COMMENTS BY DAVID:   Every so often I receive an email from a person who really wants to learn and who can communicate well in both photos and narrative.  Russ Mann impressed me in this way as I tried to improve the "Fast Track Study Group" that I began with Ryan Chang.  He first contacted me on March 6, 2013 that he was interested in training, and had gone to school in Hawaii.

               I told him of the two groups being formed and after seeing the above photos of his two bonsai, I recommended he start with the basic group so I can help him get a strong basic understanding. He agreed and joined the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and three Introductory Workshop Packages were sent, but with significant and more complex goals.   The Introductory Workshop Package was originally designed in 2007 to teach one basic beginner bonsai class that resulted in a potted "short and stocky" upright tree in what we call "Sumo styling."  

               Within two weeks,  he ordered three IWP sets, it was shipped and received, and he completed all three!  Sumo is our basic styling here at Fuku-Bonsai because short and stocky plants are ideal for our Hawaiian Lava Planting specialty gift items.  The "Fast-Track Study Group" was envisioned to begin with three each Introductory Workshop Packages which is a very economical and cost-effective opportunity as with three going to one address,  free shipping would provide exceptional value.  But I wanted to give a larger range of instruction rather than only three versions of sumo. 

             The first would be a "standard Sumo" with a brief update of modifications planned for the instruction sheet.  After taking photos, sending captions, and obtaining a critique,  we would move to "Roots", then to a "root-over rock."  We talked by phone, his plants arrived on March 13, and we began the next day!


March 14, 2013

          My kits arrive! I am so excited to start!!   Wires installed in tray



          Coarse bottom set in hill form and 1/2 of body media set in place around.  Note plastic separator installed on top of hill media.


         Accent rock installed in roots, held in place with rubber band.

        NOTE FROM DAVID:  I had clued Russ in on two different ways to use the accent rock.  He could either tuck it under the roots to help add bulk to the root buttressing or place it partially over the least interesting part of a trunk.  Secure it snug with either thread or the rubber band.  He did a nice fit to start visualizing a scene to help him train in the future!

          Close up of rock in root, snug and ready to go!

           NOTE FROM DAVID:  Russ used the method by Ryan Chang to create a root collar with aluminum foil, then pack media from the bottom between the roots until full.  Add all loose media removed from the plant into the pot, cover the bottom of the foil, turn upside down and position in the pot.  Tie down with tie-wire. 


          View of my new "SUMO" bonsai.   The instructions are good, some areas I had a little difficulty, on Ryan's review he had the aluminum foil upside down and filled with media, on your instructions it didn't indicate that. Said to pile media and add foil after. A note on fertilizer already in media would clarify.

         NOTE FROM DAVID:  I recommended rolling down the top foil to the top of the roots and flaring so easily add water;  trim off some older leaves to off-set lost roots,  add 1/4" holes 1" apart for air circulation, then water saturate for 30 minutes once per week to include spooning some water into the foil area.

         How is this? Moved the foil down, firmed the hold down wire, trimmed some and added holes to foil.

         I am ready for "Roots" if you agree.  Mahalo, Russ



        NOTE FROM DAVID:  Russ did very well and it is apparent that he had gone through the various workshop stories on the website and had selected some techniques to use.  This is the first time that I instructed "ROOTS" with an Introductory Workshop Package as follows.  IWP can be used to start a good future Roots.  There are a few major things to remember that are different from sumo: 

        1)  You need to totally tease apart all roots without stripping the media off.  Try to keep as much media hanging on to the root hairs but get all hanging down untangled. Lay down and cover with removed media while you construct the foil column collar.

       2)  Tear off an aluminum foil section about 2 1/2 times as long as your proposed root height.  If you want it  4 inches, tear off10". Fold in half to 5".  Starting from one end, make 1/2" accordion folds the entire length of the foil. Spread it out a bit and add a mixture of coarse bottom/body mix over the foil about 1/4" thick.  Place untangled plant on the media with the start of the roots about 1" down from the end of the foil. Sprinkle some media between the roots and on top. Lift the two sides of the foil and join to create a column and gently squeeze the column,  tightening up at the top of the roots enough so no media escapes from the top, then turn bottom side up.

        3.  Use a chopstick and tease the roots toward the outer edges of the foil and add some media in the center and push in with your finger to firm roots against the foil.  The goal is to firm the column, but to increase the diameter a bit as you go down to what will be the bottom.  Fill to the end.  Then place chopstick 1" to 1 1/2" deep and further flair the bottom about the same shape of your hill.  Fill with media, place hand on bottom, turn over, and position on the hill.  Firm down and secure in place with wire ties going completely over the plant and secured down.  

             Generally, your longest lowest branch would be over the widest part of the pot with the entire tree a bit off-center.  If you have a fair idea,  start on Roots #2, but email if there are questions.  ~~~David  



March 15, 2013

        David, here is the report on Roots.  Photo #1:  all ready to start! this is exciting, I hope to have this one resemble a banyan in California, one in city of Orange, planted around Yin Ching restaurant !!!

        DWF:  Russ,  any chance you can get a photo of that tree to include in the article?


           The tray ready to go, note hill toward center;   also the "plastic separator,"  folded two times to "crown" the hill for water disbursement.

        DWF NOTE:  The plastic separator guarentees that the area below will never clog to assure good drainage. At this point,  pour enough body media around the hill and tamp down firmly with the empty pot.  Later, add all media removed from the root ball.



           Removing media and teasing the roots out.  I may be to worried about being gentle with the roots.  I worry about the health of my new bonsai and I hope this to be a long time Friend!

          DWF NOTE:  The concept of ROOTS requires that the roots visually all flow downwards and it is necessary to untangle and get roots pointing down without overly crossing.  So most of the media must be removed, but try to keep as much attached to the root hairs as possible rather than stripping the roots totally bare.

         Roots ready for the next step.  I prepared the aluminum foil root holder before starting to remove the media to minimize time the roots are bare.

          DWF NOTE:  Notice that the roots are in the form of the former pot.  Gently bend the center lower half of roots down and more compact and loosely tie with cotton thread or string that will rot off.  Then bend the top roots and tie to the root mass so roots are generally facing downwards.  Tuck some coarse bottom media in the root ball to fill out the lower areas a bit more than the part near the trunk.

          Setting my tree in its new "training" home.

         DWF NOTE:  Place a layer of body media and set the plant on it with the point where the trunk meets the roots about 3/4" from the top of the foil.  Add a bit more to cover the roots, and as you bring up the two sides of the foil,  add some media on each side so there is media around the entire roots so when the foil column is formed,  the column will be slightly wider at the bottom than the upper part.  This will create a more visually stable appearance when the roots form and the foil removed.  

            After fitting with media added to foil, I filled the center - ready to place and wire into the tray.

           DWF NOTE:    At this point, insert a chopstick down into the middle of the root mass and turn to open up an "air cone" in the center to force the roots to the outside of the foil.  Push down with your finger and add more media to the center.  Repeat and complete filling the foil cone. 

             I used one of the plastic bags supplied with my kit, under my tree to hold media in place and turned it right-side up;  then placed the tree in an appealing setting.  then slipped out the plastic bag.  It worked great!

             DWF NOTE:  Russ, that's a good idea!  I was struggling with the looser 1:10 Project and your temporary plastic "positioner" should work well to give more control. 


             My new "Roots" Bonsai.  I trimmed slightly and added some twist tie for more sturdy fit.  I then watered my new "roots."

             David, please check this over and let me know if it looks OK, I felt better on this one, I hope it meets with your approval !!   Mahalo,  Russ



         NOTES FROM DAVID:  I am delighted to see this report and progress.  Note that the first Sumo report was completed in one day including several exchanges of emails. This second Roots report was also done in one day with just a single email providing instruction for creating Roots with an Introductory Workshop Package.  We sometimes teach this at Fuku-Bonsai but the IWP cultural sheet only covers how to do Sumo styling. 

            In my opinion in bonsai, there's really no right and wrong. It is the most important for the trainer to be very comfortable with their vision of the tree.  The final creation will be a collaboration by the owner-trainer and the tree and the trainer must be in charge!  There is a conflict with one of Fuku-Bonsai's primary guiding design principles.  We emphasis that the dominant growth faces upwards based on the theory that the thickest part of the tree is the oldest. It began naturally growing upwards as there was nothing to cause it to lean over.  What ever caused the top to lean over would likely also cause the bottom root-trunk to also lean. Or,  slant the root section to the left which will bring the heaviest part of the tree aiming upwards and that will also work.  But the most important factor is that there's no right or wrong and that Russ should create and build the story of his friend!


            In creating this "FAST-TRACK" lesson series,  I included a rock so Russ could do a "Root-over-Rock" exercise.  It's really not too different from  a standard roots workshop.  You bare-root in the same way and generally figure out where you want to position the plant.   I learned more and learned faster when I began to teach and invited Russ to write longer captions to explain how to do a "Root-Over-Rock" styling and the following is his report. 


WITH IWP - March 16, 2013

            I started by studying all component's in kit, especially the "rock" for character and anything that would be pleasing to the eye. I want to create a scene that will endure for a long time. Also making sure to have anything as far as tools and supplies that will be needed to complete the transformation in as short a time as possible.

          I installed the tie-wire,  built the coarse hill, folded and inserted the plastic separator to ensure proper drainage, added about 1/2 of the regular media to the tray, then set the prepared pot aside.

            Next I gently removed the tree from its old home, by gently pulling and slightly rocking side to side. When it loosens up it slides free easily. I use a large paper plate under the tree when removing the media,very slowly starting at the center bottom.

              I use a chop stick, a small piece of firm wire and my fingers to remove most of the media. This is a most important part. Be patient and work slowly.  I enjoy taking time as you become more familiar with the root structure, noting what is there and how to make the roots fit over the rock. The paper plate will collect all the media you remove to use later.

            I tried setting the tree on the rock length wise, just to experiment on the look. Some may like this look as its interesting. I think I would need a somewhat larger rock to work with.  Try different placements to see what appeals to you.

      ***  DWF NOTE:  At this point, I realized we had a problem as Russ somehow missed the need to build a sphagnum moss cushion around the rock!


            I decided to do upright position, the form of the roots and the shape of the rock is what I liked. Before setting the tree in place add sphagnum moss to the top of the rock, then add light media to build a cushion,  about 1/2 inch thick.

        DWF NOTE:  The entire rock should have had several thin layers of sphagnum moss and body media secured against the rock with thread or a string that rots.  I'm afraid that Russ was not familiar with sphagnum moss and used something else.

          Then set into place and attach with light string, try to fit the roots in interesting ways and follow contours of the rock.

DWF NOTE:  This was good placement and would have been a good start if Russ had the spaghnum  moss cushion in place. His use of string to blend the plant and the rock was well done.  Note that the initial string had the string under the bottom of the rock and pulled the plant down securely to the rock.  Then he brought the larger roots tight against the rock, following natural creases in the rock.

           Gently tie with string in place.

DWF NOTE:  Blending the plant to the rock is the most difficult,  but by trial and error,  good placement merges the plant and rock into a single visual unit.  Then the challenge is to pot that unit in its most attractive location and position. 

           To make the aluminum collar, measure out twice the length of what you need, then fold to double the thickness. Make 1/8 inch air breathing holes about 1 inch apart. I made about 5 rows, then fold accordion style. Lay out the foil and add a thin layer of media.  I used a mix of the saved media and what was supplied. Gently wrap around and secure.  I used small strips of tape

         Place the tree on the rock into the  prepared pot.  I tried to place in a pleasing position.  I envisioned a lone banyan on a rock, majestic and imposing, perhaps near the ocean. 

DWF NOTE:  Russ used a plastic under the foil to prevent the media from falling out.  After it was  positioned in the pot, he pulled out the plastic.  This is a good idea that we will use.  In the past, we covered the  bottom with our palm, turned the plant over and roughly positioned it, then pulled away the hand to drop the plant into the pot, pressed down, and completed it.  Russ's way gives more control!  Good idea! 



         Next, secure to the tray with wires and/or string as needed. Then trim branches/leaves for good look,and this will allow roots to grow more vigorous.

         The final step is to water your new tree, submersion for 30 minutes, let set on plate to drain and place in good light source.   I recently bought an inexpensive temp and humidity gauge. I live in Montana and have to watch the weather.



        COMMENTS FROM DAVID:  Trying to teach by email is almost like a doctor trying to do a surgical operation without seeing the patient in real time.  As professionals,  we use some materials so often that we assume everyone knows what they are and apparently Russ was not familiar with sphagnum moss which led to the confusion above.  It is possible to successfully do a root-over-rock planting without the sphagnum moss layer, but we believe that it is the reason that we get almost 100% success. 

            We lost a day as Russ tried to find sphagnum moss in his area . There was some confusion as in one location the store had a package labeled "Green Moss" and we lost a bit of time as I was off-site when his emails came in.  But it was clarified when I received the photo below sent from his smart phone.  He obtained some and we began a "RE-DO"      

         DWF NOTE:   On Tuesday I received the following email: 

             David, I redid the roots over rock, using the moss and media as described in your email, I was a little confused on a few points in my first attempt. I took a number of pictures   Feel free to use them as you see best. I will describe my re-do and perhaps it may help others.


March 19, 2013

         After sharing my work with David, he pointed out a few things that needed attention. So here is what I did.  Removed the tree, foil and media.  David told me to separate the roots and lightly tie them lightly together in bundles and this helps when fitting over the rock. I added moss to the top, and media to make a nice "saddle" for the tree.

             Then added moss and media to cover the rock complete. Using the foil, folded accordion style, with breathing holes.

        Then reset the assembly in the tray, and secured with wires. IT looks much better to me !

         David pointed out a place to trim my new tree, to redirect the canopy. I never would have thought of this, it was scary to do ---  but what an improvement! l It looks so good! This is a benefit of having David's help!  As always, MAHALO!    Russ Mann

        PS:     I am looking forward to the next challenge:   Dragon, Hawaii style!


        DWF NOTE:  I pointed out to Russ that trees growing on rocks tend to be very compact and that the center of his tree should be reduced to encourage the lower branches to grow out.  There was new growth just above the two low branches and advised him to prune and to root the cutting which he did.  So Russ is starting another project and usually a cutting will root in 5-6 weeks. 

       Compare the right photo with the photo below which was sent earlier.  I asked Russ for a critique of the three IWP Fast-Track experience.




                My name is Russ Mann and I currently live in Montana,   I have been interested in bonsai for a long, long time. I tried to learn thru books and buying various trees over the years --- with some success --- a little bit anyway! My interest has been growing again lately, but I always felt there should be a better way to learn and experience good success.

               I came across a web site in Montana and there were links.  That's where I found Fuku Bonsai and "True indoor Bonsai!"  I was so excited!   I can grow house plants, so I read many articles and stories on the website.  It was filled with such good information, all given and shared!  I knew this was something I wanted to try as I went to high school on Oahu and Hawaii holds a special place in my heart. I called for direction on how to start, and to my surprise I was able to talk to a 50-year bonsai master! It doesn't get better than this!

               I started with the basic workshop package.  I knew this was the best way to learn, even though I wanted something bigger.  David explained what I should do, so I took his advice and here are my thoughts on this workshop.

              The package was very affordable, complete and had good instructions.  The instructions are being massaged as the program goes along. I called a few times after sending email and was getting answers by email as the phone was being answered!  I guess I can be impatient at times. 

              The Fast track is revolutionary in my opinion.  It give hands on experience and this is what we need.  What better way to enjoy and appreciate a beautiful bonsai? I can truly say my interest and enthusiasm is at an all time high! I cant wait for the next projects!  This is what I always needed, and I am sure there are many people out there that will agree. This is a way to truly enjoy and live Bonsai.   I can't think on any negative point to this concept.  I have told family and friends what I am doing, and they are showing interest as well!

             Perhaps a small U-Tube video might be of assistance. I hope I did OK!  I mean what I say.  This is truly an answer to something I always wanted, to not only take care of and mold my bonsai, but to really have a hand in their making!   Again MAHALO !! David and all the people at Fuku Bonsai!     Russ Mann

 PS:      We plan to visit this summer in mid July



             For future Fast Track 3-Kits,  besides a rock, I should include some sphagnum moss.  I'll try to condense my various updates regarding accent rocks and creating Roots and Root-Over-Rock into a separate additional sheet, and after a few trial runs,  will modify the primary IWP instruction sheets.  Initially my objective was to create a single sumo. I think the Introductory Workshop Package can also be used to create sumo, roots, and root-over-rock.  Additional information will be helpful for those who purchase a single workshop package or who take a class with an instructor.   

             The INTRODUCTORY WORKSHOP PACKAGE is a major breakthrough and the chances of success are greatly increased when it is a part of a 3-kit Fast Track True Indoor Bonsai Study Group!  This is the first fully vertically integrated system that combines the capabilities of two organizations.  Both Fuku-Bonsai and the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation are committed to preserving, promoting, and educating the art and culture of bonsai.  Fuku-Bonsai is a certified export nursery that ships to all states and the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation is committed to assist in education.  The cost to join a 3-kit Fast Track True Indoor Bonsai Study Group is $86.85 (3 x $24.95 + $12 MPBF membership with free shipping).  More information about the Introductory Workshop Package quantity discounts is posted at 

             For those who complete the Introductory Workshop Package (also known as Beginner Workshop I), the challenge is to learn to get superior growth.  Give it as much light as possible next to your sunniest window.  In dry climates, consider deeper humidity trays (like a 2" deep baking pan filled with 1/4" or 1/2" river pebbles with water below so the tops of the rocks are dry).  The bonsai is placed on the dry surface but the trees will love that extra humidity.  Water weekly by saturation for 30 minutes and after it almost stops dripping, place back on the dry rock surface.  

          Once you are confident of your ability to grow your first three bonsai,  the next step could be three 4LL8 (sumo, roots, and dragons and 3 each #8 Conversion Kits.  This is our Intermediate Workshop II. You can order one at a time or three to get free shipping.

          Russ did outstanding workshops and this was the first time I attempted to do Roots and Root-Over-Rock by advising and critiquing with email.  I'm impressed that even with the delay as he obtained needed sphagnum  moss and re-doing the Root-Over-Rock,  he completed three workshops within one week.  If individuals have sufficient confidence to proceed without an instructor alongside,  this form of instruction is very viable. Others will be starting with additional reports next month.  

          I recognize that the great majority of those interested in learning bonsai prefer to have an instructor.  To address this need,  we will continue to advise those who have been successful to follow the lead of Ron Davis in giving classes and forming a bonsai club.  Within a short time,  those who are doing "Fast-Track" bonsai like Ryan Chang and Russ Mann will likely along be comfortable teaching True Indoor Bonsai.  Others already associated with bonsai groups are joining our study groups with the goal of utilizing our Introductory Workshop Packages for classes sponsored by their bonsai clubs. 

         The goal is to have a qualified instructor teaching True Indoor Bonsai using our Introductory Workshop Packages in every city and region of the country!  I invite all who are interested to contact me at       ~~~David (March 19, 2013)   

***  Return to March 2013 Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai

***  Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website

***  Go to Fuku-Bonsai website

        Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013