How about some love for a ficus benjamina?

Today we shall look at the lowly ficus benjamina, a pariah of the bonsai world.
It seems that hardly anyone likes the so-called weeping fig except for rank beginners and…..wait a minute, am I reading this correctly?
I think I am….it seems that the really big time artists like Pedro Morales or Robert Stevens like them too.
Indeed.
Why?
What is it about these trees (and they are trees, I’ve seen them as big as freakin’ houses. So, to all you biased, ignorant, and elitist enthusiasts who dismiss benjaminas, and any ficus for that matter, to hell with you!) that inspire those enthusiasts who are just beginning their bonsai journey and those masters who should know better?
Well, that’s what I’m here to try to explain.
And, as always, I have a tree to work on at the same time.
I’ll begin by listing the drawbacks, which are many, to the cultivation and styling of this kind of tree.
Today’s work will be on a smaller leafed variety of ficus benjamina called “too little”.
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A medium or “chuhin” sized tree.
It’s been neglected a little and it’s rootbound.
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Which isn’t too much of a problem with ficus.
This is the pot it’s been residing in for a few years.
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I’m going to go through the negative characteristics and, as I describe them, I’ll put them all into perspective.
One complaint against the benjamina is that you’ll get interior dieback like this.
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The reason it does this is an easy one. Lack of light.
The same thing happens on junipers too.
Solution: keep them trimmed.
The next complaint: bizarre back budding.
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I’m not sure why people complain about this but they do.
My rebuttal: have you ever worked on a trident maple?
They do the same thing and the trident is considered one of the best trees for bonsai.
Let me begin pruning the tree I have in front of me and as I cut, I’ll deal with the first two criticisms.
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Looks intimidating, doesn’t it?
Oh, here’s a third one too: the branches will suddenly grow straight up from a top bud.
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An annoying growth habit.
One shared by most elm trees.
How do you deal with it?
Easy, and it’s even a cliche, nip it in the bud.
Or, if you discover it too late….
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…..nip it at the base I guess.
Ok…all the dead branches, odd shoots, multiple limbs et al, have been removed…..
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….and this leads us quite nicely to the number one complaint about the ficus benjamina: if you cut a branch and don’t leave green, (a leaf or a visible bud) that whole branch will die.
To answer this pet peeve let me remind everyone that both junipers and pine trees are exactly the same as the ficus benjamina in this characteristic. And they are considered the two best trees for bonsai (at least by most bonsai people).
Why is this dieback characteristic vilified in the weeping fig but treated as a thing to be endured on a conifer?
Hmmmmnn…
How do we then prune this ficus if we could inadvertently kill a branch with an errant snip of our scissors?
Like this:
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Which is the same way one prunes a conifer; leave some green.
In order to encourage some back budding, I’m going to prune as far back as I can.
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And contrary to popular belief, you can defoliate a benjamina. You just have to make sure that you don’t damage the visible bud under the leaf.
Why would you need to defoliate one?
If you were showing the tree and you needed smaller leaves you would defoliate it.
The tree (most trees, actually) will respond by putting out twice as many leaves but they’ll only grow half as big.
This technique takes advantage of the way trees feed themselves.
The process is called photosynthesis. And, basically, a tree needs a certain square footage (or, in the rest of the world using the metric system, square centimeters, which just doesn’t sound as lyrical or poetic) of leaves to accomplish this process. When the leaves are damaged due to wind or insects (or my pruning shears) the tree responds by ramping up leaf production and growing as many as it can. But they’ll stop growing once that square footage is reached.
And they’ll have smaller leaves as a result.
I will point out this: we only do it to trees that are healthy and in development (for show or ramification).
A seedling doesn’t need this technique.
I won’t be defoliating today (Wow Adam, are you ok?) because I don’t need smaller leaves.
They’re “too little” now anyway (groan, I know, I know, I had to say it though).
Some other negative things that people don’t like have to do with wiring.
First, they say that wired branches don’t stay in place when you take the wire off.
Try working with a white pine.
Next, the branches get wire scars too easily.
Hornbeam?
Japanese maple?
Anyone?
And lastly, the branch will die if you wire it.
Ginkgo biloba comes to mind.
So, my dear readers, what are some of the positives about this ficus and do they make up for the (supposed) negatives?
Let’s see if I can make a case.
I’ll start at the roots.
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Being a ficus, you can cut the shit out of the roots and it won’t skip a beat just as long as it’s growing (which is year long if you can give bottom heat to the root zone). And, FYI, “cut the shit” is a highly technical horticultural term we in the industry use when we mean ” prune aggressively”.
Just in case you want to sound like you are “in the know”.
On my victim today, I don’t need to be all that drastic with the root work.
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There’s just one root I need to cut out.
Do you see it?
Yeah?
Now you don’t!
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If you’ve read my posts before, you’ll know that I truly dislike crossing roots on a ficus.
How then can I abide this?
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Well….let me introduce you to a twin trunk style called, variously, “mother/daughter”, “father/son” or “husband/wife”.
This one is a husband/wife; I’ll explain why in a second.
A father/son composition usually has one large and one half size tree and the smaller tree is in front.
A mother/daughter is a larger and a 1/3 size with the smaller tree in the back.
A husband/wife is two trees that are close to being the same size, maybe the smaller one is 3/4 as large.
The wife should be behind the husband.
And, as you might have guessed already, the placement is as it is for purely male chauvinistic reasons.
The male protects the female.
The father pushes his son forward.
The mother protects the daughter.
One more detail.
You may have noticed that I rotated the front from here:
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To here:
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This was to bring the couple closer together with the wife leaning towards the husband, adoringly worshiping her man.
Like I said, chauvinist through and through.
And that’s how I justify this crossing root.
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The husband is protecting his wife, or making sure she is behind him.
It’s a touchy subject.
But it segways right into another positive feature about the benjamina.
Of all the ficus (or trees in general) I’ve worked on, the benjamina will develop better nebari faster than any other.
The tree throws out roots readily (both surface and, if you want them, aerial) and from all sides (radially,as it were), which is what a bonsai artist is looking for in a tree.
They even fuse faster than any other tree, making for that melted wax look that’s prized on a root spread.
And, with our couple, as with all couples, the roots will fuse and become as one.
Also, as an aside, they propagate from cuttings very easily, with almost all cuttings developing roots fast.
Speaking of well developed roots, back to the work at hand.
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A fair bit or raking and pruning later.
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A fresh bed of my Supermix™.
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And Bob’s your uncle.
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Actually, Bob is my neighbor. Really nice man, he grows his own food and shares it with my large family all the time.
My wife loves it when it’s collard green time. I cook them with a ham bone and I use beef stock and I add lots and lots of garlic and onions.
Yum!
As for the ficus, plenty of organic fertilizer.
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Yes, that much.
And a pre-emergent weed preventer.
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And I think I’m done.
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No, not quite.
This branch has to go, it’s crossing and breaking up the trunk lines.
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Which leads us to one final pro in the benjaminas favor.
If I cut this branch, I’ll have a big pruning wound right in front for everyone to see (which I don’t mind too much, but some people think it’s an affront to god).
The benjamina heals faster than any tree I’ve seen too, ficus or not.
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So I’m not worried about this cut.
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Or the one behind it either.
One last bit of housekeeping and then I’m done.
The benjamina is loved by one other creature that I must mention.
The Cuban laurel thrip.
I control an infestation (which is evidenced by the leaves folding in half longways) by using this product.
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It’s a granular systemic that works by making the plant poisonous to the bug if the bug chews on the plant.
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It’s safer to use than a spray (no accidental inhalation or overspray) and it is targeted to one specific plant.
And with that done, I’m done.
I think, dear reader, the evidence is clear that a benjamina can (and does) make good bonsai.
Of course there are those that will never be convinced; these are the enthusiasts who’ve made a good intermediate level career by sneering at those hapless fools who just won’t listen to their good advice (“Why, oh why can’t the noobs just trust all my years of accumulated knowledge? It’ll save them so much time and wasted work on those worthless trees.”)
Here’s the before.
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And here’s the after.
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Looks like a tree to me.
A bonsai tree, even.

Hollies, Junipers and Ficus, oh my!

After the Cincinnati workshop (see the last post) and lunch at the Hoffbräuhaus (beer), it was time to travel to Indianapolis and to my new friends house, Mark Fields.
And this is what I’m talking about, total bonsai, the first thing I see when I get there is a wiring job in progress on a pine.
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He had been teaching a class earlier in the day on wiring a secondary level on the branch pad. Something that is never seen in books.
I got a quick tour in the bright, Indiana summer sunlight.
This is a jade called crassula ovata “gollum”.
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He grew this tree from a small cutting.
This next tree is a trident maple made up of about a hundred saplings that were attached to a cone structure and allowed to fuse together.
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It’s pretty cool but also controversial. Is it a real bonsai?
I think so, because, if grafting is a valid bonsai technique (which it seems to be) then this is just an extreme form of grafting.
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What do you think?
The next tree is a familiar face.
A Neea buxifolia forest.
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Which was a welcome sight, I’d like to introduce neea to a much wider audience and the fact that Mark can grow them and, indeed, make them thrive up in this frozen tundra is heartening.
Look at this little fella:
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Mark had a lot of trees, many tropicals but also many conifers.
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Look at the deadwood on this juniper.
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And the grandeur this tree oozes.
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If, in fact, grandeur can ooze.
He also had many deciduous trees, hornbeam, elm, and many maples, like this Acer palmatum….
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…which are usually grown taller. But I like the short, wide, almost tropical feel to this one.
But of all of these trees, this next one stood out.
A small leafed ficus burt davyii.
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It was grown by Mark from a pencil-thick cutting into that magnificent root-over-rock specimen.
It is probably the best root-over-rock I’ve ever seen and, me being from Florida and all, the best burt davyii I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot.
I told him, sincerely, that if he put this tree into the upcoming National Exhibition put on by William Valavanis, it could possibly take the best tropical award.
He photoed it and emailed it to Bill and, within minutes, it was accepted into the show.
I hope it shows well.
After the whirlwind nursery tour I once again fell victim to the late northern sunset. It was almost 9:30 pm and the sun was still up and I’d had a long day.
It was time for a little blogging and then bed.
I had a very busy day the next day.
It was the workshop I’d been waiting for the whole trip.
The one with my favorite tree, the ilex vomitoria schillings dwarf.
Which is a weird thing that I didn’t get many pics.
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The workshop took place in a Catholic high school in one of the science labs.
I only got one pic of a finished tree (and a grumpy looking man. He wasn’t grumpy, actually very happy, I think he was just giving me his passport photo face. )
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I styled his tree into an upright, deciduous tree style (like the silver maples I’d been seeing all over).
In an earlier post I had mentioned that deciduous trees up here grew taller, by half, than they did in Florida and I wanted to make a tree that looked like the ones I’ve been marvelling over since I’d been here.
I promised I’d draw him a pic of the tree as I saw it.
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What a great bunch of people to work with in the Indianapolis club.
Thanks for inviting me.
By the end of the workshop it was time for dinner.
Everyone chose Hooters (I was indifferent. No, really, I promise) but, after an adventure looking for an open one, we were stuck with eating at Red Lobster.
Then it was back to Mark’s place for another night.
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The next morning’s coffee was a surprise: it took me travelling all the way to Indiana to discover this awesome Puerto Rican coffee.
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Which is ironic since I have so many Puerto Rican friends.
With many thanks to Mark’s family and a goodbye to his tortoise….
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….I left this ilex in his care, I’d really like to see what he will do with it.
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It is a personally collected tree that I brought along because I wanted to bring the best trees I had, but I had hoped no one would want it.
Mark wanted it.
It’s in good hands now, I know.
I can’t wait to see what he does with it.
On the road again.
This trip to Washington Indiana was full of big, empty fields with all the interesting stuff way in the distance.
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I was on my way to a private session with my friend CD, author of a bonsai blog as well (indianabonsai.com).
He had some junipers and some ficus he wanted help with.
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It was on my way back to my accommodations for the night so I met up with him.
He had two junipers that looked surprisingly like a parsonii juniper.
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But had a different cultivar name.
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The foliage was really similar though.
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After examining the first tree I decided that we could do some initial styling but, horticulturally, it might not be a good idea to wire everything now.
If a juniper is in a growing state the bark and cambium layers become loose and wiring/bending excessively can compromise the health of the tree.
This “looseness” makes it easier to create Jin though.
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Some hand carving with my pliers.
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And a little major branch moving (very carefully)
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And that’s about as far as I want to go.
We worked on two junipers and the care they need now, after the abuse, is some shade and to provide some wind protection and using the technique of foliage watering, which a juniper responds well to, the absorption of water through the foliage (it needs regular watering too, but since we removed more than half the foliage and trees transpiration will be diminished by that, it won’t be “using” water quite as well and overwatering now might suffocate the roots).
CD had some ficus to work on as well and I immediately wanted to work on this one.
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This was the original front but I liked this front better.
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A little wire later and…
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I’m not sure CD was convinced that my front was better.
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As a side note, he’s a single man at the moment ladies. He’s the quiet, brooding artist type.
He has a beard too.
Anyway, he must have liked how the tree turned out at least a little because I helped him out with a few more trees.
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At least, until the skies decided that it was time to go.
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I had a four hour drive with many miles to travel before I could rest for the day.
And part of that journey was through a State Park called, improbably, Big Bone Lick State Park.
I just wasn’t sure what to expect.
Fortunately, I arrived back in Covington Kentucky without incident.
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I’d managed to stay ahead of the tornadoes and dodged any bone licking that I might have been forced into, and finally I made it back to my home away from home.
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You remember Evan?
I took him out to a little fine dining for his hospitality.
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After dinner I treated myself to one more of the awesome, local microbrews.
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And then it was off to bed.
I had a thousand miles to travel on the morrow.
So far, on my most fantastic bonsai journey, I’ve travelled two thousand miles, met many new friends and worked on some of the most spectacular (and biggest) trees I’ve ever worked on.
Thanks to all the people who made this possible, put together all the workshops and volunteered their homes for me to crash in, to those who fed me and plied me with beer.
I thank you all and hopefully we will see each other again next year.
But now, my thoughts and trail turn towards home.
Just one thousand miles more and I’ll be able to rest my head on my own pillow, snuggle my beautiful wife and sleep, knowing that my family is under the same roof as I am.

Ficus salicaria rootwork and detail wiring

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

Two familiar trees in a northern land.

I’ve lost count of the number of days I’ve been on my tour.
But if it’s Wednesday, it has to be Dayton.
I left the Kittle homestead midday (the next post, Darlene, I promise, will be on that magnificent eight foot tall ficus named Bigfoot) and arrived at my host home for the night, Judy’s house.
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Dayton from the on ramp.
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Judy has an amazing collection of conifers and Japanese maples; of which she knows all the names and cultivars and I couldn’t begin to remember them.
I’ll just post some pics, how’s that?
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Beautiful garden, isn’t it?
She also grows orchids and even has one named after her.
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After a whirlwind tour (she had some spectacular bonsai too) we sat down and had a short rest before the Dayton Bonsai Club meeting.
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Ahhhh, a little Newcastle to refresh the soul, eh mate?
All good things must end and it’s time to work.
After a short ride to the agricultural extension office (the meeting place for the club) and after the briefest business meeting I’ve ever had to endure (the bane of the visiting artist, this one was over before I had even dozed off. I could’ve really used a nap) it’s finally time to perform.
Up until now I had been doing workshops and when I’m teaching one on one I’m very quiet and intimate.
It is in the demonstration, to some people’s horror or delight, where I really go crazy and shine on like a crazy diamond.
Imagine this blog, live and uncensored, but with a live audience to encourage and cheer me on.
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The Dayton club is a nice group, they made me feel at home with their informal meeting style.
Someone was even thoughtful enough to make me feel at home by baking some familiar shaped cookies for me.
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The tree I’m working on is an ilex vomitoria schillings.
It’s a dwarf variety of a full size tree; some would call it a bush even.
Here’s a blurry pic of the bush I’m going to trim. I remember a time when all amateur bush photos were blurry.
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I talk about the species and give the background for the Latin name (vomitoria), the ilex is one of my favorite trees and I have written about it more than any other species.
And I have a lot to say about it too.
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Working on a bush like this it’s just a matter of whittling down the branches enough to turn it into a tree.
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And, coincidentally, the last bad joke coincides with the end of the styling of the tree.
Almost like I planned it or something.
I say goodbye and promise to write and all that.
One more night at Judy’s home where I can contemplate her husband’s underwater seascapes.
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Then it’s up early and some breakfast.
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She let me cook my own omelette.
A last look at her landscape and pond.
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And then it was off to Cincinnati and Evan’s house.
And what was awaiting me there?
Probably the rarest thing I’ll ever get a picture of, in fact, there’s never been photographic evidence of this rarest of occurrences.
Me doing laundry.
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I got the clothes and soap in ok but then these controls baffled me.
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I could disassemble (or even dissemble) and repair this washing machine but it took me a good five minutes to realize that the lid has to be down for the wash cycle to start.
I guess it’s some kind of safety thing or something.
I contemplated sticking my pocket knife into the contact point just so I could watch the machine work, and just to thumb my nose at the safety nazis, but I had other things to do, like a demo at the Cincy club.
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They meet at the Cincinnati Garden Center.
My victim for the night was a bald cypress.
By now I’m sure you’re wondering about the suitability of growing both an ilex and a bald cypress (trees native to Florida) up in the frozen north.
You’d be right about the ilex; it’s only hardy to zone 7, so it will need winter protection, but it’s not a tender tropical either.
The bald cypress, on the other hand, can take the cold.
I saw a thirty year old one in Ft Wayne Indiana that had cones on it (which I’ve read can’t happen up north).
They use them for the same purpose we do down here, they plant them in the medians and in retention ponds and on the sides of highways.
I had to do a double take on my way from Indy to Ohio, I swear that a highway rest stop looked just like a Florida one with a whole stand of cypress in front of it.
The one thing that’s different about the cypresses growing habit though, they weren’t turning into flattops.
Here’s the tree before the work.
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I’ve reduced the roots and it’s in bonsai soil, so whoever gets it won’t have too much to worry about transitioning it into a bonsai pot.
Before any work can occur though……the dreaded business meeting.
La la la la la!
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Maybe if there were dancing girls in the back? That would definitely make the business part go more quickly.
Or if they dispensed beer.
Yeah….beer.
Some people might have thought perhaps I had been indulging before the demo.
There is actually a video that was shot of this performance and as soon as I get ahold of it I’ll find a way to post it.
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As I was saying earlier, the tree I was styling is a bald cypress.
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And, as we all know, cypress grow in swamps, and in swamps there be alligators and alligators make good shoes (or good shoes are made of alligators) so I jump up on the table, don my official cypress tree demonstration shoes….
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….and take an official cypress tree demonstration selfie!
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Yes, my friends, there is video evidence of all this.
There was also a betting pool to see when I would actually start styling the tree.
I did eventually cut and wire it.
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And I even drew a sketch.
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I styled it in a naturalistic Louisiana flattop form.
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And this is the sketch.
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I worked on two Florida trees but I used two different approaches.
The ilex, a stylized, super-forced perspective (or a close up view) sumo tree:
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And the cypress, a naturalistic, far-view, flattop swamp tree.
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Pheweee!
What a couple of days!
The next post will be on day three and Big Foot.

Boulevard cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera)

Day five of my Mid America trip had me scheduled with a demo in Dayton Ohio.
Before I could leave, I had one tree I needed to finish in Ft. Wayne at the Kittle Homestead.
It was a Chamaecyparis pisifera “boulevard” the common names being a Boulevard Cypress, Japanese False Cypress, or Sawara False Cypress.
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Neat looking tree.
The nebari is decent. Tight foliage pattern.
I’d take it, if I could grow it in Florida, which I can’t.
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After doing some research and looking at some examples on the inter-webs I think I have a plan of action.
Maybe.
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On my travels so far I’ve been struck by how tall trees seem to grow here in the north.
The biggest trees in Florida are the live oaks, and they tend to be very wide.
Here, even though the bases and trunks are big, they’re about one third taller, at least, than a live oak.
I like to teach about the generic tree that exists in all of our heads and that we can utilize that “ideal” in the styling if our trees.
The concepts of taper, radial branches getting closer and shorter as you travel up the tree, a strong nebari, etc. are all concepts that are in our minds (we don’t know it until we are shown) that the bonsai artist (or any artist) uses in the illusion and art of making small, young trees look like big, old trees.
That being said, each part of the country (and the world) has a different idea what a tree might look like.
With that said, back to our tree.
This species, up here in the frozen north, is subject to leaf burn in the summer and leaf burn in the winter.
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Which seems like a bummer to me.
If you don’t keep it pruned tight, it’s very likely to get leggy. And the old foliage dies back if it is shaded out too much.
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Most of the dead stuff has been cleaned out-many thanks to Darlene Kittle for that.
My thinking, stylistically, with the tree is an open, airy structure that well……you’ll see.
This branch is the thickest but it had no taper for about two feet.
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I think that all conifers need some deadwood and, since it lack taper, it’s the candidate.
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It’s mostly dead as well, the brown half on it is dry and dead.
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The carving process is easy on conifers.
No power tools needed even.
Strip the bark and start chewing the wood away with your teeth, a little at a time.
Or you could use Jin pliers. They work too.
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The branches grow in almost whorl like bunches.
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Which I’ll have to deal with.
The Chamaecyparis’ generally don’t bud back well, so I can’t to a chop and wire job on it, my usual modus operendi.
Regardless of my earlier statements about taller trees, I still wanted to lower it a bit.
Time to wire, my friends, every single branch. Yoohoo!
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From what I’m reading, aftercare on this kind of tree, after wiring, is to baby it, out it in the shade, etc. as the moving of branches is a little stressful.
I lowered the top by about a foot- which shows off the Jin very well.
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I kept the branching very three dimensional and I built a crown instead of an apex (we need to stop using that word, apex. Most trees don’t have one, except for Christmas trees, and I’m not putting a star on top of this tree even though it’d look neat right on that Jin).
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The front.
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The owner needs to keep the tree pinched back and do it often (I should note, I used scissors on it so there will be browning on the tips from the final pruning I did. Maintenance should generally be done with the fingers by pinching back new growth).
Now, with a slight quiver in my voice and a tear in my eye, it’s time to leave.
Many thanks to Darlene, Jerry, Chet and the two boys…
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…Zander and Andrew, for putting up with me and my strange bonsai artist habits for the last two days.
And I’ll tell you what,those boys are sharp and will give their daddy a run for his money when they are older.
And Darlene, I know you’re anxious to see the day three post about the eight foot tall ficus called “Big Foot”, but you’ll have to wait until I get back to Florida, I have about a hundred photos to sift through on that session.
A last look at the tree:
Before-
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Middle-
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And finished-
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The next post will be on the Dayton and Cincinnati club’s demos (an ilex and a bald cypress) so stay tuned my bonsai friends, stay tuned!

Defoliating and shaping three big trident maples

Big trees and Florida summers don’t mix well.
When it comes time to do some work on them, the trees are too heavy to carry into the shade if they’re in ceramic pots or, if they’re still in those big, black, annoyingly brittle, cement mixing tubs, which, when you just look at them, they break and you can’t move them anyway (Did I say “annoyingly” yet?).
It almost seems as though that, trying my best in avoiding eye contact, I can hear them crack when I simply walk past them as they sit on the bench.
The only option is to work on them in the sun, unless you have an apprentice to hold an umbrella over your head to keep the sun off.
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I have three big tridents (which I’ve chronicled before, I’ll post links of each trees blog post as I start each trees update) and, it being June in Florida, it’s time for some work on them.
One caveat before I begin: you’ll be wondering (even more so) about my intelligence at the end of this post.
I’m wondering about my intelligence.
Did I mention the sun?
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The work didn’t start out all that bad, the first tree (which was last seen in this post) was near The Nook and I was able to move it under the roof (and into the glorious cyclonic action of a shop fan on high).
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This tree is in the second phase of styling, after a reboot.
I had branches to wire and enough to ensure that the tree is sufficiently three dimensional to be believable.
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I pruned all the superfluous new shoots and defoliated.
Why did I wait until June for this.
I was waiting for the new growth to harden off (lignify) enough to be able to wire.
The reason I defoliated was to direct some of the energy to latent buds (which means they are there, you can see them, but because a leaf was evident further away on the trunk, it never emerged). Those latent buds are important in creating ramification (twiggyness) and even movement or taper in the branches (they might be a place I could cut back to when I’m in phase three/four).
So that’s the first one.
I’m feeling good.
Number two is mostly in the shade.
Let’s tackle it (it’s grown a lot of branches).
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Whoaa!
Is a closer look any less intimidating?
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Not really.
This one was last seen (here)
I had cut it back pretty severely, but not as severely as some people wanted.
You know the type, they to wanted to see blood (er, sap) with a massive trunk chop.
I did chop the branches back pretty hard and on some spots I was rewarded with perfect back budding.
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After some serious defoliating and judicious pruning I was left with a big ol’ pile of debris…..
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and a naked tree.
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I’m choosing to not wire at this time, maybe at the end of summer I’ll do it.
I get one more season of growth (the autumn) on my deciduous trees than most of the rest of you. Fall, for me in Flor’duh, is a lot like Spring, and I’ll get a flush of new growth on everything I grow. That’s the extra growing season the rest of the country hates us for. In fact, some things like ficus I can even jump start in late winter.
I also got many new shoots where I needed them.
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But what’s really interesting, this tree is in partial shade and it has a higher number of new shoots than the next tree….
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which is in full sun.
But the shoots on the last tree are longer and thicker.
I fertilized the second tree but not the last.
The last tree’s soil dries out faster.
I did a gross root pruning on the second tree (basically turning the tree in the pot, cutting some large roots and replacing soil) but not on the third.
It’s curious to say the least.
The leaf color is darker on the second tree, in partial shade.
I’ll have to experiment some more before I can make a guess as to what’s happening. I have lots of small tridents I’m growing I can experiment on too, fortunately.
I think it’s time to remind you all of the sun again.
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This trident was first shown in this post.
The chops are healing better too.
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I defoliated everything except for some skinny branches I want to thicken.
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The strategy here is to defoliate everything except those leaves on the end growing tips. This directs the energy to the tip and elongates the branch, which thickens the branch as well.
Which is what I need on this one, being the first branch.
The thick branches get cut back.
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And there we have it.
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One growth characteristic I should share with you is how the buds on a trident tend to grow.
First, the buds are opposite, which means that a branch will have a two leaves on the same spot, one on each side exactly opposite of each other.
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As you follow the branch out though, the buds will sprout 90 degrees from the previous buds.
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Which means, if the first leaves are emerging from the sides, the next set will emerge from the top and bottom.
And the next from the sides again.
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And if you are using a clip and grow method, you have to be aware of the bud’s growth direction.
Now for some wire.
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Some more sun.
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And just a few more pics and I can go rest the boiling brains inside my head.
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I so much want to cut this branch.
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But I should really leave it.
Oh, the sun…
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Maybe I should start wearing a funny hat like every other Florida artist?
Nah….I can handle it. I just need some water.
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Told you you’d be questioning my intelligence.

It’s willow leaf ficus appreciation week

It seems I have another tall ficus salicaria that needs some work.
It’s another tree I got from Juan but I’m not sure if I can keep it tall.
I’ll try but I’m not promising anything.
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The roots are bad on this one.
Baaaaad.
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I am aware that there is a certain percentage of bonsai people out there that think roots like these are attractive on ficus bonsai.
I’m not sure why.
The basic aesthetic striving of the bonsai artist is to make a relatively small, young tree look like a big, old tree.
An old ficus tree in the ground just does not have roots like this. It’s inexplicable to me seeing roots like this on some of the piles of dog crap I’ve seen on ficus bonsai owned by people who should know better.
Young ficus trees may have funky roots but big, old trees (any trees for that matter, not just ficus) are being pushed down by the force of gravity and the basal roots (the nebari) tend to fuse, flatten, and spread and will look remarkably similar across species.
I should note that I’m not talking about aerial, prop or properly done exposed roots.
I’m talking the nebari.
This is where the story of a tree begins. The foundation and start of the story we are telling and illustrating for our viewers.
(The nebari is not to be confused with the focal point, although the base could be the focal point, which the focal point is first place the viewers eyes should fall, i.e, a big Jin or Shari)
If the illusion of a big tree fails at the “ground” then no matter what else you do on top, the mind will see it as a little bonsai and not a big tree.
So clean your bottoms!
Sorry, excuse my ranting, but someone had to say it.
Where was I?
The height of this tree, right.
The trunk is pretty nice actually; it has some interesting movement and great taper.
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But it straightens out at my index finger (coincidentally, indexing the straight part. Whoever called it an index finger first was a genius. Imagine how hard and funny things would be if we had to point at things with our thumbs. We’d all look like politicians pretending to show how cool we are at a stump speech in Peoria).
And to make matters worse, there is no lower growth at all.
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It kinda looks like a chimney sweeps, uh, chimney sweeper brush thingy.
Ok, I’ll need to look that up now, or else it’ll bug me.
What is the tool a chimney sweeper uses to scrub chimneys?
Well, after an exhaustive, hours long research session about chimney sweeps and their child “apprentices” and the deplorable conditions these “apprentices” lived and worked in, I’ve found out what it’s called.
It’s called a Scandiscope and was invented by George Smart. It is a long, segmented rod (like a two piece fishing pole) with a brush at the end made of whale bone splines (Modern day splines are steel). The rods were hollow with a cord passing through the middle and could be made rigid by pulling that cord. It was invented to save these poor children (ages beginning at 4 yrs of age) from a short, dirty life with nothing to look forward to except an early death from any of the various hazards and diseases common to a child sweeps life.
Look it up, it’s the worst thing I’ve read about the beginnings of the industrial revolution.
Thank you Mr. Smart and your Scandiscope!
Back to my Scandiscope bonsai (that could be a new style!)
As I always do (you should know better by now) I’m going to start with the roots and make them more believable.
And I’m going to be brutal, so if you have a queasy stomach, avert your eyes.
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Wow, it’s like a Pink Floyd song.
And there is a monster root under the soil here.
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At least this one is in bonsai soil.
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Not like the mud I had to play in in that last post.
Let’s see what we have now.
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What a difference bonsai soil makes in fine root growth.
Ok, it’s chopping time.
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And there you go.
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As you can see, I removed all the big roots from underneath.
For those interested, I got two good root cuttings out of it.
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The pot it was in is too big now and just not quite right.
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I’ve had this little pot sitting around for a while.
I think it’ll work.
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Taiko Earth Pottery is fo shizzle the best new pottery studio in America.
The tree really likes the pot.
It’s smiling.
<img src="https://adamaskwhy.
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I left one root that I’m not sure will stay there at the next root pruning.
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It looks like when you’re playing “I got your nose” with a kid.
I’ll have to see how it develops, it may bulk up.
Now I turn my attention to the top.
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Pretty difficult, right?
Well, the easiest way to start is to begin pruning off “incorrect” branches.
This one is smaller than the one on the right but it’s lower.
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The first branch should be thicker.
Next, the same with this back branch.
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That’s good.
I think I can start wiring now.
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I need some music first…..
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Ahhhh, I love me some Baby Metal.
And that has given me the rush of energy I needed.
I’m all done, what do you think?
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I believe that I’ve given the tree just the right amount of dynamic balance and drama needed to keep it tall yet bring the green part down into the boring, straight part of the trunk.
And melding the pseudo ellipse of the flagellating…..wait, I need to prune off that one branch.
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That’s better.
And we have the front.
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The rear.
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The side and side.
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It could go in a round pot but I seem to be out of them at the moment.
I think it worked out well. We go from the Scandiscope style with Pink Floyd roots (“The worms ate into his brain…”)
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To this-
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And that last pic is SO going on Instagram. Right now actually.
Hold on, I’ll be right back.
And with that, which you’re probably believing that the worms are eating
my brain, I bid you…. Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim cher-ee, chim cher-oo!

Why am I keeping this bonsai so tall?

What do this tree-
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and this tree-
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have in common?
Aha!
You’ll have to wait a little for that to be revealed.
The former tree (I love using this kind of wordage…but you have to read it with a British accent, “tha fourrmahr annd tha laattehr” ) is one I’ve been working on for about ten years. It was styled when I got it but I’ve let it grow for nine of those years and I’ve only had it styled now for less than a year. Two styling sessions in fact.
The latter (heehee) is our subject for today.
It is the ubiquitously tropical bonsai subject-Ficus salicaria (née nerifolia, salicifolia, exotica et al), the Nomine Vulgaris being “willow leaf ficus”.
It belonged to my friend Juan and I’ve been asked to take care of it.
Let’s take an assessment.
It is really an interesting subject. Very intriguing.
Challenging, even.
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The roots are a bit messy.
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That’s a literary technique we in the bonsai blogosphere call understatement.
It’s well branched on top but it has an unsightly bulge where a scar of some sort has been healing.
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It kinda looks like it was snapped or broken and has begun healing from the inside out.
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But more on the wound later.
The normal Adamistic tendency is to just cut the trunk here and regrow a short, sweet little tree.
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But, since this was Juan’s tree, I’m going to keep it tall, as he would have preferred.
Which is doable, I think, with a little work and some fancy Florida technique.
There are three distinct areas that need work.
The top, the middle, and the bottom.
Not much but…..well, only everything.
Ima start ina middle area spacey placey.
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Pretty bad, right?
Time to go all Nip/Tuck on it…
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This growth will make a nice cutting. The knob at the bottom is a good start for a decent root base.
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But this isn’t a very clean cut.
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Damn dull, old tools.
I should throw it away.
Or sell it to an enemy.
Yeah. An enemy.
I’ll make a call.
Now these tools….AHHHH, I love these tools.
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I’ll do a write up on them soon, don’t you worry. I have to brush up on my metallurgy and the theories of blade geometry first.
Back to the tree.
The technique I’m using on this wound, which should help it roll over, is to elongate on the top and bottom to a point.
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And to carve the wound inward with a sharp knife.
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This shape (besides being highly suggestive…) allows the sap to flow around the wound more efficiently and should close it quicker.
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Let’s talk about wounds healing on ficus salicaria.
In my experience and observations, I don’t really have very much hope of this wound healing very quickly or completely.
But…
…that brings us back to this tree.
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When I first got this little dude (about ten years ago) it had a similar reverse taper high up in the trunk.
And I did a very similar carving on it, hoping for the best.
Here’s are some close ups.
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You can see the old cut paste residue.
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It seems to have worked well. It’s not fully closed yet but it’s pretty close.
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I used this kind of cut paste way back then.
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And I’ll use it again today. Which I don’t usually use on a regular basis, but since it worked on this one I figured, eh..why the hell not.
There is reason to use cut paste if you live in Florida and other tropical climes; we have a nasty little bug whose larval stage is a boring (meaning “making tunnels” not dull and uninteresting) white maggoty looking thing with an amazingly mean looking chewing mandible.
Ask Ed Trout what his experience is with those nasty little bugs.
The adult borer looks like a green cockroach.
Kill them on site and eat the body, that’s the only way to eradicate them as they are able to revivify themselves under a full moon.
And use cut paste on big wounds. Hollow ficus are not very viable.
This is what my wife calls “snot paste”.
Apropos, wouldn’t you say?
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It doesn’t taste like boogers though.
Not salty enough, it tastes more like anti fungal cream……don’t ask how I might know that.
On that note, time for the roots.
As I said, a bit messy.
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But there’s a nice fat bottom hidden down there. I can smell it.
And we all like big bottoms….um, on our trees that is.
But there’s also some nifty roots that will make some awesome root cuttings.
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Which end is the top and which end is the bottom?
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Ah, a little snip and FREEDOM!
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Clean it up and pot it.
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And a little wire and growth (things grow fast in Florida) this is the root cutting now-
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Just kidding… This is actually a sweet little tree I picked up at the BSF convention from a nursery that’s down in South Florida called Emblem Bonsai and Exotics. Check them out, great trees great people. They’re usually vending at the Miami Bonsai Society’s annual show.
I’m showing you this little tree because it really illustrates what can be done with root cuttings.
Enough about that, that’s another 3 or 4 posts I’ve already written.
Time to play in the mud now.
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I think I pulled about four more good root cuttings but none as good as that first one.
Maybe I shouldn’t have watered this morning, I’m making a big muddy mess on my table.
Yucky.
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Wait, that’s a cool pic, that one’s going on Instagram.
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That’s right, I’m an Instagram dork.
Anyway, here we go, all cleaned up.
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When I was originally looking at the tree, I preferred this front.
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But the front of a tree is determined mainly by the roots.
Unfortunately, these are the roots if I went with my original front.
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Not bad, but if I turn it around…
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So much better.
And they’re really set off when it’s in the pot with soil.
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Nice.
Big difference from what we started with.
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I’ve dealt with the bottom and the middle, now for the top.
Which means I get to wire, YUUUP, HOLLA DOLLA BILL YO!
Wiring is the way for me
To make this plant
Look like a tree
It’s a bonsai rap
So sing with me
Cuz little trees
Will make you free
Uh huh huh huh hah!
SNAP!
Word to your Mother!
Mother Nature!
Yay yuh!
What what what?
Boyz!!

I’m going to stop there I think.
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Pruning first.
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Defoliate.
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And wire.
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Side view after branch placement.
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Skinny and weird.
And the front.
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And you know what time it is, right?
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It’s Miller time!
In defense of my beer choice of late, those who know me, and by know me, I mean who’ve gone drinking with me, know that I usually drink a more wild and dark beer than this, the champagne of beers, Miller High Life, but I got a twelve pack for five bucks.
Five bucks!
I couldn’t pass it up. And on a hot day it’s just like drinking water. And we should all stay hydrated on a hot day, I always say.
And at least it’s not Bud Light, right?
That stuff is like cold, watery piss.
Here’s the progression so you don’t have to scroll to the top.
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And that’s all for now.
One thing I can tell you that I learned from this post…..I realize that I’ll never get an endorsement deal from Bud Light.
Oh! Wait!
To answer the question in the title:
Why am I leaving the tree so tall?
Because that’s what worked. I think it looks cool, it has some elegance and style.
They don’t all need to be short, stubby little cookie cutter Christmas trees.

A Florida Hackberry Yamadori

Now, I know that all the Japanese-philes out there, and I really mean those who know Japanese, always cringe when they hear us flat-landers call our collected trees “yamadori”.
Technically, a Yamadori is a tree collected in the mountains and, obviously, there aren’t any mountains in Florida.
Unless you count Space Mountain.
But I get your attention better if I use the word.
Sooooo….Yamadori!
Anyway, I was recently given a collected tree by my good friend Bobby, who is going “out country” for an organization he created.
Since he’s going overseas and not able to take care of his trees and he can’t take them along with him, he has sought out some local curators to take care of his favorites.
Therefore, I have been entrusted with several of the trees and with certain assignments and tasks to perform on each one (mostly it’s “carve the shit out of it”…) and also a strong admonition to keep them alive.
I would have done it as a friend but Bobby’s nature is a very (VERY) generous one, so I am now the owner of several big trees.
This post will be about (as the title might suggest) a celtis laevigata, or southern hackberry.
Here it is, in all it’s glory!
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Sorry, a little photoshop to give it some drama, but when Bobby said it was mine that’s what it was like.
The chorus in the background “ohhhhhhhhhhh” the halo of light, cherubs with harps flitting around…..all that.
Yup.
Here it is in a more normal light.
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Impressive, no?
A close up of the bark and trunk.
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The tree does have flaws.
The original trunk chop will never heal but I think I can figure out something to do with it, to showcase it or hide it.
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The exposed rootage on the nebari will need something done to it as well.
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But if I didn’t have any work to do to it I wouldn’t have any fun now, would I?
Speaking of work, let’s get to it.
First, I feel the need, the need…to weed!
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The tools of choice:
Chopsticks-
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Tweezers-
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And even Jin pliers!
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Wasn’t so hard, but I didn’t get them all.
It’s the clover looking things that are a bitch.
It’s called oxalis, it should be called “pain-in-my-alis”.
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If you miss even just a tiny bit, it grows back. It’s like a bulb (it’s actually called a corm) and it puts off little baby plants from the roots.
Which means that if you pull the big one out, you’ll leave the babies behind.
There’s a joke that could be made but I’m not going there.
Now…time to tackle the bush.
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In case you were wondering as to my location, I’m doing this at Epcot at the Central Florida Bonsai Club’s Meet ‘N Greet table.
It’s an interactive event, in partnership with Disney, to provide to the guests exposure to the Art of Bonsai.
It takes place at the Festival Center during the International Flower and Garden Festival on the weekends.
The Festival is over for the year but next year, if you’re in the Disney Parks between the months of March and May, come to Epcot to say “Hello!”
Anyway, I’m telling you all this to explain why it looks like I’m in a weird place with random people just walking around.
Like this young lady, she looks like she could be an officer for the National Junior Horticultural Association.
An organization that just happens to be having its convention next year in Orlando.
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Actually, she is one of that fine organization’s officers.
Check out their website, maybe make a donation to help support them in their educational efforts (www.njha.org)
Back to the hackberry.
A funny name, hackberry, isn’t it?
What is a hackberry?
I’m not meaning the tree, though I’ll get to that, because it might give us a clue to the name in the end.
Celtis laevigata is generally called, in the south, sugarberry. The reason why is the fruit.
It is, apparently, very sweet when ripe.
I have not had one, I’m originally a Massachusetts boy and I had never heard of a hackberry until I began my bonsai journey.
The fruit also stays on the tree all winter, making it very good food for wildlife or the lost hiker running away from the stray black bear or alligator.
Which brings us to the distinction between celtis occidentalis (common hackberry) and c. laevigata: the former grows on hills generally and the latter, in wetter locations like riversides and wetlands.
Don’t ask me why they call it sugarberry (besides the sweetness of the fruit) as opposed to hackberry.
I guess as the fruit ages it becomes much like a date, which I’ve had and can attest to the sweetness of them.
I can’t really tell you what the name hackberry means either, except that the hack part of the name is very similar to the word hag. And, as we all know, hags have warts, which the bark of a hackberry does too.
Hag-hack.
I suppose if you have a mouth full of chewin’ tobacco they sound the same.
Coincidentally (or maybe not, the mystery deepens) the Greeks call their native hackberry (c. Australis) the honey berry.
Pliny the Elder, rockin’ dude that he was, named the species celtis, which means a lotus with sweet fruit.
Is there something deeper here in the naming of the tree that’s been lost to history?
We have a tree that’s been described as a hag like or even, in some cultures, a witch tree.
We have a fruit that is very sweet and nourishing, lasts through winter, but is a difficult fruit to acquire (I should mention this now, the tree can get to be about a hundred feet tall).
We have a Latin name meaning lotus (a metaphor in many cultures meaning a link or bridge between the worlds) with a sweet, hard to obtain fruit.
Are you seeing the matrix yet?
Hackberry occurs on every continent except Antarctica, was one of the first foraged foods of our Paleolithic ancestors and, like all deciduous trees, dies in winter but is reborn in spring.
Perhaps the hackberry had a deep meaning to primitive man that went beyond it being a mere food source that has been lost to modern history. But little clues, dropped here and there like breadcrumbs for us to follow back, are all that’s left of this mystery.
Maybe the hag, the lotus and the sugarberry are the protagonists in an ancient myth about our ascendency from animal to man in a lost winter year, trapped on a prehistoric riverside, cold, starving, but willing to climb that towering tree, so near the heavens where the mighty gods dwell, daring an elevation out of the mud from whence we emerged.
Whoooaaaa man!? What am I smoking?
I don’t know, but I do know that I love a hackberry bonsai.
If you don’t own one perhaps you’re just a little too facile to get into the spiritual and mysterious side of the trees we use.
That was a little long winded and weird but, ultimately necessary.
I think.
Maybe not, but I had fun researching it and asking why.
How about a photo?
Here’s that warty bark I was talking about.
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Imagine trying to climb that while naked, searching for that high hanging fruit with your low dangling nuts so exposed and defenseless.
Maybe that’s why I work on bonsai; easier to prune and less abrasive to the naughty bits.
The main task with the tree is to bring it back through pruning to induce some taper and movement in the branching.
I have to remove this wire too
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Get to it then, you long haired, squinty-eyed intellectual, let’s go Lavigne! Stop examining your navel.

These little branches and ones like them are out of place and should go. 20140528-155148-57108176.jpg
There are several areas of dieback like this that just need to be cleaned up.
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This branch is too long with little taper.
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Before I begin, a before shot.
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And now some mayhem.
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A bit of decapitation.
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And the aftermath.
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The biggest change was turning the tree around and, in the turning, I lowered the left, rear apex.
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And the pruning is done.
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Since it’s Mid-May, I can’t do any root work, so I’ll have to do a little iPhone doodling to show what I will do.
These two roots look like dried up ham bones.
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This is a good, proper looking root.
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Commence doodling.
As is-
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As it should be-
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How will I achieve this?
Aha! You’ll have to wait until next January for that process.
Basically it involves power tools and baling wire and a little bubble gum.
Maybe some duct tape too.
Here’s the pruning progression so you don’t have to scroll back through all that text you probably skipped anyway.
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And because I have the app opened anyway, here’s the future digital doodle of the tree with some leaves back on it.
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It’ll be like that in about two weeks.
No, seriously.
A hackberry is very fast growing and very forgiving.
It’s very much a good beginner tree and I recommend it for everyone.
Thanks Bobby, I shall not disappoint in my stewardship.

Carving a live oak

Today, I’m working on a live oak (Quercus virginiana).
So called “live” because it is mostly evergreen.
It actually should be called “southern” live oak because I guess there are other kinds of live oak out there (Texas live oak or sand live oak). But depending on who you talk to, some just think those are a variety of quercus virginiana, or, because oaks are, like, total whores (omg), those other live oaks are bastards (or hybrids, if you prefer) of the virginiana and another oak, say laurel or scrub oak.
The live oak does lose it’s leaves like other deciduous trees; it just happens in a week and it flowers in between the leaf drop and the new leaf growth.
This one hasn’t dropped it’s leaves yet so I defoliated it to help it along.
And to make it easier to wire.
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Of course, you’re wondering why I collected such an insignificant tree (I dug it out last year).
And when guy Guidry saw this ugly thing he said “Why didn’t you cut it down to about here when you collected it?”
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Granted, it has very little taper and it would have made a nice little pig…..but, do you see that orange and grey tool to the right?
I’m a carver.
And because I’m a carver, I liked the height, the odd knob on top, and the understated (or reverse) taper.
You can’t carve if there’s no wood to carve on now, can you?
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In case you’ve never seen the southern live oak, here are the leaves:
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I know what you’re thinking, those leaves are very un-oak-like.
I’m not sure what leaf shape has to do with anything but I’m sure there are advantages to those shapes.
Ok, a quick google search tells us that leaf shape is dependent on the distribution of the leaf veins, which, in turn, has to do with the environmental conditions in which it evolved in and the actions of carbon collection and transpiration.
That cleared it up, huh?
Basically, there is a mathematical model that can predict leaf shape but it’s still not known why a tree has one shape over another.
Everyone has a theory but no one has the answer.
Even the guy who came up with the formula.
Anyway, notwithstanding the leaf shape which vacillates between a simple elliptical to ovate to oblonceolate and exhibiting entire or sometimes dentate margins, this is the oak tree we see in our minds eye, in Florida, when we think of the “live oak style”.
Which is funny because q. Virginiana is not suited for the style named after itself.
Or, I haven’t seen one yet, I should say.
So……can you say….,carved?
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The look, if you can’t guess, is a lightening strike, with that groove down the front.
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I hollowed out the knob and reduced it to improve the taper.
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This isn’t the final carving, I used just my large rotosaw on the die grinder.
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I will let the wood season a bit before I go in and finish.
And no lime sulfur yet.
I left the natural Jin on top.
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I think it looks cool.
It’ll lose definition as it ages but for now, I like it.
Some wire and…
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Some magic….
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Not so much.
Let me ponder a bit and think why this doesn’t look right.
This is the base, not too bad, there are some roots that will thicken up a bit and the back nebari isn’t bad.
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Ok, after a beer or two (hey, I’m done carving) this is my critique.
The first branch is too low, and too small. It just doesn’t belong.
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That would make the back branch the first branch.
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That doesn’t bother me too much except in this instance, it’s too much of a back branch.
The next two are at the same level on the tree.
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Otherwise called “bar branches”.
Those are bad for artistic reasons; it effectively stops the eye at that point of intersection and keeps you from seeing what is above or below.
Next, the top is not quite right.
Too straight, I think.
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Let me see what I can do…
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Prune, snip, bend, trim….
And now…..magic!
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Better right?
Yes, that’s all I could bend the top branch, it is an oak if you don’t recall.
It’s not a juniper.
Here’s the back.
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Can you see the future tree?
This sketch should help.
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The carved edge should start rolling over soon, oaks are known for that.
They will develop fast and ramify well if you keep trimming and wiring them.
If you let them grow you’ll just get long branches with long internodes.
Don’t be afraid to push these trees, they’re tough. They survive hurricanes after all.
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I’ll keep you posted.