What is the Banyan Style?

This is a vanity post.
I know, I know, I’ve made fun of vanity posts before.
A vanity post is about a tree that is close to being finished but looks ragged and, by the expert application of technique and the miraculous artistic skill present in the artists hands, will magically transform itself into a masterful work of bonsai art.
Well, maybe…..there are too many bonsai professionals and longtime bonsai practitioners who say that ficus trees are unsuited for serious bonsai.
Which I don’t understand.
Never mind that the oldest documented tree, planted by man, is a ficus (specifically, the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, a sacred Bo tree or ficus religiosa, that was planted in 288 BC and is said to be a cutting from the very Bo tree that the Buddha gained enlightenment under).
And even though I call this a vanity post, I promise that I’ll actually let you know what I’m doing and explain the techniques I’m using and give you horticultural and artistic reasons for what my gnarled hands are accomplishing.
And never mind that it’s not a pine or a juniper, it’s still a pretty tree at the end.
And one more thing, the transformations in vanity posts are not really magical, but just a consistent application of bonsai basics.

Opa Banyan Style!
The banyan style doesn’t really use a banyan tree (which is generally thought to be ficus benghalensis, although the word “banyan” is more used now to describe the habit of growth instead of the species…..more about that habit later).
The word banyan actually comes from the Indian traders who set up their markets underneath the trees and are known as the “Bania”.
Jeez, such a long winded essay without any pics.
Do you feel cheated?
Here’re four pics for you then:
20140419-061211.jpg

20140419-061227.jpg

20140419-061301.jpg

20140419-061329.jpg
Front, side, side, and back.
Pretty rough, right?
Here’s a view of the trunk.
20140419-061558.jpg
I had this tree in my uncovered greenhouse shoved in a corner and as a result I lost this branch in the back.
20140419-062224.jpg

20140419-062241.jpg
Which illustrates a perfect point.
Even though the tree was outside (technically, an uncovered greenhouse) and part of the tree was getting full sun, the part that was shaded weakened and die back occurred.
And this is a ficus, a so-called indoor bonsai.
The lesson: if you want to develop a bonsai to its fullest potential, you need full sun. It might survive but it won’t thrive.
20140419-062728.jpg
This tree has a big bald spot I have to fill in now.
20140419-062851.jpg
I had thought about repotting the tree, it is pushing some roots out of the pot…
20140419-063139.jpg
But poking around in the soil, it doesn’t seem too rootbound.
I’ll hold off another month (it’s April) and see what the leaves growth tell me to do.
I’ll just clip the hanging roots off.
20140419-063333.jpg
It is a pot, although it looks like a slab, doesn’t it?
20140419-063458.jpg
I don’t know who made it but it’s cool.
Perfect for a banyan style tree.
So, what is banyan style?
It is a tree form that features a short, wide tree, usually wider than tall, with an expansive canopy and low, spreading branches.
And quite often those branches have aerial roots dropping into the soil.
My tree doesn’t have an abundance of aerial roots but just enough to be tasteful.
The consensus is still out on the purpose of these aerial roots; a few ideas are they are “prop” roots to hold up the branches or the soil the tree grows in is too dry (in the rain forest) and it’s trying to find water.
I’m not sure.
I know that I can encourage them to grow if I have a tree in a shallow amount of soil and I shade the trunk. I’m sure humidity plays a role too but I don’t have to worry about that, me being in Florida and all.
The humidity is so high here when I travel to other states I feel like Spongebob when he gets trapped on land.
Anyway, desiccated sponges aside, the next operation is called the comb-over.
To begin, defoliate and prune extraneous branches.
20140419-094851.jpg

20140419-094926.jpg

20140419-094943.jpg
The above pics show three things: the leaf removal, with bud retention, it shows pruning the branches with two branches on each junction, and it shows that my hands still get dirty (it particularly shows my dirty hands for my doubting friend, Chef, who needs to go cook some pork belly now!).
I’m finding it very important with this fine detail wiring that a visible bud needs to be at or near the end of the branch or that branch will most likely die back to an existent bud.
One more series-
20140420-074916.jpg

20140420-074930.jpg

20140420-074952.jpg
As I prune higher up in the tree (which “higher” is a relative term for a this banyan, it’s only about a foot tall) the standard formula of “cut off the branches growing up, down and leave only two at each junction” changes.
A banyan is obviously not a pine tree style, it has more of a deciduous tree habit. The branches don’t necessarily angle down at the approved 27 degree angle.
Which leads us into a pet peeve of mine, namely, what’s so hard about allowing a tropical category in major shows?
Mr. Valvanis has the only major “Best Tropical” award at his National Show.
Face the fact that the bonsai world is changing and most of the new participants seem to come from more tropical environs, if bonsai is to continue to grow and not be a mere horticultural folk art from Japan we should embrace new ideas, forms, species etc.
Let me remind everyone that the art we are trying to create is to make a small, relatively young plant look like an old, big tree.
And, in my opinion, a banyan tree looks positively decayed and ancient.
Like finding a forgotten civilization or a lost world or something.
Phew.
After that rant, as if I haven’t caused enough trouble, we got a naked tree to deal with now.
20140420-140731.jpg
Sweet cheeks! It’s a sexy beast!
And a beast it is ,too, gotta tame it with some wire.
Whoops, forgot to prune that ugly knob off.
20140420-153758.jpg

20140420-153816.jpg
I think a the he-tree has become a she-tree.
And she needs a little discipline I think.
Or, as we say, wire…
I need some thicker gauge wire to move some of the bigger branches.
20140420-165737.jpg
I prefer to place the big branches and then wire out the little ones.
20140420-170426.jpg
And now the little branches….
Hold on, before I finish, I’m gonna need two beers, a bottle of water, and some shrimp cocktail. Maybe a bag of chips.
The next operation is gonna take a while, I need some provisions to get me through.
Better yet, make that four beers.
Onward!
As I mentioned earlier, this tree needs a “comb over” treatment.
Maybe it’s still a he-tree after all.
Anyway, the bald spot….
20140420-172143.jpg
…do you see it?
Now you don’t!
20140420-172257.jpg
Well, after I wire it out that is.
One of the main themes of the banyan tree form is an expansive, dome-like canopy.
The goal of wiring is to fill in the upper canopy.
And you could have two or three or four “apexes”.
And what I mean by apex is really a crown of upper branches creating a rounded dome-like effect.
Just like on a deciduous tree.
Ok now, I admit it, it took a full six pack to finish this tree but, by utilizing diligent and meticulous effort, I persevered and finished the beer….uh, wiring.
Are you ready?
Wired, but before branch placement.
20140420-173536.jpg
Side view, after branch placement-
20140420-173714.jpg
The other side…I broke on through…
20140420-173824.jpg
The rear-
20140420-173910.jpg
And the front-
20140420-174026.jpg
And since I’m a nice guy, I’ll give you the progression again.
20140420-211256.jpg

20140420-211329.jpg

20140420-211353.jpg

20140420-211413.jpg
And for the Instagram users out there, a short video for a giggle.
click me for the video!
The aftercare is easy, I fertilize heavily but I watch the water, it being leafless and all.
And just wait for it to grow.

Bunjin Brazilian Raintree

This is the Brazilian Raintree I got with the original incarnation of the NoNaMe study group.
20140412-222750.jpg
It’s a little shaggy at the moment but, as you might guess, that’s what this post is about now, isn’t it?
It is the beginning of April in Florida and it’s time for me to start working on it.
Maybe not for you, check your local listings for a time and channel in your area.
20140412-223131.jpg
I’ve kept the wire on it over the winter and it’s time to remove it and give the tree a trim.
The last time we saw this tree was in this post (click here).
Which was also the first time.
If you go back and read that post you’ll notice that I had a lot to say; about the tree, it’s care and growth, but also about how some people in this tight knit community act towards one another.
Don’t worry, I won’t go into that here even though it amazes me the vitriol some people can show.
Dammit.
Sorry.
Gotta do it.
One sentence about it, I promise.
Although I have the ability (and penchant) to write a long, overly complicated but grammatically (I promise) correct sentence.
Here goes….
Bonsai is not a finite pie to be cut up into pieces where the man with the biggest piece is the winner but, rather, a continuously growing community (the pie, therefore is infinite) that is served best not by those who wish to gobble up and dominate the world (this man’s reputation will suffer in time, as is happening) but by those who are willing to share and be open with their knowledge.
That said, I’m probably not talking about you or you but maybe about you and definitely you.
But you, you’re so vain, you probably think this rant is about you.
It ain’t, baby.
Sorry.
That said, back to the tree.
20140414-084736.jpg
I am repotting this tree (as I’m beginning to do with all my Brazilians. It’s April in Orlando, which is early, but I’m experimenting with the BRT’s this year. Some I’m going to repot twice. Once now and once at the end of summer, if they need it.
This one is really root bound, you can see the roots on the soil surface.
20140414-093453.jpg
The pot is a Sarah Raynor.
20140414-093648.jpg
As I begin the defoliation process you’ll see the old wire and how much length I’ve gained at the branch tips.
20140414-094551.jpg
I had wired to the tips.
And all the new growth has those mean thorns too.
20140414-094709.jpg
Two reasons to remove thorns in a bonsai.
One, it makes them look messy and out of scale.
Two…..come on, thorns?
Do I have to really tell you the second reason?
I’m also trimming the sloppy end pieces that have died back.
20140414-095039.jpg
Or will die back.
When pruning a BRT, leave a bit of the branch stub above the node. The tree has a tendency to die back to the next one and if you don’t leave that bit, then you’ll lose the node.
It’s not so bad on the small branches but be very careful on the trunk.
All done, naked and waiting for my skilled digital ministrations.
20140414-095812.jpg
Whoops!
20140414-100221.jpg
Wire is still on.
20140414-100319.jpg
That’s easy.
Wire off.
20140414-100417.jpg
That’s how it’s done.
Wire on, wire off….Daniel-sun.
Root pruning, BRT-101.
20140414-100544.jpg
If the tree is healthy, you’ll find copious roots.
As you comb out the roots you’ll see this alarming growths on the roots (hopefully…)
20140414-101044.jpg
Those with limited experience might pronounce these nodule to be nematode damage.
20140414-101204.jpg
It is not, I assure you.
These are called “nitrogen fixing nodules”.
They are an adaptation that certain plants have come up with to cope with nutrient poor soils.
Plants in the legume family (as is the BRT) compose the majority of these types of plants.
The plant will, with the help of a symbiotic bacteria or fungus, pull nitrogen out of the air and make it available to itself.
Cool, huh?
If you’re interested in nematodes, go to this post (Root Knot Nematodes In My Bonsai).
Try to preserve as many of these nodules as you can when pruning the roots.
Talk about pruning roots, when I potted this tree in this pot I tilted it to add some drama.
In that tilting I exposed some ugly roots.
20140414-102435.jpg
With the healthy root growth, I can remove it now. Woohoo!
20140414-102608.jpg
For the pot heads out there, some sexy shots of the pot.
20140414-111458.jpg

20140414-111538.jpg
Madame Raynor is truly a master ceramicist.
All snug in its new home.
20140414-111856.jpg
Time for some (more) wire.
This is the third major wiring.
There are just a few major branches that need minor adjustments.
20140414-112134.jpg
And that’s it for now.
20140414-112425.jpg
The top needs a few more branches.
20140414-112518.jpg
It’s a little thin on top in the back.
20140414-112613.jpg
It should fill in this year.
Some more glamour shots from different angles.
20140414-112745.jpg
20140414-112833.jpg
This was the tree as it was left in the previous post (you’ve read it, right?)
20140414-112955.jpg
With leaves this morning.
20140414-113043.jpg
Before wiring.
20140414-113140.jpg
And now…
20140414-113246.jpg
I fertilized with my go-to, Milorganite, and put it right back where it was, on the bench in full sun.
That’s right, full sun and fertilized right after potting.
Don’t you wished you live in Florida?
That’s all….oh, one more pic, eagle’s eye view…
20140414-113640.jpg

Florida Privet, a post written while the work is being done….

I’m trying something new.
Not the tree, I’ve had this one for a while, I got it from my friend Paul Pikel, or a new subject either, I’ve written about Florida privet before.
What’s new is that I’ll write about the tree as I work on it. Should be interesting.
Here it is now:
20140411-110654.jpg
It’s full of wire.
20140411-110751.jpg
It also needs to be repotted.
20140411-110851.jpg
The download times for the photos aren’t bad, a little slow.
I’ll probably use a lot of data on this post (yes, I take all the photos and write all the blog on my iPhone 4s, amazing, I know)
The only thing I won’t be able to do is edit the photos, which I do on the phone too, but not in the WordPress ap.
the Florida privet isn’t really a privet (which is a ligustrum) but is, in the Latin, Forestiera segregata.
It’s a native Florida tree occurring on the southern coasts.
I said I got the tree from my friend Paul, who is a rather famous YouTube
Bonsai guy (the plug- go to his channel here OrlandoBonsaiTV )
He and I gave a presentation to a group of retired people and he gave this tree as a thank you.
I’d like to say, thank you sir, I enjoyed the demo together.
It’s even in a nice pot.
20140411-111915.jpg
So, I’m going to remove the wire, do some trimming, and repot the tree.
Hold on, let’s see where this stream of consciousness post goes…..
20140411-112148.jpg
I almost always unwind my wire instead of cutting it off.
I use aluminum (aluminium to you Brits) so I’m able to do that.
I also believe it teaches you to be more gentle with your trees.
But I’m a rebel, everyone else says to cut it off.
I might start to do that too, I’m going to begin selling wire. Look for it soon.
Speaking of rebels, I’m listening to the first rebel of country music as I am writing this sentence; good ol’ Willie Nelson.
The album is “The Red Headed Stranger”. You should listen to it. It’s kinda dark and sad.
My iPod is on shuffle though. I’ll fill you in on the songs as they shuffle through.
Ah…Enter Sandman!
Here’s a trick-
20140411-113046.jpg
As you unwind the wire you have to brace it so you don’t damage the branch.
Just as you would when wiring (Ahhhh, you see, now you know why I teach unwiring….)
If the wire is too small for your fingers or your pliers..
20140411-113354.jpg
Use your scissors in an off label use.
New song: Crazy Train.
Wow, I got it unwired before the song was over.
High energy music means more work from Adam.
Flogging Molly live at the Greek Theater- the song is Swagger.
20140411-114115.jpg
I could use a pint about now.
Alas, just water to drink.
20140411-114228.jpg
Here’s an obscure song next.
A cover of the Who’s “teenage wasteland” by the Dropkick Murphy’s.
Look it up.
Back to the tree….
It likes to grow new branches in odd places and directions.
This is kinda like a long armpit hair
20140411-114521.jpg
And this guy in growing into the trunk.
20140411-114552.jpg
Before trim-
20140411-114732.jpg
And after-
20140411-115044.jpg
I didn’t trim much.
Next I’ll repot.

20140411-115254.jpg
Needs it.
20140411-115324.jpg
The next song is…..”Why don’t we get drunk?”
Classic Jimmy Buffet.
I’ll try to keep it wet with the hose.
20140411-115707.jpg
As I clean the pot and get it ready for the tree.
20140411-115832.jpg
And the song is now “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”
Jimmy Buffet to Nirvana. Nice transition.
Damn, I damaged the patina.
20140411-120203.jpg
Well, ok, water stains.
The tortoises catching some sun.
20140411-120650.jpg
They’re waiting for some food.
I feed them weeds that grow in the nursery.
Now, since this is such a small pot, I’m going to sift out the larger particles from the mix I’ve been using.
20140411-120914.jpg

20140411-120944.jpg
I wouldn’t do this with every tree.
The native range of the Florida privet is in marshy regions so they like wet feet.
Finer soil particles hold more water.
They also slow growth.
A live Black Keys song, on, btw.
Whoops!
Phone call.
I need to bring a nebulizer to my son’s school because he’s having a hard time breathing. He has asthma.
Gotta pot this and I guess you’ll have to wait to see the wiring part…………………………..I know, I’ll take it with me!
20140411-122224.jpg
Ok, water the tree, get the nebulizer (he’s called Digger)
20140411-122508.jpg
Strap it all in.
20140411-122624.jpg
Let’s go!
Switched to the radio; some STP…..I AM SMELLING LIKE A ROSE THAT SOMEBODY GAVE ME ON MY BIRTHDAY DEATHBED!
This is exciting!
Blogging at 67 mph!
20140411-123207.jpg
Ahhhh! Wrong side of the road!!!!
Ok, I’m actually at a stoplight waiting to turn left.
This is such a well behaved tree, not a word out of him.
20140411-124336.jpg
**edit**So apparently the wordpress ap didn’t save about three pics and all kinds of funny things.
Sorry, I’ll try to re-create them.
I dropped off the nebulizer and at that point (12:58 pm) I remembered that I had to take lunch to my wife.
You see, I had made her late for work and it caused her lunch to be shortened.
I was late so I ran through the Wendy’s drive thru and got her a spicy chicken meal (xtra mayo) with a root beer.
Then she made me sit outside in the rain until she clocked out.
We now return to the post….in progress….
She’s here!
Finally. Let’s see if I can get a candid shot of her stuffing her face.
20140411-133041.jpg
Yes!
Success!
Now I am suffering from my action.
Ouch……
I am being told that if I ever want to make her (“She Who Must Be Obeyed”) late for work again, I better put the phone down now.
Be back in a few.
Ok, belly is full, now I’ll get back to the tree….what?
My wife says her lunch is over and I have to leave.
So much for gratitude.
Since I’m out I’ll go get the key for tonight’s club meeting.
We meet at the Orange County agricultural extension office.
20140411-140927.jpg
The meeting is tonight at 7:30 pm and is featuring……me!
Let’s get the key.
On the radio: Ten thousand fists in the air.
Appropriate music for this blog post.
Talk about bad writing. I’m going to lose ten thousand readers with this post.
Got the key.
20140411-141323.jpg
Now what?
Should I go home or…..yup, I’m going to Starbucks.
I need some caffeine.
And they’ll let me wire tree.
Hopefully.
20140411-142715.jpg
Ok, now to work.
Here’s a trick. When putting smaller wire alongside bigger wire and you come to the end of the bigger wire, it’s an accepted practice to loop the wire around the end piece of the bigger wire.
It helps to anchor everything together.
20140411-143754.jpg
This is progress.
20140411-144829.jpg
These branches are incredibly difficult to wire.
They’re so tiny.
I’m done.
Before I even finished my venti coffee.
20140411-151129.jpg
And here it is-
20140411-151640.jpg
From the top
20140411-151802.jpg
I’ll tell you what, this was a bit more difficult an exercise than I thought it would be.
With the emergency run to the school (and for the one person who asks, my son’s teacher didn’t want me to take him home. She was just fine with the nebulizer, just in case he needed it. When I got there he was sleeping peacefully), with the lunch at my wife’s job, getting the key etc, I’m worn out.
I need a refill!
20140411-152450.jpg
Next post:
Tonight at the bar!

I found this poor ilex and had to rescue him

I was at a spring festival the other day and came upon this poor, tortured tree.
20140409-224053.jpg
If this is your first visit to the blog, welcome.
I suggest you browse the other posts first to see what we bonsai people (and myself specifically) actually do to trees.
After that, you’ll understand the irony of me saying that a tree is “tortured”.
20140410-120731.jpg

20140410-120758.jpg
Some info on the tree: it is an ilex vomitoria.
I’m not sure if it’s a “schillings dwarf” or not but there’s a good possibility that it’s a “pendula”, which would be a weeping variety.
20140410-121406.jpg
The reason I believe it could be a weeping ilex is I know the guy who took a bunch of them and just chopped them down.
This is the first bit of torture; not letting a tree be what it could be.
Here’s another bit of torture: bad technique-
Poorly executed pruning scar.
20140410-121718.jpg
Not to mention an un-removable pruning seal.
Incorrect pruning location.
20140410-121753.jpg
And shoving the roots into a a too small container…
20140410-121813.jpg
I mean, come on man!
20140410-121831.jpg
We need some remedial action to hopefully save this tree.
Fix the top.
20140410-122642.jpg
Shave the pruning scar down.
20140410-122800.jpg

20140410-122920.jpg
Now, the roots.
This tree is a very small, squat tree. Which means that the image we are going for is a really big, squat tree.
These high roots work against that image.
20140410-123130.jpg
I’ll need to pry it out of the pot to see what’s underneath.
I’m afraid.
20140410-123226.jpg
It’s what I figured, fine, muck-like soil.
Not conducive to fine root growth.
20140410-123410.jpg
Using a gentle but firm rain nozzle, I wash out that crap.
20140410-123520.jpg
This is what I find….makes me sick.
20140410-123715.jpg
See those reddish worm thingies?
They’re not worms (though I did find some in that crappy muck, believe it or not) but large, unproductive roots.
If you are putting a tree into a small pot you should realize that there is only a small amount of space for roots to go.
Therefore, prune out those big, chunky, unproductive roots to make room for the fine, white, feeder roots.
Feeder roots are the only roots doing an important job in a bonsai pot.
If a tree is in the ground, those big roots are important for holding the tree upright in the ground.
In a pot, they only take up space.
The feeder roots are the delivery method for the water and nutrients that are needed by the tree.
I can only shake my head at the lack of knowledge displayed here. The man who prepared this tree is a retailer of bonsai after all.
No wonder there’s no new growth on this little guy yet.
All my other ilex have all flushed out and filled in.
Let’s get rid of the bottom roots.
20140410-131456.jpg
And, after another wash, let’s re-examine those roots that were shoved under the lip of the pot.
20140410-131615.jpg
It’s as I thought.
The tips are dead.
20140410-132741.jpg
Getting back to the earlier statement about high roots…off they come.
20140410-143646.jpg
Now, a wider pot with room to grow.
20140410-143804.jpg
Some proper bonsai soil.
20140410-143905.jpg
I have it positioned somewhat where the front might end up but, as the tree grows, that front will probably change.
20140410-144059.jpg

20140410-144117.jpg
I also planted it deeper than it ultimately will be.
20140410-144225.jpg
One last bit of pruning; I remove the inside leaves and only leave those ones at the end of the branch.
20140410-144521.jpg

20140410-144541.jpg
This will allow light to get to the trunk and maybe give me more branches to work with in the future.
Leaving one leaf or set of leaves will help the tree stay stronger; continuing photosynthesis and helping with the movement of water through transpiration.
Now, because I’m an optimist, I’ll wire two branches.
Why?
Because of the future, man!
20140410-144934.jpg
And that’s all.
I fertilized with a mild organically derived granular fertilizer.
I’ll watch the watering, not too much or too little, and keep him out of the direct sun and wind until I see new growth. About a week or two probably.
You know, I kept calling the tree a him, if it is really an ilex vomitoria “pendula” then the tree is actually female.
We call short fat trees “pigs”.
That would make this one a “miss piggy” if you would.

A Ficus Microcarpa nearing show ready maturity.

Today, I’m working on a ficus microcarpa.
I originally got the tree from Jim Smith as a stock plant.
20140406-160318.jpg
I picked it out because it had really good taper (still does I guess) and I didn’t have to chop the trunk.
20140406-160656.jpg
I don’t think I’ve shown this tree on the blog yet but if I did and you find the post, let us know.
20140406-161013.jpg
You’ll notice that I almost always call these trees “ficus microcarpa” and not any of the many common names (tiger bark ficus or Chinese banyan) or any of the older Latin names either (ficus retusa or ficus nitida).
It’s more clear for me to use the current name than try to use the common or old names.
I did a search for synonyms and came up with this list:
Ficus aggregata
Ficus cairnsii
Ficus condoravia
Ficus dahlii
Ficus dyctiophleba
Ficus hillii
Ficus littoralis
Ficus naumannii
Ficus nitida
Ficus regnans
Ficus retusa
Ficus retusiformis
Ficus rubra
Ficus thynneana
Urostigma accedens
Urostigma amblyphyllum
Some of these names are now classed as a variety of f. microcarpa instead of a distinct species.
When I first styled the tree I did cut out one big limb and there is a scar from it.
20140406-183309.jpg

20140406-190114.jpg
I’m not so sure of this branch still:
20140406-191410.jpg
It’s coming from the front right; it’s a little too much in front and not enough right than most people think is appropriate, and the structure is odd.
I’ve kept the branch for the two years I’ve been working the tree, I’ll keep it for now.
The one mistake (so far) I’ve made was, last year, to put it into this too-small a pot.
20140406-191912.jpg
The depth is ok, putting a ficus in a shallow pot is actually a good way to improve surface roots (if you’ve gained the trunk girth you are looking for….that’s another post though) but the mistake is that the pot isn’t wide enough.
The width allows the roots to grow laterally and improve.
I’ve unwired it already.
20140406-192359.jpg
Actually, I unwired it sometime before winter (it’s April in Florida now).
Taking into account that when I removed the wire, I defoliated it at the same time, the best reason for a wider pot is the lack of growth that occurred on the tree last year.
These are the leaves:
20140406-204125.jpg
Here is a comparison of a tree that was allowed to grow unrestricted:
20140406-204251.jpg
This tells us two things: you can reduce the leaves quite a bit on this tree and, it’s probably not a good idea to defoliate in December.
It’s April though.
It’s scissor time!
20140406-204936.jpg
We defoliate for a few reasons:
First, the obvious reason is to reduce the size of the leaves.
The way this works is purely a horticultural exploitative technique.
Think of the leaves as though they are solar energy panels.
The tree only needs so many square inches of these solar panels to accomplish the required photosynthesis to feed itself.
When you cut the leaves off, the plant responds by trying to grow those solar panels back as fast as it can.
It will therefore push as many leaves out as it can and you end up with twice as many leaves but, since the tree needs only that certain number of square inches, the leaves will be half as big (give or take).
The second reason we defoliate is to make it easier to see the structure of the tree when styling and to make it easier to wire.
A third reason is to make it easier to treat disease or an insect infestation.
Regardless of the reason I should note that we defoliate only when the tree is healthy enough to support it.
Anyway, it’s time for the leaves to leave.
20140406-210621.jpg
See that pointy thing at the end of the branch?
That is the terminal bud.
I like to leave them when I’m defoliating and then wiring.
A fourth reason to defoliate is to get the sun into the interior branches and try to increase ramification and back budding. In that case I will trim the terminal bud.
I’m leaving them here to get the branch to elongate and, in that, get thicker so that the branch sets with this wiring.
20140406-211130.jpg
Damn that’s a lot of branches.
The only wiring that was done were on the primary branches.
As you can see by the lack of wire scars.
20140406-212359.jpg
The next pics show you another ficus I defoliated and wired about two weeks ago.
20140406-212554.jpg
This was how it looked when I defoliated:
20140406-214027.jpg
And now:
20140406-214358.jpg
Pretty good growth.
I did not repot this second tree though. Sometimes repotting a ficus accelerates the growth. Sometimes not.
Warmer night temps make a difference.
Last week we had a 45 degree night here in Orlando.
Fingers crossed and prayers to the bonsai gods.
Let’s tackle the roots.
20140406-230248.jpg

20140406-230307.jpg
You can see how snug I had the tree shoehorned into the pot.
20140406-230526.jpg
There was still good root growth, just not enough because there wasn’t really a lot of room.
But there’s lots of legroom in this pot.
20140406-230748.jpg

20140406-230811.jpg
And lots of drainage.
It’s chopped too.
20140406-231023.jpg
Don’t ask me what it says.
The blog for that is japanesebonsaipots.net (click here). Tell Ryan I sent you.
I think it’s a nice fit for the tree.
Looking good-
20140407-135901.jpg

20140407-135931.jpg
Comparing the pots side by side you can see they’re both shallow but the orange one is much wider.
I’m very pleased so far.
I’m experimenting with a soil component called LECA, which stands for Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate.
It was developed for the construction industry as an additive to concrete (replacing rock) to make the end product lighter.
20140407-140830.jpg
It’s been adopted for use in the hydroponics field as well and some bonsai enthusiasts have been using it too.
It holds little water and has no CEC (although it’s clay, which has a high CEC, this product is so highly fired it’s almost like glass or scoria).
CEC is the measurement of soil components ability to hold onto nutrients and have them available for the plants use.
Organic material has the most CEC (in the 100′s) and clays (akadama, calcined clay) have the most of all inorganic materials (in the 30′s).
Diatomaceous earth also has a fairly high CEC.
The reason I’m trying it here is to increase drainage.
I believe that I’ve stunted the growth a bit on this tree and I’m trying to make amends.
A small, shallow pot stays too wet, and wet trees don’t grow roots searching for water, and when the roots don’t grow, the top doesn’t grow.
This aggregate will definitely drain well.
And now, do you know what time it is?
It’s time to wire!
20140407-142354.jpg
Here are some dramatically lit, establishing shots for reference.
Left branch
20140407-142901.jpg
Right branch
20140407-142921.jpg
Top
20140407-142937.jpg
I’m using that new black aluminum wire. Not sure I like it, it seems stiffer than what I’ve used in the past.
The black color is somewhat controversial too.
It’s highly visible.
Makes for good pics on a blog post where the seeing the wire is important but maybe not so good for showing the tree in a display.
Left branch wired-
20140407-143823.jpg
Top view
20140407-143909.jpg
What’s funny on the structure of the blog posts compared to the actual work on the tree is that when I get to this point in the narrative, the story goes quickly, with very little words.
In reality, it takes longer to wire than all the other stuff combined.
It took about 3 hours to wire the whole tree.
Like I said, it has a whole lotta branches.
Right branch
20140407-144350.jpg
Snap!!?!
20140407-144450.jpg
Damn….it’s ok, I’ll use this as a teaching experience.
The branch I broke was not in a good position so I tried to bend it up.
That’s when I broke it.
If I cut it and leave a stub…..
20140407-144711.jpg
…chances are I’ll get new shoots at the base of that nub and at least one (and one is all I need) will be in a good spot.
Onward!!
20140407-144903.jpg
I think it looks better without it anyway.
Halfway done.
It doesn’t look like there are enough branches to pull it off, does it?
Ye of little faith!
20140407-145014.jpg
The top!
Finally!
20140407-145147.jpg
Here’s the side view:
20140407-145315.jpg
The other side:
20140407-145359.jpg
The back:
20140407-145444.jpg
The top:
20140407-145531.jpg
The before:
20140407-145646.jpg
And the after:
20140407-145731.jpg
For a short video showing a full 360 view, click here
Ignore the goofiness.
Now, I know it looks like I wired every branch but I didn’t.
I left one alone.
20140407-152633.jpg
I’ll tell you what, that’s hard work, especially when the sun starts pouring into The Nook:
20140407-152840.jpg
I think it’s time for a beer.
Or something stronger.

Portulacaria afra, a little tree you might pick up down the road.

Here is a little portulacaria afra for entertainment and educational purposes.
20140402-143418.jpg
Now, I keep getting feedback from a certain portion of the bonsai community wondering why I keep doing these “beginner tree” posts.
20140402-143639.jpg
They say “you won’t ever be respected unless you are doing serious and big trees!”
20140402-143919.jpg
Or I’ll post an initial styling of a tree (and all that’s left is a stump with a few branches and I have to draw a picture to show what the tree might look like in a few years) and they tell me I have to show more developed trees because it’s the finished product that the “big” guys like to see.
20140402-151245.jpg
My feeling on these critiques is two fold:
There seem to be many, many blogs out there where you see a beginning and an end and that’s it. Kinda like- “Hey! Look at what I did! I took a hundred year old cultivated bonsai and made it look pretty!”
Although I have been accused of making everything about me, it’s just not my style to show off like that.
Secondly, I believe that masterpieces are created not in the creative struggle of one major piece but rather in the perfection of technique on many minor pieces.
In that practice, true mastery is found. And then, when the BIG tree comes along, the artist makes the transformation of it look easy.
To put it in the visual artists language: those little pieces are called “studies”.
Musicians call them “licks” or “scales”.
By continually practicing these small things, your muscles “learn” what to do.
Working on little trees is also, believe it or not, more challenging than big trees.
The artist has just a short distance to create a story and build a tree. He has just a few branches to use. And it’s a lot more difficult to keep a smaller tree alive and healthy.
Ok, so now that I’ve alienated my peers, let’s talk dwarf jade.
This is a common thing to see at this time of the year-
20140402-153223.jpg
Wrinkly leaves.
This is the beginning of spring in Orlando and the new growth is just beginning.
20140402-153431.jpg
The wrinkled leaves are just old growth that will dry up and fall off soon.
I’ll cut them off to make it easier to wire later.
20140402-153614.jpg
This purplish color on the stem tells me that the new growth is imminent.
20140402-154003.jpg
Studying the structure of the tree I feel that I need to change the front a little.
Current front.
20140402-154221.jpg
New front.
20140402-154327.jpg
There are a few reasons to move the front.
The first is the base is thicker with this front.
20140402-154532.jpg
The second reason: it turns the trunk enough so that the existent branches are in more usable positions.
20140402-154748.jpg
Lastly (I didn’t want to say “thirdly”, this post seems to be turning into a narrative of numbered lists)
The movement of the tree is enhanced.
20140402-155037.jpg
Pretty arrows!
The yellow arrow shows a now usable branch and the red arrow shows the newly acquired directional flow of the trunk.
Repositioning the tree, I didn’t do a full repot, I just cut the tie-down wires and shifted the tree clockwise a bit.
Now it’s time for some wire.
You will notice that I didn’t use the recommended gauge wire (I’m using aluminum) for the thickness of the branch.
20140402-212541.jpg
Usually one uses close to the same thickness wire as the branch when using aluminum wire.
With a dwarf jade (and this is the secret to wiring them without destroying the branch) you use the smallest gauge you need.
To know what that gauge might be, use the one inch bend test.
Take a length of wire and expose an inch or so. Push the tip onto the branch you want to bend. If the branch bends, that’s your size wire. If the wire bends, go bigger on your gauge.
I wire every branch.
20140402-215317.jpg
And then begin to build the structure.
20140402-220902.jpg
The branch above will be the main branch that the canopy will be built upon.
20140402-221026.jpg
If this were a thicker branch I’d cut it here.
20140402-221211.jpg

20140402-221248.jpg
Now, it doesn’t look like much at the moment.
20140402-222716.jpg
I have a good left side branch and some good back and right side branches.
But just a skinny little branch for the main top branch.
The trick-I didn’t trim it at all to encourage it to thicken.
I did prune some part of the side branches.
20140402-223424.jpg
But not all, the turquoise arrow shows a smaller branch I left a growing tip on to encourage it to thicken.
When the main branch thickens (which might take all season) I’ll cut it at the point I showed earlier and then the branch will ramify….hopefully.
20140402-223813.jpg
The portulacaria can fill in so thick that the canopy will look almost like an Afro.
The way this is done is to allow the branch to elongate to three sets of leaves and then prune to one, you’ll get two shoots off this point.
Allow them to do the same and prune the same and then you’ll have four.
Then, only allow it to elongate two sets and pinch back to one set.
Soon your canopy will fill in and you’ll be humming J5 songs as you water.
20140402-224726.jpg
Ok, not quite like that.
More like this-
20140402-224928.jpg
Aftercare: they are heavy feeders so use a regular fertilizer on a schedule.
If you are using bonsai soil (which you should) overwatering should not be a problem.
In the summer it rains everyday here in Florida and I don’t have rot problems.
And yes, they stay out in the full sun, outside.
This particular tree was given to me by my friend Aaron, but it is typical of one that could be had as a starter tree.
If you just apply some styling techniques and sound horticulture, there isn’t any reason why a similar tree couldn’t be made into a nice little bonsai tree.
In the next post maybe I’ll try to mollify some of my critics and work on that masterpiece bonsai.

Got me some new tools! Now I need a new tool roll

I recently got a complete set of tools from a new company that’s going to be a welcome addition to the bonsai tool marketplace, American Bonsai Tool & Supply.
They must be regular readers of the blog because I was told to use them and abuse them as I normally would.
I guess I’m a beta tester or something (maybe I’m just that one guy in the world just ham-handed enough to be able to break an anvil).
20140329-180754.jpg
They are all stainless steel and they are designed to be the highest quality tools on the market.
20140329-180921.jpg
My first impressions are that these are nice tools.
Maybe too nice for me?
Nah?
I clean up good and am full of all kinds of couth.
No, really, ask my 10th grade English teacher, Mrs. Rasher, she’ll vouch for me.
20140329-181324.jpg
And now that I’ve whetted your appetites with these glamour shots…
20140329-181436.jpg
I’m going to show you how I will make a new tool roll for them.
My old roll just isn’t up to the job for these tools.
20140329-181628.jpg
First, it’s too small for all these new tools.
Second, it’s too ugly and beat up to hold all these super classy implements of fine bonsai art.
I could buy one. But then this post would just be me opening a box from FedEx.
And that’s no fun.
So, to the fabrication.
I had considered using leather as my material of choice but I don’t really have access to a big piece.
I could use vinyl, pleather, or some silly synthetic product; they are waterproof and all but…..they’re just not….me.
My old roll is actually not a bonsai tool roll but a paintbrush roll.
It’s made of canvas and I do have plenty of it around (I’m an artist, a painter, and I prefer to stretch my own canvases.. Call me old fashioned, it’s ok).
So canvas is what will be!
20140329-183538.jpg
The new roll will have to be bigger and, since I’m making it, I’ll set it up in my usual peculiar fashion.
I measured and cut it to a size I figured would work for me (which doesn’t really matter to you all, measure yours to your own needs).
Then I folded each end twice.
20140329-184712.jpg
Ironed the seam.
20140329-184809.jpg
Then, using contract labor (my wife actually, let’s hope she doesn’t read this) the seams were sewed.
20140329-185140.jpg
She had an apprentice seamstress helping her:
20140329-185245.jpg
Guaracha!
Fresh from a collecting trip to Puerto Rico.
Let’s hope he doesn’t read this either.
He knew how to use the sewing machine.
Me?
I can disassemble and repair the electric motor running the thing, I can weld and repair cars and build houses and all kinds of technical stuff.
I could not figure out the damn contraption.
I have a hard time with strollers and baby car seats too.
Weird.
Any who, the edges all sewed so as to not unravel, the next step was to measure the pocket flap (there’s a good name for a band! The Pocket Flap)
20140329-190055.jpg
And, again, thank you Wifey, sew the sides.
20140329-190317.jpg
With extra stitching on the corners to strengthen them (my wife’s idea).
Then I marked off some measurements of the tools and had my wife sew slots across half of the pocket.
20140329-190903.jpg

20140329-190921.jpg
And then placed them (in my odd way, I like to stack them. You can space the pockets how you like them, or not have them at all even)
20140329-191147.jpg
And, look! It works, rolls up like a burrito!
20140329-191310.jpg
It is fatter than the old one but about the same size length-wise.
20140329-191418.jpg
I may or may not put tie straps on it (or, I should say, have my wife do it).
I measured it long enough that I don’t really need them but she seems to want to put some on so…..one must let one’s wife do as she wants.
If you are smart.
20140329-191834.jpg
I might silk screen my logo on it to let everyone know who it belongs to (and to grow the ego a bit I guess)
20140329-192016.jpg
Which would look kinda cool.
Maybe I will, after I fix a few things around the house that my wife just pointed out needed doing…..
The American Bonsai tools will be available mid-May 2014.
They do have a website (americanbonsai.com) but it won’t be fully active until the tools and supplies are available.
I’ll let you know how my new tool roll works out and if I can suggest any additions or subtractions.
And I’ll definitely report back with the results of my crash testing on these new tools.