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WIKLE-ISM and Why it Works

WIKLE-ISM and Why it Works

By Mark Passerello

Have you converted to Wikle-ism yet? After the fascinating-and well attended program given by Jack Wikle at our October meeting, I know I am not the only one to be fascinated by the little trees he grows and equally interested in the method he uses to keep them growing and healthy.

In a nut shell, Wikle’s method consists of:
* Trees are small-in bonsai terms shohin or mame
* Trees are grown under ordinary “shop light” florescent fixtures with cool white type bulbs
* Watering is done by immersion, followed by a dose of very light fertilizer at every watering
* Trees are indoors year round

Using this method, Wikle has had great success, both with types of plants we expect to see indoors, but also those that seem better suited to outdoor growth. On of the big hits of Wikle’s presentation is when he pulls adorably tiny trees out of a well worn metal ice chest. He produced a dandy looking juniper that astonished many “experienced” bonsai growers when he revealed it had been growing indoors for about two decades.

Seeing and hearing what Wikle was up to was a real inspiration to me. Like many Central Ohio Bonsai growers, I have some tropical/warm weather plants that are very happy outside in spring, summer and early fall. They would come inside and the countdown would begin-it was always a race between them and me to see if I could coax them into living until spring when they would be free from an artificially lighted prison and go outside again to enjoy all the sunshine they could soak up. I started out with fluorescent lights, and had decent success for a couple years, but seeing a need to up-grade the equipment, I invested in a 400 watt metal halide grow light. Ten years later, I’m glad to not be using it. It made the growing area hot-about 10 degrees, and would singe leaves that got to close. It certainly added to a heftier electric bill, and I never saw good steady even growth in the plants, they seemed to be very etiolated, though that may have had as much to do with watering and fertilizing as it did with light. I watered with a traditional watering can and fertilized on a very hit or miss basis.

Every year I would lose a plant or two because I missed a watering and it dried out, or it got over watered and the roots got sick. I didn’t invest in any of the expensive gear that moves or adjusts the lights position to cover a wide area, so I had a smallish circle of usable light and beyond that a no-mans land (no plant land) where things did grow well. It was worst for the taller plants, since their tops got light but the bottom part of the foliage mass faded away.

Through attrition or choice I have gotten rid of any indoor tree that isn’t shohin or mame. A Green Island Ficus that I have had for 15 years, a tree that I wanted to develop into one of those barrel trunked trees that impress on first sight-and which was never happy all winter- is now cropped and trimmed to a height of 7 inches. All my indoor plants are arranged in two lines under a pair of shop light fixtures. I immersion water and use a dilute fertilizer every time. So far things look very good, plants are growing, I’m enjoying being around them, and I’m shelling out less money to American Electric Power, so I’m sold on the virtues of “Wikle-ism”.

Observing even for this short space of time here is why I believe Wikle is successful with his set up-and how the rest of us can emulate that success. First the size of the trees is ideal for indoors where light is at a premium. Small trees are much easier to provide more than adequate illumination. Watering by immersion is the most thorough way insure the trees have proper moisture, and makes sure that every part of the soil mass than can absorb and hold water will do so. Pots watered by immersion also drain better, the large volume of water being worked on by gravity to insure that all excess water leaves the pot. Fertilizing at every watering makes nutrition available on a continual and regular basis-no guess work or complicated record keeping. Being indoors gives the trees a very consistent and even environment, so growth is regular and predictable, and there are no extremes of temperature or rain to make life hectic. Tiny trees that would need extensive pampering and special care if kept outdoors are much easier when grown indoors in this manner. I think it is an ideal way to grow small bonsai.