Bonsai can be almost any size.  Although the small and medium sizes are most common,  there are large "dai-bonsai" that takes two or more people to carry. A number of the trees in the Fuku-Bonsai collection are in this category with our largest on a concrete turntable disc that is 84" (7') in diameter!  Because they are "plants in pots," technically the upper size limit is the size of the "pot."  In China, they have HUGE pots that require an extra large fork lift!  If you need a conversation piece, create a "pot" on a concrete platform with sides that are 18" high so it's comfortable to use to sit upon.  It could be 10' long and 8' wide that most would call a "planter box."  But if it has a bottom with holes and feet and shaped like a bonsai pot,  the owner would loudly argue that it's a pot and that thing is a "bonsai!" 

              That's all part of the light side of bonsai to make fun out of the Japanese habit of having all kinds of rules!  It becomes just as ridiculous when it comes to small!  The above photo shows one created by early wiring of a Chinese Box Orange (Severinia buxifolia) in a tiny pot about 3/4" in diameter and less than 1/2" high.  It's really no big deal if you start wiring very early,  have a stubborn streak,  and have a lot of time to kill.  Such tiny trees require exacting care. 

               One person that I knew grows a dozen or so tiny Polyscias in such pots that she keeps in a translucent plastic breadbox with air holes drilled into the sides in her living room under a lamp which is on several hours per day. She uses an eye-dropper to water her tiny trees and knows the exact number of drops of water that each one needs! In that constant "terrarium-like" environment, the tiny trees thrive!    

LESSON #25:  MINI-BONSAI

       The literal translation of "BON-SAI" is "plants in pots or containers."  The Japanese, being a very regimented and precise culture, have a number of size categories and like to discuss or debate the exact points where a tree goes from one category to another; and the exceptions to those rules for uncommon styles or when unusual pots are used.  Fifty years ago the popular name for bonsai that were less than 6" tall was "mame-bonsai."  In Japanese,  "mame" is "bean" so the Japanese liked that term. But the Japanese keep changing and another name is now growing in popularity. 

               I like to use English words and we grow "small bonsai"  (6"-8" 4LL8 in 5"x3"x2" pots),  "medium bonsai"  10" - 14" 8LS8 in 8" diameter x 2" pots) and "large bonsai" in 17"x12"x2" oval or larger pots. These are the most popular sizes and generally the trees have enough size bulk to start the "refinement stage" training for those with ideal growing conditions and sufficient motivation and skill.  Anything smaller I call "mini-bonsai." 

      1.   EXAMPLE I:  MINI-BONSAI FROM PREPARED BONSAI STOCK

            All Fuku-Bonsai Prepared Bonsai Stock have character within one inch of the soil line and a shallow complex root system within 1/2" of the soil line.  They are used to create our small size Hawaiian Lava Plantings or are the featured pre-trained plant in our Introductory Workshop Package (IWP).  IWP is usually used to teach the basic "GROWING-ON" technique to up-pot the tree to move into a faster growth rate to develop a heavier trunk to create a small bonsai.  Most of the IWP components can be used to create mini-bonsai.  But the challenge is to obtain a suitable pot.  Most pots on the market are not suitable and the following shows how we created a 2 3/4" diameter x 5/8" high pot from a melamine plastic sauce dish that has a foot-ring.

 

          Mark off the bottom into three sections and the foot ring into 12 sections.  With a grinder head on a drill bit, remove sections on the foot-ring to produce 3 "legs."  Drill a 3/16" drain hole in the middle and behind each leg.  Most pots have poor drainage. Small shallow pots need good drainage.

 

          Remove the plant from the 2" nursery pot and carefully remove the media that is hiding the lower trunk and major roots.  Loosen the lower media and untangle crossing roots so all roots face outwards,  With paper-covered bindwire or cotton string, bundle the roots and trim the length to about the depth of the pot.  Prepare the pot with tie-wire,  coarse bottom, nutrient granules, and medium body mix.

 

           Secure the plant with the tie-wire and complete potting with medium body media and finishing with fine organic-rich top dressing.  Note that this tree is a bit too tall for the pot and to create a more impressive tree,  the top growth was removed.  The growing tips were also removed, leaving just two leaves on each growth point.  This tree is still growing fairly compact.  It it was growing with longer branches,  to reduce the length of the branches,  it is possible that there would be no leaves. 

            This photo shows the tree from the other side. Generally, for an attractive high-standard potted bonsai,  the depth of the pot is equal to the girth of the trunk-root base.  Most bonsai are in pots that are much too deep.

            Generally,  the height of an attractive high-standard bonsai is about 1 1/2 times the length of a rectangular or oval pot or 2 times the diameter of a round pot.  This pot is about 2 3/4" across so the tree would be attractive if it were about 5" tall (including leaves).  So the challenge is to keep the leaves small and compact.  

 

       2.    EXAMPLE II:  MINI-BONSAI FROM PREMIUM PREPARED BONSAI STOCK.

             This year we are introducing our PREMIUM PREPARED BONSAI STOCK to members of our Fast-Track Study Group.  Most will be putting them into various "GROWING-ON" strategies to increase the bulk and branch complexity to create small, medium and large bonsai.   The plant on the left is better for growing-on and the recently pruned plant on the right is better for creating mini-bonsai.

              For these heavier trees with more growth points,  it is preferable to have a transitional stage where the tree is pre-trained,  the roots untangled, bundled, and potted in a slightly larger container with either a plastic separator or hard plexiglass to create a shallow root system and strong growth.

            Think small and select your pot first!  The size of your pot really determines the size of your bonsai.  It you allow the tree to over-grow and it looks too big for the pot,  you need to develop the skill or ability to reduce the tree.  This is a significant principle of refinement.  By limiting the size of the root system, you limit the growth potential.  It's like selecting a Volkswagon if you drive conservatively instead of being a hot-footed Ferrari driver.  Mini-bonsai in small pots grow much more slowly and here we start with the pot.

            Starting with a Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock (PPBS) in a 2" pot,  my initial trials first pots it into a larger, wider, deeper pot --- but using a plastic separator, I first create a compact shallow root system that is just 1/2" deep.  Here's a photo sequence of how this is done and shows a plant that was done a few months ago that is recovering with many more growth points busting out all over!

      

 

             It's hard to find nice suitable pots and often the best solution is to make one.  There are a lot of problems with the imported ceramic bonsai pots that are designed and created by those who either have poor bonsai skills or low standards, or both.  Even in mini-bonsai,  I like my trees to grow strong and healthy and with the pot complimenting the tree.  Most pots on the market have poor drainage and are much to heavy and deep compared to the small elegant trees that will go into them.  The pots are so terrible that when planted, the pot dominates the tree!  So I opt to make my pots when necessary.  I like round pots with multiple viewing positions.  The above two photos show how I created a pot from a 3 3/4" diameter x 5/8" high melamine plastic sauce dish with foot-ring.

          The bottom was divided into six equal parts and with a grinder head on a drill shank, every other section of the foot-ring was removed to form three legs.  I like three because it tends to sit flat.  Then seven drain holes were made with a 3/16" drill bit.  I prefer a lot of holes rather that a single large hole.

 

         For mini-bonsai I use  3/8", 1/4", and 1/8" screens.  What goes through a 3/8" screen and is caught in a 1/4" screen is the coarse bottom.  What goes through the 1/4" and caught in the 1/8" is the body media.  What goes through the 1/8" screen is the fine organic-rich top dressing.  The tree is shown removed from the transition pot.  Two sets of tie wires secures the tree to the pot and the tree is planted high and roots exposed.  The planting uses mostly body mix  and finished with the fine organic-rich topping.  After photographing,  the tree receives a heavy full aluminum foil collar with air holes as shown below.  In a few months, a profusion of fine hair roots will fully colonize the fine organic-rich topping to hold the contour slope in place.  Additional media will be removed to expose the well developed lower trunk and the larger surface roots that are not yet exposed. 

 

 

       3.    REFINEMENT WILL CONTINUE FOREVER!

               There really are no secrets and this article summarizes the development of mini-bonsai.   The reality is that the most challenging part is to first develop PREPARED BONSAI STOCK that we utilize in our small size Hawaiian Lava Plantings,  as the featured item in our Introductory Workshop Package, and grown on to become PREMIUM PREPARED BONSAI STOCK and all other older, larger Fuku-Bonsai products.  

               Fuku-Bonsai's primary overall strategy places greatest emphasis in producing the best possible Prepared Bonsai Stock that must all meet quality-control criteria and have a lot of character within 1" of the soil line and a shallow, complex root system within 1/2" of the soil-line.  This first stage is the most difficult and takes 2 to 4 years.  Our aggressive training techniques kills off trees that are genetically weak and professional quality-control culling throws out inferior plants and those with poor branching characteristics.

               It takes another 2-3 years for Prepared Bonsai Stock to achieve up-graded status and only high-potential stock become Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock.   But from this point on, growth and development is rapid. The tree first went into a transitional pot and then into this second shallower container in about six months. Most of our production is grown-on to become Fuku-Bonsai's larger older Hawaiian Lava Plantings,  Premium Potted Bonsai, and Custom Collection.  We only sell Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock to the members of the Fast-Track Study Group who have successfully "graduated" from the Beginner Study Group and have proven their ability and earned the right to train these premium plants. If you have sufficient interest in learning, you're invited to join us!

               Example I (right) was created from a 2-4 year old Prepared Bonsai Stock.  Example II  (left) was made from 4-6 year old Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock that was grown with a transitional stage for several months and this resulted in creation of a large number of new growth points.

      4.     EXAMPLE III:  CREATING MINI-BONSAI FROM TRANSITIONAL PREMIUM STOCK

               At Fuku-Bonsai,  most of our plant inventory is transitional premium stock in various stages of training once it is up-potted from the 2" nursery pots.  Some go into the desk size Hawaiian Lava Plantings while others go into cut-down 4" pots or other containers to be grown-on for our larger and older bonsai products. 

 

               This example is just a little larger with a 4 3/4" diameter x 3/4" high white melamine low dish with foot-ring and a beige melamine plate 5 1/2" in diameter x 1/2" high with foot-ring.  The melamine sauce dish is done the same way with 7 bottom holes.  But the very shallow dish would be very attractive because of its shallow depth.  But such low containers tend to drain very poorly and we created 19 holes.

 

               The 4 3/4" diameter x 3/4" saucer pot could be planted with this high planted Sumo for a mini-bonsai.  While in a transitional stage,  the leaves are already starting to become smaller and by further emphasis on more frequent pruning and reducing the amount of media to restrict the roots,  The leaves will further reduce in size.  The 5 1/2" x 1/2" high plate-pot could be planted with this small Roots as a mini-bonsai.  While maintaining and steadily refining min-bonsai is very satisfying a collection of such mini-bonsai that have a refined "finished" appearance are ideal to be used in either temporary or permanent Saikei-type landscape arrangements.

                  The two trees in transitional cut-down 4" nursery pots will be potted into the two newly made containers and trained as mini-bonsai.  Behind in the back row are three other trees being trained in shallow saucer-pots.  On the back left and back right are two Sumo trees. In the back center is a Roots in a 7"diameter saucer in the Fuku-Bonsai 1:10 Project.  To date,  we have never lost a single tree and am confident that Dwarf Schefflera does not need ever need to be in deep pots.

                  While it is necessary to have good growing conditions with supplemental light and good basic bonsai skills,  it is possible to get outstanding mini-bonsai when utilizing our Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock that will be made available only to the members of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and we will be putting together a "Mini-Bonsai Workshop Package" in a few months.  Quantity discounts of the Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock will be available only to the Fast-Track Study Group.

              Creating mini-bonsai requires a strong knowledge of bonsai basics and we strongly recommend mini-bonsai only after you've completed the Beginner Study Group's four Introductory Workshop Packages that teaches the 2 basic Sumo  and the 2 basic Roots training strategies.  For those who complete the first four IWPs,  most will move towards the many types of rock plantings.  Another direction is to move towards mini-bonsai! 

              Mini-bonsai moves you into refinement which is a "finishing" strategy that creates a more detailed complex branching and results in smaller leaves.  It's important to understand that a bonsai generally is in the "growing-on" strategy to build bulk and the primary branches,  or "refinement".  BUT DON'T USE REFINEMENT TECHNIQUES ON TREES STILL IN THE GROWING-ON STAGE. You'll slow the growth and development!  The leaves in the growing-on stage should be large as a result of strong vigorous growth.  As a lot of growth points are produced,  the energy of the plant is dispersed into more growth points and leaves become smaller. 

             One of the basic bonsai guidelines is that the depth of the pot equals the thickness of the trunks.  But most beginner or low quality bonsai have thin trunks and are in deep pots. The trunks of low-quality trees either doesn't thicken or tends to thicken very slowly.  High-potential trees have stout heavy trunks from the start and these are very impressive if they have well developed compact shallow root systems that allow them to be potted into attractive shallow bonsai pots.  The beauty of the bonsai becomes more enjoyable as you're not looking at an overly heavy bonsai pot!   

CONCLUSION

              Fuku-Bonsai's standard product lines are produced in large quantities and primarily sell only when they achieve our photo and text description standards.  We market these efficiently and at the sales stages,  our customers get highest value.  We guarantee satisfaction and safe arrival and it's really great when customers write us to confirm safe arrival of our plants with compliments of the quality. In today's hectic world,  we want our bonsai to bring joy, the serenity of nature, the inherent beauty of bonsai, but also the spirit of Hawaii! 

            We appreciate our customers and recognize that not everyone has the time nor the level of interest to commit to learning bonsai as a major hobby.  I am delighted with the compliments being received about the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai.  I hope that in addition to learning how to help your trees to grow more strongly and beautifully, that you also learn more about how they were created and that this will increase your enjoyment!

           Regards and mahalo for your support and compliments.  I am appreciative of the growing editorial team and the progress that we are making in the post-Fukumoto succession plans to allow Fuku-Bonsai and the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation to support and assist future generations of the growing Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai being created.  ~~~David  (david.f@fukubonsai.com)

 

           Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014