MAILBAG #18 - JUNE 2014


                    In November of last year, Richard Courtney of Connecticut wrote me and told me that ten years earlier, he had called me,  wanted his lava planting to grow larger, and obtained a #8 Conversion Kit and all went well.  But it's now grown too large and he asked for advice on how and where to prune it.  I put the photo into a graphic program, marked the locations and the directions of the cuts, but advised to hold up to May or June when the plant would be in stronger growth and more able to send out strong new growth.

                   For the top apical cut, make a "dive-bomber cut" almost straight up and down with the cut on the opposite side of where you want the new growth to come out.  Do not cut straight across as new growth will all come out at the same level and it would form a really ugly tree.  For the branches, make flat cuts with the hope that there would be several new growth points.  Select the ones in the best positions and remove the ones that are coming out of the top of the branches or growing towards the center of the trees.  Keep the growth points facing outwards.

                   In Richard's case, I also advised digging some media from the left of the rock, shoving the rock to the left, and using the removed media on the right. This would give a slightly better balance.  Coat the cuts with a little vaseline  or Elmer's Glue to help prevent dieback and continue weekly submergence watering.  New shoots should emerge within one to three months.

                  For those who allowed their trees to overgrow, now's the time to do major pruning.  If you want a second opinion, please send me clear photos from two or more different angles and tell me what would be your preferred appearance and height.  ~~~David (

               I SHARE WITH EVERYONE AND REPORT GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS ABOUT THE JOURNAL!  The bad news is that there continues to be problems and too many of the few emails being received are from those who have problems.  The good news is that the owners care enough and are writing for help a lot earlier than in the past where too often there was nothing I could do to help. REQUESTS FOR ASSISTANCE MUST COME AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE AND PLEASE SEND PHOTOS!  I'm sure everyone knows about the other Journal good news and I appreciate your kind comments!  The editorial staff and I invite you to participate, send questions and comments, and to increase your enjoyment in growing Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai.

              I do not know why I sometimes receive photos (that I think were sent by smart phones) and my computer will not open the photos.  So I ask the senders to send it from a computer or as a PDF or inserted into an MSWord document and I can open it. CAN ANYONE HELP ME TO RESOLVE THIS?

             The above photo was sent in the past week or so and although it really looks bad,  I think there's a chance to save it!  BUT THE OWNER SHOULD HAVE SPOTTED THE PROBLEMS AND ASKED FOR HELP A LOT EARLIER! 

             Notice that there are a lot of white roots visible and that's usually a sign of a healthy plant that clearly is not over-watered.  If it was over-watered, those roots would have rotted and none would be visible!  So if you have white roots and the plant seems in trouble,  SUSPECT UNDER-WATERING!

             First notice how many leaves have dried up.  Usually when a plant is in trouble,  the older leaves (those nearest to the roots and the farthest from the growing tip) will dry and fall off first.  But this plant is not normal as usually leaves will one at a time turn yellow and drop off.  Notice that these leaves are turning a distinctive light bluish green.  Notice also that it turns into a brownish grayish green,  then a darker grey-brown and the leaves don't fall off. THAT'S ANOTHER SIGN OF UNDER-WATERING!

          SO WHAT TO DO?

         In spring of 2012 Fuku-Bonsai conducted an experiment with an HS8 Small Size Dwarf Schefflera Lava Planting which dries out the fastest.

         We built a perch platform in our greenhouse to hold a plant that was not watered at all for two months and we observed the symptoms:  drooping leaves with newest growth tip dying out; trunk, branches and even leaf stems having small vertical creases as the plant dehydrated.

         We soaked it in a bowl of water with the water over the rock.  In this case, in only four days, the plant began to perk up as shown in the photo below. Leaves that were drooping badly are standing up.  Those leaves that did not recover dropped into the water and this seemed to help give the surviving plant more ability to recover. The plant fully recovered within a relatively short time.
         Here's that same plant after soaking in water for four days. Dwarf Schefflera is a really tough plant that will often survive serious abusive situations. 

        Some customers claim that our trees will do well always sitting in 1/2" or more of water for over 1 year!  Others say 2 years!  But then they write and claim it was really doing well until "recently" and they ask for help because the roots are rotted, the trunks are soft and soggy and they can peel the bark off! In the past,  our biggest problem were plants being over-watered!

      Here's a photo sent by another customer that is showing under-watering.  As you can see, trunks, branches and even leaf stems have small vertical creases showing dehydration due to inadequate watering. 

      When you see the tiny creases,  soak the planting in water covering the rock and the creases will begin to disappear as the Dwarf Schefflera sucks up water and rehydrates itself.  In the case of the plant in this photo,  all was well in a week or so because they began soaking before the leaves started showing the effects of under-watering.





       In last month's Journal issue,  an article IDEAS FOR SUCCESS!  summarized our trials of a "semi-terrarium in which a HS8 Small Dwarf Schefflera Lava Planting had grown well, a first branch had reached 8 leaves and had been reduced.  In last month's update, the second branch had reached 8 leaves and had been reduced.  The two shortened branches are now throwing out new growth and the tree is doing well. A semi-terrarium is one answer.

       I present a theory and recommendations for those with "UNDER-WATERING SYMPTOMS."


       It really may be impossible to teach everyone and get 100% success --- but that's our goal so I'll keep trying!  I'm assuming that it is clear that our Dwarf Schefflera should not always be sitting in water, that it needs to dry out a bit between weekly waterings, and that white roots indicate that the tree is doing reasonably well.  It is better to slightly underwater than to over-water. BUT THE APPEARANCE OF SMALL CREASES IN TRUNKS, BRANCHES AND LEAF STEMS IS A SYMPTOM OF UNDER-WATERING! 


        I recommend staying with the weekly water soaking for 30 minutes or so.  BUT AFTER ALLOWING THE ROCK PLANTING TO DRIP A BIT,  PLACE IT ON DRY GRAVEL WHILE IT IS STILL DRIPPING!  You're going to have to experiment a bit because by the end of the week when it's time to water,  your gravel should be visibly dry.  If it is clearly wet, you placed it on the dry gravel while it was still dripping too much.  So next week let it drip a little more before placing it on the gravel.  




        Writing cultural instructions is difficult because each person reading them will interpret the instructions in their own unique way.  When they feel hot, they may water more often regardless of what is written.  They think that they know how to grow plants and that all plants are the same.  THEY'RE NOT!

        Dwarf Schefflera is a unique plant that is a epiphyte that can grow high in other tropical trees where there may be some air humidity but very low moisture levels for the plant's roots. The tree develops aerial roots that drop to the ground, take root, and may strangle and kill its host tree.  It will grow lodged into the face of a rocky cliff where rains may wash away what little dirt has formed.  So it will survive where most other plants won't.  But once the roots start rotting due to too much water,  it will die.  To thrive it needs the right amount of water,  light, and fertilizer.  SO HOW DO WE TEACH THIS?

         Most people prefer not to learn only by reading and we try to include a lot of photos and graphic drawings in the Journal.  I believe it may be helpful for those who want to learn how to grow True Indoor Bonsai to see close-up photos of Dwarf Schefflera that are grown under different light and fertilizer levels as a guide to compare the growth of their plants. 

        Creating such a photo guide will no be easy as there are just so many variables that will influence the appearance of a plant.  The photos to be taken in many parts of the country would need to be taken in a similar manner with some type of description or measurement to meaningfully compare to other photos.  So we need to develop plans and seek input and participation.  Please email me at if you have ideas or want to participate in this effort.  ~~~David    


*** 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