By Ryan Chang (Waipahu, Oahu, Hawaii) and Bryan Foster (Mililani, Oahu, Hawaii)
September 22, 2014
                     Bryan contacted me for some help with his IWPs. He has been doing bonsai longer than me and we are the same age. So I was curious to know more about his bonsai interests.  I invited him over during my only free time this month.  He mentioned that he lived just a town up north in Mililani, and he lives very close to one of the golf courses there, which is a little ironic because that's where my bonsai awakening began with the passion fruit I picked at that golf course. 

                     I explained to Bryan that in the beginning of 2013 I had started growing my trees, and had to think a little bit about how long its been because its seems like time had just flown by.  I'm already well into my 2nd year and soon it will be my 3rd.  I donít consider myself a bonsai enthusiast, but if you visit my yard,  even Bryan noticed and commented that its shifting to a Penjing style.  In China there are Penjing schools in almost every district and as many styles. 

                     After he had a chance to look around, I asked Bryan what did he have in mind.  He explained the basics, and it looked like we were going to do a root-over-rock for his.  I was going to do a standard roots to show him another way of potting up roots for dragon training later.  Bryanís tree is on the left, and Ryanís is on the right.


          I wanted Bryan to watch me first instead of following along because I didnít want him to miss any details.  I showed him how to correctly remove the media from the tree using a single root rake.  Motion is from the top work your way from the outside in towards the trunk until all media is removed, but for sumo no need to remove this much.    I then showed him how to hold the aluminum collar upside down to add more media and to tape the cone shape at this point before tying to pot, using masking tape.  Continue to add media until nice and compact since we werenít doing any major bends.


            Bryan helped me out with holding the tree down, while I secured the tree to the pot.  However, there was still a lot of slack when pushing down and wiggling the tree, so I added another layer of finer media to help lock in and firm up the media in the pot where the roots will reach.  I also topped it off with sphagnum moss after Bryan left just to keep the media from splashing out when I water it.  I also then managed the slacked areas by looping and pulling, and I explained to Bryan that this method will be common and he should remember it, and I made sure he did it on his own to get him comfortable with it.



       Bryan did a good job following directions and removed the media properly.  Bryan asked about trunk thickness and how to achieve it.  He knew to put in the ground or to use bigger pots. I showed him a few of my trees that I had heavily reduced to thicken the trunk.  Major reductions encourages lower growth. I kept telling Bryan to look at the bottom and how thick it was getting.  One day when its thick enough, Iíll go in and remove all but a few low growing branches and that will be the new tapered trunk.  Iíll only leave a few to create character, otherwise, it will be a boring tapered trunk.
          Bryan had a really nice pre-sculpted rock from his IWP package.  I showed him the seat that was carved out and that the bulk of the roots can sit there. He was intrigued by trees that grew on cliffs and showed me by holding the rock up flattish and with the tree being mounted on top.  I told him to hold it right there --- donít move the tree --- but try this. Tilt the rock vertical and look at it now! Isnít that more exciting! He said, now that you pointed it out, yeah! Bryan did a good job situating the tree just off the side of the top of the rock.  It reminds me of the tall and skinny Penjing rocks with tree roots wrapping around in the channels.  The foliage looking out past the rocky edges as if it were dancing around the rock and reaching for the stars.


          Forming the foil collar was a bit more difficult than usual because of the way we had the tree on the rock, but for the health and strength of the tree.  I recommended that we plant the tree with the foliage facing up, so that the strongest growing branch is on top.  Then after a year, we can stand it up vertically because the roots will have grown nicely against the rock, and Bryan can choose how he wants to pot it up.  In this picture, he is taking his time adding body media, nutrient granules, and more body media.  We used my supply, so he can compare against Davidís.  I also gave him extra to use in case he needs it.  Here he is dabbling down to make body more compact so roots grow strongly.



           Teaching Bryan was a breeze and he follows instructions very well compared to others.  Others tend to rush and want to get to the end even before we begin.  Bryan was patient and asked questions; we often took breaks and I would show him rather than just trying to answer his questions.   We got along well. Bryan not only shares a similar name, but is the same age and is part of a Filipino family too. Here Bryan is tying the tree to the pot, taking care of the slacked areas and pulling and tightening.  Note: the body looks a little wide because the rock is tilted to allow the tree to grow at its full strength.  We packed the media enough to encourage healthy growing roots that will wrap or support the rock.



      This post-workshop picture shows two ways of doing roots, straight roots or root-over-rock. Bryanís will eventually be more exciting than mine because his tree will be on a cliff. In the future,  I may restyle into a mini Dragon. Even then it will be hard to compare it to a nice mini vertical rock planting.  Bryan is aiming for a 6Ē-8Ē future potting up.  He may have to increase the amount of rocks used in the future planting for best display, and if so, Iíll try to assist if he has any questions.   As for me, my tree will be in a growing-on stage for the next year or so. It will be kept as a mini tree.  Otherwise it would have been potted into a full or half flat.





                I was very pleased with Bryanís well done project.  I can't wait to see how it will turn out in a year.  Iíll gladly assist Bryan again if he ever has any questions or just wants to drop by and check out the trees.  He even got me interested in cactusí.  He has a few books on them and told me how he grew one on a ship during his travels in the Navy.  It was good to meet someone my age who is very different than me, but shares the same hobby.  Iím sure Bryan will do very well with his Dwarf Scheffs as he's not the timid type and will do some gutsy stuff in the future. 


              What normally would have taken about 45 minutes to an hour for a usual workshop, 2 hours had flown by.  I had forgotten to tell Bryan we need to hold the tree up by the branches for this picture.  However, during watering I accidentally knocked them over, and no damage done.  Bryan jokingly commented good thing its tied down tightly. Now he knows one of the reasons why it needs to be strongly secured to the pot.  Otherwise, it would have loosened and we would probably have to repot it to secure it again.  This was a successful effort.    Note: I had Bryan put some holes after.     - - - Ryan Chang




               Working with Ryan was a true pleasure. I really like his laid back approach to bonsai care and he is VERY experienced with the material. It's one thing to read the Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai Journal but it's something quite different to get someone  one-on-one with as much experience as Ryan. Some of the key takeaway points i learned from Ryan follow:
         1.   Find what type of water/fertilizer schedule works for your area. Ryan has played a lot with this and i think he is on to something.

         2.  Over watering is just as bad as under watering. Dwarf Schefflera is an extremely hardy plant but signs of overwatering are harder to recognize until it's too late.

         3.   Pack the media around the plant as tightly as possible. He showed me that no matter how tightly you think its packed, more could always be added.

         4.   The most "natural" position for your plant may not always be the most interesting. 

         5.    In the end, this is YOUR self expressive art form. Make it your own. We put so much stock in what everyone else thinks, but we're the ones who have to look at it every day, care for it, and make it thrive.
                As i said above, working with Ryan was awesome as we had a lot in common. Being able to look at all his material in different stages of training was almost as valuable as the lesson we did with my IWP material.  
   - - - Bryan Foster




              This has been a very interesting month!  In addition to new study group members,  this is the second story of two study group members getting together to share ideas, and increase their enjoyment of bonsai.  Congratulations on getting together!  I look forward to both of you continuing to make progress!  When we first began the Journal in January 2013,  the great majority of Fuku-Bonsai customers grew our True Indoor Bonsai indoors throughout the year.  Ryan was the first and most enthusiastic Hawaii hobbyist developing a large collection growing outdoors throughout the year. 


             There are a growing number who are growing our True Indoor Bonsai outdoors for most of the year. Jay Boryczko in Michigan has reported really great growth and development with his True Indoor Bonsai outdoors when night temperatures are above 55įF and indoors under a metal halide light on a ceiling track during cooler seasons.  I am receiving reports that Dwarf Schefflera have been left outdoors when temperatures dropped well below 55įF for a single night but seems to have suffered no damage. 


             I think 55įF is a good safe guideline for bringing trees indoors in colder climates as winter approaches.  In the coming year,  I hope to learn more from those growing our True Indoor Bonsai outdoors and we are getting more reports out of California, Texas, and Florida.  In the states that get hotter than Hawaii, there have been reports of very hot weather and plants being brought indoors to escape that summer heat. But there seem to be no casualties from the heat although our plants turned yellow and leaves burned when our shadehouses got ripped up in tropical storm Iselle.  But no casualties and plants come back green once the shade cloth is repaired.  I, too, am convinced that Dwarf Schefflera is a tougher plant than more realize and over watering is the cause of a lot of the problems. 


              Burton Flake (formerly with the Navy in Bahrain and now of Mesa, Arizona) has gotten together with Paul Bakerman of Phoenix, Arizona and they will both be here at Fuku-Bonsai as Paul will again be competing in the Kona Ironman Triathlon.  An additional article by Burton and their Hawaii workshops will be in the November Journal.  I'm sure that these meetings will become much more common as our Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai community grows.  ~~~David


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