Here’s an unusual tree , you might remember it

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

Initial potting and wiring of a dwarf jade

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

Three elms, three ways, three beers

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

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And, so we don’t have any Clark Kent/Superman questions of them never being seen together:
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I think I shall begin with the wing-edd elm.
It has some big old wire that needs removing.
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I’m going to have to break out the pliers with this wire, it’s even too strong for my big ol’ sausages.
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This is a good time to mention that, although they are usually called “Jin” pliers, these are actually made to assist in wiring (or unwiring, in this instance).
As far as the styling, I’m letting the tree tell me what it wants to do.
I could (if I wanted to) do what every bonsai artist (including me) will tell you to do: trunk chop and regrow.
That’s a totally valid piece of advice.
And…. if I didn’t already have a hundred of them I might consider doing it.
There is no art in doing the same thing over and over again because that’s what you were taught when you were a novice copying your teacher.
That’s something you do learning your art, not practicing it.
Now, there are still those bonsai enthusiasts who will look at this tree and say,
“You should chop it here…..”
I’ll just smile, and nod, and steer them towards the more conventional bonsai.
So what, in the name of all that’s bonsai, am I doing with this wanged elm?
I’m mostly letting it grow with minor adjustments through pruning and wiring and gentle guiding as I try to make it look more like a tree.
Like this.
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This branch was previously pruned and wired.
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But then it put out better placed branches, so I don’t need it anymore.
Bye bye.
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I need to shorten it somewhere around here.
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Before I do that though, I need to think on it a bit more.
I’m needing some rumination and inspiration.
Let’s go to the short, baby tree and see what trouble I can get in with it.
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Talking about letting a tree grow, this one didn’t put out too many useful branches.
After a quick trim.
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It’s not too much changed from the original styling.
Sometimes you just have to wait.
There’s an old cowboy expression about drinking a horses water at the watering hole that might be appropriate here….or is it “leading a drinker to a horse and him falling off drunk”?
It might have something to do about riding an ass too hard….I can’t seem to remember.
Anyway, you can prune, wire, coax and pray that a tree does what you want but sometimes it just won’t cooperate.
I have one more growth season this year, we shall see what happens.
Any ideas on the wing-ed elm yet?
Nope.
Let’s turn to the daddy cedar elm.
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I need to figure out where to cut it back as well.
Here?
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Maybe here?
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That’s just about right.
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My general rule in styling a tree is to leave enough on it to have a pleasing looking tree sitting on the bench (well…….that is unless I chop it back totally, as I am known for in the social circles I frequent) and as the tree develops I cut off what is not needed anymore.
And that’s why I just chopped about four inches off the top.
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I wired a few branches but I am also using some of them fancy clip and grow methods with the tree.
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When you combine the angular movement of clip and grow with the rounded curves of wiring you get a more natural and random look to your work.
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As an example, this next pic is from the Treaty Oak in Jacksonville showing both of the characteristics on an old tree.
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This is a quirk of old trees I first learned from Dan Robinson and was reiterated by his student, Frank Heidt:
Old trees have gnarly branches.
I think I’ve procrastinated long enough on the wanged elm.
I’m ready.
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Where will I cut it?
What will I do?
Do I need another beer?
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How’s this?
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Some wire.
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And that’s all.
I wish I had some massively transformative changes to show you, I really do, because it makes me look cool.
And cool is where it’s at, cat.
But as I work on my trees day in and day out I’ve realized that the biggest lesson been wanting to teach (today specifically, with today’s trees) is that developing bonsai is usually a slow process.
Those super-duper, magical and, dare I say it, miraculous stylings you see in demonstrations or vanity blogs are usually the end result of years and years of judicious, premeditated and purposeful work on the trees.
So I wanted to show you some down and dirty, in the trenches work with some developing trees and give you the “in between” look of an immature bonsai.
Especially that wing-edd elm.
It needs, as we say in the studio, some more time.
As for the other two trees, I’m a little disappointed with the smaller (baby) cedar elm but I think I’ll have some growth this time.
And I’ve gained a lot with bigger cedar elm.
It’s two more seasons away from being decent looking tree.
Any questions?

Dwarf Jade Bonsai Techniques

Here’s a tree:
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It needs trimming, wiring and repotting.
Portulacaria afra, Latin meaning “leaves like a portulaca” (which is known as purslane and moss rose) and “african” (it’s native to Africa).
The portulacaria afra is called “dwarf jade” by many but it’s not related to the regular jade plant (crassulla species) except for superficially, both plants being succulents.
But the “dwarf” jade actually grows taller than the regular jade, and will develop a woody center in bigger specimens.
I wrote a pretty well researched post last year (click here) that was also reprinted in the Potomac Bonsai Association’s Winter 2014 newsletter (That’s right brother, reprinted!) that has everything you ever wanted to know about portulacaria and probably some stuff you don’t.
Let’s look at todays tree again.
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I need to remove some wire.
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I need to remove a few branches.
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The most work needs to be done on the roots.
It’s somewhat root bound.
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Which isn’t too much of a problem usually, except it stays too wet.
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Moss!
You may think that a too-wet condition would cause the tree to rot, it being a succulent and all, but a well established root system in bonsai soil can handle the daily, afternoon, Florida thunderstorms.
What it’s been doing is slowing growth and arresting the development.
And I also need to clean up the surface roots; they’re bugging me.
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This is a tree where, against character, I am extremely conservative concerning the roots. It will be the third repotting and each time I’ve worked the roots a little to improve them.
The problem is that it will rot if I don’t allow the wounds I make to dry out before I start watering again.
But more on that later.
I’m going to start at the top on this tree.
The jade has a tendency to put out odd branches growing straight up and in the weirdest places, like under the shade of the canopy.
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The dwarf jade has a way of keeping branches that are not ideal.
This one-
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-has been lingering on for about two years.
Not really growing much but it’s still there with leaves on it.
The weirdest branches are the totally alive but completely leafless nubs.
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There were probably about 5 or 6 them.
And look at this:
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Can you see it?
Creepy….let me zoom in on it for you.
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It’s a face!
Staring back at me…..the ghost of the tree!
Ok….relax, it’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real.
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Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!
Sorry, I had an episode there.
The best way to prune a jade for a dense canopy goes like this.
We have a foliage pad.
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Trim each branch to two leaves.
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Like this.
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And from the junction of each leaf you should get two new buds.
Let them grow out and trim again in the same way.
During all this you have to really push the fertilizer.
The two best growers of this tree, Jim Smith and Richard Turner, put handfuls of regular time release fertilizer on them.
So much so that you can hardly see the soil surface.
Richard won the Best Tropical award at the National show several years ago with this portulacaria.
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And here’s another tree from Richard.
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Cool, aren’t they?
Getting back to my tree, this is how much I pruned off.
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And with some wire-
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It’s time for the rootwork.
I had had the tree in this ugly pot.
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I’m switching to this fine Korean pot with superior patina.
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It has mucho drainage holes too, they don’t make them like this anymore.
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Ok, kidding about the pot. It’s a mica pot and the only one I have that’s suitable.
It’ll do.
Now, the customarily blurry root photos.
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I raked out the roots and now, as you will see by the terribly overexposed, glaring white blurs, the roots I pruned out.
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It seems that I am unable to get competent photos of roots. I truly do apologize.
This one came out good.
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I make absolute sure that the tree is firmly tied in.
Any movement in the pot will set back root growth.
The coarsest soil I have, sifted twice.
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And I make sure that the two wounds I created are above the soil line.
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The next week or so the tree will stay under cover to protect it from….no, not the sun but the rain.
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You should keep the tree dry until you see this.
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Isn’t it cute?
That means the roots are growing and can handle water again.
A jade’s roots seek moisture, that’s why keeping it dry is important after repotting.
I warn you now, you’ll lose some (or most) of the old leaves on the tree.
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They turn yellow and fall off.
We leave our tree dry and awaiting it’s return to the sun.
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And….wait, you wanna see the other trees?
Ok, I guess.
This one was given to me by Paul Pikel.
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It was a big cutting that had rotted through the middle and almost didn’t make it.
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The other tree is my oldest dwarf jade.
It needed prit’near the same treatment.
Repot, trim and wire.
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I changed the pot. I like it at the moment but it’s still not the right pot.
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And, since I’m a considerate blogger-ist, I’ll give you the before and after on the subject tree.
Before.
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And after.
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What comes next?
After the hardening off period it goes into the full sun with gobs (GOBS!) of fertilizer until the end of November (that’s about when winter starts) and it goes dormant.
I am planning an experiment this winter on some indoor growing techniques with full spectrum fluorescent lights and bottom heat and I might use this as a subject.
Stay tuned for that sometime next year though, it’s still hot as balls outside right now.

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

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

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.