LESSON 24C:  RAINFOREST BANYANS - PART III

                The July 2014 issue of the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai had the first two parts of this lesson on rainforest banyans with the first posted at www.fukubonsai.com/4a24.html.  The second part reported on a Ryan Chang workshop as he hung up a selected Custom Collection to extend the roots 4"-5" using a new technique that we had developed. The photos above show before and after that effort. The workshop was on May 30, 2014 and although this is just September 13 --- about 4 1/2 months later, I wanted to check the progress because in another month,  another rainforest banyan workshop is scheduled.

                We are trying to master techniques to produce both larger and smaller Rainforest Banyans of the highest standards.  Ryan's was already in a 17"x12"x2" oval pot in a growing-on strategy to create a larger bonsai and it had an impressive potential.  But could we lengthen the roots for a taller rainforest banyan but still utilize the same pot?  Rather than leave the tree in the root extension stage for too long,  I wanted to check it with only a partial growing season.  Ryan had left his tree at Fuku-Bonsai so I could observe this new technique and with his permission,  I took the next step.

 

 

                  In the 4 1/2 months I thought there was enough growth to extend the roots.  I didn't need them thick --- just longer to allow me to move the tree back in the original pot and into the first stage of refinement.  We had hung up the tree and created three bundles of roots so the roots wouldn't tangle.  We had put a lot of effort to remove the original very heavy trunk-root buttressing Sumo roots to open up the central root area. By creating three root bundles, I could go in and prune out any new roots that had developed in the central area.   The top left photo shows that the branches are much heavier and we couldn't afford to allow it to over-grow if we were going to go back into the original pot,

                  The wood support structure was made to fit inside a standard nursery flat and we had just stapled through the flat into the frame. It was just a matter of prying out the flat on each side,  rocking the frame, and lifting it off the tree.  We had an outer foil around the three root bundles and the top right photo shows the outer foil removed.   The next photo shows the foil around all three bundles removed and the last photo shows that the effort was a complete success!

          The root system was compacted while tying and straightening aerial roots, forcing media between to keep them vertical, and removing roots that did not fall straight.  As the roots were shaped into a tighter more compact mass of only longer straight aerial roots,  media between the roots were pulled to the outer edge of the flat and removed and temporary ties further compacted the roots.  The tree was lifted from time to time and as the height increased, the diameter at the base was reduced to lengthen the mass of aerial roots.  Excess media continued to be removed.  This took 1.5 to 2 hours of very meticulous detailed work.  Continual refinement, will equire more such work. 

          This tree was already an outstanding 15 to 20 year old Custom Collection  that was in training toward a larger more impressive rainforest banyan.  With the goal shifting to create a smaller bonsai and to move it into refinement training,  it was necessary to severely reduce the size of the crown. 

          First all lowest branches were reduced to the maximum possible.  Then the lowest apical points of each of the multiple apices were determined.  The in-between branches were cut back to intermediate heights to form the basis for a  smaller crown that will be in scale with the tree.  In refinement, a slightly larger but more complex crown will form.           

 

           About a third of the older media was screened through 3/8", 1/4", 1/8", and 1/16" screens.  As shown on the photo above left,  most of the largest material caught in the 3/8" screen was mounded in the center of the pot and with a trowel,  compacted and firmed by tapping and with a back-and-forth motion and shown on the left side of the pot.  Notice that the mound does not spread across the entire bottom of the pot.  Another thinner layer of smaller material caught in the 1/4" screen was slowly added and compacted with the trowel.  This layer is about 1/2" to 3/4" thick,  seals the holes between the coarse bottom, and extends to almost across the bottom as shown on the right side of the above left photo.

           At this point,  a large gash is made in the top of the mound and Nutrient Granules are buried and covered as shown on the right side of the above right photo and the medium material was completed on the left side of the pot. Then a third layer of medium gravel that was caught in the 1/8" screen was layered about 1/2" thick over the mound and again firmed with the trowel.  This layer covers the second coarser layer below and extends the hill to finally cover the bottom of the pot as shown on the left side of the right photo above.  When the remainder of the pot is covered with the medium gravel, the pot is ready for the plant.  The pot is 2" deep, but the 3" mound is higher.  Even though the mound is made up of only aggregate gravel,  but using coarse on the bottom, compacting as much as possible, layering with less coarse and compacting, and layering with medium material,  the mound is relatively firm to sufficiently hold up the tree to be placed on it.  

 

            Once the pot is prepared to accept the tree again,  a 30" long x 12" wide strip of aluminum foil was cut and folded over to be a 30" long x 3" wide multi-layered band that was crumpled, straightened with the ends folded over and joined. It was place around the area of the new roots and temporary accordion folds made where the base would need to be expanded to allow outer aerial roots to drop straight down.  The band was cinched very tight with a heavy light green plastic tie to keep the new bottom roots tight and prevent them from spreading out while transferring them back to the original pot.

            The transfer was made without incident.  The tree and the new roots lifted out of the media in the larger nursery flat and positioned on the gravel hill in the original pot. The light green plastic tie was removed and the aluminum foil band adjusted and with a dibble. The roots were again straightened and materials between the roots compacted.  Where outer aerial roots were forced inwards, the aluminum foil accordion folds were slacked, the band enlarged, and additional media inserted so those roots could drop straight down.  This was a very time consuming detailed task that took over an hour of careful work. After all was positioned, the heavier light green plastic tie cinched all as compactly as possible and the six lighter white plastic ties were used to go over and pull down the banyan form in three different ties to hold all tight and securely. 

              One major principle of True Indoor Bonsai is that after completing a potting, that all is firm and it is possible to lift up the entire tree and pot with media by lifting up the tree.  This will not hurt the tree if it is securely tied down.  If not the pot and media will be all over the floor and no amount of excuses will convince me that you did all correctly.  As part of all reports,  I ask study group members to include a photo lifting up the creation by holding up the tree.  It's either done adequately or it's not!  Each study group member is expected to understand and meet True Indoor Bonsai basic principles. 

              If they can not or will not, a person in the Beginner Study Group does not graduate and is not invited to join the Fast-Track Study Group to have access to Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock and other aged advanced plant materials.  These older high-standard high-value plants are the basis for our superior Fuku-Bonsai products.  I have no desire to waste them by allowing overly confident hobbyists without the necessary skills to kill them. Unfortunately,  even those who may be growing traditional outdoor bonsai lack the skills to do advanced True Indoor Bonsai.  Once trained, these trees are relatively easy-care.

 

              Compare the above left photo to the first photo at the start of this article and you can see that the workshop on May 30, 2014 produced the desired 4" to 5" root extension on this high-potential smaller Custom Collection tree that Ryan Chang selected for his personal collection.  Ryan did most of the actual work under my guidance and obviously the techniques worked.  It still took a lot of adjustments and I thank Ryan for keeping it at Fuku-Bonsai and allowing me to do the post-root extension adjustments in preparation for the upcoming Rainforest Banyan root extension workshop for Paul Bakerman,  who will be coming as he again qualified to compete in the prestigious Kona Ironman Triathlon by winning his age group division in the Phoenix, Arizona Triathlon.

               This was my third major Rainforest Banyan effort and I learned a lot.  At this point, Ryan should have no problem continuing the refinement and doing further smaller root extensions if desired.  The crown has be severely reduced to form a compact structural framework for his future crown and he still retains the option to go into a shallower but wider container which I recommend. Clearly,  this tree has the potential to surpass the two earlier efforts that will be retained in the permanent Fuku-Bonsai collection to be exhibited along with an educational exhibit of how to create Rainforest Banyans.  I believe that this will become one of the primary challenges for those in the Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai community! 

               Having attained this new higher standard,  the challenge now shifts to utilizing the techniques learned with smaller younger trees to produce superior results with younger or smaller plants.  I believe it is possible and a future report of upcoming workshops will see if this is so.  If any other Fast-Track study group member wants to take on this Rainforest Banyan challenge, please contact me.   Stay tuned!   ~~~David  (david.f@fukubonsai.com

*** Return to the October issue of Journal of Tropical & 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