Yeah, it’s another trunk chop, like butta!

Here’s an easy one for me, but maybe not so for you all.
Exhibit A:
Ficus salicaria, or willow leaf ficus to us non-Romans.
Dave (you guys remember Dave, right?) won this tree on the raffle table at the last BSF convention.
If you read the title, you know what I’m going to do.
Let me set the scene:
It is July 27th, about 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the middle of the rainy season in Florida.
Which means that it’s cooler (no, really, in the summer it doesn’t get that hot here.) than a lot of the northern U. S. But it is a lot more wet and humid (the heat index is around 100).
We are hanging around at the end of this month’s study group meeting with Guest artist Hiram Macias from Miami.
We are drinking beer (which might explain everything) and I’m studying this tree.
I’ve been looking at it all meeting and it’s time for the saw.
I’m going to cut it about here:
And that’s what I do.
You should have seen Hiram’s face.
He said something to the effect of,
“…whoa! That low?”
I said,
“Yeah, it has all kinds of reverse taper..see?”
He looked at me, and then at Dave as if to say,
“¿es este pendejo mal de la cabeza?”
Maybe, Hiram, maybe.
Here’s Dave with the top.
Wait, is he flipping me off?
Hijo de puta! Cabrón!
The tree now.
There’s a saying that’s used often by the old timers in Florida.
I think it originated either with John Naka or maybe Mas Imazumi.
It goes,
” I can make that tree with one cut…”
And I did.
Well, I had to add one wire too….
When I trunk chopped it, I cut it to a branch, as is my SOP.
But the new top was a bit horizontal.
So, with a bit of wire.
We have an apex reaching for the heavens.
Or something like that.
And yes, the wire is a little messy, sorry.
You caught me wiring dirty.
That’s ok, no one will see it anyway.
The chop scar was covered with the putty version of cut paste.
From my experience, it seems to work best.
I gently removed the old potting soil and trimmed a few crossing roots, and I put it back into the same pot with some good bonsai soil.
It’s grown quite a bit in the last few minutes.
Y’all need to move to Florida and experience our jungle-like growth.
Well…that’s actually the top.
It’s way too big to throw out and it’s a perfect cutting; it will root in that pot.
That’s Florida ficus for you.
Enough fooling, here’s the tree.
You like that orange bucket behind it, don’t you?
It’s like a rising sun.
Get it?
All the tree needs now is lots of sunlight, fertilizer and water.
Everything your books tell you not to do after a major trunk chop and root pruning.
A ficus in the heat of summer wants to grow, so you gotta give it what it needs.
And that pertains to the whole world; if your temps are hot, your ficus should be growing.
Push them, fertilize more (you should see how much Jim Smith, THE tropical bonsai guy, puts on his trees) and trim the damn things.
Don’t be afraid to trunk chop either, have a beer if you need some courage.
In fact….amigo, por favor, uno mas cervesa!

What was I thinking (or drinking) with these two trees?

Two bonsai walk into a bar…..stop me if you’ve heard this one, ok?… tree says to the other,
“Jeez, you look rough, what style are you supposed to be?”
The other, a little drunk, says,
“Never mind that, were you styled by an apprentice?”
“Now why would you say that?”, the first tree says.
“Because..” says tree number two,
“I’m pretty sure you’re a juniper, but you look like an ash”
Today’s trees are (no, not a juniper or ash) a green island ficus (ficus microcarpa), and a Texas ebony (Ebenopsis ebano).
I teased my Facebook friends with the Texas ebony a few weeks back, so I figured I’d pay it out.
I’ll start with it.
It’s a tough one.
Uhhhh….wut da’ wut?
I told you so.
Let me look at the ficus just to make myself feel better.
It’s a much easier tree to style.
Simple, this one is screaming to the world,
You can probably hear it all the way in Australia, can’t you?
Can anyone please tell me what the Texas ebony is saying?
Tommy, can you hear me?
Tune in Tokyo (I love playing that game with my wife by the way).
Ok, I guess maybe I should start with the roots.
This is the first time I’ve repotted this kind of tree in the summer.
I almost treat a Texas ebony like a deciduous tree, as it can lose it’s leaves in the winter.
Education time, if you’d like you can skip over this part.
Go to the next photo.
Of course, you’ll lose your place in the narrative but, it’s ok, it’s not that important……
The Texas ebony used to be called pithecellobium flexicaule but, as has been happening a lot of late, it’s been reclassified.
Ebonopsis (which sounds like a synopsis of an ebony…) ebano (this is what the trees common name in Spanish is, actually. It’s called Texas ebony but it’s natural range occurs in Old Mexico more than in Texas. We’re a bit arrogant sometimes I guess).
Planted in the ground, the ébano (maybe it’s a good tree to pee on, given the name of the tree in Spanish is awfully close to the Spanish word el bãno. Or maybe because the seedpod looks like a turd? That sounds more plausible….) is an amazingly drought tolerant tree.
In a bonsai pot, it closes up it’s leaves and generally sulks when it’s dry.
It doesn’t die though.
It has an adaptation where the tree will go dormant if it dries out too much (don’t throw it away if it drops all it’s leaves, in other words).
It’s also cold tolerant to 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit and it will drop it’s leaves at this time. If it’s closer to the 15 degrees limit you may get tip damage but it will come back from the next bud.
I’ve always repotted them at the end of winter myself, but Erik (Mr. Wigert, sir, to the rest of you) repots them in the summer (or now, as it were) so, in a show of solidarity to my brother-from-another-mother, I will repot now.
It has terribly hard wood (aha!) but the heartwood is not black like the African ebony (diospyrus mespiliformis) or true ebony (diospyrus ebenum) but more of a red or purplish color.
It does have spines, which are just the perfect size to impale ones finger tips on when wiring, and the leaf is compound.
It is in the legume family, which is why it used to be called by the various names, mimosa, pithecelobium, acacia, chloroluceun and zygia.
Now it’s classified in its own a group with a similar tree called ebenopsis confinis (if anyone can find an example of this tree I’d like to have one).
One last fact (here’s an interesting aside for you: the word “factoid” actually means a “false or made up fact”) that pertains to bonsai: the branches grow in a zig-zag habit.
Nuff’ larnin’, back to work!
I raked and washed and trimmed the roots.
Got some mud all over my boots.
I looked around at what choices I got
Ah, lookie here, I like this pot!
I found it at, of all places, Target.
It’s made of cement or concrete (I can’t ever tell the difference) and only had one hole, so I drilled the four small holes for tie down wires.
With what I have in mind for this tree, I’m going to need some serious cordage.
But….in the spirit of the original Facebook posting, you’re going to have to wait just a little longer….I’m turning to the green island now.
Like I said, this one is easy.
The dilemma is the pot.
I’m not sure if I have a good one for it.
Or one big enough.
Let me dig around here……
I got this one at Target too. And no, I’m not getting paid to endorse them, I wish.
This should work.
I think.
Like the flip-side of a pillow.
It needs a little wire, the cascading branch is a way too straight.
I should point out (to be honest with you, my dear readers) that I cracked the branch here.
The crack is not all the way through and the little bit of cut putty I put on it will help heal it.
And now, finally, the Texas ebony.
Some wire.
And finally, the reveal….
I’m not sure which side will be the front quite yet.
To recap: two trees, one tree, pretty easy to figure out and one tree, not so:
I took the easy one and put it into a non-traditional pot.
I think I hit the….target with the pairing (HA!).
and the other tree?
I like it.
I think I prefer this side as a front.
What does the future hold for these two trees?
Did I kill the Texas ebony with an unseasonal (to me at least) repotting?
Will the green island ficus recover from the cracked branch?
Will Little Orphan Annie escape from the evil clutches of the unethically-harvested Yamadori panderer?
You will have to tune in next time to discover the truth!

How about some love for a ficus benjamina?

Today we shall look at the lowly ficus benjamina, a pariah of the bonsai world.
It seems that hardly anyone likes the so-called weeping fig except for rank beginners and…..wait a minute, am I reading this correctly?
I think I am….it seems that the really big time artists like Pedro Morales or Robert Stevens like them too.
What is it about these trees (and they are trees, I’ve seen them as big as freakin’ houses. So, to all you biased, ignorant, and elitist enthusiasts who dismiss benjaminas, and any ficus for that matter, to hell with you!) that inspire those enthusiasts who are just beginning their bonsai journey and those masters who should know better?
Well, that’s what I’m here to try to explain.
And, as always, I have a tree to work on at the same time.
I’ll begin by listing the drawbacks, which are many, to the cultivation and styling of this kind of tree.
Today’s work will be on a smaller leafed variety of ficus benjamina called “too little”.
A medium or “chuhin” sized tree.
It’s been neglected a little and it’s rootbound.
Which isn’t too much of a problem with ficus.
This is the pot it’s been residing in for a few years.
I’m going to go through the negative characteristics and, as I describe them, I’ll put them all into perspective.
One complaint against the benjamina is that you’ll get interior dieback like this.

The reason it does this is an easy one. Lack of light.
The same thing happens on junipers too.
Solution: keep them trimmed.
The next complaint: bizarre back budding.

I’m not sure why people complain about this but they do.
My rebuttal: have you ever worked on a trident maple?
They do the same thing and the trident is considered one of the best trees for bonsai.
Let me begin pruning the tree I have in front of me and as I cut, I’ll deal with the first two criticisms.
Looks intimidating, doesn’t it?
Oh, here’s a third one too: the branches will suddenly grow straight up from a top bud.
An annoying growth habit.
One shared by most elm trees.
How do you deal with it?
Easy, and it’s even a cliche, nip it in the bud.
Or, if you discover it too late….
…..nip it at the base I guess.
Ok…all the dead branches, odd shoots, multiple limbs et al, have been removed…..
….and this leads us quite nicely to the number one complaint about the ficus benjamina: if you cut a branch and don’t leave green, (a leaf or a visible bud) that whole branch will die.
To answer this pet peeve let me remind everyone that both junipers and pine trees are exactly the same as the ficus benjamina in this characteristic. And they are considered the two best trees for bonsai (at least by most bonsai people).
Why is this dieback characteristic vilified in the weeping fig but treated as a thing to be endured on a conifer?
How do we then prune this ficus if we could inadvertently kill a branch with an errant snip of our scissors?
Like this:


Which is the same way one prunes a conifer; leave some green.
In order to encourage some back budding, I’m going to prune as far back as I can.

And contrary to popular belief, you can defoliate a benjamina. You just have to make sure that you don’t damage the visible bud under the leaf.
Why would you need to defoliate one?
If you were showing the tree and you needed smaller leaves you would defoliate it.
The tree (most trees, actually) will respond by putting out twice as many leaves but they’ll only grow half as big.
This technique takes advantage of the way trees feed themselves.
The process is called photosynthesis. And, basically, a tree needs a certain square footage (or, in the rest of the world using the metric system, square centimeters, which just doesn’t sound as lyrical or poetic) of leaves to accomplish this process. When the leaves are damaged due to wind or insects (or my pruning shears) the tree responds by ramping up leaf production and growing as many as it can. But they’ll stop growing once that square footage is reached.
And they’ll have smaller leaves as a result.
I will point out this: we only do it to trees that are healthy and in development (for show or ramification).
A seedling doesn’t need this technique.
I won’t be defoliating today (Wow Adam, are you ok?) because I don’t need smaller leaves.
They’re “too little” now anyway (groan, I know, I know, I had to say it though).
Some other negative things that people don’t like have to do with wiring.
First, they say that wired branches don’t stay in place when you take the wire off.
Try working with a white pine.
Next, the branches get wire scars too easily.
Japanese maple?
And lastly, the branch will die if you wire it.
Ginkgo biloba comes to mind.
So, my dear readers, what are some of the positives about this ficus and do they make up for the (supposed) negatives?
Let’s see if I can make a case.
I’ll start at the roots.
Being a ficus, you can cut the shit out of the roots and it won’t skip a beat just as long as it’s growing (which is year long if you can give bottom heat to the root zone). And, FYI, “cut the shit” is a highly technical horticultural term we in the industry use when we mean ” prune aggressively”.
Just in case you want to sound like you are “in the know”.
On my victim today, I don’t need to be all that drastic with the root work.
There’s just one root I need to cut out.
Do you see it?
Now you don’t!
If you’ve read my posts before, you’ll know that I truly dislike crossing roots on a ficus.
How then can I abide this?
Well….let me introduce you to a twin trunk style called, variously, “mother/daughter”, “father/son” or “husband/wife”.
This one is a husband/wife; I’ll explain why in a second.
A father/son composition usually has one large and one half size tree and the smaller tree is in front.
A mother/daughter is a larger and a 1/3 size with the smaller tree in the back.
A husband/wife is two trees that are close to being the same size, maybe the smaller one is 3/4 as large.
The wife should be behind the husband.
And, as you might have guessed already, the placement is as it is for purely male chauvinistic reasons.
The male protects the female.
The father pushes his son forward.
The mother protects the daughter.
One more detail.
You may have noticed that I rotated the front from here:
To here:
This was to bring the couple closer together with the wife leaning towards the husband, adoringly worshiping her man.
Like I said, chauvinist through and through.
And that’s how I justify this crossing root.
The husband is protecting his wife, or making sure she is behind him.
It’s a touchy subject.
But it segways right into another positive feature about the benjamina.
Of all the ficus (or trees in general) I’ve worked on, the benjamina will develop better nebari faster than any other.
The tree throws out roots readily (both surface and, if you want them, aerial) and from all sides (radially,as it were), which is what a bonsai artist is looking for in a tree.
They even fuse faster than any other tree, making for that melted wax look that’s prized on a root spread.
And, with our couple, as with all couples, the roots will fuse and become as one.
Also, as an aside, they propagate from cuttings very easily, with almost all cuttings developing roots fast.
Speaking of well developed roots, back to the work at hand.
A fair bit or raking and pruning later.

A fresh bed of my Supermix™.
And Bob’s your uncle.
Actually, Bob is my neighbor. Really nice man, he grows his own food and shares it with my large family all the time.
My wife loves it when it’s collard green time. I cook them with a ham bone and I use beef stock and I add lots and lots of garlic and onions.
As for the ficus, plenty of organic fertilizer.
Yes, that much.
And a pre-emergent weed preventer.
And I think I’m done.
No, not quite.
This branch has to go, it’s crossing and breaking up the trunk lines.
Which leads us to one final pro in the benjaminas favor.
If I cut this branch, I’ll have a big pruning wound right in front for everyone to see (which I don’t mind too much, but some people think it’s an affront to god).
The benjamina heals faster than any tree I’ve seen too, ficus or not.
So I’m not worried about this cut.
Or the one behind it either.
One last bit of housekeeping and then I’m done.
The benjamina is loved by one other creature that I must mention.
The Cuban laurel thrip.
I control an infestation (which is evidenced by the leaves folding in half longways) by using this product.
It’s a granular systemic that works by making the plant poisonous to the bug if the bug chews on the plant.
It’s safer to use than a spray (no accidental inhalation or overspray) and it is targeted to one specific plant.
And with that done, I’m done.
I think, dear reader, the evidence is clear that a benjamina can (and does) make good bonsai.
Of course there are those that will never be convinced; these are the enthusiasts who’ve made a good intermediate level career by sneering at those hapless fools who just won’t listen to their good advice (“Why, oh why can’t the noobs just trust all my years of accumulated knowledge? It’ll save them so much time and wasted work on those worthless trees.”)
Here’s the before.
And here’s the after.
Looks like a tree to me.
A bonsai tree, even.

Carving a Japanese Black Pine and a Podocarpus

The two trees.
Black pine
The podocarpus you’ve seen before at the Epcot Flower and Garden Show in 2013.
It belongs to my friend Bobby, in fact, they both do.
He wants me to carve on them and give a more natural look to the deadwood.
I’m starting with the pine and, as always, safety first.
The pine was imported from Japan and the age guesstimates are between 80-100 years old.
It is what the growers in Japan consider “export” grade.
Which means it’s impressive but not very unique. There’s probably thousands of them on the market.
By exporting them, the prices are somewhat higher than what the grower might get when sold to a local finisher and, most importantly, it’s easier to sell; the Japanese consumers are not interested in this size tree much anymore, for various reasons.
So, it was sold to an American importer (it might not have even been seen before purchase except in photos) and went through the quarantine procedure (and all that) and then sold to my friend.
Wait, quarantine?
Yes. It seems that Japan is a nasty ecological nightmare when we consider fungus, disease and insects.
Which explains all those pictures of the hapless bonsai apprentices wearing hazmat suits and respirators spraying the bonsai with all types of nasty chemicals.
And also explains to you, dear reader, why I’m decked out like a Grand Theft Auto thug while I’m carving this pine tree.
I don’t need some rare, degenerative, alveoli-shrinking creeping-crud fungus living in my body.
The only problem is, this get-up makes it tough to slake the thirst, so to say.
The problem I have with the pine is it’s commonness.
Besides it’s girth (which isn’t all that impressive, have you seen my belly?) it’s pretty undifferentiated from any other tree.
So, with that in mind, here’s my design for the tree:
Pretty ambitious, I better get to work.
The tree was grown fat using (what appears to be, from the scars) many sacrifice branches.
Whomever cut them off, however, didn’t have the forethought to leave any nubs for Jin or carving.
Slightly annoying.
In my carving today, I have to be real careful of knocking off the bark; it takes a long time to grow and it’s one of the most prized aspects of pine trees that show age.
Now, I think I’ll begin by cleaning out the….whoops, we have bark section falling off here.
I DID NOT do that!!
I don’t know who did, but it wasn’t me, promise!
Who has the glue?
Disaster averted.
I’m going to touch up the sawn-off-flat sacrifice-branch scars first.
I’m using my flex-shaft grinder with the small handset, a one inch rotosaw, and the flame bit.
And the carving commences.
Four down and…. hmph, looks like a hippo-
A wise, jaded hippo..
This one has a slim bit of wood to carve.

This is just a hole, into which I can’t help but to stick my finger.
Here’s a knob has some meat to it.
But overall there’s not much to carve.
This one turned out cool.
I still can’t really believe how sloppy the grower was in just sawing off these sacrifice branches.
This is the trunk chop.
It looks like the Farpoint Station/space jellyfish from the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
To boldly go where no one has gone before indeed.
How’s this, more like a tear than a pointy point?
Unfortunately, no one’s going to see it.
By this point you should’ve realized I was pulling your leg when I showed you my “design”.
If I did that now I’d surely kill it.
The extent of my carving today is cleaning up the sloppy job the grower did when pruning off the sacrifice branches.
I don’t need to transform every tree I work on into an Adam Lavigne exclusive tree.
And, even if was asked to do a full on, carved out, hollow trunk re-styling, I don’t think I would.
The tree, with it’s impressive size, has a gravitas already that needs more than a flash and bling treatment just for the sake of doing it.
To prove to everyone that I can piss just as far as they can.
And so, this is how we will leave the tree.
But wait, you say, what about wiring? Candle pruning?
It’s a big bush!
I know, I know!
You all (and my wife) can attest to my penchant for trimming back a big bush, but it’s just not the correct time, by about a month, to do that kind of work in Florida.
This tree is on it’s maintenance schedule and we can’t interrupt it just because my palms are itching to do it.
(You know, if you think about it, a bonsai tree on a schedule is a tad like work:
Thou must do this specific work, on this aspect of development, and at this particular time, falling during this exact interval on the Julian calendar or else.)
Anyway, next tree: podocarpus macrophylla.

My job here is to make the Jin a little more natural.
I like to teach that your carving should be carved, not just drawn on the surface with the carving tools.
I like deep detail and a natural look.
Here, I even connected the two hollows.

I wish there was more to carve here.
I have no choice but to make this feature a little, ah….vulval.
Which isn’t all bad, if your into that kind of thing. Which I try to be…you know….into those kind of things…
Anyway, it’s better than a sharp stick in your eye.
As you can see, I didn’t changed the structure or look of the tree at all.
The style and the mature look is there already, I just blended the old look of the branching with the, now, older, more natural looking Jin. Or versa/vice, as it were.
And that’s all.
Sometimes I do feel the need to drastically change a tree.
But it wouldn’t be honest to do that kind of work to every tree you’re asked to work on.
Would it?
Thank you, Bobby, for the opportunity once again to work on some high quality material.
I will see you soon my friend.

Hollies, Junipers and Ficus, oh my!

After the Cincinnati workshop (see the last post) and lunch at the Hoffbräuhaus (beer), it was time to travel to Indianapolis and to my new friends house, Mark Fields.
And this is what I’m talking about, total bonsai, the first thing I see when I get there is a wiring job in progress on a pine.
He had been teaching a class earlier in the day on wiring a secondary level on the branch pad. Something that is never seen in books.
I got a quick tour in the bright, Indiana summer sunlight.
This is a jade called crassula ovata “gollum”.
He grew this tree from a small cutting.
This next tree is a trident maple made up of about a hundred saplings that were attached to a cone structure and allowed to fuse together.
It’s pretty cool but also controversial. Is it a real bonsai?
I think so, because, if grafting is a valid bonsai technique (which it seems to be) then this is just an extreme form of grafting.
What do you think?
The next tree is a familiar face.
A Neea buxifolia forest.
Which was a welcome sight, I’d like to introduce neea to a much wider audience and the fact that Mark can grow them and, indeed, make them thrive up in this frozen tundra is heartening.
Look at this little fella:
Mark had a lot of trees, many tropicals but also many conifers.
Look at the deadwood on this juniper.
And the grandeur this tree oozes.
If, in fact, grandeur can ooze.
He also had many deciduous trees, hornbeam, elm, and many maples, like this Acer palmatum….
…which are usually grown taller. But I like the short, wide, almost tropical feel to this one.
But of all of these trees, this next one stood out.
A small leafed ficus burt davyii.
It was grown by Mark from a pencil-thick cutting into that magnificent root-over-rock specimen.
It is probably the best root-over-rock I’ve ever seen and, me being from Florida and all, the best burt davyii I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot.
I told him, sincerely, that if he put this tree into the upcoming National Exhibition put on by William Valavanis, it could possibly take the best tropical award.
He photoed it and emailed it to Bill and, within minutes, it was accepted into the show.
I hope it shows well.
After the whirlwind nursery tour I once again fell victim to the late northern sunset. It was almost 9:30 pm and the sun was still up and I’d had a long day.
It was time for a little blogging and then bed.
I had a very busy day the next day.
It was the workshop I’d been waiting for the whole trip.
The one with my favorite tree, the ilex vomitoria schillings dwarf.
Which is a weird thing that I didn’t get many pics.
The workshop took place in a Catholic high school in one of the science labs.
I only got one pic of a finished tree (and a grumpy looking man. He wasn’t grumpy, actually very happy, I think he was just giving me his passport photo face. )
I styled his tree into an upright, deciduous tree style (like the silver maples I’d been seeing all over).
In an earlier post I had mentioned that deciduous trees up here grew taller, by half, than they did in Florida and I wanted to make a tree that looked like the ones I’ve been marvelling over since I’d been here.
I promised I’d draw him a pic of the tree as I saw it.
What a great bunch of people to work with in the Indianapolis club.
Thanks for inviting me.
By the end of the workshop it was time for dinner.
Everyone chose Hooters (I was indifferent. No, really, I promise) but, after an adventure looking for an open one, we were stuck with eating at Red Lobster.
Then it was back to Mark’s place for another night.
The next morning’s coffee was a surprise: it took me travelling all the way to Indiana to discover this awesome Puerto Rican coffee.
Which is ironic since I have so many Puerto Rican friends.
With many thanks to Mark’s family and a goodbye to his tortoise….
….I left this ilex in his care, I’d really like to see what he will do with it.
It is a personally collected tree that I brought along because I wanted to bring the best trees I had, but I had hoped no one would want it.
Mark wanted it.
It’s in good hands now, I know.
I can’t wait to see what he does with it.
On the road again.
This trip to Washington Indiana was full of big, empty fields with all the interesting stuff way in the distance.
I was on my way to a private session with my friend CD, author of a bonsai blog as well (
He had some junipers and some ficus he wanted help with.
It was on my way back to my accommodations for the night so I met up with him.
He had two junipers that looked surprisingly like a parsonii juniper.
But had a different cultivar name.
The foliage was really similar though.
After examining the first tree I decided that we could do some initial styling but, horticulturally, it might not be a good idea to wire everything now.
If a juniper is in a growing state the bark and cambium layers become loose and wiring/bending excessively can compromise the health of the tree.
This “looseness” makes it easier to create Jin though.

Some hand carving with my pliers.

And a little major branch moving (very carefully)
And that’s about as far as I want to go.
We worked on two junipers and the care they need now, after the abuse, is some shade and to provide some wind protection and using the technique of foliage watering, which a juniper responds well to, the absorption of water through the foliage (it needs regular watering too, but since we removed more than half the foliage and trees transpiration will be diminished by that, it won’t be “using” water quite as well and overwatering now might suffocate the roots).
CD had some ficus to work on as well and I immediately wanted to work on this one.
This was the original front but I liked this front better.
A little wire later and…
I’m not sure CD was convinced that my front was better.
As a side note, he’s a single man at the moment ladies. He’s the quiet, brooding artist type.
He has a beard too.
Anyway, he must have liked how the tree turned out at least a little because I helped him out with a few more trees.
At least, until the skies decided that it was time to go.
I had a four hour drive with many miles to travel before I could rest for the day.
And part of that journey was through a State Park called, improbably, Big Bone Lick State Park.
I just wasn’t sure what to expect.
Fortunately, I arrived back in Covington Kentucky without incident.
I’d managed to stay ahead of the tornadoes and dodged any bone licking that I might have been forced into, and finally I made it back to my home away from home.
You remember Evan?
I took him out to a little fine dining for his hospitality.
After dinner I treated myself to one more of the awesome, local microbrews.
And then it was off to bed.
I had a thousand miles to travel on the morrow.
So far, on my most fantastic bonsai journey, I’ve travelled two thousand miles, met many new friends and worked on some of the most spectacular (and biggest) trees I’ve ever worked on.
Thanks to all the people who made this possible, put together all the workshops and volunteered their homes for me to crash in, to those who fed me and plied me with beer.
I thank you all and hopefully we will see each other again next year.
But now, my thoughts and trail turn towards home.
Just one thousand miles more and I’ll be able to rest my head on my own pillow, snuggle my beautiful wife and sleep, knowing that my family is under the same roof as I am.

Bald cypress workshop in Cincy

Some super-fuel for a busy morning.
Gotta love the goetta!
We had way to many trees…
….it was an ungodly time in the morning and after way too little sleep…..
Time for the impossible.
Yeah, that was a long, painful setup for a lame “flying pig” joke.
This was a workshop I led for the Greater Cincinnati Bonsai Society.
As all good workshops should begin, I had my students defoliate their trees.
The trees we worked on: taxodium distichum, the bald cypress.
Let me set the mood as we watch the defoliations.
The day before I had the day-long ficus salicaria styling session with Evan.

There were many beers.
That night we drove from Covington, Ky to Springfield, Oh for a concert by Get the Led Out, a band that plays Led Zeppelin songs with all of the instrumentation and vocals from the studio recordings. Which means that, at times, there might be three guitarists and two vocalists (Zeppelin liked to overdub a lot).
Now, this isn’t a theatrical act where they try to look like the original members, they just love the music and try to make it sound right.
Kinda like how a symphony orchestra plays.
The band does a great job at it too.
Should they stop in a town near you, I recommend seeing them.
This was the set list.
Anywho, we didn’t get home until near 2 am.
And we had to be at the Garden Civic Center for the workshop at 7 am.

I felt sorry for this student, she is a pretty new beginner.
So I did a little pruning to make it easier for her to take all the leaves off.
She looks a little perturbed.
It’s her first workshop.
The next step was pruning and wiring.

Or, in some cases, raffia!
Wait ’til you see those trees.
Some people chose small trees and they ended up as sweet, old and spooky looking shohin.



We got to practice the flattop style on some of the taller ones that had branches which would support that look.

And we made some pretty neat Jin too.
Our newbie ended up with a cool flattop…
She seems to like it….or maybe not.
But now for some fun.
Evan’s tree.
And this one.
Are you ready?
Let’s work on Evan’s cypress first.
First bend.
We are able to do this because the raffia keeps the outside of bend from breaking in the same way that a pipe bender works. It compresses the outside of the bark and keeps it from together.
It works.
Evan doesn’t seem impressed.
I think it’s cool.
Maybe he’s just hung over.
This next tree was my favorite of the morning.
There’s so much potential.
Tee hee! I feel like a school girl with a new Barbie.
First bend.
And the finished tree.
Before I get complaints that cypress don’t grow this way, they do. Look up a gentleman named Joe Samuels (try the Bonsai Mary website ) who has photographic and artistic representations of naturally occurring cypress that look like these.
But even so, this thing we call bonsai is an art.
And these trees are definitely artistic.
It seemed as though everyone had a good time and were pleased with their trees.
I should also note, I stole this technique from Guy Guidry, cypress virtuoso extraordinaire.
The aftercare I recommended after the work we did:
Doing this type of work at this time on a cypress is a little stressful to the tree but they should do ok if the students soak the tree in a bucket of water until the new growth fills in.
And fertilizer. Lots of organic fertilizer.
Phew, that was hard work.
I think I deserve this.
Lunch at the Hofbräuhaus in Newport, Ky.
There’s nothing like good German dark beer and various wurst to fortify the soul.
My next stop is Indianapolis and a little town called Washington, both in Indiana.

Ficus salicaria rootwork and detail wiring

This post is about the day I took this pic.
If you follow my Facebook or Instagram pages, you’ve seen the photo before.
If not, why not?
Here’s the beginning of that daylong, Kentuckian, private session which ended with a Led Zeppelin concert.
Well, kinda.
Let’s get to work.
This is a ficus salicaria belonging to my friend Evan of the Cincy club (but he lives over the river in Covington, KY) 20140703-211951-76791863.jpg
Yeah, I see those roots.
You want a close up?
I think you’re like one of those people who slow down at a roadside accident, aren’t you?
This must not stand.
I mean, just damn.
Out of the pot, what kind of roots are we looking at?
Hmmmn, the soil is a very familiar mix: calcined clay, red lava, and pine bark.
Look at all these fine roots!
Holy moly!
Who’d a thunk it with all that calcined clay in the mix. Or should I call it by its brand name, Turface?
This is the new mix I’m putting the tree in.
This is my SuperMix© I use on all my trees.
But first, I must have a drink.
It’s hot today here in Kentucky, over 90 Fahrenheit, and I must stay hydrated.
Purified water, ahhh.
We must make sure that the beverages we drink are not contaminated.
It used to be, hundreds of years ago, before the germ theory of illness came into favor, people thought there were water sources haunted by evil spirits and they wouldn’t drink from them.
But….if you made beer out of it, God would bless the brew and it would be safe to drink.
In fact, many a religious experience was had after imbibing alcoholic drink and that’s why the Trappist Monks are renown the World over for their beer making prowess.
Do you know what?
I’ve inspired myself, I think I’ll have a beer.
It’s noon o’clock somewhere.
Ahhhhh, by the gods, that’s good.
Alright, where are my tools?
Time to go all medieval on the roots.
Uh huh.
That’s right.
Some cut paste, or putty, as it were.
And Bob’s your uncle.
I think I’ll dip my foot into the deep pool that is the “wound sealer” debate.
Just a toe, promise.
The first reason I’m using cut putty here is because these wounds are so low on the tree and I want them protected from the routine watering we do.
Ficus will rot no matter what but, by protecting the cuts, the edges will begin to heal and roll over faster.
The second reason is aesthetic, the putty blends in a little better and looks oh so much prettier.
We are practicing a visual art here.
I’m putting it back into the same pot.
Which is not a bad pot for the tree.
And, as always, I tie it in.
Now, for the pruning.
But first, another frothy, pure beverage.
My idea for an Adam Lavigne signature tool: bonsai scissors with a bottle opener built in (consider this a published, and, therefore, protected idea).
Look for it soon.
Since this tree is really well developedalready (a tribute to Evan’s work, not mine, I’m just a hired wirer) I’m not really removing any major branches or doing anything drastic (well, the root work was kinda harsh) except to rotate the tree about 10-15 degrees counter clockwise (anti clockwise for our European friends) in the pot to show off the movement a little and mitigate some reverse taper (inverse taper for those same Europeans and those who have adopted the term).
I prune as I wire, and I go from the bottom up.
Which brings me to a question; how do you prune and wire your trees?
Let me know, I’m curios.
I’ve read that at least one Japanese nursery teaches their apprentices to prune from the top down because it’s easier to clean up. Idk on that, kemosabe, I don’t clean up after myself.
Back to our ficus at hand.
There are several instances of wire scarring.
If you wire the opposite way as the scars and allow the new wire to cut in……20140703-234731-85651536.jpg
…the resulting scar will add ruggedness to the branch and, in the long term (how we should be thinking about our trees), make the tree look older.
Wire scars are cool, like bow-ties.
Wire, wire, wire, my friends.
It wasn’t until the advent of malleable wire that bonsai really became a truly refined art.
Like the difference between fingerpainting and using a filbert.
Your trees deserve wire.

Oh, don’t forget the beer.
You deserve beer.
Or at least I do, this is thirsty work.
All done, a little dunk (dunk, not drunk, not yet) in some water to settle the soil.
Some serious contemplation of the mess I’ve made.
And the finished tree.

The before-
I’m thinking I’ve reduced the height by about four inches.
I think the roots look so much better now compared to what we started with.
And overall it’s a little more detailed than it was.
Evan seems very happy with it.
Which is what is important, it’s his tree after all, and he has to look at it everyday.
Oh yeah, I didn’t get to see Led Zeppelin, obviously (they’re no longer a band anymore, in case you live in a cave.) but a cover band called Get the Led Out.
Very talented band, they travel all over the country and you should take the time see them when they visit your town.
If you’re into that kinda music.
I am, and I like it loud while I’m working on trees.
With beer.