TRAINING SEEDLINGS SECTION:
The seedlings are about 18 months old. For the last eight months, they've been allowed to "grow wild." Some think that this is not proper as seedlings in 5" square pots can grow to be 36" tall in 8 months in the tropics. That's what we want! We want trees to grow very strongly to develop a very strong root system, heavy trunks, and the energy to burst forth when growth is pruned back.
|This photo shows the effects of "pinching." My late friend and teacher Haruo Kaneshiro insisted that attention to pinching is the key to creating outstanding bonsai. When very young plants are pinched often, you'll produce very compact plants with a lot of branches (like the plant on the left). Infrequent pinching will create "average" bonsai stock like the one in the middle. If plants are hardly ever pinched, you'll get poor stock with no lower branches and poor taper like the tree on the right.|
|These three were trained from compact plants with a lot of branches that were pinched often. Note that branches are shortened, but there is no effort to select future major branches at this stage. The tree in the center could have been reduced by cutting off all growth above any of several branches to create a shorter, stouter, more interesting tree. The main growth of the tree on the right has been removed and a branch is being trained as the primary growth point. In this manner, the trunk develops exciting bends without wiring. This is "BUILDING" training|
|These two were from stock that had some pinching. The tree on the right is the same as the center tree in the first photo above. Branches were shortened but all were retained. The left tree was trained with wiring using our "loose heavy wire bed-spring method" which was developed to stay on the tree for a year or two without scaring the tree. Wire is applied with contact points only where bends are desired. This wiring technique is explained in more detail in WIRING II. Taller slender trees are usable in group plantings or shaped into slender, sparsely-branched trees such as those in Chinese landscape paintings.|
|This is the tall tree on the right in the top photo. Without branches on the lower part of the tree, we prefer to salvage just the stump of the trunk. Expose some roots then prune so the cut is almost vertical about an inch above the roots. Protect the cut with petroleum jelly. This plant will either die or throw out new growth. Because the cut is vertical, new growth will come out at different levels and the one on top will be the major new growth section. There will be an interesting bend and maybe a very low first branch. This is the basis for our "SUMO!"styling or "REDUCTION" training.|
|When plants are "topped" while young, several new growth point develop low as shown on the tree at back-right. At back-left, the center growth is left longest and other two cut to be a bit lower. This is the basic for training into the "tropical multiple apex-arch branch structure" that some people call "broom style." It's possible to also retain just a portion of the main growth point and prune off other growth. This will produce a tree with exceptional trunk bases and good taper.|
|When working with seedlings, don't automatically plant one seedling straight up into the pot. That's okay if you have a tree nursery. For bonsai, plant trees upright, slanted or even lying down. Plant two, three, four, or more trees together. Keep some straight and others curved. Try to create as much variety as possible. Can you create 50 different training concepts with 50 seedlings? Or would you rather have 50 bonsai that all look alike?|
|When trunks and branches are young and supple, it is easy to train them with string or paper-coated wire that will rust away and not overly scar trees. If you can create many multiple bends, the trees will be interesting even when young. But after you've gotten this many bends and you move into accelerated growth techniques, you'll have exceptional results. At Fuku-Bonsai, we call this "DRAGON!" styling or REARRANGING training.|
|In these examples a lot of work has been invested into training interesting, exciting root systems to compliment the DRAGON trunks. Based upon our initial study, training trees in this manner was a priority goal and the most exciting styling strategy. Look back at Jerry Meislik's fourth Water Jasmine bonsai and imagine the unique root systems being protected and being developed under the aluminum foil. Then imagine an exciting trunk and crown on top of that root system!|
|The front-right tree in the photo above shows the amount of training that this plant has received. Very early, the tree was partially pulled out and the bend in the main root created along with the bends in the lower trunk. A main branch was aggressively wired and bent. As it develops, it will thicken and form the basis for a complimenting foliage crown. Most of the original trunk was pruned off and this resulted in another bend and improved taper. If this tree was potted into a large, deep pot and allowed to greatly thicken, it could become an extraordinary bonsai!|
|This photo shows a trained root system before it being wrapped and protected from drying out with aluminum foil. Originally the seedling was partially pulled out and the roots protected with an aluminum foil cylinder with media and spaghnum moss. This helped to create long roots that were untangled, then aesthetically placed and tied. This is a variation of our "ROOTS!" styling. Note that a long branch is flowering. Keeping leaves on the end of branches help prevent branch die-back.|
|Three more trees with roots being trained and before the aluminum foil was put on. The top of the roots were compressed with plastic tie material to blend into the trunk. Further down, media and spaghnum moss were added to give the effect of a "root-taper." Trees that are pre-trained in this manner are ideal for rock planting as they will have heavy, long roots to go root over rock into pots. They will also be very attractive if the media between the roots can slowly be removed with the roots forming an exciting bonsai trunk design.|
|These two were trained with varying wiring techniques. The tree on the left has had the lower part of the trunk trained with heavier wire which continue on to training a branch. The remaining untrained portion of the original trunk was pruned off to improve the taper and interest. At right, a very low branch was tightly bent and most of the original trunk was pruned off. A wire is being used as a spreader to open up the tightly coiled branch. When these two trees are allowed to grow vigorously, the sharp bends will smooth out to form the basis for very attractive bonsai.|
These Water Jasmines are nearing the end of their first and most important phase of training in which some character and interest are developed. Too often hobbyists avoid this early training phase and instead wait until the trees are larger. By that time trunks are too thick to train and the results are often similar to the two low-quality trees in the first top photo. That's often the result of purchasing untrained plants from standard nurseries.
In contrast, nurseries that specialize in bonsai know that the first year of training is the most important! We grow millions of seeds and train them aggressively. Many cannot stand the stresses of training and die. We like to believe these are weak trees that would not have grown well. Not all trees become beautiful and many are culled and thrown away when they do not meet standards. For a nursery it is far less costly to reject and discard plants early rather than retain everything and have huge inventories of low quality plants.
When I began seriously studying bonsai in the early 1960's, a bonsai book written in English stated that the highest quality bonsai had individual uniqueness and that only 1 tree out of 1,000 would make a good bonsai. I think the Japanese author of that article was not a bonsai nurseryman but a novelist trying to write an interesting article aimed at gullible Western readers. But I began raising thousands of trees with the goal of creating a superior collection. You don't need to grow 1,000 trees to create one good bonsai. You'd be really foolish to believe that.
I also know of a few people who insist they will only grow one bonsai and by giving it all their attention, that it will be a special tree. I think that's foolish, too!
I recommend that you grow as many as your time, interest, and space allows. Having more plants will allow you to try riskier techniques and you won't be heart-broken when a tree dies. Console yourself that in nature only a tiny percentage of trees survive into maturity. By growing them to be healthy trees, there will always be some "bonsai work" to do. When you reach this stage, patience is not really necessary as there's always something to do.
There will come a day that you may want to train your trees into larger containers and just don't have enough space. That shouldn't be a problem either. I began teaching bonsai classes and giving students my extra plants. The local garden shop offered to sell some and instead of paying me, I received beautiful, highest grade imported ceramic pots and trays that I could not otherwise afford to purchase. The greatest joy was giving away gifts of bonsai that I had trained from seeds and cuttings.
Even though I'm now a bonsai professional, in our workshops, I include how to propagate plants. I and my staff ask students to set a goal of being able to create a bonsai from a tree that they start as a rooted cutting or from seed. It really doesn't matter whether that bonsai is a cute youngster or a prize-winning tree when you give it away. If you grew it, it will be a priceless gift from the heart and that's the spirit of bonsai!
Workshop participants appreciate knowing how their tree was grown and trained to be the prepared bonsai stock used in the workshop. Many appreciate that the Fuku-Bonsai staff does not create "arty bonsai" and that our trees all have extra branches that the student can choose to remove and root. We believe that as professionals our job is to create trees that have exciting potential and still give the future owners enough latitude so they can train and improve each tree.
This series of seedling training articles began with a gift of seeds from Shailesh. I believe that Water Jasmine is an outstanding tree for those able to grow it and hope to see it become more available. I hope this series of articles give you an insight into Fuku-Bonsai's professional production procedures as we train large quantities to be offered at specific model standards, but with each having unique character. This series will continue and I invite those familiar with Water Jasmine to also write, participate, and to share their knowledge to make bonsai a bridge to international friendship and peace!
~~~David W. Fukumoto October 23, 2003
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