The specially prepared advanced bonsai stock that had been pruned back hard several times and had developed a large amount of aerial roots on one side.  Ryan is learning how to develop a long-term training strategy and to sketch to scale. The drawing below shows the plant as envisioned in a 17"x17" square nursery flat that is 2" deep.  Each squre represents 2".  Notice  how the hill extends almost to the base of the roots and that the plastic separator prevents roots from growing straight down and forces them to the outer edges.  This helps to develop heavy surface roots, but allows repotting into very shallow containers with a large amount of potting media exchanged at each reportting. 



By Journal contributing writer Ryan Chang (Waipahu, Oahu, Hawaii) 

                           This tree could be an exciting ROOTS one day as its longest roots are well over 12 inches long.  However,  I will train it in SUMO fashion to thicken the roots and widen the base.  The Fuku Bonsai staff had already trained this promising tree for many years. 

                   When I first brought it home,  the theme and character of the tree was of a giant waterfall.  The first thing I noticed was the multiple thick roots that grew straight down outside of the pot while the majority of the plant was still planted in the pot giving it a real tropical waterfall look.  The leaves portray the lines of trees surrounding the embankment.  At this point the trunk was still a mystery as the foliage was dense and full. 

                  The theme changed as I unveiled the trunk through defoliation and spread the roots in every direction on a hill.  This brought me back to my summer vacation to Disneyland and the roller coaster rides.  The biggest one I rode on was the Desperado in Las Vegas.  I remember trying to hold my hands up in the air while we dropped 225 ft at 80mph! We hit the bottom and water dripped from my nose, and I thought I had a nose bleed, lol, luckily it wasnít! 

          Thatís what this tree next made me envision.  I found a photo of a roller coaster in Canada.  Notice the peopleís body language and compare to the tree.  Although, the tree lacks the number of bodies compared to the photo; it certainly has its close resemblance in regards to the hands in the air and bodies swaying. 

          A ďthrillingĒ type of theme blending with waterfall character.  I want to keep both ideas since they are both true and shows that themes and character of the tree can change. 

  Photo credit:  This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons This image was originally posted to Flickr by Jason Campbell (Brother Jay) at File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

                 Is this the language of the trees?  I like to think so; it is one of many ways that the tree is talking to me as the owner/trainer.  I like when I see a change in the plant after not seeing it for a while; it rejuvenates the spirit a little and keeps me thriving to go on.

                  Starting this workshop and prepping and planning is starting to get easier.  I like to go through the workshop in my head a few times to make sure I have all supplies at armís reach.  

          I start with prepping the full flat by covering drainage holes with a course bottom and created a 5Ē course bottom hill and placed a 6Ē diameter plastic separator on the hill, then cover the hill and plastic with 2Ē body media and fill up Ĺ way up the side of the flat. 

           Note: I used a plastic pot with the bottom cut off to form the 5Ē hill and left it there to support and strengthen the hill as the plant will go on top and be pushed down.

           Note: I didnít spread the body media Ĺ up the flats in this picture because I wanted to give readers a visual of the layers.  My ĹĒ course bottom is mixed with red cinder because I had some left over and will use up what Iíve got left and switch over to black from now on. 


           The next step was to prep the plant for the set up on the hill.  Again, I took my time bare rooting the long roots and loosening the media between them.  Once I was able to maneuver the roots freely and spread those outwards in all directions.  I needed to create a scene on the hill.

           Note the center has a thick root that blocks the seating area beneath the trunk.


           I keep a water sprayer close by to keep the roots damp and root pruned to remove the center crossing roots.  After removing the center roots and any that were crossing and or blocking the seat-like area, the tree was placed on the hill. 

           The tree was then bedded with body media and same to the long roots and tried to make sure body media was tightly embedded the roots system.  Then I pushed the tree down into the pot and secured with the bind wire, made sure it was tight by doing double pulls and tightening any loose slack.


          The body media is Ĺ way up the sides of the flat and the foliage still doesnít show the true character yet.  With ots of dense foliage  you couldnít see the trunk formation.

            I breezed through the last section of the workshop and didnít stop at each step. Iíll explain as its easy to see what Iíve done.   I added the aluminum collar crinkled with finger loops and water catchment style and semi covered the bottom half of the aluminum collar with the shade cloth.

            Then using ĹĒ rock chips I bedded the shade cloth down and pushed everything down tight. Because my plants dry out quickly, I added some sphagnum moss in the top portion of the collar to hold more moisture throughout the day.  This is my first completed attempt of a full flat planting and am happy with the results.  I just need to water and place in semi shade for a week or two and then will bring out into more sun and eventually full sun.
                  Coming back from Hilo, I was excited and wanted to start planting some cuttings, but my energy soon dwindled and passed out for the rest of the night.  I felt I gained a lot of insight as to my intuitions.  Iím no longer thinking what should I do? Or how should I do it?  Ideas are starting to flow and I canít keep up; I prep items for workshops and next thing I know Iím ready to do another 2 or 3 workshops.  But, I learned my lesson and am not jumping ahead. 

                  I still have a few cuttings from March that will be potted up by the end of the month using a new style of ROOTS training. Then, Iíll move on to my bigger plants that I recently brought back from my 2nd visit.  I find other writers articles informative as well, sometimes it will boost an idea for a next workshop etc...  Itís always fun to read different stories, so I look forward to future articles from others. 

                 - - - Ryan



                 As journal readers know,  Ryan Chang is the "Fast-Track study group" lead member who has a great situation.  He mans the night help desk at an IT company and has a lot of energy and days free!  He lives in Hawaii where Dwarf Schefflera can grow outdoors year around and he has a nice amount of area. In the beginning, his intense energy worked against him as he just did not have enough plants to satisfy his interest.  His first visit to Fuku-Bonsai was to try to instill discipline, and to try to provide him with the best horticultural basics so his plants can grow strongly without him having to spend a whole lot of time on them.

                 That's part of the basis for Fuku-Bonsai's ability to produce highest quality plants at very attractive prices.  We have a small staff but a HUGE plant inventory trained in a large number of ways to produce a full range of stylings, but in a manner that they can be sold under various "model standards."  Between training sessions,  plants are allowed to grow and develop. There is just no substitute.  Good bonsai takes many years to develop.

                 The Japanese and Chinese train with two different concepts.  Most who train by Japanese methods tend to have attractive plants most of the time except when they are intentionally ground-planted to increase the heaviness of trunks and branches or to recover health when kept pot-bound too long without repotting.  Except for these times,  Japanese bonsai are close to "exhibit appearance" and that's a problem.  Such trees are always in what we call "refinement stage."  The branches develop more detail and the overall appearance takes on a more refined elegance.

                 But too often this refinement begins as soon as the hobbyist acquires it.  The tree is allowed to grow larger in height and one day far in the future,  the tree goes into an exhibit.  From a distance, it's attractive.  It's a nice size, has beautiful healthy foliage and is in an expensive ceramic pot (whose depth calls for say a 4" thick trunk).  Unfortunately because of the emphasis on refinement, the trunk did not develop and may be only 1.5" thick!  Hobbyists with just a few trees tend to create well refined trees with trunks and branches that tend to suggest trees that do not have "character" or the ability to endure and overcome the harsh conditions that produce the most admirable bonsai.  This is especially so when hobbyist begin with cheap young trees that do not have any character to start with!   


                  "AT FUKU-BONSAI,  ALL TREES HAVE "CHARACTER" WITHIN ONE INCH OF THE SOIL LINE!"  This really is the difference between trees that have potential to be high-quality trees with admirable bonsai qualities or "pretty trees that are called bonsai."  All Fuku-Bonsai plants have potential whether a 2" prepared bonsai stock is potted as part of an Introductory Workshop Package, or whether it was grown on into a Hawaiian Lava Planting,  Potted Bonsai, or Custom Collection.  The basic principle is: "START WITH AS MUCH CHARACTER AS YOU CAN!" 

                  Compare what Ryan is sharing in this article against what is done by others.  Compare the amount of character in the first photo of the tree in a 5" pot against what most hobbyists start with!  Notice the amount of character in the last two photos against what most hobbyists start with!  BUT COMPARE WHAT RYAN IS DOING AGAINST WHAT MOST HOBBYISTS DO!  INSTEAD OF GOING INTO REFINEMENT TRAINING, HE IS GOING INTO ACCELERATED GROWTH TO DEVELOP MORE CHARACTER INTO WHAT WILL BE AN EXTRAORDINARY FUTURE HIGH-QUALITY LARGE BONSAI!


                   Ryan is potting into a 17" x 17" x 2" square nursery flat.  The general rule for accelerated growth is to use a container that is about the length that you want as the height of a "finished bonsai."  So in this case,  Ryan is heading towards a 17" tall finished SUMO bonsai.  Right now,  the tree was about 5" or so tall in a 5" square nursery pot.  But the base of the trunk is over 2" across with multiple trunks that have been pruned tight, with branches developing ---  all of this in just two to three inches!  So can you imagine if Ryan continues the process and adds more and heavier character during the coming accelerated growth training instead of going into refinement training?

                  Notice the elements of "Accelerated Growth Training."  First develop a concept, theme, or plan!  Ryan was great in focusing on the exceptional roots and developed a strategy of building an exceptional root buttressing by bare-rooting, removing the central heavy roots, and evenly distributing roots evenly in all directions off a high hill.   Beneath this hill is a plastic separator so the roots won't explore the deep central area and drainage in that area is assured.  Roots will stay close to the surface and thickened under the protection of the foil collar.  Netting and rocks hold moisture and prevent weeds.  Ryan can set it down on weed-mat and allow it to grow and thicken and develop more character without attention.  He can set down other plants in square accelerated growth containers so they all will not need attention but will keep developing.

                  BEFORE YOU START "ACCELERATED GROWTH TRAINING,"  DEVELOP AS MUCH CHARACTER AS YOU CAN FIRST!   We start building character in 2" pots, and move them to 4" and 5" pots as they develop.  Ryan's article shows what is appropriate for 8 to 10 year old trees that will one day become 17" tall finished bonsai.  Ryan will be only using these 17" flats for trees that will become larger but which already have a lot of character.  He also took home other smaller trees in 4" pots to go into 10"x10"x2" half-flats, still smaller trees in 2" pots to go into 4" square pots,  and seedlings and cuttings to go into 2" pots.


                  As the lead member of the Fast-Track Study Group,  Ryan has made remarkable progress in the 4-5 months preceding this report. His second Fuku-Bonsai trip resulted in him having a full compliment of over 50 trees to work on that range in age from recently rooted cuttings or young seedlings to trees in training for over 10 years.  There is a lot of complexity involved and it will require a lot of discipline and keen observation. But he now has a suitable situation in which he can constructively satisfy his "bonsai itch", not over-work his trees,  and can appreciate the need to create a unique individuality and plan for each tree.

                  Too often, those who train bonsai are on ego-trips and want to impress others with their mastery of technique.  Some really enjoy just doing the same thing over and over and over again.  Too often I get to see a collection in which most trees are trained the same way.  Apparently in his early days, he may have created a nice two-tree bonsai.  He liked the compliments so continued to make two-tree bonsai over and over and over again!  Too often,  bonsai hobbyists get arrogant and get confused between the number of years that they have been growing bonsai and claim they may have "twenty years of experience"  when they really mean they have been growing bonsai for twenty years.  But because they stopped learning after the first year, they really just have one year of experience twenty times!

                   I hope I never stop learning and privileged to have been in contact with some of the top bonsai masters of the past generation. I've had the privilege of having contact with some of the most active bonsai hobbyists.  I appreciate Jerry Meislik and the members of the study group.  I have high hopes for Ryan, Russ, Ron, Travis, and others who are joining. Ryan has learned a lot in his two visits to Fuku-Bonsai and I'm delighted that others are scheduling visits.  I hope everyone continues to share what they know as we create a "Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai" community and that others who have strong interest will join us!

                 ~~~David  (

***  Return to the June 2013 issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
***  Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
***  Go to Fuku-Bonsai website
***  Go to Ryan Chang's portal page
       © Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013