DISCLAIMER:  It is impossible for a doctor to prescribe cures for a problem without examining the patient!  If it is an emergency,  a doctor needs to at least be given all facts accurately and be able to talk with a person able to give clear correct information.  I need clear photos!  I've come to accept that people interpret directions in their own irrational way!  We try to write the cultural information sent with each plant as clearly as possible.  But every so often I'm told that a plant is dying and when I ask how the plant is being watered, I'm told: "BUT I NEVER ALLOW THE PLANT TO DRY OUT AND IT'S ALWAYS SITTING IN AT LEAST 1" OF WATER!"

                Sometimes when it's obvious that a person is not following our directions, I'm told that so-and-so told them to do it that way.  It's frustrating when customers won't follow our cultural sheet but ask us for help after they followed poor advice and plants are dying.  It's really frustrating when non-customers try to get help with plants that Fuku-Bonsai does not grow and they've purchased from others!  THE BEST PERSONS WHO CAN HELP ARE THE ORIGINAL GROWERS, SO TRY TO OBTAIN THE CONTACT INFORMATION AND CONTACT THEM AS SOON AS YOU SUSPECT PROBLEMS!    Here's a good basic procedure for addressing problems.

        1.     POSITIVELY IDENTIFY THE PLANT VARIETY!  Each plant has different requirements regarding temperature range, water and moisture, light, fertilizer, etc. Take good photos and go back to where you purchased the plant or at least a local garden shop who will likely be more knowledgeable about plants sold in your area. 

        2.     TRY TO IDENTIFY WHEN PROBLEMS STARTED AND WHAT YOU DID THE MONTH OR TWO BEFORE THE PROBLEM STARTED.  Plants don't die quickly.  Most problems start a month or two before anything is noticed.  We generally get request for cold damage assistance in February or March.  That's about the same time that we get over-fertilizing problems as people recognize that their plants are not growing during winter so they fertilize heavily.  This is also the season that plants will start turning yellow and drop leaves as new leaves start to emerge in spring.  This is a natural pattern as plants react to higher temperatures and stronger light!

        3.     SOME PROBLEMS SEEM TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH DIFFERENT KINDS OF PEOPLE.   Men tend to forget to water and their plants dry up.  Notice that the trunk is really hard and shriveled forming vertical creases as the plant dried out.  Ladies tend to nurture, pamper, and fuss with plants and this often translate into over-watering.  Some offices and homes are very dark with no windows and very high ceilings with "romantic" light levels.  Plants generally don't grow well in caves and you need additional light to read,  I recommend having two or more plants and rotating them so only one is in the really dark area for a week or so.

          Dwarf Schefflera are tough plants and can recover from being badly underwatered. To test this theory, a plant was not watered for over one month as shown in the top photo.  The trunk, branches, and leaf stems are badly dried out and there are tiny vertical creases. New leaves are brown and leaves are drooping badly.     (NOTE:  This was first published in January 2012 and several trees exhibiting these symptoms have successully recovered and we are improving techniques)
          RECOMMENDATIONS: Soak in a pan of water with the water covering the rock. You'll note tiny air bubbles emerging as the water penetrates the rock and dried out media. Leave it soaking until the leaves perk up and the trunk, branches, and leaf stems are fully hydrated, firm, and the vertical creases have disappeared.

        There was no noticeable effect after one day of soaking. A little change was observed on the second day with a greater change on the third cay. By the fourth day, the plant was fully hydrated and all creases had disappeared. Leaves not able to recover had dropped into the water and remaining leaves perked up as shown in the third photo.  

         Within one week, a new leaf began to emerge from one of the branches and the plant recovered. Plants will loose leaves when cold damaged but most recover.  The major problem is when customers overwater and the roots and trunks rot. The trunk gets soft and mushy and its easy to peel off the bark.  Usually there's nothing we can do if it reaches that stage.

        We recommend soaking the plant for thirty minutes once per week, drain, and place it on dry gravel.  If you see white root tips, all is well, If root tips are black and rot, you're likely overwatering.


             The plant we picked out in May 2012 is dying and has been in bad shape for a couple of months. We just had our first newborn and we fear that we've not done enough soon enough. We've been watering weekly by letting the entire lava rock bed soak in tap water for 30 minutes. We added about ten of those white granules near the base of the planting in the lava rock. Attached are a few photos of the plant. We live in the metro Atlanta area and the plant had been sitting in the direct sunlight for at least three hours a day and it has been sitting in indirect outdoor light for the entire day that there's sunlight as it has been in front of a south facing window during that time. It has gotten noticibly less humid and colder here that last couple of months. Please let me know what I've been doing wrong and what I can do to save our plant. 
            We have a small dwarf schefflera lava plant from you that was shipped in May of this year. A few leaves were growing the first couple of weeks and months and seemed to be thriving in the hot and humid summer months. The roots underneath the rock used to be white tipped and healthy. They look brown and old now. I hope it is not too late. There have been maybe four to five new shoots with 6 to 7 leaves on each. But no new ones have grown for sometime now. The trunk looks shriveled. 
            Thanks.   Donald and Allison Lee of Decatur, Georgia  (December 22, 2012)

COMMENT FROM DAVID:  I asked Donald to take photos over an extended period and for permission to publish them to help others.  He agreed and did a great job!


         DECEMBER 22, 2012:  The tree had developed deep vertical creases on the trunk, branches, and even the roots!  Leaves were still green but a lighter and drier green.  I advised soaking the plant in water, and even placing the bowl of water within a sealed polybag to increase air humidity to take the load of the roots, to open and check it weekly. 



          On February 11, 2013, I received this email  along with the photo at left:

         After much soaking and using plastic bags, your suggestions have made the creases disappear! Thank you!

       On June 26, 2013, I received the photo at right showing the plant completely recovered!  I've come to realize that Dwarf Schefflera are much tougher than expected and about as good as it gets to become a survivor!  Part of this is because we don't pamper our plants and this may improve the survivability.  But we now know that if trunks, branches, and roots are shriveled and underwatered, that it is very possible to use the first aid procedures described above.  Mahalo Donald!

        If you have problems with our plants that seem to be different from what is described here, please take clear photos and email with a detailed description to  and I'll try to help you.  We want our plants to bring joy and for everyone to be successful!



                The late Dr. Horace Clay was Hawaii's favorite radio horticultural personality who had a loyal following.  He took groups throughout the Pacific on plant tours,  especially to Japan where he loved the people and customs.  He was the president of the Hawaii Bonsai Association, a good friend, and a founding director of Fuku-Bonsai Inc. in 1985.   Horace tried to teach us that there really are no secrets and once you find something that works, stay with it!

                The amount of improvement that you can get by nit-picking the details usually isn't worth the effort. Learn solid basics well and you really don't need all these "miracle costly plant items!"  If your plant is happy, smile and move on.  If it's not, figure out what's wrong, fix it, smile and move on.  Horace enjoyed life and people and after you've been around him awhile, you'd know the answers to his radio show questions.

                He'd listen very carefully to each person calling in to ask a question and sometimes he'd ask a follow-up question to get a better handle of the situation.  It got to a point that no matter what the details,  if the subject was fertilizer,  Horace's recommendation was always use 10-30-10!  These were for vegetables, lawns, fruit trees, orchids, and bonsai!  He taught Hawaiian gardeners to use the fertilizers properly, to be sure to water it in.  Each caller got personal attention and the same advice!  In those days, I'd get a little irritated hearing the same questions.   But Horace was a very gracious person who reminded us that although we've heard the same questions thousands of times,  it's the first time for the person who asked the question! 

(NOTE:  In those days, Dr. Clay was almost always talking about OUTDOOR plants and 10-30-10 made sense.  Outdoor sun is 6,000 to 8,000 foot-candles and the plant needs a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus.  But indoors,  you might get just 400 foot-candles within one foot of a window and that outdoor fertilizer is much too strong and releases too fast and will burn the roots of houseplants.  We recommend Nutrient Granules which has a NPK rating of 6-40-6 WITH AN ULTRA SLOW ONE YEAR RELEASE!  This is the only fertilizer of its type and we repackage to make it available to our customers.)

                I try to remind myself of this whenever I'm answering emails requesting help!  But I don't always have Horace's patience so I usually ask people to send me the information that would go on the REQUEST FOR INFORMATION FORM.  Without that a minimal email doesn't even tell me from where the question is coming. 

                But I really enjoy email exchanges,  especially with bright and interesting people like Ron, Jerry, and others who develop pages on this website.  They enjoy learning and are willing to share their experiences to help others.  I don't have the time to run a moderated chat group and would go crazy if I encouraged and had to answer the same questions every day!  So I'm letting everyone who reads this on my secret.  If you read the key stuff, you'll pretty much know the problem and the solution and so most of the emails are now more fun.  Like the late Dr. Horace Clay,  I can share the basics and the simple things that work.  Here's one you should consider as it has a lot of applications.


                This recommendation came up as:


        2.     "Helping a plant acclimate."

        3.     "Reducing load on root-damaged plants that have been under watered."

        4.     "Emergency first aid for over-fertilized plants whose roots are dying."

                If you don't know, try this first and contact me as soon as possible!  I believe this works because it provides a very stable environment.  Keep it in a warm area with bright indirect light.  But besides first aid,  this technique is great for rooting cuttings.  See Loredana's page.

                A VACATION HINT: Here's an alternative to depending upon the neighbor's kid to keep your plants alive. Build a giant high-humidity chamber in your bathroom.  Seal the drain. Tape clear plastic film over the bathtub or shower stall.  Leave an opening to load your plants. Place them on over-turned food storage plastic containers to keep them above water.  Close it up air-tight with tape, leave the lights on,  and go off for a month!  It's works, but I still haven't received photos to share with readers!


This series of articles will attempt to explain the various factors affecting plants.  This will continually be amended to include recommendations or suggestions of how to improve your environment to get the best possible growth. Continue to:

               *     Bugs, Insects, & Other Critters
***  Return to July issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
***  Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website

          *** Return to Fuku-Bonsai home page   

                    October 2002, June 2012, June 2013     Fuku-Bonsai Inc.  & Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation