Training bonsai is like going on a trip.  Before you start, it's a good idea to first know where you're going!  Your container dictates how your plant will develop. If you know what you want a number of years from now,  it's best to develop a strategic plan that will get you there and accept whatever it looks like during the journey.  In other words,  if you want a tree that has a strong macho look and feel, don't give it wimpy conditions!  Craig Thompson emailed: 

                Hi David,  I have a larger Brassaia in a 15 inch pot.  I read on your website a couple of years ago that you could actually cut these back quite a bit, cutting off all of the branches and green part.  I think you said this would be good for the growth. But now I can't find this on your website and I'm wondering if I can do this.  I live in Northern California and am not sure that if I can do this, what the best time of year to do it is. Thanks,  Craig Thompson  (October 16, 2003)

                So I emailed back:  "We are working with other customers who want assistance and I invite you too.  Send me clear sharp photographs with a plain background and I'll make recommendations and post it on the website.   This will involve a pledge of long-term progress reports so everyone can learn together."  I have a bad habit of trying to help when I'm really too busy! But it's been a long time since I helped those who especially enjoy Brassaia so I was pleased to receive the following a few hours later:

                Aloha David, kden, here are a couple of pictures of my brassaia.  As you can see, there are several long, narrow trunks coming out of the main trunk.  How do I  thicken these?  Can I cut them way back, so that I cut off all of the green part? I bought this from Fuku-Bonsai in Jan. 2000.  I recently repotted it in your lava.  I fertilize once a month as you suggest.  I soak it in water once per week and have been doing this since I bought it.  It gets a lot of long leggy green growth, but I'm looking for something that resembles the very bottom picture on your "Custom Collection" page.  Something with a thick trunk and lots of thick foliage.   Please help!!! I'm a friend of Fred Thompson, who I believe you know.  He and I are in the Marin Bonsai Club here in Marin County. You're welcome to put this on your web site.  Craig Thompson (San Rafael, California)

CC244Brassaia.jpg (17757 bytes)        CUSTOM COLLECTION #CC-244 Brassaia is approximately 28" high x 33" wide that was grown from seed planted about 1973 when we began Fuku-Bonsai so it's about 30 years old. It's one of the few trees that somehow was not sprayed with defective Benlate that wiped out our Brassaia.  The tree has an exceptional promise to suggest the high wide lofty crowns of exotic tropical banyan trees! This is the tropical equivalent of the formal upright style and it has a special majesty because of the visual strength of the straight trunks and the roots. To obtain that effect took a lot of work and several repottings to be explained below.
Thompson Brassaia 1 Oct. 03.jpg (13319 bytes)        Craig's Brassaia is about 10 years old but until recently I believe it was in an 8" diameter x 2" deep 8LS1 pot.  If so, the tree did fairly well in that small pot and moving it to a larger pot will give it a stronger root system and stronger growth. It was a good step in the right direction.  In this situation, there will be good improvement towards his goal. Because Craig is Fred's friend, and Fred is a heck of a nice no-nonsense guy, I'm going to share some radical ideas that will require a lot of guts, faith, and commitment. But if followed, will result in a tree that has the power of #CC244!
Thompson Brassaia 2.jpg (14460 bytes)        First compare your goals with what you have and it's unlikely that you can ever achieve your goals with the current potting. Your strategy will form a spreading left-oriented grove. To grow a powerful upright, I focus specifically on the strongest tree of the group and would reorient the arrangement so that strongest tree is in the center and pointing straight up.  Your major trees are actually on the left and the largest tree is in a "weak" slanting position. In my opinion, the primary "front" is to view this from the left.
Thompson Brassaia 3 recommendations.jpg (16334 bytes)

    There are 4 thinner lines drawn that are more or less parallel to the direction of the large arrow.  If you mentally move your viewing position to the left and reorient and tilt the trees so the main tree is straight up, you'll have a stronger appearance.

      If you do that, and move the large root (2)  back into the root ball, you'll have a visually stronger root base  that will actually give you and inch or two more overall height.

      The secondary group (3) would be toward the back  and either a bit to the right or left and set up so that from the front, it would give the strongest consistent vertical multiple trunk appearance. The treesin the back would be slanting and with cordage and cushioning,  pull those trees also more upright so they will all be fairly close together and their trunks vertical and close together. 

       It's great if you have a single tree with an exceptionally stout trunk. But you can create that effect by visually having several trees close together which is how CC244 was created.

        1.  If your goal is to create the strength of a formal upright, the main trunk should be straight up and more or less in the center of the group rather than to the side. This would position the other trees in the main group to the left and right of the main tree and would give it a stronger appearance.  The group of smaller trees on the right would end up behind and the combined effect would be several trunks visually compressed and tighter to give the illusion of a stout tight group like CC244.
        2.  There is a very large root that is spreading out and it would be good to bring this in tighter to the main root mass to give a stronger appearance. But be careful.  If you simply tied and forced the root back, you may scar it badly or open up a crack on the outside top where the root connects to the trunk. To avoid this, clean the main root ball in the area that you'll be moving that large root into and trim away small roots.  If there is strong resistance when you try to move the root in,  you should make a small cut at the small mark above the head of the small arrow where the root joins the trunk.  It is better to make a cut below the root rather than a tear develop on the outside of where the root joins the trunk.  Put some cushioning such as a popsicle stick on the outside of the root and by going around the root mass several times with stout cordage, move that root in to visually become a part of the root mass. Viewed from the "front," this should visually strengthen your vertical line. 

        3.  With your tree out of the pot, I'm recommending that you tilt the entire tree so the main tree is straight upright and the smaller trees are slanting.  This has a philosophical basis.  The main tree was there first so it would grow upright and not have to react to other trees.  The smaller trees developed later so each of them had to grow out from under the shade of the oldest tree. It's a principle of nature.  The oldest tree does not grow slanted . . . the younger ones do. If the oldest tree was slanted, the younger ones would be more so.

                This is written in October and it still should be safe to do the above adjustments and to use the same pot.  Position it close to the center of the pot and just a bit off-center depending on the specific "front" that you choose and how the back trees best appear.   Be sure to anchor the trees well so the trunks don't shake at all as you want the new roots to grow strongly. 

                Give the tree the strongest light and highest temperatures that you can.  I recommend that for this type of growth, that you incorporate MagAmp (magnesium ammophosphate), the only chemically controlled release fertilizer that has an N-P-K rating of 6-40-7.  This is the best fertilizer that can safely be incorporated into the potting mix.  It is a chemical compound and not a coated fertilizer like Osmocote. 

                It will not prematurely release even if you have an extremely rainy season and this is crucial at our Kurtistown nursery where we may get 175 inches of rain a year .  .   .  sometime with several inches in a day and continual rain for an entire month! MagAmp is normally only available in 50 pound sacks and Fuku-Bonsai has obtained repackaging permission and will be able to offer smaller quantities in the near future.  

                But when your weather warms up next spring, I'm going to recommend that you move the plant into a larger container and to create a year or two of "accelerated growth."   To get the feeling of strength, there is no substitute for a period of such strong growth and this might be best if done in a greenhouse or outdoors to get stronger light and hotter temperatures.

                ~~~David (October 17, 2003)


                Craig:   This is linked and already live on the website but relatively few people will find it. I'll be including it in the FBnews to be issued just after Thanksgiving.  If you agree with the above recommendations and do the potting adjustment and send photos, I'll be able to update this, okay!  I'll also be making a drawing on the fine points of accelerated growth techniques.  Please ask Fred for his thoughts too and give him my best.    Regards,  ~~~David (October 17, 2003)
                PS.   I'm not usually so quick but happened to have some free time!  I'm way behind on some of the other customer requests but I'm especially pleased when people with some bonsai background are applying it towards houseplant bonsai. If you can't get MagAmp there, I'll send you some for the spring accelerated growth.

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