Here’s an unusual tree , you might remember it

Check this out!
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Uhhhh….what in da hell?!
Those are itty bitty figs.
I’ve written about this tree before in this post. It’s a ficus triangularis.
I know what you’re thinking.
I have a defoliation fetish but no, this time, I did not defoliate it, it defoliated itself.
Maybe it knew I was coming for it?
I actually think it got dry.
You see, it’s been a hot August and, as I write this, it’s been about seven days since it’s rained and the average temps have been around 95 Fahrenheit; a very unusual occurrence in Florida, in the summertime. It usually rains every afternoon and it doesn’t get above 90, mostly. (Sorry, I must scratch my tangential bone….doesn’t 90F just sound hotter than 32C? Or better yet, 100 degrees Fahrenheit sounds hotter than 37 Celsius. With those two observations, I hereby propose we use Fahrenheit for hot air temperature but…but Celsius for cold air temperature, what do you think? Zero Celsius sounds colder than 32F definitely. And I can’t even tell you what temp water boils at in Fahrenheit. Anyone out there know without googling it?)
The reason for the dry spell is a tropical depression called Cristobal passing by the state that’s sucking the moisture out of the atmosphere. And my trees are suffering for it.
Anyway, I probably put the tree in a too small pot in the last potting and with all the heat, I stressed it out a bit.
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Sometimes a tree will respond to stress by trying to further the species (oh no! I’m dying, I better reproduce!) and put out flowers and fruit like mad.
Or, which is possible I guess, this kind of fig drops it’s leaves when it flowers and fruits (which is kinda the same thing with figs.) if you remember your biology, flowers depend upon bees or moths or, in the case of ficus, wasps, to be pollinators and make a flower into a fruit (I’m reminded of that Grease 2 song Reproduction. Go ahead click on it).
Whichever way that it happened, I have a tree with just two leaves left.
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Whoops, not anymore!
There are new buds breaking on the tree, so I don’t think I’ve killed it.
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Yet.
I had said that I under-potted the poor tree.
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What do you think?
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There’s not much there. Like a pancake.
It is a pretty pot though. It might end up in that pot if I show the tree in an exhibit but I’m thinking I need some room right now.
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Kinda Romanesque or Greek even.
The new pot I’ve dug out of my wall-o-pots will give the roots someplace to grow and maybe limit the excess drying (and too much water) that a very shallow pot provides.
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Not the best choice, but adequate for my needs until I can find a new or better one.
I kinda like the octagon shape, it has pointy corners that might go well with the triangular leaves.
I can’t really tell, since the tree is totally leafless but….. I can imagine
Let’s see if I have the skills-to-pay-the-bills and wire it without disturbing the fruit.
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Aha! I’m a clever lad. Call me! I have bonsai, will travel. I’ll even give a demo at weddings or bachelorette parties.
Here’s the tree when we saw it last, in the above linked post (you’ll have to click on it now, won’t you?)
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And here it is before wiring today.
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And now, I give you, ficus triangularis, naked but showing the world it’s dangly fruit.
Tadaa!
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Wait, that’s not dramatic enough.
How’s this?
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Cool, man….daddio!
It is developing nicely, give it a few years and it will be a show stopper.
Hope it grows leaves soon, that would be nice, I think.
Adios, mein freunds, ciao and aloha!

Sea grape bonsai and some first-aid training

Here we go again, I just know I’m going to get all kinds of guff for this post.
Oh well.
Here’s the tree.
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Yup, a sea grape…..I can hear it now,
“The leaves are too big! Why, oh why would anyone try to bonsai a sea grape?! The world is going to implode if you even attempt it and there’ll be earthquakes, floods, fire! Oh no no no no nooooo!”
Or something like that.
Ha ha!
Are you ready?
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Considering that it’s illegal to collect a sea grape from public land and you need specific and perpetual permission from a private land owner in Florida , I got the tree from a reputable and licensed nursery involved in the vegetative propagation of sea grapes for bonsai use. Not only cuttings and air layers but even from seed.
This tree looks like an air layer to me.
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I’m not sure though.
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It’s definitely not collected. Surely not.
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The Latin name is Coccoloba uvifera, which means “like a grape and bearing grapes”. Kinda redundant but cool to say.
Coccoloba….co..co..lo..baaa…ahhhh.
The grapes are edible and people make jam and wine out of it.
I’m waiting for a distilled product myself. You could call it Florida Sea Spirits.
I had flowers on my tree this year but no grapes. It’s dioecious, which means that you need a male and female tree to make the grapes, which only occur on the female tree.
My tree is evidently a strong, manly male, stout and burly, like me.
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Grrrrrrf!
I’ve had the tree for a lot of years but recently I’ve neglected it.
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It hasn’t been repotted in maybe two or three years. I can tell by the leaf size; they’re about half the size they should be and I haven’t tried reducing them at all.
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And suddenly, there is an elephant in the room.
The leaf size is not conducive to bonsai, yet it is a very popular subject in Florida and beyond.
This is the biggest leaf on the tree right now.
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I have seen them as big as dinner plates before….well, European dinner plates, not American size. I’d say about the size of a certain bonsai artist’s head.
Big!
Now, imagine this, if you can, reducing the needles on a Japanese black pine by 90%.
Can you?
I’ve seen a tree with leaves the size of an American quarter (about an inch wide).
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About as wide as the fleshy part of my middle finger above.
A feat like that is achieved using numerous defoliation sessions and keeping the tree pot bound.
Now, look at this leaf:
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The chunk taken out of it was probably done by some insect having a meal. Look closely at where the damage was done….no browning, it doesn’t look damaged at all.
If you were so inclined, you could even trim the leaves to be smaller.
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But that’s cheating though, that would be like cutting the needles on a black pine….whoops, they do that the day of a show or photo shoot, don’t they?
I’ve never showed a sea grape so I’ve never had the need to trim the leaves, but I just might.
Ya’ never know.
With this tree today I’m going to repot and restyle.
And get rid of the ugly orange pot too…..anyone wanna buy a pot?
You know the drill: Defoliate.
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Decanter…
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And comb out the roots.
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It was root bound. The soil looks about like the mix when I was experimenting with Oil Dry. Surprisingly, it isn’t completely broken down.
Oil Dry is a calcined clay that is softer (not as high fired) than the athletic field variety (like Turface) and therefore shouldn’t maintain integrity as long.
It’s kinda like low fired akadama in its crumble factor but it’s grey in color.
The product is made to absorb oil but it’s also labeled for soil amendment use. Most bonsai people poo poo it because it breaks down but, duh, so does the miracle soil, akadama instead of orange.
Look what I found in the soil…breakfast!
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Lizard eggs, anole lizard eggs to be precise.
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That’s good for about 6 calories, I just need to find about a hundred more and I’ll have a good meal.
No, I didn’t eat them, anoles are good insect control. We have two types, the native green and the brown Cuban. There are many people who hate the brown ones because they are supplanting the green ones. I think it’s just racism. Everyone knows that green anoles are superior in every way. Better music (Pat Boone man, alright!) better food (American cheese and Wonderbread dude), better hair…..ok, anoles don’t have hair.
I have both flavor anoles in my yard so I won’t destroy these eggs. I’ll replant them in the ground.
Maybe I’ll get an anole tree.
Like I said earlier, I’m changing the pot.
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I don’t think it’s the best pot for the tree but it’s better than the orange one….which is still for sale, best offer, any offer.
Maybe I’ll post it on the Facebook page Bonsai Classified. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a great resource for selling and buying without the onerous eBay fees. And they are selling real bonsai, not those overpriced, production mallsai. Check it out.
The sea grape looks good in its new home.
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Some minor trimming and tip pruning…
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One more branch and….YEOWWW!!!
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I’m clipped!!
How can I continue?!
I’ll be maimed for life, I’ll have to become a wheelchair salesman again…oh, woe is me!
I will just have to soldier on, this tree needs wire.
Lots of wire!
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Ouch!
They say blood is good for the soil…
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Have you ever seen “Little Shop of Horrors”?
Feed me Seymour!
I manage, in my incapacitated and dripping state, to finish wiring the tree.
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Then I run out to the DG (Dollar General store) and get some peroxide and some superglue.
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That’s right dear readers, superglue.
I learned a long time ago that, if you go for stitches in the emergency room, 8 times out of 10 they’ll use superglue.
And I’m not paying a $399 bill when I can do that myself.
Superglue wound care procedure:
Clean thoroughly, use a scrub brush if you need to.
Dump the hydrogen peroxide into the wound.
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Remember that there are children in the house, so the screaming and cursing must be quelled. Do so biting a stout leather belt between the teeth.
Apply the superglue and squeeze the wound closed. Be liberal with your application rate.
Don’t glue other fingers together.
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All fixed up!
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Here’s the before:
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The cut was about a half an inch deep.
I had made a video of it talking and singing, but my wife won’t let me post it.
She’s probably smarter than me.
And that’s about it….whoops, forgot to take a finished pic of the tree (all of the work was done at the club meeting last Friday).
Here is tree today.
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It hasn’t changed since Friday, at least not that you can see.
To conclude:
Sea grape: not an obvious choice for bonsai but, with the miraculous leaf reduction possible, worth a try.
Flesh wound: superglue $1.99, ER visit$399.99
Any questions?
Please shower all praise in the comment section below and direct all criticism to this email address: owenrme@me.com, Owen Reich can handle it.
See ya’ in the funny pages!

P.S. That’s not Owen’s real email. It’s close though. He may not appreciate any emails as such my readers might send….if you do though, say you are complaining about Ryan Neil, or Peter Tea or someone other than me.
Tee hee hee!!

Ed Trout Demo and the upcoming Multi-club Auction

Last Sunday I traveled to Melbourne to attend the Bonsai Society of Brevard’s monthly meeting.
My friend, Ed Trout, was the guest artist and I was looking forward to the demo. The tree he was working on is a buttonwood.
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He looks like he might know what he’s doing. Or putting on a good face for Ronn at least.
Being entertained by Ed wasn’t the only reason for my trip (believe me, he is informative and funny, and he has the same dry humor I have). I had ulterior motives.
The Brevard club is hosting a Multi-Club auction on September 27 (it sounds like a Tolkien event; The Auction of the Many Clubs) and I was here to get my marching orders.
Last year I was in charge of the silent auction and I was volunteered for that task again.
The Brevard club is also spearheading the 2015 BSF convention and I, being the 2nd vp of BSF and, therefore, the official liaison , have to keep them in line (the slackers!).
I was also there because I haven’t seen some of my friends since the last convention.
Solidarity, my bonsai brothers!
After all that business was finished, the members who brought trees got up and had a show and tell.
This is my friend Bobby, of whom you’ve read about in the blog before.
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He had just repotted a massive ficus microcarpa.
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Next is a tree from the lovely Portia, a Fukien tea penjing.
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Donny also brought a big ficus.
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His made an observation about how his trees, after the few years he’s been doing bonsai, are beginning to look like trees.
There’s is definitely a cycle one goes through in bonsai.
You get your first one and you think it’s the cat’s pajamas (love that phrase).
Then you start researching and seeing real bonsai and it’s discouraging, it even makes some people want to burn their pitiful little trees.
Then, if you’re serious and want to learn the art, you start to apply some of the basic techniques and design principles.
But you get frustrated because it’s taking so long to achieve the “bonsai” look you’re going for.
Be patient, it takes time.
Like this buttonwood that Ronn showed.
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The trunk and deadwood are incredibly old looking but the foliage pad is very immature. He knows this and described his plan for the tree; even though it’s a small bit of green, he’s imagining at least another two years before it’ll be really nice.
That’s why finished bonsai are so expensive, it takes thousands of minute bits of work to make a tree.
We who sell them are really selling the fleeting moments of Joy that we’ve had with a tree, the slow grains of sand falling away with each second of our lives.
Each hour we spend on a tree is an hour we can never retrieve as we grow old. Cherish the time and hoard the moments you get to spend on this art and your trees.
Speaking of old, let’s get on to Ed and the demo.
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As I sit watching the demo, trying to see with all the glare from the old guys bald heads….
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…I realize that it’s great to be able to sit and enjoy a show without having to worry about organizing it.
At my club I’m the Vp and that means setting up the demos and workshops, and it seems that I never get to sit.
Ahh, good times, good times.
I sat next to my buddy Mike, who can always bring a smile to my face.
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If that pic doesn’t do it to you, you must be constipated or something.
Bonsai clubs are more than just places to learn bonsai, it’s an opportunity to meet odd people who also like little trees. To feel not so alone in your journey.
While I sat and pondered the ultimate aloneness of the human experience, Ed continued on, unaware of my existential crisis, and styled the buttonwood.
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Since I was lost in my soul searching I’m not sure what Ed was trying to say here….
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…but I’m sure you can think of at least a few jokes to caption the photo.
Before I show you the finished tree I’m going to plug the Multi-Club auction and invite anyone who wishes to make the trip to it.
Here’s the press release:

BSOB Bonsai Picnic/Auction In The Park

The Bonsai Society of Brevard will be hosting a multi-club picnic luncheon/auction with Central Florida Bonsai Club, Kawa Bonsai Society, and Treasure Coast Bonsai Society on September 27 at the F. Burton Smith Regional County Park. The park is located about 4 miles west of I-95 at 7575 Hwy.520. The event will be held in the large Karberg Pavilion. It is a beautiful park with lakes, playground, volleyball court and a wildlife nature trail and fishing allowed. There is plenty of close parking and very large clean restroom facility. The pavilion is very large and provides good protection in case of rain. This will be a great time to enjoy an end of summer picnic with all of our close bonsai friends who have the same passion for the Art of Bonsai and a chance to pick up a great deal on bonsai trees and items.
BSOB will be providing hamburgers and hot dogs for the picnic. They will also be providing dinnerware, cups, ice and drinks. Please bring your favorite covered dish or desert to share.
A bonsai auction consisting of any bonsai related item you may choose to bring will be held following lunch. The auction will include a live auction as well as a silent auction. The method of payment will be by check or cash only. We ask that members be limited to 10 items each in the bidding auction for the sake of time, but no limit of items will be placed on the silent auction. A 10% donation will be asked for all items auctioned to help cover the cost of the event. Checks will be mailed to sellers the next week following the picnic.
A youth bonsai competition will be held during the auction and the prize will be a nice bonsai pot. The participant shall bring their own tools for the competition. The trees will be provided and the participant will keep the tree. BSOB will provide wire for the competition. The judging will be based on the best bonsai technique and styling. The competition will be limited to 10 folks under the age of 18. Contact Don Emenegger bonsaidonnie@yahoo.com it will be first come first serve.
Schedule of events:
10:00-11:00 – arrival
10:00 – 12:00 – set-up volunteers are welcome, fun in the park, playground for children, nature trail hikes, fishing, volleyball court
10:00-12:00 – please bring items to be auctioned so the auction can begin immediately after
lunch, the earlier the better, this will give people a chance to check out items.
12:00-1:30 – lunch
1:35-? – silent auction, live auction
1:45-3:00 – youth competition
Please contact Donnie (address above) or Ronn Miller ronn1@cfl.rr.com to let us know how many of you plan on attending by the 15th of September as we would like to have an idea on how many supplies we need to purchase.
Additionally, if you have any questions, contact Donnie or Ronn.

Sounds like an awesome day, right?
And now, what you’ve been waiting for, the finished buttonwood.
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Sweet, isn’t it?
Ed is truly a Master, I recommend booking him if you’re a club president looking to schedule events for your calendar. And if you have a chance to see a demo, do it, you won’t be disappointed.
Thank you Ed and all my friends at the Brevard club for letting me sit in on a great demo.
See you at the auction.

Initial potting and wiring of a dwarf jade

Last Sunday, my friend Barb came over to have me help her work on some of her trees.
There was a tamarind, an ilex, a sweet little green island ficus and others.
We did quite a bit but what I thought I should show you (considering the recent portulacaria post) is the work we did on her portulacaria afra.
It was a tree that was purchased from Allen Carver of Jupiter Bonsai when he was here at my nursery for the NoNaMé Studygroup a few months back.
I should have had more foresight when I started but I didn’t get any before pictures, so here we begin with my hands already in the dirt.
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I’m obscuring the base to show you what Barb and I saw before I started removing the soil on top.
The dwarf jade hasn’t been styled yet so that’s why Barb brought it.
I asked her what she thought the front should be.
She didn’t know it, but it was a trick question.
She had chosen a front but hadn’t dug down to look at the nebari (the root spread).
The pic above shows her front with my hand at about where the soil level was.
Below-
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-shows the nebari exposed.
Not very impressive.
If we turn it around 360 degrees it’s still kinda lame.
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But…BUT.. if we only turn it 179 degrees the nebari is almost like a 180 degree difference.
The proposed front is, in actuality, the most expeditious back, and the previous back is, aesthetically, the more virtuous front.
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With that done, I can really get my hands dirty now putting the tree into some bonsai soil.
The basic technique is to massage the roots and comb them out of the soil.
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With ficus or deciduous material I’ll go get the hose and wash out the dirt.
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Well, it’s not really dirt, it’s a specifically made mix for Florida, but it’s not bonsai soil.
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If you remember the last post on dwarf jade, you’ll know that I don’t want to water the tree for about a week after repotting. Keeping that in mind, and since I need to get as much of the old soil off the roots, I can’t use the water hose to clean it up.
What’s a guy to do?
You know those little, almost useless, coconut fiber brooms that come in the tool kits?
They work perfectly in brushing off that offensive dirt. Like dry cleaning.
Unfortunately, on my trip up to Ohio, somewhere around Tennessee or Kentucky, I threw mine out the window.
I had to use a whisk broom.
It worked though.
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The jade had been in a three gallon container, which means about 2 gallons of potting soil left over.
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Pretty rich and fertile looking, maybe I’ll grow some turnips.
The roots are pretty nice except for these two, one on top of the other.
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I could try to bend the top one down but it will never look quite right.
Sayonara root.
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Ah, much better.
Into a pot.
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Eventually it could go in a more shallow pot but I like the deepness this pot has, which will improve drainage. After the operation when you switch from “potting soil” to “bonsai soil” is when a dwarf jade is most often going to have root rot.
Therefore, let me repeat, don’t water for at least a week.
All the leaves will fall off (don’t be alarmed) and when you see new, little leaves start to grow you can begin watering again.
Now for some wiring, and bending techniques.
Wire as you would wire any tree but you can use 1/2 to 1/3 smaller wire than you might think you need.
It’s a little more flexible but in the same way that celery is flexible.
If you bend it too much and too fast at one time, you may end up with an opportunity to experience the joys and miracle of vegetative propagation.
I had Barb wire it……heh heh, barb wire…get it? Tee hee!
Sorry.
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I also believe in using two smaller wires as opposed to one larger wire.
Especially on tender barked trees like the jade.
Heavier wires present more situations where wrapping the wire could damage the bark.
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And two wires will help diminish the risk of breakage when bending the branch.
Especially if you do something like this.
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You’ll notice that in places I didn’t place the wire in the dogmatically approved, side-by-side, attitudinal persuasion.
The wire acts as a brace and prevents (to a certain degree) breakage. Rob Kempinski has the most erudite explanation of the physics involved, especially when using raffia in the same way.
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I haven’t decided if I’m going up or down with the above bunjin jade. What do you think?
Getting back to Barb’s tree, and the lesson, when bending you have to look closely at the segments.
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The jade will bend between segments, if they’re long enough, but the stress is at those nodes.
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You can go too far.
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The above pic is unusual, a break like that will usually just cause the branch to dry up and fall off.
After a little bending, tweaking, and sweating, here’s the finished tree.
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Kinda a bare-bones look.
When I am done with a tree that’s been cut back hard (I’m a bit notorious for hard pruning) I don’t see the naked branches or the sharp sticks.
I see the tree filled in, like this.
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I recently attended a demonstration by the classiest man in bonsai, Master Ed Trout.
One thing he said to the audience, and it struck a chord with me because of all the drawings I do, was that it’s hard for the audience to see the future look of a tree after you chop it back.
Early on in my blogging experience I had a reader complain that he couldn’t see where I was going with a tree, much in the same way Ed was talking about.
That’s when I started showing sketches and photo doodles.
The last word (and lesson) on Barb’s portulacaria, the tree’s trunk and nebari will improve in the pot we selected. The deepness will allow the soil to dry more quickly, pushing the jade to grow faster. The principle is this: as the roots grow, so does the top, if the roots have to search for water, they have to grow to do it.
That’s why a bonsai is easier to keep small in a more shallow pot, the water is closer to the roots and they stay wetter, longer, and there’s no reason to grow. They are happy and lazy, with no need to grow.
But don’t go killing your plants by withholding water. It’s a process of drying and wetting that works, in conjunction with proper bonsai soil, good drainage in your pots, proper lighting and heat, and strict observation of your trees needs.
The next post will be on my trip to see Ed Trout and the tree he worked on.
Look for it soon.

Three elms, three ways, three beers

I’m three beers in and it occurs to me that I should be documenting this.
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Whoops, I need my black backdrop.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Wanged elm.

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And, so we don’t have any Clark Kent/Superman questions of them never being seen together:
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I think I shall begin with the wing-edd elm.
It has some big old wire that needs removing.
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I’m going to have to break out the pliers with this wire, it’s even too strong for my big ol’ sausages.
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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.
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This branch was previously pruned and wired.
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But then it put out better placed branches, so I don’t need it anymore.
Bye bye.
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I need to shorten it somewhere around here.
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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.
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Talking about letting a tree grow, this one didn’t put out too many useful branches.
After a quick trim.
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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?
Nope.
Let’s turn to the daddy cedar elm.
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I need to figure out where to cut it back as well.
Here?
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Maybe here?
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That’s just about right.
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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.
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I wired a few branches but I am also using some of them fancy clip and grow methods with the tree.
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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.
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As an example, this next pic is from the Treaty Oak in Jacksonville showing both of the characteristics on an old tree.
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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.
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Where will I cut it?
What will I do?
Do I need another beer?
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How’s this?
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Some wire.
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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:
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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.
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I need to remove some wire.
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I need to remove a few branches.
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The most work needs to be done on the roots.
It’s somewhat root bound.
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Which isn’t too much of a problem usually, except it stays too wet.
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Moss!
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.
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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.
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The dwarf jade has a way of keeping branches that are not ideal.
This one-
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-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.
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There were probably about 5 or 6 them.
And look at this:
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Can you see it?
Creepy….let me zoom in on it for you.
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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.
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Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!
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.
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Trim each branch to two leaves.
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Like this.
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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.
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And here’s another tree from Richard.
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Cool, aren’t they?
Getting back to my tree, this is how much I pruned off.
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And with some wire-
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It’s time for the rootwork.
I had had the tree in this ugly pot.
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I’m switching to this fine Korean pot with superior patina.
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It has mucho drainage holes too, they don’t make them like this anymore.
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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.
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I raked out the roots and now, as you will see by the terribly overexposed, glaring white blurs, the roots I pruned out.
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It seems that I am unable to get competent photos of roots. I truly do apologize.
This one came out good.
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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.
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And I make sure that the two wounds I created are above the soil line.
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The next week or so the tree will stay under cover to protect it from….no, not the sun but the rain.
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You should keep the tree dry until you see this.
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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.
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They turn yellow and fall off.
We leave our tree dry and awaiting it’s return to the sun.
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And….wait, you wanna see the other trees?
Ok, I guess.
This one was given to me by Paul Pikel.
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It was a big cutting that had rotted through the middle and almost didn’t make it.
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The other tree is my oldest dwarf jade.
It needed prit’near the same treatment.
Repot, trim and wire.
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I changed the pot. I like it at the moment but it’s still not the right pot.
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And, since I’m a considerate blogger-ist, I’ll give you the before and after on the subject tree.
Before.
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And after.
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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
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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.
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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.
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In the middle of the talk I was styling a tree.
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It has a nice base but an unfortunate scar in the front from the trunk chop.
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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.
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And, as I you showed you at the beginning of this post.
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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?
Why?
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Some preliminary pruning.
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And defoliation.
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Now we have a clear view of the tree.
That scar is like a bullseye.
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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.
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Looks better, just needs some weathering now.
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Next, I need to rewire the primary branches and wire the new branches
Before.
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And even though I don’t have to wire the trunk anymore, I wrap some around it.
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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.
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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 https://adamaskwhy.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/why-am-i-keeping-this-bonsai-so-tall/ and this post https://adamaskwhy.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/its-willow-leaf-ficus-appreciation-week/
The first post featured a tree I kept tall and this is how we left it.
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And here it is today, after wire removal and pruning.
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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-
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And now,
be prepared….
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Wow, it’s like a 70’s ah….film.
Get out the razor, heat up the wax. It’s time for a Brazilian.
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I’m cutting the whole bud area off when I prune.
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By doing this (hopefully) I won’t have to shave the tree every three weeks.
Kinda like pulling a hair out by the root.
Ouch!
On this tree, as on every tree in this post (remember the theme), the wire is cutting in.
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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.
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Now some branch selection and a few more wires.
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And I do believe I am at the end.
The tall tree again, which needs some growth.
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The middle tree, getting there.
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And the star of the show….
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Wait.
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?
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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?