           I didnít know what I was doing and thought that full sun was the best thing for any plant.  When I did online research, it clearly states donít leave plants in a plastic bag or humidity bag etcÖin full sun.  But I still left in there for another day or two.  All I had to do was just relocate the plant, so it wouldnít get so much wind and make sure it got lots of sun.  I also should have protected it from the heavy rain in the first place.

             I placed the tree in an overturned glass jar because of the slightly drooped leaves. I should have kept it out of direct sun light. Direct sunlight in glass jar will burn leaves.  Note the brownish areas in the leaves.

           I pulled it out of the jar and tried to leave it as is.  This was before I had the humidity rack, so the plant was quickly drying out and blowing away any moisture on the top.  There was not enough humidity in the aluminum area to generate any root growth because of the constant winds.   

          This I also something that I didnít understand until I built the humidity rack. The plant continued to suffer and decline and in the 2nd week I  decided to just leave it in the glass jar until it died or got better.  Again, I left it full sun and it quickly perished. 

            I couldnít believe it; I felt so bad not only for destroying a beautiful plant, but let David and staff down by not properly caring for the plant. 

          I quickly ran more trials with ROOTS .   One of them was the Baobob  ď Tree of Life.Ē   It quickly was turning the same with the top drying out and starting to lose leaves because it was too dry.  Only a tiny portion remained. 

           I didnít know it was the winds that were killing it until David advised that the plants were suffering too much and suggested I bump up the humidity.  It was just the answer to the ROOTS problems.  It took a few weeks for the plants to recover and start sprouting new growth. 

           After a week of extra humidity and more frequent watering sometimes just misting is all the Baobob style plant needs to keep the growth going and not dry out. 

          However, it was too late for my 1:10 ROOTS which I keep in a standard IWP training pot in hopes that one day it will sprout new growth.

          I hope this sad narration will help those who also lack the basic knowledge of plant horticulture.  IT'S EASY TO KILL PLANTS!


           COMMENTS BY DAVID.    Teaching remotely and making recommendations without seeing the plants is very difficult.  No doctor would try to do an operation without being able to examine the patient!  But I try when there is a relationship established and both parties recognize that this is the best and only possible route.  To learn,  I killed many trees and I learn from my failures as much as from successes. 

            Bonsai is like that.  No one likes to kill trees, but how can you really know unless you continuously run trials, observe, and keep trying to understand specific trees.  Even with my best efforts,  I primarily know how to handle MY trees in MY environment.  Over the years,  I've corresponded and received photos from many.  I've been able to help some.  It's almost impossible to help those who really don't want to give me any information and keep insisting that "they followed all directions and trees were doing fine until last week!"

            Communication is difficult when both parties have different standards.  I thought I could imagine Ryan's situation as I was born in Honolulu.  But I lived in Kaneohe which is on the cool Windward side that gets more rain and is not as sunny, windy and dry as where Ryan lives.  Then I moved to the Big Island to an area that gets less sun, more rain, is at a cooler elevation and gets far less wind!  Most correspondence are with those who grow our True Indoor Bonsai indoors throughout the year. 


            From the initial reports,  it seemed that the plants were drying out and I advised shade and increasing humidity with a "sweat house"  that could be 4' x 4' x 4' covered with clear plastic sheet and kept well watered to retain humidity.  By the time I learned Ryan had overturned a large bottle and had it in the full sun, the damage was done!  I informed Jerry Meislik  of the situation and he recommended a fine mist system and that was the key to Ryan's later success.  He also now understands that plants need a recovery time in the shade with extra moisture after any repotting, especially when roots are extended! Putting plants into the sun is a real no-no!  But when Dwarf Schefflera are dying,  it's important to understand why.  Generally there are two reasons that specifically pertain to our Dwarf Schefflera:

           UNDERWATERING.  Plants that are shriveled and dehydrated like the top photo did not take in enough water.  The roots had not yet recovered.  Placing it in the sun dried out the plant.  Strong winds dried out the plant.  When a plant is given too much fertilizer that is too strong, it kills the roots and plants die because the damaged roots cannot match the growing needs of the plant and trunks shrivel and dehydrate.

           First send me clear photos with information!  Start with general recommendations to relocate the plant to a cool, bright location where it does not receive any direct sun.  If trunks are shriveled but leaves are still green,  soak the entire rock planting or potted plant under water for 3-4 days. Shriveled trunks and branches may rehydrate.  Allow to drain, place on dry plate in a large clear polybag, blow up like a balloon, and tie the top so the bag does not collapse on the plant.  Place in a bright warm location that does not get direct sun.

           OVER-WATERING.  When plants are over-watered, all outer visible roots die and rot off.  Trunks and branches become soft and mushy and it is easily possible to peel the bark off.  If plants get to this point, it is very likely to die.  Sometimes it takes three to four years to kill plants by over-watering.  Some ignore our written instructions and think they are doing fine as that's what they were told by others. Black, rotted roots or no roots are symptoms of overwatering.   LOOK FOR FIRM WHITE ROOT TIPS!  If you don't see them, start asking for help!


                  The three 1:10 workshop plants just after returning from the Big Island in February.  Root-Over-Rock (left), Roots (center), and Sumo (right)  note the Sumo is still in the plastic collar.


By Ryan Chang (Waipahu, Oahu, Hawaii)

                  Next to the ROOTS, this had to be the most exciting plant I have because of the tall rock that the plant is placed on.  In the beginning, the plant seemed to be holding well to whatever Mother Nature threw at it.  It withstood heavy rains, windy days, over watering, and under watering situations.  This plant differed from the ROOTS not only by the rock, but also the mix of body media and Fuku Bonsaiís mix of keto-tsuchi. 

                 The keto-tsuchi was the key for the Root over rockís survival as it held all the moisture between watering.  I then read on the Fuku Bonsai website that it should not be allowed to fully dry because then it will be difficult for the keto-tsuchi to soak up any moisture during watering.  I also seen another member watering every day and his plants were outdoor as well. 

                  So, I followed suit and the plants responded well.  Basically, I try not to let the plants totally dry out, but not to water it when its too damp either.  I believe either slightly dry or slightly damp would be the same thing depending on how you look at it and that would be the best time to water.  Iím trying to achieve some aerial roots, so sometimes misting during hot sunny days will keep the humidity nice and moist for the plant. 

                  Otherwise if aerial roots are not important, then full sun and lots of wind wonít damage the plant.  However, the Roots that are potted up using a long aluminum collar might be best kept out of the winds.  For example, I had this Roots over rock plant in very windy conditions and left in heavy rains whenever it did rain.  I also would let it dry out 24-36 hours between watering in full sun for about 3 months with minimal growth compared to the 1:10 Sumo which I had placed it right next to it. 

                  The Roots over rock did best when I moved it into the humidity rack where it was still getting lots of wind just not directly.  It was placed on a rack where all four sides are covered by clear plastic to trap the humidity in and block the wind out only allowing wind to come in from the top.  Or, I will sometimes open up one side and enclose all the rest.  Iím still trying to find which will provide the best humidity while still able to get direct sunlight.   (May 6, 2013 Update)
             SOME COMMENTS BY DAVID.    It's good that Ryan now has a better idea of how to handle plants. The roots plant that died looked bad first and Ryan's actions probably caused the most damage. The Root-Over-Rock plant is usually more difficult but because it was in better shape, it was left alone and now starting to start growing.  


By Ryan Chang (Waipahu, Oahu, Hawaii)

            I like to do Sumo plants because I know they grow well.  So far this plant is the fastest growing in my collection.  It surpassed the Introductory Workshop Packages and my advanced level workshop plants. 

            I believe this type of style can grow anywhere.  Since aerial roots are not a major objective here, the plant can be placed in high winds and be allowed to dry out more than ROOTS.  It is super easy to care for and brings joy to the trainers face when he or she can see that all efforts are paying off. 

            I like to compare growth in my plants so in the future I'll know what type of plants will grow best in certain conditions.   I usually water just once a day, however, some days I notice that at the end of the day, its too dry and will just run a showering type of water over the plants for just a second or two to hold moisture until the morning.  Itís an experiment as in the past,  I would let it dry out 24-36 hours and ended up making the plants suffer too much.  With this method, it keeps all the white roots from drying out too early.  I redid the workshop within the week of bringing it back from Fuku Bonsai, note: the branches are just about the length or a little longer than the aluminum collar.

           For the first month I only watered.  I started  fertilizing in early April  and photo 2 is a week or two after first fertilizing.  I used a general 10-10-10 as a top dressing fertilizer and try for a little every other week. 

          While I was at Fuku-Bonsai  David showed me how to spot an over-fertilized plant.  So once I hit that point, I backed off on fertilizing.  Basically, the leaves become dark green and look wrinkly.  Itís a good sign as the plant will start to grow as David once said ďlike crazyĒ, which you can tell is true by this photo.

          The major outward branches are just as long as the pot.  The leaves are getting bigger and dark green due to the strength of the sun.  I like the style of this aluminum extending to the edge of the pot.  It make watering a piece of cake and holds enough moisture without drying out too much. 

        Once in a while, when I think Iíve been over watering, Iíll let the plant dry out for a day.  I believe I will  learn from this one to apply to all the others.  Iíve pinched a few new growth points to allow other growth and encourage new growth. 

         Currently, I have them growing in different areas.  I have the Roots over rock plant in the humidity rack where it gets less direct sun than it used to.  I see roots growing from the top. 

        I keep the SUMO in full direct sun, but have also modified the rack to provide a little more humidity. It still has some wind, but only from the front and up from the bottom.   I am now confident that these plants will do well.   I've learned a lot from my ROOTS plant and  I still have it as a reminder of what can happen.   

          COMMENTS BY DAVID.   I was very pleased and impressed when I saw the Sumo photos where everything seemed to work!  Ryan's Sumo growth was better than the growth of any of  my three trees and shows what is possible in good outdoor conditions!
By David W. Fukumoto (Fuku-Bonsai, Kurtistown, Hawaii)

                  Three months after the original workshop, the three trees have recovered and have begun growth.  We have not made any attempt to get stronger growth and the current stage is due to our basic procedures and practices.  Note that the Root-Over-Rock on the right has a foil collar covering most of the media in the saucer while the Sumo (left) and the Roots (center)  still have the plastic collar.  I decided to change the aluminum foil collar to our current method.

         The plastic collars were removed, the root buttressing hill and transition contour created, and a new foil collar installed on the Sumo and Roots.  It is likely the foil will stay on for two years or so.  In that time roots should develop everywhere to hold the media in place.  At that point it will be easy to repot if necessary without the need for foil collars.  The trees should be well fertilized and allowed to grow wildly.         
        The original tree had an impressive trunk base taper created by two massive reductions.  The central apical trunk will be allowed to grow until the base of the new section is twice as thick to still have great taper as the lower section will have thickened too!  It will be cut about two diameters up from where the new growth starts at a sharp "dive-bomber" cut.
                                       Iíve attached an updated photo of all 3 original plants and re-did the ROOTS (left),
                                       which I lost due to under-watering and drying out.


                   After David picked me up we had time to discuss the progress and future of the 1:10 project plantings,  pruning strategies, growth rate and horticulture.  Both David and I are growing outdoors in sun; however, his sunlight is dimmed throughout the day by the trees and his buildingís rooftops.  My plants get 8 to 9 hours of direct sunlight on a good day.  Larry is growing his indoors placing his 3 plants in front of a south facing window and this shows that Dwarf Schefflera is a hearty plant that can survive a wide range of conditions.  While David and I water by hose from the top, Larry soaks his plants for 30 minutes a week.  David has his horticulture down and all three of his plants did not skip a beat and growing consistently.  I understand now why David urged me to figure out the horticulture on my own because everyoneís environment is different. 

                      ROOTS.   It is hilarious when David acknowledged that he can grow better ROOTS in his environment!   (Linda didnít know I had killed my ROOTS.)  Larryís ROOTS is also doing better than mine, but suffering and looking dried out.  David suggested the emergency process of putting the plant in a humidity bag until recovery.  Hopefully, Larryís will recover. His is already getting indirect sunlight and  I think it will survive if he can find a way to keep the moisture in the roots area/body media.  Davidís ROOTS had good growth  and  Iím eager to see how his turns out since both Larryís and mine didnít turn out so well.  I re-did my ROOTS with smaller bonsai stock.  

                      ROOTS-OVER- ROCK.   Davidís ROOTS-OVER-ROCK is doing much better than both of ours and Larry and I are playing catch up. I suspect that it has to do with the watering/moisture.  Larryís looks like it grew a few new leaves, but is not as strong as David or mine. Davidís environment is nice and sunny with a cool breeze throughout the day that doesnít seem to dry out plants compared to my environment. Since Larryís is indoors, Davidís is doing better because he gets more sunlight than Larryís or should I say stronger light.  David mentioned that my ROOTS-OVER-ROCK was slacking so I advised him Iíd see what I could do to up the growth rate.  One day I was moving the rack above the plants, and the rack fell on the foil of my ROOTS over ROCK; upon inspecting the damage, I noticed something odd.  There was no body media around the roots and halfway down there was nothing that the roots could grow into, and thatís when I realized, it must have been when I was making air holes in the aluminum.  And during watering, the body media must have been spilling out, that was most likely the reason why my plant was not pushing out the growth like the SUMO was.  I tore away all the broken aluminum and basically created another single collar around the openings and added body media so that the roots can grow into the bottom area of the rock. 

                     SUMO.   My SUMO had darker colored leaves with more abundant growth which kept the foliage looking tight and full.   Although Davidís Sumo is playing catch up to mine, it's growing well and consistently with his others.  SUMO is clearly the easiest that anyone should be able to grow.  Even a beginner like me can have a plant that outgrows the professionals given the right environment and proper care.   Notice in my  updated photo (above) that Iíve lightly defoliated the SUMO and pulled down the branches for outward growth.   Iím interested to see how Larry's SUMO has adapted to his indoor environment. 

                    After examining the similarities and differences in our growing conditions, I think that if you are growing Dwarf Schefflera outdoors, as long as the plants are not allowed to fully dry out, that all should be good. However, if a plant is constantly soaked in water then the growth will not be as strong compared to a cycle of wet to slightly dry.   Iím not afraid to soak it twice a day or even lightly mist or water throughout the day if it dries up by noon.  For me, it all depends on how much sunlight the plants are getting.  Hopefully Larry can up his growth rate.  Humidity also seems to be best for the plant to push strong root growth, and will help those struggling with under watering like mine was.  In my updated photo, I lightly defoliated the plants, clearing up the foliage and removing most of the old leaves.  It improved the look of the plant to show off the character of the trunk and branches as well as giving a better chance of stronger future growth.  The coming months will be exciting as the summer rolls around. 

                   During my 2nd visit to Fuku-Bonsai, Iíve learned  things that Iíve been struggling with including under-watering and over-watering, semi-bare rooting vs bare rooting,  pruning vs defoliation, and other techniques. David and Michael work well with each other and make a big workshop seem easy.  But they had done a lot of hard work and planning just to prepare!  He was careful to not let the plants dry out in the process and assigned Linda to keep all the trees moistened with the water spray.  I made sure to make note of that since my environment dries out quickly and a long workshop will easily dry out the roots if not kept moistened.   

                   After lunch, I had the opportunity to work with David on some older plants, and he showed how to re-pot, ďclean it up,Ē and defoliate trees.  In a very short time, we worked on about 3 different plants. I had the opportunity to learn more detailed root pruning to create an open seat to spread all roots outwards while the tree sat nicely on a hill.  I did some defoliating on all my strong growing plants.  I had set up a pre-paid account, and David had pre-selected suitable plants as there would not have been enough time. I was able to bring back a range of seedlings, rooted cuttings,  and some promising smaller plants to work on.   

                  Iíve already begun to practice what Iíve learned on a few plants when I got back.  I re-did my ROOTS workshop and also planted one of the bigger plants into a full size flat to encourage stronger root growth.  Thanks to everyone at Fuku-Bonsai for another great trip.  The afternoon workshops were priceless hands-on learning experience as we worked on older bigger plants.  It gives me the confidence and a preview of what I will be doing with my own collection in the coming years!


                COMMENTS BY DAVID.  Ryan is a joy and clearly the "Fast-Track Leader!" He has more energy and time to work with his trees and his progress is amazing!  Ryan researches, observes, and is constantly in the midst of activity.  During the first month,  his energy and enthusiasm over-whelmed his ability to be taught as he jumped ahead and made a record amount of boo-boos!  BUT HE LEARNED!  I believe that during his first visit three months ago, that he acquired some discipline and began to see that bonsai is very logical and common sense IF YOU UNDERSTAND THE HORTICULTURAL BASICS.  In the three months since then,  Ryan has a stronger grasp and it is not likely he'll kill plants from now.

                During this second visit, I wanted to expose him to professional discipline and to get past the common perception that "bonsai is a thousand different tricks."  His thought patterns are a lot more logical and he's more able to come to good and reasonable conclusions on his own.  He's starting to understand that he needs to learn the language of the plants to be able to "read and understand" what the plant is trying to tell him ---  what constitutes "good plant growth"  and how to achieve it!  Good strong growth is the basis for bonsai success and you either create it or you don't.  It's impossible to be a good trainer if the plant is growing poorly and it's great that Ryan now recognizes what is superior growth! 

                During this second visit,  Ryan was exposed to a bunch of different techniques and while it may have been impressive,  it's important for him and everyone to understand that techniques are relatively easy to learn and that it is far less important than learning how to make plants grow vigorously!  In the future, no one will really care what technique was used as everyone will be evaluating the results.  So Ryan will soon have the horticultural and technique challenges behind him and will be moving into the essence of bonsai!

                It is possible to learn a lot without an instructor alongside.  But it's a lot faster and easier to see how things are done.  I invite those who are interested to attend the Bonsai Days on the second Saturday of each month.  If you're part of the study groups, plan to visit the day before for private workshops,  to see the preparation,  and get a preview of what will be happening!  I'm delighted with the fast-track success and invite others with such interest and enthusiasm to contact me and also participate! 

               The correspondence related to this report evolved into learning to drawn trees to scale with the idea that if it is possible to draw a plant accurately,  it may be possible to "project and predict" the next stage of training.  So Ryan and I are running trials and his sketches are greatly improving!  We both were comparing our 1:10 Sumo growth and I happened to take a photo of the plant in a 9" saucer and scaled the photo so on the printed picture the saucer measured 4.5" or exactly half the size.  So it may be possible to trace over that photo to show projected growth and how to train that growth!  This may become an effective way to teach in the future!  Stay tuned!

                 ~~~David (david.f@fukubonsai.com)

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