Three elms, three ways, three beers

I’m three beers in and it occurs to me that I should be documenting this.
Whoops, I need my black backdrop.
It’s amazing what a difference a backdrop makes in photographing a tree.
That will be the first lesson of the post.
Whenever you take a pic for Facebook, Instagram or even a forum, use a backdrop.
The three trees I’m working on are all elms.
I’ve already removed the wires and did a quick clean up and topiary prune on this one.
It’s a cedar elm (ulmus crassifolia) that I had gotten from Erik Wigert which he, in turn, had collected in Texas.
The next tree used to be a part of the first tree.
Therefore it’s also a cedar elm.
The dramatic and dangerous splitting of the two is chronicled in this post.
So far I’ve only removed the wire (about a week ago) and topiary trimmed it.
The last tree is ulmus alata, the winged elm.
Henceforth thou must pronounceth it either wing-edd or wanged.
House rules.
I hain’t done nuthin’ to it yet.
Though both the wing-edd elm and the cedar elm get wings on the branches (the wanged elm more so) the leaves are definitely different.
Cedar elm.
Wanged elm.

And, so we don’t have any Clark Kent/Superman questions of them never being seen together:
I think I shall begin with the wing-edd elm.
It has some big old wire that needs removing.
I’m going to have to break out the pliers with this wire, it’s even too strong for my big ol’ sausages.

This is a good time to mention that, although they are usually called “Jin” pliers, these are actually made to assist in wiring (or unwiring, in this instance).
As far as the styling, I’m letting the tree tell me what it wants to do.
I could (if I wanted to) do what every bonsai artist (including me) will tell you to do: trunk chop and regrow.
That’s a totally valid piece of advice.
And…. if I didn’t already have a hundred of them I might consider doing it.
There is no art in doing the same thing over and over again because that’s what you were taught when you were a novice copying your teacher.
That’s something you do learning your art, not practicing it.
Now, there are still those bonsai enthusiasts who will look at this tree and say,
“You should chop it here…..”
I’ll just smile, and nod, and steer them towards the more conventional bonsai.
So what, in the name of all that’s bonsai, am I doing with this wanged elm?
I’m mostly letting it grow with minor adjustments through pruning and wiring and gentle guiding as I try to make it look more like a tree.
Like this.
This branch was previously pruned and wired.
But then it put out better placed branches, so I don’t need it anymore.
Bye bye.
I need to shorten it somewhere around here.
Before I do that though, I need to think on it a bit more.
I’m needing some rumination and inspiration.
Let’s go to the short, baby tree and see what trouble I can get in with it.
Talking about letting a tree grow, this one didn’t put out too many useful branches.
After a quick trim.
It’s not too much changed from the original styling.
Sometimes you just have to wait.
There’s an old cowboy expression about drinking a horses water at the watering hole that might be appropriate here….or is it “leading a drinker to a horse and him falling off drunk”?
It might have something to do about riding an ass too hard….I can’t seem to remember.
Anyway, you can prune, wire, coax and pray that a tree does what you want but sometimes it just won’t cooperate.
I have one more growth season this year, we shall see what happens.
Any ideas on the wing-ed elm yet?
Let’s turn to the daddy cedar elm.
I need to figure out where to cut it back as well.
Maybe here?
That’s just about right.
My general rule in styling a tree is to leave enough on it to have a pleasing looking tree sitting on the bench (well…….that is unless I chop it back totally, as I am known for in the social circles I frequent) and as the tree develops I cut off what is not needed anymore.
And that’s why I just chopped about four inches off the top.
I wired a few branches but I am also using some of them fancy clip and grow methods with the tree.
When you combine the angular movement of clip and grow with the rounded curves of wiring you get a more natural and random look to your work.
As an example, this next pic is from the Treaty Oak in Jacksonville showing both of the characteristics on an old tree.
This is a quirk of old trees I first learned from Dan Robinson and was reiterated by his student, Frank Heidt:
Old trees have gnarly branches.
I think I’ve procrastinated long enough on the wanged elm.
I’m ready.
Where will I cut it?
What will I do?
Do I need another beer?
How’s this?
Some wire.
And that’s all.
I wish I had some massively transformative changes to show you, I really do, because it makes me look cool.
And cool is where it’s at, cat.
But as I work on my trees day in and day out I’ve realized that the biggest lesson been wanting to teach (today specifically, with today’s trees) is that developing bonsai is usually a slow process.
Those super-duper, magical and, dare I say it, miraculous stylings you see in demonstrations or vanity blogs are usually the end result of years and years of judicious, premeditated and purposeful work on the trees.
So I wanted to show you some down and dirty, in the trenches work with some developing trees and give you the “in between” look of an immature bonsai.
Especially that wing-edd elm.
It needs, as we say in the studio, some more time.
As for the other two trees, I’m a little disappointed with the smaller (baby) cedar elm but I think I’ll have some growth this time.
And I’ve gained a lot with bigger cedar elm.
It’s two more seasons away from being decent looking tree.
Any questions?

Dwarf Jade Bonsai Techniques

Here’s a tree:
It needs trimming, wiring and repotting.
Portulacaria afra, Latin meaning “leaves like a portulaca” (which is known as purslane and moss rose) and “african” (it’s native to Africa).
The portulacaria afra is called “dwarf jade” by many but it’s not related to the regular jade plant (crassulla species) except for superficially, both plants being succulents.
But the “dwarf” jade actually grows taller than the regular jade, and will develop a woody center in bigger specimens.
I wrote a pretty well researched post last year (click here) that was also reprinted in the Potomac Bonsai Association’s Winter 2014 newsletter (That’s right brother, reprinted!) that has everything you ever wanted to know about portulacaria and probably some stuff you don’t.
Let’s look at todays tree again.
I need to remove some wire.
I need to remove a few branches.
The most work needs to be done on the roots.
It’s somewhat root bound.
Which isn’t too much of a problem usually, except it stays too wet.
You may think that a too-wet condition would cause the tree to rot, it being a succulent and all, but a well established root system in bonsai soil can handle the daily, afternoon, Florida thunderstorms.
What it’s been doing is slowing growth and arresting the development.
And I also need to clean up the surface roots; they’re bugging me.
This is a tree where, against character, I am extremely conservative concerning the roots. It will be the third repotting and each time I’ve worked the roots a little to improve them.
The problem is that it will rot if I don’t allow the wounds I make to dry out before I start watering again.
But more on that later.
I’m going to start at the top on this tree.
The jade has a tendency to put out odd branches growing straight up and in the weirdest places, like under the shade of the canopy.
The dwarf jade has a way of keeping branches that are not ideal.
This one-
-has been lingering on for about two years.
Not really growing much but it’s still there with leaves on it.
The weirdest branches are the totally alive but completely leafless nubs.
There were probably about 5 or 6 them.
And look at this:
Can you see it?
Creepy….let me zoom in on it for you.
It’s a face!
Staring back at me…..the ghost of the tree!
Ok….relax, it’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real.
Sorry, I had an episode there.
The best way to prune a jade for a dense canopy goes like this.
We have a foliage pad.
Trim each branch to two leaves.
Like this.
And from the junction of each leaf you should get two new buds.
Let them grow out and trim again in the same way.
During all this you have to really push the fertilizer.
The two best growers of this tree, Jim Smith and Richard Turner, put handfuls of regular time release fertilizer on them.
So much so that you can hardly see the soil surface.
Richard won the Best Tropical award at the National show several years ago with this portulacaria.
And here’s another tree from Richard.
Cool, aren’t they?
Getting back to my tree, this is how much I pruned off.
And with some wire-
It’s time for the rootwork.
I had had the tree in this ugly pot.
I’m switching to this fine Korean pot with superior patina.
It has mucho drainage holes too, they don’t make them like this anymore.
Ok, kidding about the pot. It’s a mica pot and the only one I have that’s suitable.
It’ll do.
Now, the customarily blurry root photos.
I raked out the roots and now, as you will see by the terribly overexposed, glaring white blurs, the roots I pruned out.

It seems that I am unable to get competent photos of roots. I truly do apologize.
This one came out good.
I make absolute sure that the tree is firmly tied in.
Any movement in the pot will set back root growth.
The coarsest soil I have, sifted twice.
And I make sure that the two wounds I created are above the soil line.
The next week or so the tree will stay under cover to protect it from….no, not the sun but the rain.
You should keep the tree dry until you see this.
Isn’t it cute?
That means the roots are growing and can handle water again.
A jade’s roots seek moisture, that’s why keeping it dry is important after repotting.
I warn you now, you’ll lose some (or most) of the old leaves on the tree.
They turn yellow and fall off.
We leave our tree dry and awaiting it’s return to the sun.
And….wait, you wanna see the other trees?
Ok, I guess.
This one was given to me by Paul Pikel.
It was a big cutting that had rotted through the middle and almost didn’t make it.

The other tree is my oldest dwarf jade.
It needed prit’near the same treatment.
Repot, trim and wire.

I changed the pot. I like it at the moment but it’s still not the right pot.
And, since I’m a considerate blogger-ist, I’ll give you the before and after on the subject tree.
And after.
What comes next?
After the hardening off period it goes into the full sun with gobs (GOBS!) of fertilizer until the end of November (that’s about when winter starts) and it goes dormant.
I am planning an experiment this winter on some indoor growing techniques with full spectrum fluorescent lights and bottom heat and I might use this as a subject.
Stay tuned for that sometime next year though, it’s still hot as balls outside right now.

Total Willowleaf Ficus Drama!

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see..”
Henry David Thoreau
What are we looking at here?
What do you see?
I can already guess what the responses will be, I’m a psycho…..uh, I mean a psychic.
But I’ll get back to that in a moment.
Let’s roll back the clock a few months to June 7th, 2014.
The Central Florida Bonsai Club had been asked by the Orange County Library system to give a talk about bonsai in their continuing education series.
We had myself, Stephen and Anthony talking and answering questions about bonsai.
In the middle of the talk I was styling a tree.
It has a nice base but an unfortunate scar in the front from the trunk chop.
We must have done a good job because they’ve invited us back for a few more teaching sessions.
Here’s how the tree (ficus salicaria “89”) ended up.
And, as I you showed you at the beginning of this post.
I know what you’re looking at.
The wire is cutting into the trunk pretty badly.
Ife dun goon en roont it, roight?
Maybe I should say,
“Right, I do bulleaf hive luft the wires on too lung”
Or maybe
“Doood! Like, whoooah! Wire scars man! You cool?”
Any way it’s said, I will hear from those long term bonsai enthusiasts who have the “been there, done that, got the tee-shirt” attitude.
Before you sneer and jeer and dismiss me for a lout, ask yourself this question: I have a blog in which I am totally in control of the content, why would I show you wire cutting in this badly?
What kind of idiotic, supposed professional, bonsai man would sully his reputation by not only showing such obvious ineptitude, but pointing it out and even fixing it in his readers minds with silly jokes?
Because letting the wire cutting in is necessary to get the tree to do what I want it to do.
First, look at how many wires I have on it.
I needed that many to get the trunk to bend, it’s nearly an inch thick.
And, from experience wiring and rewiring ficus, if you want a branch to stay (especially a thick branch like this) you have to let the wire cut in.
If your sensibilities can’t seem to be able to let it cut in, you shouldn’t even bother wiring, just be superior, preach your intermediate tripe, clip and grow, and stay in your corner with your little trees and be king of the beginners (who you so graciously take under your wing).
A little strong?
Let me be clear, wiring is to bonsai as a pencil is to drawing, a brush is to painting, a chisel is to sculpting.
Wiring is how we create line and form in this art.
If you aren’t utilizing it to its full potential, don’t bother.
But don’t ask yourself why your trees don’t quite get to the level you want them to.
If you look at bonsai before the widespread use of wire and look at modern bonsai, the difference is night and day.
But wire is only temporary, if your branches keep moving back after you remove the wire, regardless of wire cutting, then you are not leaving it on long enough.
You see, the action, the mechanism, the reason that wire works is: a branch has to grow enough new wood, wired in the place we put it, to be able to stay there and hold that shape.
With a ficus it is a battle because the woodiness takes so long to get hard (kinda like a…..nevermind, that joke is just too easy) that you have to allow the wire to cut in.
Period, plain and simple, no way around it.
Damn, that’s a lot of words. I should have just said,
“Because I say so…” And slapped your knuckles with a ruler.
Another no-no I am flouting (like a boss) is showing the big pruning scar in the front.
There are two reasons for that.
The base of the tree, the nebari, is the best with the pruning scar in the front.
The nebari is the king.
And, for this tree, I wanted some age. Which means I’m going to try to make the scar look more natural than it is now.
Are you ready to see instead of look?
Let it begin.
If you caught it, I called this tree a ficus salicaria “89”.
Which means, briefly, that it is a sport that showed up after the freeze of 1989 that reached Vero Beach, Florida.
It has bigger leaves.
It also has longer internodes and a faster growth rate.
Many Florida bonsai people don’t like it.
I like it because branches grow longer and thicker quicker (another joke I will let float free in the ether…)
Off come the wires.
Some preliminary pruning.
And defoliation.
Now we have a clear view of the tree.
That scar is like a bullseye.
What can you do if you have a detail that’s big and glaring and unavoidable?
Make it into a focal point.
As it is, it looks like it was pruned with a knob cutter.
I need to make it look more natural.

Looks better, just needs some weathering now.
Next, I need to rewire the primary branches and wire the new branches
And even though I don’t have to wire the trunk anymore, I wrap some around it.
You see I wrapped the wire the opposite way; as the tree grows I’ll let these wires cut in as well. This will cause the bark to become more rugged and old looking.
And violá.
Yeah, cool man!
Let me update y’all with two f. salicarias I’ve worked on recently that both fit into the theme of this essay.
This post and this post
The first post featured a tree I kept tall and this is how we left it.
And here it is today, after wire removal and pruning.
I gave the tree a serious hair cut and I wired a few branches. The next step is growth. I’ll let it grow probably until the middle of October and totally rewire the tree.
How much did I cut off?
Let’s look at the other ficus from the second post I linked to:
As we saw it last-
And now,
be prepared….
Wow, it’s like a 70’s ah….film.
Get out the razor, heat up the wax. It’s time for a Brazilian.
I’m cutting the whole bud area off when I prune.
By doing this (hopefully) I won’t have to shave the tree every three weeks.
Kinda like pulling a hair out by the root.
On this tree, as on every tree in this post (remember the theme), the wire is cutting in.
I did some serious bending and, once again, if I hadn’t let the wires cut in, the bends wouldn’t hold after the wires came off.
Now some branch selection and a few more wires.
And I do believe I am at the end.
The tall tree again, which needs some growth.
The middle tree, getting there.
And the star of the show….
There’s something just not right.
How come no one noticed this before?
Just give me a minute…hmmnn, yes!
Here you go, what do you think now?
Of course, the next time I trim and wire it, the top will probably be different.
It’s just the nature of a developing ficus.
Can you see it yet?

It’s a one cut tree…..after 2 years growing and a bunch of wire, defoliation….

I think I’ve finally figured it out.
I found this sweet little ilex at, believe it or not, Walmart.
No, it wasn’t as a bonsai, it was in the regular landscape area in a three gallon nursery pot.
Here is a trick, you can find the best “bonsai” suitable plants at these three box stores, listed from best to least in the frequency of suitable bonsai material.
They are: Walmart, Lowe’s and then The Home Depot.
The wholesale growers send the “AAA quality” plants first to The HD and so on.
What we are looking for as bonsai are often not “AAA”.
We want the tree that’s been in the pot for too long, or has a single trunk (as opposed to a multi trunk shrub).
We like contorted and twisted trees whereas the landscape trade wants straight and uniform plants.
Most ilex are short, stubby and have very little natural movement.
This tree was special.
And at $9.97 it was mine, no question about it.
You can probably see that I’ve worked on it already.
I might have included it in a blogpost too, I can’t remember.
Basically, I cut back everything except the top branches.
I knew that it was going to be a bunjin; how could it not?
Then I let it grow and let the tree tell me what was the next step.
I think, by the big red line cutting through the pic, that the next step is to cut there.
Well, it’s not that easy. I was either going up or down and where the new growth emerged (more or less) is what helped me to choose.
Now I see the tree!
What do you think?
Other side.
Now some clean up and partial defoliation.
Here’s the canopy before.
The arrows point to examples of certain types of leaves I’m removing.
The offensive leaves are those that are: too large, old, damaged, growing in odd places (like in branch crotches or straight up or underneath) and those where there are two or more emerging from the same spot (leaving one).
Here’s the mess I made.
Maybe the training is working, there aren’t that many bad leaves…..sorry, bad joke…get it? Training….bonsai?
Ok, righty then, back to the the tree….
I can wire these branches.
Look at the new growth! Isn’t that a beautiful red?
That’s one reason I love the ilex, one of many (not to mention the psychotropic properties of astringent brews extracted from stem cuttings).
Ready for some wire?
Let’s choose some branches and then a quick wiring job.


Here we go, wire.
From the top:
Other side:
My favorite side:
The tree reminds me of Snoopy pretending he’s a vulture. Which I will not show a picture of, I don’t need to get sued. You’ll have to look it up on your own.
You know what though?
I like it.
For those so inclined, here is a link to an Instagram video with the tree spinning around like a dancer at a rave.
It’s all CRAZY Spooky!
Hope no one gets nightmares from it.

A twisted pomegranate, a 250 year old oak and an art class

From time to time I get emails (or PM’s or messages or asks or whatever social media platform communication jargon you can use) asking about help with bonsai trees.
Sometimes it’s horticulture:(Help…what’s chewing on my leaves!!!) but often it’s a question of:
“What can I do with this?”
“Can you help me style this?”
I’m pretty faithful in replying (if I missed someone out there, please contact me again….sorry if I did) but sometimes it takes a few days for me to reply.
I had another artist say I shouldn’t do this, or at least find a way to charge for it or be more selective in who I respond to (say if the president of a big club who might hire me for a gig or something).
But I actually enjoy it though, it’s an exercise that forces me to be more creative and to see the possibilities visually as opposed to tactilely.
Anyway, that’s all a prelude to what happened a few weeks ago.
It started by me getting an email from Ron, a resident of Jacksonville Florida.
He had gotten a twisted pomegranate from Kawa Bonsai’s Joy of Bonsai event.
It was purchased from D&L nursery, who was vending at the event.
Ron sent me several pics and I chose this pic for the front of the tree.
I did a little digital doodling and chose these branches.
And I drew a picture as well.
Well, it turns out that Ron is actually an officer of the North Florida Bonsai Club in Jacksonville (boy is my face red) and because of my sketching and drawing he came up with an idea for a class at his club.
The idea was to have the members bring a tree and I would draw a picture of what I thought would be the best future for the tree.
He also invited me to his bonsai garden for a private session working on his trees; one of them the pomegranate.
He had done the pruning and wiring and it was time for a bit of refinement.
One thing you should know about a pomegranate. The wood rots very easily.
A trick I learned from Roy Nagatoshi to kill the fungus that causes rot is to dip your tools into a half strength mixture of Lysol in order to sterilize them after each cut.
This tree unfortunately rotted down through the middle from the trunk chop.
There’s not much you can do except clean it up a bit and incorporate it into the design.
After some trimming and wiring we ended up here.
It’s shaping up.
I worked on a bougie with some reverse taper (basically I carved the shit out of it).
No pics of it, sorry.
And then, a surprise, it was time me to meet the Treaty Oak.
What, pray tell, is a a treaty oak, you ask?
Well, it’s a proper noun, The Treaty Oak, and it’s a field live oak (quercus virginiana) that is the oldest living thing in Jacksonville.
That is all one tree. It covers about an acre of land.
It’s in a park called “Jessie Ball DuPont Park”
I could plagiarize Wikipedia but I’ll post a link to the page (link to Wikipedia, click if you’re curious) and make up my own words.
It’s called “Treaty Oak” because way back in the 1930’s a journalist wrote a story claiming that a treaty between the native Floridians and the Spanish had been singed beneath it.
This “journalist” made up the story to save the tree from a developers axe.
It worked, for many years the story was believed.
The park the tree is growing in is named after a lady who, if you follow the history, was linked with everything from gun powder, banking, education and to the modern day Nemours Foundation and the brand new Nemours Children’s Hospital here in Orlando.
It’s all very fascinating.
If you’re like me, you’ll read the whole wiki-entry and click on each and every link and even go to the source literature to see what the wiki-author got wrong.
I actually spent an hour in the Green Parrot bar last night reading the entire history in between a game of darts (which I won) sipping on a Knob Creek bourbon double shot, over ice, and rocking to a local cover band called “Rolling Heavy”.
Here are some more pics of the tree, which I’ll let speak for themselves.







The last pic looks like two lovers are kissing.
The live oak will self graft if branches are touching each other.
Where the branches are touching the ground you would expect the tree to throw down roots but an oak won’t do that. The only way to propagate an oak is by an acorn.
I have uploaded three videos of the tree, you can follow this link to access my channel on YouTube and watch them, along with my other, odd, videos.
After the truly inspiring and even spiritual visit to the Treaty Oak, Ron and I had to rush to dinner and then to the meeting of the North Florida Bonsai Club.
We ate at Bob Evans, I recommend the grilled chicken breast.
I was a little trepidatious with the classes concept.
I wasn’t sure I could pull it off.
Then the members started to arrive and I realized I knew most of them.
And one of them, who must read the blog, even brought me a gift.
Yessiree, you guessed it!
Thank you sir!
Anyway, the workshop progressed well after a few false starts.
This was an azalea.
A willow leaf ficus (a big ol’ chunk-a-munk one too)
A sweet boxwood.
A new variety, variegated pyracantha.
It was tough but I figured out an idea.
There were more but I didn’t get pics of them all (or, truthfully, I got crappy pics).
This last one has the most promise but needs the most time to achieve the future plan.
Or plans, really.
It’s a hornbeam that has two good sides.
So I drew two possibilities.
I like the one on the left with the hollow showing.
All the participants got to keep the drawings.
After the workshop I had a long trip home (Jacksonville to Orlando, look it up) so I stopped at my favorite two-tailed mermaid’s coffee shop to get some liquid ambition for the road.
It was a long day filled with bonsai, good friends, both new and old (I didn’t even pick on you once, Francis, you were so worried about being caught in a photo) and creativity.
Were it could everyday be such as good.
‘Til next time Jacksonville, thank you!

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!