By David Fukumoto and Ryan Chang

              The December 14, 2013 visit was planned from a while back.  Ryan was making exceptional progress and each time he visited, his knowledge base took a large leap as we cleared things that were not easy to communicate via email.  On this trip there were several objectives:


      1.    A REVIEW OF ROCK SCULPTURING & PLANTING CONCEPTS.  Ryan had mad strong progress on rock sculpturing since his last visit in July.   I also asked him to bring with him a recent effort for us to plant to be a part of the Fuku-Bonsai Collection so we would be able to gauge his progress over the years.  He brought with him "MAN THINKING BONSAI!" 


        Ryan with "MAN THINKING BONSAI" attached to a shallow 12" diameter x 1.25" deep 1:10 Project saucer along with a small bonsai selected for the planting.  The plan was to set it behind the "rock" and facing the man with the roots growing outwards to the side and back.

         The plant was partially bare rooted, a small portion of the original rock trimmed off and the plant fitted low. The key to our "root-over-rock-into pot" method is creating a very generous number of root trails for the roots to enter the potting media in the container, but in a manner that the shallow containers drain well to promote strong growth.

          Two types of wires are used.  Bonsai aluminum wire is set up so it can be easily removed when no longer needed. The first one goes around the base of the plant area and in and out of the bottom drain holes so there are several such wires going up and down.

          Then thin paper covered bind wire is made into a network horizontally and sphagnum moss inside the wire network will hold media in place as it is dibbled between the rock and the wire network.  This is finished with finer aggregate, then an organic rich topping layer that will promoted hair roots. 

          The planting was done in just a few minutes and the photos show that it is attractive from different viewing positions.  There was a detailed review of how to properly install the aluminum foil collar and to make a large number of air holes.  In 2-3 months, fine hair roots will colonize the surfaces and a few months later, thicker roots will develop to be followed by still heavier "permanent" roots that will continue to thicken. 

          "MAN THINKING BONSAI"  is a nice new addition to the permanent Fuku-Bonsai Collection!


         As David and I got started on “Man thinking bonsai”, it was drizzling and cool, the sun had yet to show itself, but was a perfect morning for a bonsai attack.  I watched David inspect the rock and figure out where the best place for the small dwarf schefflera was to go.  After partially bare rooting it, he wiggled it into place after carving out a special seat for the tree. 

         I don’t learn from reading too well.  I’ve always been the type that learns best by watching and doing, then I can comprehend what is being done.  So, this was a good time for David to go over a few things that I didn’t quite understand or wasn’t doing a proper job of. 

       Starting with building the wire network, I was fascinated with how easily structured the thin bonsai wire and the way he secured the plant made much sense.  The use of the paper covered  bind wire to create a network works brilliantly.  It is easy to grasp the concept, but is rather difficult task to master it if not shown how to properly do it.  So after my pitiful attempts to mimic it at home, I was now confident that I will be able to properly build wire networks on my own in the future. 

       Before my visit, David would constantly advise me to improve the quality of my aluminum collar.  I didn’t quite know what he was talking about as I watched him prepare another collar.  I was following along thinking to myself I do everything correct except for the actual applying the collar.  David takes his time where as I tend to rush and execute a fair, but not the best I could do type of collar.  I noticed that he gets a little more elegant towards the top conforming to the shape of the base roots instead of flaring out.  Again, now I feel I am prepared for my next battle with the aluminum collar. 

        I was honored when David mentioned that he wanted to keep one of my rock sculptures in Fuku Bonsai’s permanent collection.  I wanted to make sure it was a good one, and proud to say that its my best one so far, and I’m thrilled to see it displayed amongst its brothers, in a way, "MAN THINKING BONSAI!" made its way back home. 


     2.   BASIC PRUNING FOLLOWING FIRST GROW-OUT AFTER PLANTING.  Fuku-Bonsai's bonsai development strategy is to first create controlled growth in small containers until there's character within one inch of the soil line and a compact shallow root system.  When done properly, each prepared stock has high potential and small stock becomes good small bonsai --- then good medium bonsai --- then good large bonsai. 

           Generally when we are creating large complex bonsai, we use larger full-size bonsai rather that small trees that would take many years to build out. These larger full-size bonsai already have trunks with character and a lot of branches.  Once planted,  they are allowed to "grow-out" without any attempt to do refinement training. So the trees grow strongly!   The concept of this larger bonsai is that older bonsai are planted where normally a large bonsai would have a major branch.  So this is a composite bonsai made up of several trees that will enlarge, grow together and eventually appear to be a single tree.  Over time, the rotted trunk will fall away and the "trunk" will be made up of roots that have intertwined within the rotted log to be a solid "root-trunk" that can support the rest of the tree.            

          By allowing vigorous grow-out,  the trunks and branches thicken and stronger roots develop.  This first pruning session following the first grow-out sets the strategy for completing the bonsai.  This tree is named "HANALIKE II"  and several older trees were assembled on to a rotted log during Ryan's May 2013 visit and that report is posted at  There was about 6 months of grow-out to learn basic pruning of older assembled plants.  
           We generally start at the lowest branch which in this case is the lowest tree.  The lowest portion is encouraged to grow outwards, but with each pruning, only a short new section is added. 

          Following these principles,  each tree is pruned to grow in a manner that the shape will be a larger beautiful bonsai.  Normally, the growth at the top is the most vigorous because it has access to the most light. So in planting we place the largest trees in the positions of the bottom branches as we know the top and middle sections will catch up.   

        Ryan is shown with the pruned tree with what many would consider the "back side" of the future bonsai.  The current "front" features portions of the rotted trunk.  But as this rots and fall away, the "back" side will increasingly become more attractive.

        The tree will be allowed to grow out for several months at a time, then pruned back, adding a few inches to it's width but little or no addition to it's height.  Note that the rock that supports the lowest tree is already developing greater character and aerial roots to help to create a visually wide trunk base.      


          The lesson on the basic pruning using the massive HANALIKE II was a daunting task --- at least so I thought until David  breezed through a lesson of basic pruning.  He made very easy to understand and in a very few minutes I had completely shaped the whole tree! 

         I think that most beginners really want to cut and shape their tree and as they watch their bonsai develop.  David heightened my spirits when he mentioned that it could be pretty much close to finishing and that one option would not allow it to grow-out again. Instead it would enter a "refinement stage" in which new growth will be continuously shaped in order to keep the foliage in desired proportions. 

         But if the objective was to create a much larger wider fuller foliage crown (without increasing the height)  the tree would be allowed several more major grow-outs to steadily add a few inches with each cycle until the desired size is achieved.  The tree would then enter the "refinement stage."

         I thought to myself, this could apply to all sizes.  If one wanted a small bonsai and to keep it small --- then keep it small  ---   SIMPLE!

        When you want it to be a larger bonsai, you allow it to grow-out until the desired size. Then massively reduce as we did here.  Continue to cut whenever it gets beyond its desired size and shape! 

        I think I may try to keep a few small bonsai small, and will work on creating larger bonsai trees to be able to reach this point on my own.  I’m very intrigued to see how the tree's rotted trunk rots away while the bonsai’s roots merge to become its new trunk.  It will be interesting and totally awesome!


 3.   PARTICIPATING IN CREATING A 360° COMPLEX LANDSCAPE:  "THE WORLD OF BONSAI ALOHA!"    This is an innovative planting utilizing a rare form of Hawaiian lava.


           I feel I learned a lot from my trips to Hilo and the Big Island --- not just to Fuku Bonsai --- but from everything in between.  I learned patience.   I am usually up around 24 hours whenever I travel to visit.   I hit a 2nd wind when I return home and spend hours in the dark with my bonsai. 

           As the saying goes,  "Patience is a virtue!"   I like to think of the quote below to say that bonsai has had a profound impact in my life. Substitute "apple tree" for “bonsai tree” in any case --- they both make sense to me.  Have a good and happy new year all, with many blessings! 

          - - - Ryan   (                    

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree”.  -Martin Luther (

***  Return to the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai
***  Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
***  Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
        ©  Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014