Ted Tsukiyama with the Kansako Juniper believed to be one of the oldest Juniper Bonsai in Hawaii.  Ted acquired it shortly before Jackson passed away and donated it in Jackson's memory to the Hawaii State Bonsai Repository.  The photograph was taken several years ago after two major repottings had exchange about 2/3 to 3/4 of the original potting media and the tree had begun stronger but even growth.  

                  Junipers are temperate climate plants and in tropical Hawaii we've had mixed results. May-June is our strongest growing season and time to work on the oldest memorial trees in the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation's Hawaii State Bonsai Repository at the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center. This year,  the major priority was the Kansako Juniper believed to be the oldest Juniper bonsai in Hawaii imported from the Oregon area in the pre-war 1930's with an estimated age of about 80 years.

                  Jackson Kansako was an early Hilo bonsai giant. At a time when most bonsai growers had modest livelihoods, Jackson was a highly respected school principal. His beautiful home and landscaped garden were immaculate and tour buses detoured to pause and allow tourists to photograph it.  I first met Jackson in 1962, while we were living on Oahu, shortly after Myrtle and I got married.  In those days when we visited her family and Jackson on the Big Island,  no one fully understood the principles of bonsai. I think he had the strongest academic Japanese bonsai cultural knowledge and he shared his knowledge and theories with me. 

                  He liked large bonsai, wouldn't waste his time with young plants and was known to purchase the oldest and best bonsai available. He was a no-nonsense type of guy who appreciated that I tried to read all available information and he cautioned me to not believe everything I read in English,  especially books written by Western authors who didn't grow bonsai themselves. Jackson was aggressively reducing even old expensive bonsai he had purchased at a time when most bonsai growers were very conservative. I learned a lot about conservative bonsai growing techniques from Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro, but I was very impressed with Jackson's results and I started training aggressively too.

                  When we formed the non-profit Hawaii Bonsai Association (HBA) in Honolulu,  I became the educational committee chair and put together the team-teaching ABC's of Bonsai course including writing the lesson plans for the ten evening sessions. By coincidence,  about the same time that the Fukumotos moved to the Big Island to start Fuku-Bonsai in 1973,  Jackson, having been widowed, moved to Honolulu to live with his son,  taking his best bonsai with him.  He took over the HBA educational leadership role and we had off-and-on contact.


                 When I began bonsai,  I recognized that the major "bonsai short-cut" was to start with collected trees that were already shaped by nature.  I did my share of collecting "Nature's Bonsai" and at one time they were the pride of my young collection. Several factors shifted me to creating "Nursery Bonsai:"

                 "NATURE'S BONSAI" PRIMARILY BELONGS TO THE PUBLIC.  This is a very debatable principle that each person must resolve.  Who owns the trees that were trained by Nature over many years?  I believe that generally the owner of the land owns the trees and it is necessary to obtain permission and we have.  But permission freely given by the owner is usually based upon us being hobbyists. Once I "turned professional"  I would collect only if the owner specifically acknowledged that I was a professional and that the trees were only for my personal collection.  I do not believe it is ethical for professionals to sell collected trees, so I don't and have never sold collected trees. 

                 In Hawaii, there is a heated debate going on about the ethics of allowing professional saltwater aquarium fish collectors to collect and sell colorful tropical fish from the public domain.  Selling collected fish amounts to profiteering unfairly what should belong to everyone. The much more responsible action is to captive breed and to sell domesticated and bred exotic tropical fish.  In a similar manner,  Fuku-Bonsai does not sell collected bonsai and only sells True Indoor Bonsai "Nursery Bonsai" that we've grown from seeds and cuttings.

                "NATURE'S BONSAI" ARE ONLY SUITABLE FOR THE "BONSAI ELITE."  These require special facilities,  detailed knowledge, and extreme attention to detail.  They are certainly not for beginners who are not in constant contact with a skilled and knowledgeable mentor and who do not have appropriate environments and the time and resources to handle them.  Except for minor assistance of our Fast-Track Study Group members who already have "Nature's Bonsai,"  we do not teach collecting bonsai as my Hawaii experience may not be applicable to other trees and other environments.  In contrast,  we can be very effective in teaching Fuku-Bonsai's True Indoor Bonsai to individuals in all parts of the United States!

               FUKU-BONSAI'S TRUE INDOOR BONSAI ARE "NURSERY BONSAI" THAT HAS A PROVEN SUCCESS RECORD FOR ANYONE, ANYWHERE WHO CAN GROW HOUSEPLANTS!  I like success and fast high-quality results and am willing and able to teach anyone,  anywhere, but on my terms and with plants supplied by Fuku-Bonsai.  In focusing on success and high-potential trees, we severely limit our area of activity.  Why try to grow a lot of different plants when our strain of Dwarf Schefflera is so superior?

               HIGH-SUCCESS BONSAI ARE THE IDEAL GIFT BONSAI!  Bonsai are wonderful gifts, BUT ONLY IF THERE'S A HIGH POTENTIAL FOR SUCCESS! There is joy when a bonsai is received as a gift from family or friends.  But there is sadness for both the giver and the recipient when the bonsai dies.  So we do our best to create the most successful bonsai and provide cultural information and offer our assistance.  If you have questions about our plants, email me AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!  I'll try to help.  

               ALL BONSAI PROFESSIONALS SHOULD DO ALL THAT THEY CAN TO HELP THEIR CUSTOMERS AND TO BUILD A BONSAI COMMUNITY.  The hobby will only grow if beginners are assisted and are successful.  Professionals MUST make available high-potential and high-success prepared bonsai stock and workshop packages and provide resource assistance. 

               ALL BONSAI PROFESSIONALS SHOULD BE LEADERS TO PRESERVE, PROMOTE, AND EDUCATE.  By earning a living in this field,  we assume an obligation to provide resources and leadership to preserve unique priceless regional bonsai created by past bonsai masters and trees created by visiting international bonsai masters.  The Hawaii State Bonsai Repository was "officially" formed in 1985 when Fuku-Bonsai incorporated.  It really took over what we began as a Fukumoto family sole proprietorship.  With the participation and full support of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation,  we are building the infrastructure for perpetuation into future generations.  You're invited to join us!



               Working on this tree was the priority for this year and when I started, I really had no plans to do a Journal report as temperate climate junipers have limited fit in the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai.  Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper is a better and one of the few temperate climate plants that will grow in tropical Hawaii and it is likely it could do well indoors if provided enough light and given the proper care and environment. 

               In the past year,  sections of the tree began to grow very strongly while there was die-back in other sections. There is cause for concern when old trees that were growing slowly and evenly change their growth pattern.  This may primarily happen to older trees that are nearing their "decline stages,"  but this is important to the overall knowledge of those who want to fully understand bonsai. 

               Trees go through life stages and bonsai training takes these into consideration.  Trees start as a "young whip" in which apical dominant plants like juniper primarily grow with one primary growth point and will continue to do so as long as that point is not nipped.  For spreading junipers,  some growers stake the trees to grow upwards like a pine tree and branches are perpendicular to that primary single apex.  This allows training into the standard Japanese "single apex -tier branched structures"  that we call "pine-tree styling." 

               Junipers really don't grow well in that manner and at Fuku-Bonsai, we train such spreading junipers in what we call "Juniper Falling Apex Crowns."  The vertical apex shoots up with a point that becomes thicker and heavier and falls downwards into the position of a branch.  The topmost part of that branch gets the most light and sends up a new vertical apex that starts as a point that becomes thicker and heavier and falls downwards into the position of a branch.  In succession, a round headed juniper falling apex crown develops.

               Old junipers are in danger when one of the falling apex sections die-out.  It's a symptom that indicates that the root system is inadequate.  But the biggest danger is when some parts of the tree are dying out while other parts of the tree start exhibiting rampant growth!  That was the situation that caused this restoration - revitalization effort.  Old junipers are known to steadily go downhill and die and we've learned to "balance" such a tree.  The concept is to greatly reduce and curtail the growth of the portions that are growing vigorously to below the level of growth of the weakest growing section.  This is what was done before the first photo of this article.  Over 75% of the growth in some parts of the tree was pruned back to balance the weak growth of other parts. 

               Balancing the foliage growth was easy compared to balancing the root growth.  If some sections were growing well, it's proof that our strategy of exchanging and improving the potting media was working!  Now our challenge was to remove all possible old media so ALL of the root sections would have good growth.



               The basic principles of bonsai are becoming more known with each generation.  In the 1960's in Hawaii, there were many theories regarding potting media. Some believed that bonsai were stunted trees and should never be repotted or they will revert to vibrant youthful growth.  Over time we got to observe how trees become weaker and weaker and steadily die and that theory was disproved.

                It is increasingly being accepted that repotting is not to cut the roots to stunt the tree, but is a means to creating a healthier root system. By providing new potting media to pot-bound trees, the health of a tree is improved.  Whereas collected trees once meant trying to bring home a large amount of the original root ball,  it is now recognized that it is preferable to try to create strongly growing new roots near the base of the tree in the year or two prior to attempting to collect the tree. If the tree was stunted due to dense or unsuitable media,  the health of the tree could be greatly improved by exchanging the media.

               This was proven   by Japan's grand master Saburo Kato who discovered he could very successfully collect and grow beautiful Ezo Spruce that were stunted because they grew in wet bog-like soil.  With 100% soil exchange the trees became healthy on a long-term basis. It was necessary for him to learn any transitional procedural techniques. In a very similar manner, we are refining our techniques and strategies to create better long-term bonsai health for all memorial trees that enter the Hawaii State Bonsai Repository.  In many cases, these old bonsai trees have major potting soil problems and each is a unique and individual challenge.  In the case of the Kansako Juniper,  we are completing our goal. 



                  On the Big Island up to the 1970's, most bonsai were being grown in a hard granular clay that was similar to Japan's akadama soil with average granules about 1/8" to 1/4" with all fines screened out.  In the early days of Hawaiian bonsai,  the then prevailing wisdom was to retain as many roots as possible.  They did not deeply cut the central tap root to create heavy surface buttressing roots.  Often, long roots were coiled into a ball and shoved into deep pots.  Some of the oldest Japanese Black Pines trained in this manner have a large bulbous base.

                 When the Kansako tree was donated, it was in a deep round pot and had not been repotted for quite a few years.  The potting media was a solid dense mass and the tree was struggling with sections dying out.  In the initial 1995 repotting here, about 1/3 of the old potting media was removed with an emphasis on replacing the media in the outer and bottom sections.  The old removed media was rescreened, and some harder granules retained to be mixed with Fuku-Bonsai's pumice aggregate mix to make a faster draining transitional potting mix. 

                A larger, wider, shallower round pot was used to try to encourage new roots and the health of the tree greatly improved as shown in the first photo with donor Ted Tsukiyama.   A second and third repotting several years apart continued to remove the old media with special efforts to remove the really dense media in the center of the root ball where there were relatively few roots.

                  In this year's work the objective was to penetrate and remove the about 20% remaining hard original dense clay-rock material.  The work of the previous years had been effective as fine hair roots had increased and were most abundant in the bottom and outer edges that include our more porous faster draining granular potting materials.  With a blunted point steel dibble, it took a long while, but I was able to break through the dense compact center of the remaining root ball from the top and through the bottom. There were few fine roots and little by little I was able to remove the remaining dense media and ended up using a strong hose nozzle to water blast out any remnants.   

                   Jackson knew when his end was near. He invited bonsai old-timers in a specific order and told them they could pick out a specific number of bonsai at just token prices that were less than even the costs of the pots.  He passed away shortly after his collection was dispersed. Three of Jackson's juniper bonsai eventually made it into the Hawaii State Bonsai Repository.  One had been acquired by Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro and two by Ted Tsukiyama. The first one donated by Ted was stolen at the Kona Fuku-Bonsai Center and  in 1993 he donated the oldest one featured in this article which details the current repotting technique used in the older repository memorial bonsai.  




            The pot is an 8-sided petal design by Japan master potter Akiji Kataoka who hand-signed this premium outstanding pot.  This is one of his last pots as he ended an impressive long career in which he seemed to return to his roots and respect for Chinese design concepts.  Similar impressive earlier pots were based upon 6-sided designs that had three feet as the Japanese have an advertence to the number of four.  But Chinese value balance and use four elements effectively. 



             I rescreened the removed potting material and larger aggregate caught in the 3/8" screen was placed in a hill over the large central hole.  Plastic ribbon ties were threaded through the four outer holes. With a flat trowel and a back and forth motion, the hill was firmed into a smooth cone.




              I rescreened and what went through the 3/8" screen and was caught in the 1/4" screen was the "medium coarse."  A little was used over the central cone and Nutrient Granules added over it.  A lot more medium coarse was added so the base of the cone was extended to where the pot walls met the bottom of the pot.  The trowel was used with the back and forth with some patting-down motions.  Although the hill is made up of only aggregate,  it pretty much stays in place compared to when it was loose.


               It became too dark for photos as I completed the potting by placing the tree on the hill,  rescreening and what went through the 1/4" screen and caught in the 1/8" screen was used to finish potting with more back and forth and patting with the trowel to firm up the very gravelly media.  The ribbon ties secured the tree to the pot with more "vibration and pressing down" with the trowel as I finished for the day.  The photos were taken when I restarted the next day. 

               Our standard potting strategy is to have a coarse aggregate-only bottom,  a unimix of 75%-80% various size aggregate including dust with 20%-25% organic (coco-peat) with amendments as the body mix, and the use of a fine coffee-grain size aggregate only as a top dressing.  Because of the larger size of our porous aggregate,  including the fine dust in the body mix is beneficial.

               When superior drainage is necessary,  we switch to an "aggregate-only" potting strategy as described above.  We start with a "coarse bottom central hill,"  enlarge the hill with medium coarse, then smaller coarse.  If each layer of increasingly smaller aggregate is properly placed and tooled, it will stay in place.  This is tedious work and it works with older repository bonsai as well as mini-bonsai as reported by Jay Boryczko's article posted at www.fukubonsai.com/1a6z9.html   

               To finish,  we use a 1/4" thick layer of the fine dust and organic matter that comes through the 1/8" screen.  This is dampened and it will stay in place.  It is very effective in promoting an abundance of fine root hairs that colonize the contoured surface and hold it.  The fine roots are followed by larger and larger roots.  This is effective if it can be prevented from drying out and not washed away when watering.  For the export nursery, we use a full over-lapping aluminum foil collar with a lot of air holes.  For larger display bonsai we complete with Java Moss to protect the contoured hill.




             REPOSITORY UPDATE.   As Fuku-Bonsai continues its recovery and we restore the repository memorial trees,  we are also upgrading and improving the display furniture and educational exhibits.  The above photos show the individual freestanding display stands that are being built and one of the designs to provide educational information.  This is a major use of the funds donated to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation.  You can show your support of our efforts by making a donation to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation. You'll receive an acknowledgement and receipt as your donation is gratefully accepted and tax deductable.  





            REPOSITORY JUNIPER #2:   Most of our annual repository work on junipers are of a more modest nature and the above photos show before and after photos of a smaller younger Juniperous squamata 'Prostrata'.  Strategic pruning exposes the interesting traits. This penjing juniper was created in the early 1980's right after the China Bonsai Tour and features an ocean-eroded lava rock similar to the Chinese Taihu rocks.  This tree is notable in being planted on the side and under an overhanging section of the rock.  the long original trunk has evolved into a long horizontal branch that flows behind the rock and in growing left, balances the upper part of the tree which is growing to the right. 

            As junipers get older, portions of the oldest sections begin to die out and exposing the dead wood that ages into driftwood effects add character to the tree.  As the crown of the tree thickens,  branches below the crown extend outwards and some die out and also form driftwood effects.  This tree is about 40 years old in training from a cutting made shortly after Fuku-Bonsai was formed on the Big Island in 1973.  In Hawaii,  older sections dying out and forming driftwood effects seem to start when the trees are about 35 years old. 

            Several other juniper bonsai in the permanent collection are exhibiting this effect and this may mean that juniper bonsai may have a much shorter lifespan in tropical Hawaii compared to the aged Shimpaku Chinese Juniper bonsai of Japan.  The Kansako Juniper has an estimated age of about 80 years and it clearly is in the "bonsai decline stage." 

            At Fuku-Bonsai,  we have held meetings to inform our staff as to these conclusions so they will become more knowledgeable about how to maintain older bonsai.  This report is being published in the Journal to assist other existing or future curators of public or private bonsai collections as to the care of tropical type bonsai trees in their collections.  I encourage those who seek a comprehensive knowledge of bonsai to share their knowledge and to contact me if I can assist.  ~~~David  (david.f@fukubonsai.com

             Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014