Most of the masterpieces of the bonsai world were already hundreds of years old when they were successfully collected from harsh environments where nature created magnificent trees that survived catastrophes and lived tenuous existences that produced such character!  Then it took great skill and a lot of luck to get them into a stable growing situation.  In contrast the photo of the tree above was taken when it was less than 35 years old from a cutting!  Dwarf Schefflera is an extremely long-lived tree that is the most durable of all houseplants and will grow everywhere in the United States!

             The great majority of the finest world class masterpiece bonsai are "NATURE'S BONSAI" that are spectacular and magnificent!  The initial challenge was to find, successfully collect from their harsh environments, and to bring it into a stabilized new environment. These old fragile trees lived on the edge of existence and such trees are the challenge of the "bonsai elite" who have the drive to own and acquire nature's treasures. They are not for beginners with limited skill or resources.

            "NURSERY BONSAI"  run the gamut from cheap, weak, low-grade plants that really should not be called "bonsai" to highest standard masterpieces.  There's been  remarkable development in the last 50 years!  Historical records show that prior to World War II, bonsai was far from the current sophistication and beauty.  In the United States,  the various forms of regional bonsai are still being developed. Temperate climate regions similar to Japan are emulating "traditional Japanese classical bonsai." 

            "NURSERY BONSAI"  are different in every region in the United States. Each plant requires different cultural requirements for each specific area that may require some winter protection.  The range of cultural requirements is extremely vast.  Tropical trees can grow outdoors all year around in Hawaii.  In the same manner,  some native Alaskan trees trained as bonsai as said to need no special care and can survive buried under many feet of snow in Alaska.  So each nursery must develop their own strategy for training each plant as bonsai in their conditions.  Each customer/buyer must learn the requirements for a specific tree obtained from a specific grower. 

           FUKU-BONSAI'S TRUE INDOOR BONSAI™ are the easiest and most successful for anyone, anywhere who can grow houseplants!  We begin with our strain of Dwarf Schefflera which is the most durable and the best houseplant with ideal bonsai traits.  We create lower trunk-root character and only ship strong plants that have passed our quality-control standards that cull out and eliminate weak plants and those with poor branching characteristics.  We produce only highest standard nursery bonsai and are committed to assisting our customers! 


"PREPARED BONSAI STOCK;" Prerequisite for high-standard bonsai!

        Highest quality prepared bonsai  stock will only result when training begins when the tree is very young to create "character" within one inch of the soil level. These are mostly trained with our basic SUMO "Reduction-Building" training technique.  Compare the Prepared Bonsai Stock on the left of the first photo against untrained Dwarf Schefflera on the right.   This early training produces  heavier lower trunks with stouter trunk-root buttressing, trunks with taper and interest,  multiple trunks, and low branches.
              Fuku-Bonsai's Prepared Bonsai Stock are in 2" nursery pots with a plastic separator to develop a compact shallow root system. The 2 to 4 year old plants have a minimum of three growth points. To get such dramatic results requires aggressive training techniques and many young plants are too weak to survive.  This as a major quality control technique to cull out weak plants. Even when heavily pruned again, some plants will not branch well and they are thrown out as inferior genetic quality
          All of our trees must achieve this standard and every Fuku-Bonsai starts with character!  Prepared bonsai stock are rock-planted to become our HS8 Small size Dwarf Schefflera Lava Plantings or are the featured pre-trained plant in the Introductory Workshop Package which mature as 4LL8 Small Potted Bonsai. 

        Highest quality "Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock" are up-potted to build bulk to become our older, larger bonsai. Some are moved into "refinement training" to create high-quality mini-bonsai for our exhibit collection or Journal articles

        In bonsai workshops,  the results at the end are directly due to the quality of the materials provided. Our Introductory Workshop Package (IWP) has become the easiest and most successful way to learn (or teach) bonsai primarily due to the quality of the 2 to 4 year pre-trained prepared bonsai stock provided. 

         The trees have character and interest and a strong healthy compact root system with an excellent chance to survive unskilled beginners. It also includes  all other carefully selected components and a detailed cultural sheet.



              Fuku-Bonsai has roots in a Fukumoto family hobby begun in 1962.  It pioneered the Hawaii State certified export nursery program and actively contributed to the Internationalization of Bonsai between 1950 and 2000.  Bonsai dramatically evolved in that 50 years.  Japanese bonsai became codified and very sophisticated compared to pre-war bonsai.

             Bonsai became more known as American servicemen returned home after being a part of the occupying forces in post-war Japan.  Saburo Kato led the revitalization of bonsai in Japan and led the movement for bonsai to be the bridge to international friendship and peace.   Hawaii has the oldest English-speaking bonsai community outside of Japan and former enemies of the greatest generation on both sides of the conflict worked to create a harmonious world bonsai movement.

             Chinese penjing became more widely known due to the heroic efforts of Hong Kong penjing patron Yee-sun Wu. This older form of bonsai provided an alternative casual artistic culture to compliment the more rigid Japanese form of bonsai. The different shapes and informality of Tropical Bonsai became the third major bonsai influence and Fuku-Bonsai and early American pioneers researched and promoted Ficus Bonsai and growing bonsai indoors.

            There were many major milestones in the international bonsai movement.  The Japanese presented the United States with a Bi-Centennial Bonsai gift in 1976 which led to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C.  Bonsai Clubs International and the Fukumoto family celebrated 50 years of bonsai in 2012. Throughout all of this activity,  there was a lot of confusion as different forms of bonsai proliferated and each region created bonsai utilizing the trees available and addressing the full range of both indoor and outdoor environments.   

            At the start of 2013,  the partnership of Fuku-Bonsai and the 501(3)(c) Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation created a large scale vertically integrated effort to assist beginner bonsai hobbyists to be successful.  They co-sponsored the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center & Hawaii State Bonsai Repository in Kurtistown,  the website, and the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai

           TROPICAL & TRUE INDOOR BONSAI can be grown in all parts of the United States and in focusing just on this form of bonsai, we will consolidate the significant pertinent information with the goal of helping everyone who is interested to be successful. By specifically addressing this form of bonsai, we eliminate the confusion and the extraneous information that pertains to all other forms of bonsai.  The information resources are significant and future publications and other educational resources will be developed.  For the first time,  extensive information will be available and specifically True Indoor Bonsai will become available.  This will hopefully reduce the failure rate when hobbyists read bonsai books that teach techniques or recommendations that do not pertain to their specific plant or their environment. 

            The best plant for True Indoor Bonsai is clearly Dwarf Schefflera and this plant will receive the greatest emphasis.  Amongst the most successful of all other plants are those in the Ficus (Fig) family and we are fortunate to have Ficus bonsai authority Jerry Meislik as the contributing editor or the Journal.  From time to time we will feature other plants, but clearly the emphasis will be on Dwarf Schefflera and Ficus bonsai. 

            THE JOURNAL OF TROPICAL & TRUE INDOOR BONSAI is an effort to create a national bonsai community that will include hobbyists,  bonsai instructors,  bonsai professionals, customers,  gift recipients, and all who are interested in this bonsai specialty area. We appreciate membership in the non-profit Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and donations as a form of support.  Since the Journal began, a growing number have joined our Beginner Study Group that includes MPBF membership and four Introductory Workshop Packages. 

            There are four basic variations of SUMO and ROOTS techniques and upon completing the workshops, receiving critiques, and "graduating,"  they are invited to join the Fast-Track Study Group to participate in custom or group projects that are reported in the Journal.  This common knowledge base allows all participants to contribute without forcing the individuals to continually return to the basics.  But for becoming active,  they have the opportunity to email group members individually or to seek help in specific areas.  Our goal is to build a community and everyone is invited to join us!   

"GROWING-ON"  to build bulk to become larger bonsai!

               Creating high-quality prepared stock requires the greatest skill as young seedlings and recently rooted cuttings are very fragile and easy to kill.  Fuku-Bonsai is committed to support and assist the bonsai hobbyist community and is capable of doing so due to having ideal growing conditions,  the economy of scale, but most importantly the professional skills and the quality-control discipline to cull our weak or unsuitable plants. Starting with healthy high-potential prepared stock will allow a bonsai beginner to avoid the most difficult early years.


         Usually it takes 3 to 5 years to create a 4LL8 small bonsai in a 5" pot.  These are ready to go into "refinement training" to develop a more complex branching and a small bonsai.  If you like small size bonsai,  learn to repot the tree from time to time and repot it back into its same size container while the shape matures.

        If you want to larger bonsai, once you have good lower trunk-root character,  it is necessary to build bulk (and a larger root system) in a controlled manner to continue to improve the character while also creating a large tree.  Our #8 Conversion Kits provide the needed items to do this.

       We call potting up a 4LL8 with a #8 Conversion Kit our "WORKSHOP II"  for those who want to create a larger medium size bonsai.  The 4LL8 already is attractive and it is a reasonable challenge for even those without bonsai skills to create stronger growth and to train the tree to the next level. 

       Besides the up-potting and training, the main focus should be on providing the best environment and creating good strong growth.

        With good growth,  the result of the Workshop II will be about equivalent to the 8LS8 medium size bonsai in four to six years so plants may be 8 to 10 years in training or more.  The 8" diameter x 2" deep round pots hold about 1 quart of potting media and 3-4 times the smaller 4LL8 pots.  
        The photo shows larger 8LS8 medium bonsai up-potted with a #17 Conversion Kit towards training to large bonsai. The 17"x12"x2" oval pots holds about one gallon of potting media so has four times the amount of media in the 8" diameter x 2" round pots used for medium bonsai.  If you want increasingly larger bonsai,  every few years, up-pot them into larger containers. If you are happy with the size of your bonsai, learn to prune more heavily and repot back into the same pot.  These trees are in the 10 to 12 year range.  Dwf Scheff 17LS8 72dpi 4x3 july 04.jpg (14095 bytes)
         Fuku-Bonsai's 1:10 Project trains trees in shallow saucers that are 10 times wider than they are deep.  In these shallow containers,  it is necessary to have a large number of drain holes to assure good drainage as most shallow containers have inadequate drainage.  The shallower containers tend to dry out a bit faster and this tends to create slower growth and smaller leaves.  In the refinement stages the shallow containers make the bonsai more attractive.


           Young prepared bonsai stock with the potential to become high-quality small bonsai are up-potted into larger "Conversion Kits." With time and growth the such small bonsai become larger high-quality medium bonsai.  With additional training and a larger conversion kit, they have the potential to be high-quality large bonsai. To develop the bulk of the desired size, the trees are allowed to grow vigorously.  An alternate system uses shallower containers to get less vigorous "1:10 Project" controlled growth. 

           During the "growing-on" stage,  the bonsai are being trained in any number of ways.  Each technique or training strategy adds more interest and character.  "REDUCTION-BUILDING" enlarges trunks and creates heavier branches.  "REARRANGING" techniques includes wiring or other ways to change shapes of trunks or branches. 

           "ASSEMBLY" combines two or more components to create a more interesting complex mass.  Plant two or more trees together or plants with rocks. Complex landscapes could be mounted on turntables and be designed to be attractive when viewed from different positions.  "CREATIVE POTTING" is especially applicable as tropical plants extensively utilize vigorous roots as design elements.  Exposed root bonsai are beautiful and trees with extended roots are much more successfully planted Root-Over-Rock. 

            My Hawaiian mentor Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro was a master of "BUILDING" techniques from very young plants that were pinched to create more branches.  While he used wiring to rearrange the shapes of his trees and used assembly to create rock plantings, his conservative training by careful pruning gave his best older trees a refined appearance that celebrated his many years of disciplined trimming.

           As professional bonsai nurserymen,   Fuku-Bonsai is committed to providing the highest potential younger prepared bonsai stock as part of our Introductory Workshop Package for who want to learn. This gives a new hobbyist the opportunity to avoid the most difficult two to four years and start at an exciting stage.  The following photos are mostly examples of trees that are over ten years in training.  


            EXAMPLE #1:  A younger smaller 8LS8-Roots was planted Root-Over-Rock with the components of the #17 Conversion Kit and allowed grow vigorously for several years to build up a heavier trunk and branches and attractive aerial roots.  This is the "first grow-out stage" for our smallest Custom Collection and at this point,  this tree could go toward several directions depending upon the goals of the new owner-trainer.  One route may be to pot this into a smaller shallower 12" diameter x 1.2" deep shallow saucer pot and start it into refinement training to create a nice medium-large bonsai.  But with long strong roots that are already spread out and growing over a rock,  it would be relatively easy to bare-root, remove the rock, and do an impressive larger Root-Over-Rock planting.   


            EXAMPLE #2:  A 8LS8-Roots of about 8-10 years in training was up-potted into a #17 Conversion Kit and allowed to grow vigorously for a few years,  then cut back as in Example #1 and allowed to grow for a few more years to build a heavier trunk and branches while also extending the roots. Notice that there are more branches and each has more character. This rampant growth thickened the trunks and produced a very strong attractive root system that could be trained into an Exposed Root bonsai.  With such long strong roots, it could also be very successful in Root-Over-Rock designs. Up-potting into a larger container and allowing a period of rampant vigorous growth is an essential step to create larger high standard bonsai. If it had been kept in the smaller 8" diameter x 2" deep pot, the trunk size would be much smaller.  The 17"x12"x2" oval pot holds about one gallon of media which is four times the volume of the 8D2 pot. With a root ball four times larger,  there is stronger growth, especially if provided a large amount of on-demand slow-release fertilizer.  To develop bonsai, they must be growing strongly.  Never try to train a tree that is growing poorly!


            EXAMPLE #3: A slightly larger tree that was rock-planted several years ago.  When we first began rock plantings,  we trained roots over the entire rock and in some of our oldest trees,  the roots totally hide the rock.  Later efforts try to keep the most attractive parts of the rock exposed with two or more areas of the rock exposed.  Compare the left rampant growth photo with those above.  Those trees that are in their "first rampant growth grow-out" have fewer branches that tend to be tall while those that have gone through an extensive repotting include branch selection will tend to have a wider crown with stronger lower branches. Compared to our original SUMO styling,  ROOTS,  HAWAIIAN DRAGON, AND ROOT-OVER-ROCK stylings require a lot more time and skill and are therefore more expensive.


              EXAMPLE #4:  This older Root-Over-Rock has gone through three major grow-out series and about twenty years in training. Originally we allowed all small roots to grow.  But after 10 years or so, the rock could no longer be seen.  Since then, we began selecting which roots to retain with the same care that we select branches.  This allows the roots retained to thicken and there really is no mistaking older trees which have impressive roots systems, heavy trunks, and branches with taper and interest.  By pruning upright growth more severely and more often, we promote the development of lowest branches that increasingly reflect the grandeur of aged trees.  Trees with weak lower branches are the result of poor training methods or allowing too much top growth. 


            Bonsai is complex with many techniques that are covered in extensive detail in bonsai books.  So those who have studied bonsai books tend to know a lot of details and techniques.  But too often they use techniques at the wrong time and their bonsai development stops or reverses!  Each bonsai tree should have its own long-term plan and strategy and techniques should be selected to compliment that tree's strategy.

           WHAT DO YOU PLAN FOR THAT TREE?  Will it be a small or large bonsai?  If you want a larger bonsai stay with all "growing-on" techniques to train the tree to have more character and interests, to increase the thickness of the trunks and branches and to create strong growth with the strongest light and fertilizing levels.  Don't use defoliation and leaf-cutting to reduce the size of leaves as it will greatly slow the growth of the plant at a time that you want strong growth! 

           The total amount of time that it takes to develop a nice bonsai depends upon what you start with, the growth rate,  whether it needs to build out bulk or size, and other factors.  Generally,  only start "refinement" techniques when the tree is getting near to your desired "finished" size.  If you like the idea of small or miniature bonsai,  there really are two major training strategies:

      1.  Force strong growth and prune aggressively to build out heavy compact growth.  When it achieves the amount of character and interest,  move the plant into shallower containers and make the transition to refinement techniques which will be more effective in creating complex branch ramifications,  details, and smaller leaves. 

      2.  Some hobbyists who prefer conservative pruning never allow their trees to have a vigorous growth stage as they continuously prune as soon as several leaves develop.  This prevents the tree from going into strong growth and the branches that develop are smaller and more compact.  By keeping the growth rate moderate,  there is a steady build-up of more and more details and the tree takes on a beautiful refined appearance. 

           START REFINEMENT ONLY AFTER YOU ARE SATISFIED WITH THE CHARACTER AND SIZE OF YOUR BONSAI.  Refinement really can begin at any point, but once it starts,  development greatly slows and trunks will not rapidly thicken as when in the "growing-on" training stage.  In the above four examples,  if refinement began after Example #1, the result would be a smaller more slender bonsai.  As part of moving into refinement, the tree should be down-potted from the 17"x12"x2" oval pot that holds about one gallon of potting media to the 12" diameter x 1" deep saucer-pot  used in the 1:10 Project that hold about 1/3rd the amount of potting media. 

           IF INSTEAD OF MOVING INTO REFINEMENT,  THE EXAMPLE #1 TREE GOES THROUGH ANOTHER GROWING ON CYCLE,  IT WILL DEVELOP A HEAVIER TRUNK AND MORE COMPLEX BRANCHING SIMILAR TO EXAMPLES #2 OR #3.  At that point again, the tree could be moved into refinement to stop further development to become a nice bonsai in the shallower 12" saucer-pot.  Or it could be given another growing-on cycle to achieve the development of Example #4. 

          The decision of when to start into refinement will determine the future appearance of the bonsai.  If refinement is started very early,  the tree will be a thinner more elegant bonsai.  Growing-on cycles develop heavier trees with more complex branching.




             For the past year,  the Journal published a number of articles on rock planting.   In the November 2013 Journal issue there were four articles on rock plantings as I tried to stay in front of members of our study group.  Three out of the four were placed in a "growing-on" situation to attach the plants strongly to the rocks.  After six months,  the goals have been achieved and the three rock plantings will be moved into refinement.

             In the case of the fourth rock planting,  five premium prepared bonsai stock were planted on a larger rock and it was our plan that the trees would stay relatively small.  So in this case,  once the trees were established on the rock,  we began refinement training to develop more complex branching and eventually smallest leaves more appropriate to panoramic scale rock plantings. When plants go into the "refinement stage,"  they are pruned back and trimming is done more frequently. 

   ***  Go to the rock planting update report

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