"SKINNY SUMO;"   a second IWP sumo report
By Ryan Chang, "novice-in-training"  (Waipahu, Oahu, Hawaii) 

             Sumo has a short, wide foliage crown and thick trunks.   Looking at my tree, I am pleased to see there are a lot strong areas as well as weak ones.   The foliage is narrow and tall and growing in one direction.  I'll have to sprout new growth in the opposite direction, while keeping the existing growth.

               In my first completed attempt I planted the sumo too high and tried to tilt the tree.  This didnít work well.  This re-do attempt will try to correct mistakes. I plan to move the rock to the weaker area of the tree next to the smaller branch.  In my first effort, the roots did not touch the media in the pot.  Iíll fix that by creating the hill with the media in the pot and plant the tree directly on that hill and let the roots grow into the pot.   I also plan to place the tree without the tilt, try to widen the foliage, and encourage growth in all directions.  In this way, in the years to come,  the skinny sumo will become a heavy stout-trunked sumo. 

              I removed the tree from the pot and untangled the roots to spread them for outward growth.  This time it became apparent to me that the best location for the accent rock would be under the smallest branch. I also will plant the tree straight up because it gave the tree a chance to become closer to the sumo that I am imagining in my head.  

              For this sumo, I keep thinking of Ala Moana beach park which has many banyan trees.  Going to the beach was fun while I was growing up.  My grandpa took my cousins, brother and I and we used to swing from the dangling roots.   This was the inspiration for this sumo.  Those trees had large trunks with foliage spreading wider than a house.   In the years to come, maybe some roots will fall from the branches to mimic those roots that we used to swing on.  I dedicate this bonsai to my grandfather. 

             Loosening the media around the base and tops of the roots was initially difficult as I didnít know how much roots to show and how much to loosen bottom roots.  I just kept in mind the need to make room for the accent rock.  I would place the rock in temporary positions then place them together in pot.  If the image didnít match the image in my mind,  I tried again until it felt right.  Letís get started!

             (NOTE FROM DAVID:  I think Ryan has exceptional potential and his first effort was a part of the premier issue of the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai.  It must have been so exciting for him and just a day later, I received photos and reports of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th plants!  I was upset, chewed him out, and demanded that he learn discipline to respect that he was working with choice plants, that his efforts were okay, but did not produce even a tiny percentage of the potential of his plants! 

             If that was to be his standard, he's not respecting the quality of the plants,  was extremely insulting to the efforts of the Fuku-Bonsai staff, and is wasting my time!  I forwarded a blistering email requiring redoing all four under a very strict set of procedures that required a pattern of study of the plant's good and weak features, how he would address them, developing a vision of the future tree BEFORE he started,  to keep thinking for a day or two or more of how he was going to accomplish each step of his training session,  then doing it with a photo and notes at each step. 

             The idea was to force Ryan to be able to identify and appreciate all of the character that has taken us two to four years to build into the prepared bonsai stock.  It's easy to focus on weak areas, but these are very young plants that are very affordable with high potential. If the plants were older and perfect, there's no way that Ryan could afford them.   Compared to plants that are totally untrained, Ryan's plants had huge advantages and development potential!

            To assess the potential of a tree, it must first be taken out of the pot and the media along the top 1/2" must be carefully removed with a nail, chopstick or pencil to expose the trunk and the tops of the roots.  Do not loosen the rest of the root ball and the plant should be like Ryan's photo #2, but with the rest of the root ball intact.  Here are features he should have noticed:

     1.  This is an optimum two-trunked tree of the best type with the two trunks connected at soil line with one larger than the other with a size relationship like a husband and wife.  The larger dominant trunk is growing straighter because it's older and grew without being shaded.  The main trunk already has a slight bend, has produced new primary apical growth in excellent position and the first primary branch, all within 1" of the soil line! 

     2.  The secondary trunk is smaller and a bit slanted because it developed and grew out from under the shade of the larger tree.  This second trunk already is in its 3rd or 4th stage of taper, having been trimmed and resprouted successfully. 

     3.   Even if you spent many days in many nurseries,  you would not likely ever find a Dwarf Schefflera that has this much character within 1" of the ground.  If starting with standard nursery stock, it is unlikely that a person with limited bonsai experience can ever create this much potential! 

          THIS TREE HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE AN OUTSTANDING 3" TALL BONSAI!  SMALL OUTSTANDING BONSAI CAN BECOME EXTRAORDINARY MEDIUM BONSAI AND EXTRAORDINARY MEDIUM BONSAI CAN BE COME MASTERPIECE QUALITY LARGE BONSAI! So Ryan needs to learn how to judge the potential of his plants and recognize that he's fortunate to have high-potential prepared bonsai stock!  He needs to realize that his future potential is limited by the potential of what he begins with and the value of starting with the highest possible quality starter stock!

          Part of the email exchange included information where he can obtain rolls of a raffia-colored paper covered thin iron tie-wire that we like to use and in his report, Ryan uses it.  This is handy and because the wire rusts away,  it does not need to be removed.  To his credit,  Ryan graciously accepted my recommendations and has greatly improved this report. He is well along in developing the discipline needed to do high quality bonsai and I have high hopes for him!    ~~~David



1.        I added wire to the pot from the bottom holes, added red course bottom to give contrast so you can see the plastic separator being half-covered by the body media.  I filled in the other half of body media then began to work on the tree.


2.         After loosening the media and showing and exposing the top of the roots; I marry the rock to the tree using raffia colored paper-covered wire.


3.         I placed the tree with rock pressed firmly into the hill formed by the body media to create the scene.


4.         I tied the tree down and kept tightening, adjusting, and tightened more until I was able to picked up the whole unit without movement of the tree.


5.         I added the rest of the media around the bottom of the rock and wrapped the tree with the aluminum foil collar as tight as I could.  I completed with some fine top dressing to seal the top of the collar.  The tree is now more upright, with the accent rock placed under the weaker branch to develop a heavier wider base and natural scene.   The leaves were trimmed to offset any root damage.

                   To sum things up, Iíve learned that no matter how confident you are it's best to follow directions and listen to the teacher.  Lol, school is in session, and Iím a humble student.  There are a lot of fine points. For example, the little details of where to place the tree or how much media to place in the pot because you end up needing a bit to dress the rock. 

                   Its best to do one project at a time and I'm beginning to see how much energy and work goes into each plant ---  and Iím only at the Introductory Workshop Package (Beginner Workshop I) level.  I did all 5 workshops with blind confidence and limited know-how.  If I had worked with David from the start, he would have been able to study the tree with me and give me profound insight on that particular tree and how to successfully get the most out of the tree. For example, I was using standard gardening wire to tie the tree down.  David recommended raffia colored paper-covered wire, I obtained some, and itís so much better.   Itís durable yet, I know Iím not damaging the tree because itís so light and maneuverable.  

                  After I finally decided that I was finished, I stepped back and stared at the completed version and it thrills me because I can now see what I want the tree to become and I hope I will develop the skill to get it there.   When I look at this tree, I smile because it feels like a day at the beach with my grandfather. 

                Aloha,  ~Ryan Chang


               FINAL COMMENTS FROM DAVID:  Ryan greatly improved with his techniques and reportage skills. His challenge is to now create vigorous growth to thicken the trunks and branches and to create secondary growth after the first major pruning that may be six months away. We'll work on his tree #3 next.

              Teaching bonsai by email is a major challenge, but I offered to assist Ryan because I saw the energy and enthusiasm of my youth.  He's not afraid to make mistakes and our challenge is to develop the basic necessary knowledge, skills, and discipline to first size up the potential of the plant and to establish a strategic game plan.  This requires taking the plant out of the pot,  carefully removing about the top 1/2" of media covering the bottom of the trunk to show the top of the major roots.  Do this without loosening the remainder of the root ball and after studying it, replace into the 2" pot until you detail and finalize the future design.

               The above report is a re-do as his first effort left a lot to be desired.  Prior to his redo, we exchanged emails to explain areas to improve and to clarify details.  But there's still room for improvement.  Ryan will make adjustments to this second report and proceed to his third Introductory Workshop Package (Beginner Workshop I) and it will likely be completed in time to include it into the second February 2013 issue of the Journal.  Completing the three sets of Beginner Workshop I level plants will give him a basic set of knowledge and skills.  Because he already is growing some bonsai, I am confident he has the cultural part under control. 

               Ryan indicated he's prepared to fly over to the Big Island and spend a day with me and we'll schedule it after he completes his third report.  I have in mind to set the bar higher and to introduce him to the challenges of our 1:10 Project that uses special shallow saucer-pots that is part of the in-house training for Fuku-Bonsai staff.  Currently we do not offer such workshop packages and the cultural sheets have not yet been written.  There is a possibility that "1:10 Project Workshop Packages along with individualized email instruction and assistance will only be offered to individuals like Ron Davis, Ryan Chang, and Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation members who are willing and able to participate by writing, photographing, and  allow publishing of their efforts to be shared with readers of the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai.

             "FAST-TRACK BONSAI" includes custom personalized assistance.  If you are interested, please email me at david.f@fukubonsai.com   It begins with the purchase of three Introductory Workshop Packages and a commitment to follow a disciplined route of pre-study, preliminary conceptual report,  photographing and making notes, and submitting a workshop report.  After critique and adjustments the same procedures will repeat for the second, then the third plant. 

              This offer is limited to those who are truly interested in learning and can handle candid and direct critiques with the objective of teaching the basics in one continuous short period.  It is not suitable for those who like to argue and do things their way from the start but there's no reason they cannot begin experimental trials later.  I hope others will utilize this opportunity to get started successfully and go on to a satisfying bonsai hobby career!  Congratulations Ryan!  ~~~David


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