Total Willowleaf Ficus Drama!

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

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

Yeah, it’s another trunk chop, like butta!

Here’s an easy one for me, but maybe not so for you all.
Exhibit A:
Ficus salicaria, or willow leaf ficus to us non-Romans.
Dave (you guys remember Dave, right?) won this tree on the raffle table at the last BSF convention.
If you read the title, you know what I’m going to do.
Let me set the scene:
It is July 27th, about 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the middle of the rainy season in Florida.
Which means that it’s cooler (no, really, in the summer it doesn’t get that hot here.) than a lot of the northern U. S. But it is a lot more wet and humid (the heat index is around 100).
We are hanging around at the end of this month’s study group meeting with Guest artist Hiram Macias from Miami.
We are drinking beer (which might explain everything) and I’m studying this tree.
I’ve been looking at it all meeting and it’s time for the saw.
I’m going to cut it about here:
And that’s what I do.
You should have seen Hiram’s face.
He said something to the effect of,
“…whoa! That low?”
I said,
“Yeah, it has all kinds of reverse taper..see?”
He looked at me, and then at Dave as if to say,
“¿es este pendejo mal de la cabeza?”
Maybe, Hiram, maybe.
Here’s Dave with the top.
Wait, is he flipping me off?
Hijo de puta! Cabrón!
The tree now.
There’s a saying that’s used often by the old timers in Florida.
I think it originated either with John Naka or maybe Mas Imazumi.
It goes,
” I can make that tree with one cut…”
And I did.
Well, I had to add one wire too….
When I trunk chopped it, I cut it to a branch, as is my SOP.
But the new top was a bit horizontal.
So, with a bit of wire.
We have an apex reaching for the heavens.
Or something like that.
And yes, the wire is a little messy, sorry.
You caught me wiring dirty.
That’s ok, no one will see it anyway.
The chop scar was covered with the putty version of cut paste.
From my experience, it seems to work best.
I gently removed the old potting soil and trimmed a few crossing roots, and I put it back into the same pot with some good bonsai soil.
It’s grown quite a bit in the last few minutes.
Y’all need to move to Florida and experience our jungle-like growth.
Well…that’s actually the top.
It’s way too big to throw out and it’s a perfect cutting; it will root in that pot.
That’s Florida ficus for you.
Enough fooling, here’s the tree.
You like that orange bucket behind it, don’t you?
It’s like a rising sun.
Get it?
All the tree needs now is lots of sunlight, fertilizer and water.
Everything your books tell you not to do after a major trunk chop and root pruning.
A ficus in the heat of summer wants to grow, so you gotta give it what it needs.
And that pertains to the whole world; if your temps are hot, your ficus should be growing.
Push them, fertilize more (you should see how much Jim Smith, THE tropical bonsai guy, puts on his trees) and trim the damn things.
Don’t be afraid to trunk chop either, have a beer if you need some courage.
In fact….amigo, por favor, uno mas cervesa!

Trident Maple update

A quick update on the trident I chopped back in this post.
It was funny the response I got from that entry. Some people were horrified and some people were ecstatic.
Here’s how we left the tree.
It tree looked like this at the beginning of the post.
Now you can see why that chopping session garnered such strong emotions.
Here it is today.
See, I didn’t kill it.
It’s actually growing well; just look at how much the cut has healed.
And the tree has put out a branch just where I needed it.
Right on the bottom of the big chop!
And even an alternate too.
I’m not going to do any pruning now, I’ll give it another month or so to harden off and gain strength.
So that’s it, a quick update.
Now I gotta go pee, I’ve had me about 15 Dr. Peppas….

A trident maple getting my “usual” treatment

Here’s another chunky monkey trident maple I have the privilege of working on.
If you are wondering, after the suggestive title, what my usual treatment might be you are about to find out, my friends.
My friend Dave, who shall be making an appearance later on in the post, likes to tell the story of when he first met me.
He had a two foot tall ficus salicaria (a willow leaf ficus) that he had paid a good penny for and he was really proud of it too.
The trunk was at least 2 inches thick with a 3-4 inch nebari (as I recall).
I told him to chop the trunk about 4 inches up from the base.
He thought I was an asshole, but he did it.
When he got home, his wife wondered what happened to the tree.
She wasn’t happy either.
Here I went, cutting off 80% of the tree and now it was just a sharp stick.
I don’t think she’s ever forgiven me.
Hee hee.
Beware of Adam and your tree.
The trunk chop is how we roll in Florida.
Things grow so fast that it’s always an option to chop the trunk. Especially with a ficus.
Anyway, this is a trident.
First, does it grow as fast as a ficus?
Prit’near does. (Sorry, prit’near is a Southern Saskatchewan word which is a contraction of “pretty” and “near” and means “almost”).
I have quite a trunk to chop
I do not enjoy moving this tree. Hopefully it will be a whole lot lighter when I’m done. I’m figuring about six inches from the soil level.
First, as always, I must address the roots.
The tree was field grown and dug up and as a result, some I the roots are long, straight and have no taper.
And during the aftercare of the tree the soil degraded and some of the roots didn’t quite make it into the soil.
A few more views of the tree:

This is the front I’m going with at the moment.
As I warned you about earlier (and I did warn you) let me introduce (again, he’s made several appearances here)
Yes, that is a babies blanket on his head and, yes, it has yellow duckies on it.
He had forgotten his hat and, since he’s bald as a cue ball, he needed something to protect his tender scalp from the brutal Florida sun.
I feel sorry for his poor daughter, Krystal, when she snuggles up to her blanky at nap time and she smells it.
I can see her saying “Papa, it’s so stinky, go wash it now!”
Poor girl.
She has daddy wrapped around her finger though.
Back to the tree and the “root” of the problem…..ahem.
That’s better. Since the roots weren’t even in the dirt, this won’t hurt the tree.
Now, the trunk.
That’s a big chop.
I’ll try to root that top, I’ll let you know if it works.
Did I cut off enough?
Naw, if I don’t cut it back more I’ll have some terrible obverse taper.
That’ll do.
For now.
I just need to clean the cuts and let it grow out.
I’ll wire the new branches as they develop, giving them a downward cast.
One problem I need to take care of in the future is this chop.
I might carve it out, or fill it with epoxy or cement to encourage it to heal. As it is it won’t heal.

But I’m not too worried about it now though. It’s the branches that I need to grow.
This is my sketch.
What I need is a branch to grow at the turquoise arrow on the next pic.
Just below that cut. There is a bump that could possibly be a bud but if I don’t get a shoot I’ll have to thread graft one on.
That’s another post for next year.
Oh, and the red arrows are just pointing out some important things.
There, and there.
I’m glad I showed you them.
That’s it for now.
I will wait to fertilize it until I get about two or three sets of leaves and they harden off.
I want short internodes (branches closer together) and if I fertilize now, the tree will shoot out growth too fast and then I won’t have many little branches (long internodes) where I might need them in the future.
Next post is how I got my neea ready for the Epcot show. There will be carving, trimming, mossing and getting all oiled up.
Should be exciting, right?

Two quick trees and some fall color (yes, in January)

This will be a quick post on two unusual trees and a parting shot of some rare, late color on one of my red maples.
The first tree is a Brazilian Raintree that I propagated through an air layer (which was in this post: Let’s Airlayer Everything!).
Airlayering a Brazilian Raintree is one of the best ways to propagate them. Cuttings are difficult, seeds are a rare occurrence, and you get a better nebari with an airlayer.
The work on this tree is indicative of the many little adjustments I will do to a tree as I am working in the nursery.
I’ll be pulling weeds or watering and I’ll see a tree and be drawn to a feature that just pops out at me.
This little tree:
has a nice twist in the trunk but the top part is straight.
A little wire:
A little bending:
And we have a very extreme and dramatic tree that would be a nice little tree now:
Or, after 2 or 3 years, imagine a tree with a trunk size 2 or 3 times larger- with that bend.
A Raintree trunk and branches are impossible to move when they’re older. Work a tree when you can.

Next tree- an American elm.
The tree was collected last year by me and my friend Guaracha over by my other friend Walt’s house.
As tools we had a small trowel, a machete and that’s it.
The 2 x 4, I mean, tree suffered a little, ah…shall we say, trauma.
Here it is:
Yes, it’s a tree.
It looks like a 2 x 4.
I didn’t take a before pic because the transformation was not very dramatic.
The, ah..trauma, occurred when we were rocking the tree back and forth trying to “pop” the tap root (remember, we didn’t have proper toolage) and the tree split in half from the roots up the trunk.
We kinda looked at each other and Guaracha asked,
“Is it gonna live pendejo?”
I said,
“I don’t know cabron, let’s see.”
And, as you see, it did.
It certainly is, shall we say, different.
I can hear the establishment bonsai people saying:
“What da’ fahk are ya’ thinkin’ with that piece o’ shit? There ain’t no taper, it’s a dee-sid-you-is tree ya’ idjit, no deadwood on them. It ain’t bone sigh material. Throw it on the burn pile”
Sorry, I disagree.
Horticulturally, it’s thriving-
The edge is rolling over the…trauma, and all those branches are new.
My plans for the future:
The shoot on the left I did not prune, I just added wire on the base of it.
That will be the thickest leader and the “apex”.
I wired movement into each branch, some I pruned to slow the growth, some I left alone to help thicken faster.
I don’t plan too much carving on it, only when needed. I want the wood to be totally natural looking, which might need carving to achieve that.
It might not (you like that cocky attitude? Damn right I can “make” a carving look natural. I’m a damn Rockstar!)
Speaking of rockstars, to quote Bob Ross “here’s a picture of a happy tree”
Let me know what you think, just be prepared to defend yourself.
Like I said, it’s an interesting tree.
I like it.
As a parting shot, a tree you’ve seen before, but not with fall color.
It’s a red maple (acer rubrum).
The trunk is totally hollow.
It’s growing exceptionally well considering it’s in Florida and it is hollow.
Most floridians think that a red maple is a junk tree.
This one has been pretty good to me so far.
That’s it, just a quick post.
Next, some reader’s trees.

Some chopping, some refining, and a piece of…

Let’s take a look at three trees and see if I can form a coherent and connected narrative out of the techniques I used on them.
The trees.
An ilex schillings that needs some refining.
A bouganvillea that I’ve pretty much styled.
And a juniper that needs…. something.
Each of these trees were worked on at different times and under different circumstances.
Let’s look at the juniper first.
I was leading a bring your own tree workshop and this was one of the victims.
It’s transformation is the most dramatic but it’s also the simplest in execution (execution….that’s called foreshadowing..hee hee)
Three steps.
Believe it or not, it was styled as it was sitting in the pot. Don’t ask me why.
First step, change the planting angle.
The next step, one small cut…whoops!
Third step, wire.
Ah, looks like a tree now.
I did strip the bark from the leftover branch and did a crude carving.
Here’s a digital doodle to show you the tree in a pot.
And, you guessed it, a sketch.
The reason I chopped all that off the top was, first, it had no taper. And, second, the bends were not interesting at all. It was a large, boring s-curve.
Thirdly, it was dramatic.
Life (and workshops and even blogs) are, really, just a performance.
To badly paraphrase The Bard…life is but a bonsai bench and we….we are but bonsai on that bench…..or something like that.
Which segues nicely into the next tree.
A bit of performance art, if you will.
Most won’t allow it to be bonsai, let me know what you think.
I don’t have any before pics at all but I’ll give you the history:
It’s a bouganvillea glabra, red, that was a cutting. Most of it has rotted out.
But a bougie is almost a legacy of vegetative persistence.
As far as the tree and it’s style, I could give a whole treatise (as modern artists are almost required to do nowadays) on it.
Let’s just call it a bunjin, or literati if you will.
But mostly I’ll let the tree speak for itself.
The first and last pics are how I like to look at the tree.
Tell me what you think.
The next tree is a bit more bonsai-ish, it’s an ilex vomitoria, shillings-
I’ve let it grow unchecked for a few months. It’s had a bout of blackspot that I’ve beaten back until next year (hopefully).
It is a bit late in the season (middle of November) to be trimming it, but if I protect the tender new growth from a frost (unlikely but possible. Let’s hope for none at all) it should be ok.
The first step was removing all the ups and downs and old inbetweeners.
When I do an initial styling I will tend to keep more branching than necessary. Sometimes the reason is horticultural, and sometimes it’s just to fill a space.
This branch is now unnecessary.
So long branch.
It’s growth was also just too much different than the rest of the branching.
When pruning the tips, simplify to only two branchlets at each split.
And try to think ahead to the wiring stage….can this upward growing rebel bet wired into shape?
Why, yes… yes it can.
Now, to the wire.
I start at the bottom and work up.



The last three pics above are the right, left and back.
The drumroll please ……
The before
And the after…
Faithful readers will recognize this tree form three or four previous posts. The last in the string is here.
And, rereading it, I did exactly as I said I would.
Strange that I could be so consistent.
I gave the tree a light dusting of fertilizer (my go to, Milorganite) and refreshed the soil.
My plan now is to keep the watering to the minimum I can and hopefully get another flush of growth. Let’s hope the weather cooperates.
Now, for some shameless self promotion-For those readers in Florida,
I’ll be at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne this Saturday and Sunday (November 16-17) selling some trees and performing a demo at 1 pm.
The Bonsai Society of Brevard is having their annual show and there will be other vendors, a world class display and demos all weekend. It’s a fun bonsai show to go to.
Hopefully I’ll see you there.
If not, I’ll be posting soon on the demo tree I work on.

Ficus microcarpa: Da’ Beast

This post requires a visit to the armory
I Choose my weapon,
This is still sharp enough, I hope
Time to tame Da’ Beast.
His lair
Verdant and growing on both sides: The Greenhouse
There he is!
What a beauty!
He doesn’t want to leave his lair. He’s holding tight to the ground
Ficus microcarpa. Though it looks like macrocarpa with those big leaves
I think the pot has given up the ghost
I got this tree from Ray Aldridge, proprietor of Bonsai World in Windermere (no longer in business I’m afraid. In fact, he gave the tree to me when he was closing up shop)
It was a little smaller then.
But I thinks it’s been 8 years or so I stuck it in that spot.
Let me set the scene:
It’s Sunday, high noon, August, Orlando Florida summer with 100% humidity.
Last night I went to Soldier City Saloon in St. Cloud, FL to watch a friend’s band, Papa Wheelee. We got home at 2….ish
They put on a spectacular show (its a cover band) and the bar has cheap drinks.
My only complaint: the band could be louder, turn it up to 11 guys
My ears just weren’t bleeding enough after the show.
I was a little wobbly, but I blame that on the rum, bourbon, beer, Irish car bombs etc.
And that’s is why I didn’t start extracting Da’ Beast until noon.
I should’ve waited.
Now, I know I won’t be believed but, generally, I don’t get hangovers.
I didn’t have one when I woke up at 9:30.
Or when I walked out and prepared the implements.
After this cut though
My head began to pound.
Needless to say, it was not fun.
But, I am a bonsai warrior. The trees must be styled, collected, repotted, wired; there is no reclaiming a wasted today.
And today is the day I had planned on this work.
Back to work Adam!
The root mass
Almost done
Look at all that space.
It’ll fill up in a minute.
And now, so I can lift the damn thing, I’ll do some cuts.
Here, here, here
These will root, hopefully.
Now the roots…
I’d say that’s at least 30 lbs of roots
Yeah, right.
My brains may be addled, but not by that much.
To The Nook! (With electricity and reciprocating saws and powerful fans to cool me off. Not to mention a roof and the shade that entails)
And a scant few minutes later…
Now it’s up onto the operating table
A few more cuts, precision ones this time, and a pot and some good bonsai soil, and Bob, will, indeed, be your uncle.
This whole structure has to go, branches, aerial roots and all.
And this middle branch and aerial root up high need to go too
Remove the crossing roots
And the unnecessary ones from the bottom
And that’s the tree
One big chunk of ficus log.
A good training pot for a tree this big is a mixing tub
I drilled a multitude of holes for drainage and I’m using my standard bonsai mix.
For my European brothers, I give you the width in centimeters
And that’s it
Close up of the trunk and nebari
Not much left is there? No branches to wire, no deadwood to carve.
I’ll have to use my….IMAGINATION…
I have some sketches.
Obviously what I’m going to draw may or may not actually happen. It’ll be close though. I need branches at the arrows
And when the branches are thick enough I’ll shave off the excess trunk for better taper
How long will this take?
I will guesstimate (optimistically) about 2 years for the main branching to be in place and about 5-7 years for maturity.
Anyone wanna bet?
I’ll shake on it