“I’m a real boy…umm, bonsai!”

Earlier this year during, I’ll admit, a period of time where lucidity had been suppressed chemically, I defoliated and unwired this ficus.  

 I can’t tell you exactly when because my sense of time was altered, as I said, with the application of free-flowing opiates I received, first, whilst hospitalized, and then during the subsequent recovery.  

I know that I didn’t repot it (or I hope I didn’t, ‘cuz I’m a gunna do it in a minute). The leaves have gotten pretty big since the initial defoliation, which seems contrary to the teaching, but I think I may have fertilized it…..maybe. P’raps I should start writing things down, I am getting old and I kinda have this good chance of developing lesions on the brain in the near future due to B vitamin deficiency. 

The tree. 

This is an ungrafted ficus microcarpa, most likely grown from seed, that started life as one of those evil, much despised and maligned, and, so-called, ginseng ficus.  

   You can see the bulbous nature underneath those aerial roots. I last wrote about this tree in this award winning and controversial, even troublemaking, post here.

I know that these ficus seedlings are ubiquitous and often sold as bonsai but, as a definition, it’s not bonsai unless it looks like a tree. I know, I know, it’s all art, yadda yadda yadda….but a landscape painting tends to have the land and the sky, maybe trees or such. A rock n roll song tends to have a backbeat. A figure drawing tends to have a human (often nude, heehee) in it. So when we say a bonsai, it is more than a plant in a pot: it’s a stylized representation of a tree. And these seedlings tend not to have many of those characteristics of a tree that we are looking for. 

It doesn’t mean that they can’t. It just takes a few years of growing. If you do want to buy one and develop it, try to get one with a nice trunk and a good transition into the soil.  

 The above pic is a drawing of one with potential. Try to get a tree with an even distribution of those ugly tuberous roots around the base. 

One way to develop it into the tree-ish look is to plant it deeper, the way it’s supposed to be as a wild tree.  

Another way is to chop the roots off like so.  

 And then, again, plant it deep. This is what you’ll get.  

 You’ll get better surface roots (nebari) faster but the trunk won’t mature as quick if you cut the roots.  

Whatever you do, don’t plant it like this.  

 Unless you’re trying for the turkey leg look. I know, let’s start calling them that as opposed to ginseng, who’s with me. Turkey leg ficus? Drumstick style? Eyes wide shut ‘cuz legs wide open?!

Often you’ll see a different variety ficus microcarpa leaf grafted on top.  

 Usually tiger bark or golden gate or golden coin. 

Grafting is a valid bonsai technique,  but not in this way on a ficus. Now, on a pine they’ll graft Japanese while pine (pinus parviflora) onto Japanese black pine (pinus thunbergiana) root stock because the roots on the Jbp are stronger and convey that toughness to the jwp. On the ficus, the f. microcarpa grows faster and has a whiter, smoother bark than most other leaf varieties they use for grafting, therefore, a trunk/root graft just doesn’t look right. So, just chop off the grafted branches on top, and grow the original foliage, the tree will be more even looking. If you like the grafted leaves better (and you should have rooted that chopped part), you do the graft after all the primary branching is mature, then you graft onto those mature branches, not onto the trunk. That’s how many of those spectacular Taiwanese ficus are created. Some are totally a result of the easy willingness of ficus to graft: the trunks are made up of two or three smaller trees, the mature branches are grafts, the nebari is all grafted, and then the secondary branching (with the most desirable leaf) is grafted. I’ve seen pics with nails and tacks and grafting tape and plastic baggies all over a tree: looked like Madonna getting ready for a photo shoot. 

Here is one tree I’m growing out, I think this is a year from first planting it.    Jealous? Move to Florida. The base is filling in sweetly, I’ll probably give it a few more years like that though. The secret was letting the roots grow out of the drain hole and into the ground. 

And here’s one a friend gave me.  

 If you can find one with aerial roots that are there already, all you have to do is straighten them out and stick them into the soil.  

 I wrapped a wire loosely around the trunk to get some contact with the aerials and I wired the root growing from the branch and straightened it out  

I put the whe dealie in the next size growing pot to give the roots some room to spread out (8″ pot to 10″).   We will see it next year. Maybe I’ll try some grafting techniques on it. 

Anyway, after all that, let’s get back to the main tree.  

 On the agenda: defoliation, minor wiring, if any, and a repot. 

Right after this public service message: I get asked this a lot.  “What is this? Is it a fungus? A bug?”   When you look closer, you will see closed up leaves as well.  

 Almost like a cocoon. It is a nasty bug called the Cuban laurel thrip. Cuban laurel being a common name for f. microcarpa. A thrip is an insidious creature that is tough to get rid of. I use a granular, systemic insecticide myself but you can use a spray; either an insecticide or an oil spray. Here’s the bug: 

 Can you see it? How’s this? 

 Thats the adult stage. There’s the egg stage, 2 larval stages, 2 pupal stages, and adult. They are fairly resistant to treatment in the pupal stages, as are most insects, so if you are spraying you need to have a regimine and stick to it. That’s why I use a systemic in granular form (meaning that the plant takes it up in its vascular system and, when the bug eats it, it gets a dose of the insecticide) I prefer granular because a spray can kill bugs you don’t want killed. Like bees or ladybugs. 

While you’re looking up insecticides, I’ll defoliate again.  

 And I trim each tip back to increase ramification. When you do this to your f. microcarpa, just remember that you will have dieback between the nodes.  

 That’s the space between the two leaf stems.  It’s called an internode.  

 Try not to hold the branch like that while trimming. That’s where most of those scars came from; I keep my scissors sharp and I drink too much beer.  

I’ll either use the brown rectangle for the new pot or, O_o…..I’m excited, the marble slab I carved in this post  Rake and trim roots.   

Check to see if it’s a girl or boy….. A girl.  

I’m going with the slab because……slab. And I made it myself and it’s what they call an opportunity for a back link.  

 Man that’s shallow, who made this piece of crap. And it’s so white. Like Emminem at the BET video music awards (that’ll get me in trouble). 

I definitely need some tie downs. Good thing I made holes for that. I must be a genius.  

Some a pickin’ an’ a grinnin’   

Man, this slab is malformed, who made it, the dumbass.   I’m liking the grime that the stone is acquiring. It’s almost rusty. 

How’s it look so far? Hmmmmmnnnnn? I thinking I don’t need that one branch and I need to wire that other one. And then one more thing.  Well, two more things. I need a caramel to fortify the spirit.   Bullseye!

Snip. Wire.   

That branch in the back won’t stay put. I’ve let the wire cut in heavily not once but twice.  Damn ficus.  

Well, as they say, third time pays for all. Notice that the first wire scar is almost gone, the second was wired across the first, and so the third wire should be in a different space than the first and second. Let me also point out those pleasingly dirty hands. My wife loves it when those filthy, calloused hands run down her naked buttocks. Like it or not baby, I’m baaaaack! (Much to the dismay of a few, I’m sure) 

And now…….tadaaaaaa!!  

 We have moss! I had to steal it off another tree, but the green of the moss against the white of the slab just seems to pays the bills. Everybody loves moss. 

I need about one or two years on it, at least, but it’s making me happy right now. 

Posted in rare finds, roots, updates | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Cracked pots, wire scars, ficus in focus and some philosophy

I’ll apologize for the rambling nature of this post up front (I promise this isn’t the Saruyama blog, there definitely won’t be any 80’s British, pop/rock video embeds to make you cry….or do the Safety Dance). I’m in an odd frame of mind and you, my dear readers, must suffer for it. Let’s see if you can follow along.  

There are some trees I’ve been working on. Four or five I think. Maybe eight or seven. Not so sure. 

Anyway, an Australian pine (casuarina equestifolia)  

A ficus microcarpa   

Ficus salicaria  

And another f. Salicaria (a willow leaf fig, for the non-Romans amongst us)  
There are a few more but I’ll slip them in, just as smoothly as a candiru slipping up an eco tourist’s urethra, as we go along. 

Let’s talk about the big willow leaf.    It seems like a good place to start. It looked liked this 21 weeks ago. 

At least that what Instagram says. Jeez, only 87 likes. If you’re not following me on Instagram, well, why not? I wired and pruned it up at that time but I can’t remember where the after pic is. Maybe in a blog post. They say that cross posting things and having unique content on each web platform is supposed to engage the audience and create brand dominance in your genre. It only confuses me and it doesn’t seem to be working as well as that $19.95 audiobook I purchased (Web Presence for Idiots) promises, maybe I can get a refund….maybe I’m too much of an idiot. 

Here’s that ficus today, after defoliation. So’s youse can sees it.   

Removing the wire you’ll see some wire scaring.   This scaring is important. On branches as thick as those, on a ficus, if you don’t keep the wire on as long as I did to cause the scaring, the branches just won’t stay in position. I promise you this. That scaring will grow out, I promise that too. 

Here’s a f. microcarpa that I did the same thing too.   

 The trunk is worst area of scaring.   
It was originally a side branch that was wired up as the apex, and if I didn’t let it set for so long, it wouldn’t have stayed upright. Instead of a 19 yr old’s profile of a man it would be more like a 40 yr old’s profile. If you know what I mean. 

I should point out that many artists let the wire cut in to scar a branch just to cause a more gnarly look. If you are doing that, the second step in that process is to wrap the wire the opposite way.  And it will mitigate the spiral look. You can also use this technique to help fix reverse taper. Where the top part of the trunk is thicker than the bottom. 
Getting back to the willow leaf….   I think that’s it. I tip pruned every branch to increase ramification. No wire though, everything is in good position. I’m impressed at how much the branches have thickened, especially on the left.   It’s good to live in la Florida, except for the transient pedophiles and intransigent pill seekers. Next two trees….. F. Microcarpas both.    Wired at the same time but only one of them repotted. 

Try to guess which one.   

 That’s right. The one with the wire scars was repotted. Which proves (anecdotally with a sampling size of two trees and no control…..) that a ficus will respond to repotting with more growth.  

Just to confuse you, this was the repotted tree before the wire was removed. 
  I wanted to show you the labor that it took to remove it all.  Whew!  

 That’s hard work. You know, people are surprised that I unwind my wire instead of cutting it off. In fact, I teach that it’s better to unwind wire than the orthodox cutting-off method. 

For those who don’t know, in all the books, video, papyrus scrolls offered in bonsai technique instruction, it is taught that unwinding wire off of the branch is dangerous because you could damage the branch you are unwiring. This is true. I have done it. But not lately. Why? I teach the Adamaskwhy method of wire removal specifically because you can damage a branch. It forces you to be more cognizant of the fragility of the branch and to have more respect for that fragility. It also increases your comfort level and muscle memory in the motion of winding/unwinding a stiff wire around a branch. In other words, taking wire off makes you better at putting it on. This is why I use aluminum wire almost exclusively. You can’t unwind most copper wire because it stiffens when you bend it. 

Now, it’s time to tackle the forbidden tree (that sounds funny coming from a man named Adam). 

 The so called Australian pine, the coast sheoak (coast she oak, coastal she-oak), beach casuarina, beach oak, beach sheoak (beach she-oak), whistling tree, horsetail she oak, horsetail beefwood, horsetail tree, ironwood, whistling pine, Filao tree, and agoho (yes, I copied and pasted that last paragraph from Wikipedia). 

It is forbidden (on the invasive species list) in Florida (and why you don’t see it for sale here much because of this, not to mention the difficulty in getting collected material to live). One reason is that the leaf litter has a chemical property that inhibits seed germination (called allelopathy. I have an idea: Aussie pines are easier to eradicate from the landscape. We have another invasive called the Brazilian pepper which is not so easy. It will take a few years but, if we planted more casuarinas in the pepper plant stands, they’ll kill them peppers off. And then we can harvest the Aussie pines for lumber and bonsai…huh? Huh? That’s right, I’m a genius). 

The casuarina isn’t a true pine but a primitive (or highly evolved maybe) tropical plant with a modified leaf form.  The needles….

  Are actually stem-form leaves Many cactus and succulents have evolved this form. Each one of the segments is, essentially, the leaf.  
 Which means that to increase ramification, you simply trim the needles and you get several new shoots off of the next node.  

  The example above is from a different leaf variety that grows near the Melbourne/Merrit Island FL area. It has considerably thicker needles.    The one I’m working on now is the foliage on the left. The foliage/tree on the right may be one of the monoecious species of casuarinas out there (c. equestifolia is dioecious, meaning that it produces both male and female flowers on the same plant, not requiring an opposite sexed plant nearby to produce viable seeds. Making it a more invasive plant, for obvious reasons). It might be a c. equestifolia subspecies incana, which has thicker needles. It’s also not the best species for bonsai as the foliage is so coarse and doesn’t get very dense except with lots of work.  I’m getting there. This tree belongs to a friend who challenged me and said I couldn’t get the foliage pads dense. Uh huh. Don’t ever say I can’t do something.  I need to repot and wire out some of the newer growth. Tomorrow. 

Today, my tree.  A cracked pot, like me.  

  Here’s another tidbit. Just like the Brazilian Raintree, it too has a nitrogen fixing bacteria that creates nodules on the roots (not getting some of the soil the tree is growing in might be a reason for the poor success rate when collecting). 
Here’s the before trimming pic.   

 After trimming. 

After repot.      And there’s just one more branch I don’t like.  

 It’s too curvy compared to the other branches.   That’s better. Just a few more years. 

As to the forbidden nature of the Aussie pine (I bet I’m driving the Australian readers crazy by me keeping calling it that. I wonder if they call it a Florida pine?), it’s not actually against the law to own it as an individual. You can’t move it though. Florida, being the big agricultural state we are, has a good grip on the movement and sale of plants. Technically it’s against the law to sell any plants without a nursery license or, get this, to even give them away. And that’s how they can regulate and put plants on the invasive list. But, since I have a nursery license, that means I can’t sell or transport them (except to orange groves for the purpose of a windbreak). 

Wait ’til my friend finds out that his tree is stuck at my nursery forever. Bwahahaha! 

Maybe I have time to wire his tree. It needs repotting and deadwood treatment and all that,  but that can wait.  

 I bet that all those real pine growers wish that just by trimming the needles they could develop ramification that easily. Oh, that reminds me, my Japanese black pine needs some serious needle plucking.   But that’s for tomorrow too. And the blog you want to learn about that is Jonas Dupuich’s Bonsai Tonight. He’s an expert on them and I turn to his pages for info on Jbp.  Me, I work on ficus. 

Case in point: one last ficus salicaria in development.  I wired it last season. I think a little spiffy-ing up is in order.   And with that, I am done for today. I’m making tacos for dinner tonight, gotta get to cutting up the onions and tomatoes and pressing the tortillas. Adios ya’ gringos! 


Posted in Horticulture and growing, progression, tips and tricks, updates, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dragon Yamadori Buttonwood Bonsai

Here’s the tree I teased with in the last article.  That’s how it looked two years ago in this post. I got the tree from Mary Madison, one of the best yamadori collectors in Florida. It was brought to my attention by a guy who used to be a friend but somehow, he and I aren’t anymore. Which is sad, really. It was bonsai politics that ruined our friendship. I could write a three part treatise on the deleterious effects of politics on the bonsai community. But I won’t. It’s not worth the space or the time. To quote Paul Pikel,

“I just want to work on my trees.”

With that said, here is the tree today.   I know, I know, I’ve kinda neglected it. You can see why the buttonwood’s botanical name is conocarpus erectus. No, not because it has hard wood, but, if allowed to grow, it grows straight. I need to get the branching back closer to the trunk. 

First, I need to carve the two cut ends and blend new carving with the old deadwood. 

Both the top…. ….and the bottom were sawn off flat at some point.   

The tools I prefer to use for finish carving are: 

A flex shaft carver (I use the Mastercarver brand) 

 With a variable speed pedal.   Like my new Chuck Taylors?

I use a small rotosaw carbide wheel…    …..and a flame shaped bit. They’re both a little gummed up at the moment but they still work. If you want to read about all the carving tools I use, click here

To the work then.      

 Now, my secret method. The torch and the brush.  

 The burning and then brushing of the wood enhances the natural grain (the grain is made up of hard and soft layers, the soft layer burns first and the wire brush removes it. Basically mimicking how the wood would decay naturally). 

The top: 

And the cascade: 

Some trimming and wire.   

 The tree will respond to this cut by budding back like crazy. Much like the elm in the last post, I’m not sure what the final branch selection will be. 

Pot, pot, who has the pot? Short square or…..  

….fancy blue urn?  I think I’m going with the blue. 

 Right side.   


Front.  I still need some lime sulfur to finish it off but this might be a future of the tree with foliage.   

Or maybe this.    

It depends on what the tree does. 

Some lime sulfur on the deadwood.   

This tree is so unique, to me it looks like a dragon swooping down, like Smaug, about to rain fire upon the hapless inhabitants of Laketown. 

Thank you, my former friend, for letting me know (even though we had stopped being friends at that point) about this special buttonwood. I think this could be one of my masterpiece works. 

And thank you Mary for being you. You are one of the great ones. 


Posted in carving, rare finds, sculpture, yamadori | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

A lazy Sunday with Mary Madison, bonsai Buttonwood Queen 

Can you say “Roadtrip!” ? No, I wish we drove in this.   

The Central Florida Bonsai Club has an annual fieldtrip in August where we visit Mary Madison’s home in Lake Placid Florida.  Mary is, indisputably, the Buttonwood Queen, owing to the fact that probably 80% of all buttonwoods that have been displayed in high profile shows were first collected from the wild by her. She specializes in rescuing the trees before the bulldozer rips them out of the ground to make way for another retirement condo or timeshare highrise. 

I carpooled with Sandy, Don, and Dick (or Richard, I’m not sure what he went by). Here’s Don riding his scooter at Mary’s, perusing the wares.  

 That’s Richard in the way back.  

Then we have Judy in the back, Nanette in the front and the indomitable Paul Pikel sporting orange.   
 From front to back, the legend herself, Mary, Sandy, and Judy. And some heavy clouds just beginning.  Look at that deadwood on the tree Sandy is holding! Looks like a snake about to strike.  
I tried to warn Paul about not wearing a hat like Mary. The second pic is just moments later. 

Talk about a red neck! That’s gonna hurt. 
August in Florida is no joke. 

The traditional meal Mary serves when we have a group fieldtrip is…. 

 ….hot dogs, beans, potato salad and chips. And beer. Truly a feast for for royalty. And don’t tell me anything about not eating clean, Mary is in her eighties and she still goes into the swamps and mangroves to collect trees. Although I will say that the yellow gunk on the dog  is a local sweet pickle relish she likes. 

She also dared me to try this atomic-green habanero suace she likes.  

Just a little dab..   Actually, that’s damn good. Maybe Mary’s found the secret to longevity in this sauce? 

There’s nothing like talking with a legend over beer and meat formed into tubes. She even stepped up this year and offered us Sam Adams and Yeungling instead of the usual Miller Lite. Come to think of it, this beer might be left over from a certain person who visits Mary. Well, if it is, I’ll gladly drink his beer. Bottoms up!

After lunch Mary decided to give a short demo for the group.    
 Cleaning the deadwood Some big cuts with big tools.   

Sandy, wondering if this would root. Mary said, “Sure, you go ‘head and do it though. At my age, I don’t need to be taking cuttings” A Q&A session after the work.  Mary will use mostly organics in her soil for buttonwood because, she says, they love to be wet. 

The Queen!   She wanted me to say that she didn’t wire the tree, so use your imagination. 

So what did I get? I got this: 

 And what the hell is it? I went all the way to Mary Madison’s home, she of the buttonwoods, and I come home with a…….winged elm. And, because I have a hole in my abdominal wall and people think I’m an invalid, the guy on the scooter drags my tree to the car for loading.   Let’s clean it up and cut it back.  

Back at The Nook
  We had to cut the tree out of the ground at Mary’s.   
It’s a little weedy.   You can see why I wanted it now.  The elm was collected by Mary up in Ocala.  

  My plan is for a broom like look to the tree so I cut back all the lower growth.   
  Now to clean up the top.   
 It wants to grow straight up.    
I just need one branch here.   

There we go.  

I could cut it here.   But then I’d loose that elm look I’m going for.  

I’ll cut this one off.   But leave a nub to encourage a new shoot.   

 And cut these down a bit.  
I’m not sure of the final branches quite yet, it will depend on what grows. 

I add some soil to the bottom of the old pot.   

 Some soil on top with fertilizer.   
And lots of water.  Next year I’ll start on styling it. Which it needs, seriously. And I did leave a few leaves on it this time.   

At least it’s not a sharp stick in your eye. I think the next post will be a quick one on a buttonwood I got at Mary’s two years ago and somehow I missed styling it last year. Here’s a sneak peek.  

See ya’

Posted in goings, rare finds, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Transforming a ficus tree with (gasp!) copper wire

So, get this, here I go and win this tree in one of those bonsai auction pages on Facebook.  

   It was offered up by a casual acquaintance of mine, Seth. He’s this dude I know from Palm Bay. Which is funny because the tree was grown in Palm Bay and Palm Bay’s official motto is “A perfect place to grow!”  Yes, with the exclamation point and all. It’s a fun city, the most populous city in Brevard County Florida, but with the most roads in disrepair. It’s also first in strip malls that are situated miles from the endless subdivisions. Now that’s some cool demographic trivia…….

Sorry, it must be the birch beer talking, I know the above is  not very interesting or inspired (never mind inspiring) writing.  

 You see, I got this fortune the other day…   …..and I feel I’m trying too hard. To be fascinating.  I even spent fifteen minutes today trying to get the perfect selfie for my new MySpace profile pic.   I think it turned out spiffy. What do you think? I recently got a new toupee and I’m a little self conscious of the fit. 

Anyway, my mix tape is dropping next week and you can download it free on ITunes for the first 48 hours. 

I started bidding on the tree mainly for this root spread.    Little did I know that I would win. But I got caught up in the bidding war like that one lonely cougar at a Sadie Hawkins day auction trying to win the high school quarterback for a day of annual labor. If you know what I mean. 

Time to tame the bush, but that’s later, first, I need to prune my tree, and wire and repot. I don’t even know why I mentioned anything about a bush….maybe it’s the birch beer talking again. Or a repressed high school mammary, uh…memory. 

   I got the first three branches trimmed and I’ll stop there. You see, those nifty roots were, I believe, in the back of the tree. And that means when I turn the tree around to look at that fantastic nebari, the whole top is tilting backwards (it is a major design component that the top of the tree be leaning forward, as though it’s bowing to you, to trick the eye into believing that the tree is taller than it is).    I could just chop the whole top off and start over. But that’s just so played. I’ve been trying, of late, to work with what I have, just to challenge  myself a bit more. This is the part where the copper wire comes into play.   I’m ’bout to get serious, y’hear? Full blown bondage and what not. I’m going to use a looped wire and crank that top down. Copper wire works best for this. Aluminum stretches too much. 

Take some mesh:  

Fold it. 

And put it underneath the copper wire to protect the bark.  Do the same on the bottom.   

And, putting pressure on the trunk    

Twist the wire tight  

Here’s the magic part. Using a span of wire as a lever.  

 Start to, ever so gently, twist the two wires.  

 Make sure you are watching the outside edge of the bend for signs of cracking as you bring the branch down. On a ficus you’ll see the bark begin to separate and the white sap begin to ooze. Don’t worry about that, a little bark separation is good because it’s the healing of a branch, after it’s been bent, that sets it in place.  

The reason for using a guy wire instead of just regular wiring technique is that a branch may be too short or too heavy to really bend easily with just wire. 

Now that I have it in position, I can choose the branching on top and begin wiring the rest of the tree.    



 There we go. Now there are two things I must point out. First, can you see the sad koala bear? And, unfortunately, there’s a bit of inverse/reverse/obverse taper in the same place. 

Sorry to the sad koala, but I must take a knife to his cranium.     That’s better.  


And now the repot.     

Do you see the green buildup? It’s a combo of calcium/lime from the Palm Bay water and that green radioactive fertilized that my casual acquaintance Seth uses. A toothbrush (this time I’m using one I stole from Seth’s GF, Angela, when I was last there in April)  

There, cleaner than a Quaker’s turkey neck.   
Then some rootwork.    

I’m not going to use the pot it came in but you may have noticed it has some bad scale buildup on it.  Here’s how to get rid of it. 

 With it being a glazed pot, the cleanup is easier than with the pot I tried to clean a few posts ago. All I need is a green scotch brite pad, water……and a little elbow grease.  

 Not bad, eh?

Here’s the pot I am using.   I love the glaze on it. I can’t remember the name, it’s something like glamdring or silmarilion, but it’s full of blues and browns with star-like points of white. It’s like looking into space and contemplating the infinite vastness of the universe.   Trippie man. Birch beer and deep space star gazing bonsai experience. 

I’m often asked why I use such heavy wire to tie my trees into the pot and why I don’t try to hide it better.
    Heavy wire holds the tree easier and it doesn’t stretch when I tighten it down. And I’d rather my tree not fall out of the pot (I have four kids and cats, you see..) and the health of the tree is more important (the stronger the wire, the less the tree moves, the better the root growth) than the aesthetic of the tie-down wire. And this is cool to do when you want to shock the crowd in a demo: 

 And that is all.  

 I think I’m seeing more of a sad alien creature than a koala bear now. And that makes my infinite space glazed pot all the better in combo with the tree. 

The styling is a little unconventional  but I think it’s consistent with itself. It sorta grows on you the more you look at it too. Or you just start to feel sorry for the poor, sad alien whose stuck on earth (on my bonsai bench) staring into the abyss of the Orlando night sky. It brings a tear to one’s eye. 

Next post, we visit bonsai royalty: a trip to the Queen Madame of the Florida buttonwoods, Mary Madison. And I bring back a rather odd tree from her nursery. 

Posted in branch placement, rare finds, refine, roots, wiring | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Ficus madness. With a little help from my daughter

I’ve been a ficus fool, so many trees,  I’m so cool. Bonsai trees will make you drool, so much saliva, it will pool. I have ficus blood all over my scissor tool, white sap everywhere, like a true believer of Zuul. 

Sorry, that last line was a stretch, I know. Actually, the whole thing was a stretch. 

Here are today’s trees.  

Ficus salicaria, the vaunted willow leaf fig (a fig is a ficus is a fig is a ficus, all the world around. Pronounce it “fee coose” in the Spanish speaking countries, por favor. And, it’s a fig in the UK, ya’ wankers)  

Ficus microcarpa (the old and ignorant still want to call this a retusa. Yeah, I said that…)  

Ficus burtt-davyi (The species was named in honor of the argostologist and botonist Joseph Burtt Davy, who worked in South Africa between 1903 and 1919, where this ficus is native) 

And, lastly, another ficus microcarpa. I’ve nothing witty or smart to say about this one. Sorry. It’s in a green pot, it’s oval…. 

 Let me start with the willow leaf….  

I did an initial styling not too long ago and here’s how it looked then.  The tree came from Alabama and a friend named Fred.  

I think it’s filling in well, considering. It’s even throwing roots out of the pot.  It’s like it wants to walk away. 

First step, defoliate and prune unwanted shoots.   Let me address the, seemingly, controversial step of defoliation. I get asked all the time the questions “why”  “when” and “how”. So, let me answer. 

Why: 1) It helps get more sun to the bare branches and, therefore helps in ramification. 2) It lets me see the structure better 3) It is easier to wire without the leaves and  4) The leaves grow back smaller 

When: On tropical trees: when they are growing, which, if you give them adequate heat, light and fertilizer, is all the time. If you are up North overwintering them, you can push the tree by supplying a grow light and a horticultural heating pad for the root zone. And fertilize the shit out of them. Then you can be like me here in Florida. 

On deciduous trees: Defoliate in mid summer. In the warmer areas maybe (if the tree is native to your area or another similar area) once in the middle of spring and once in the middle of summer. This is my technique. If you have a local, reputable, bonsai teacher, follow her/his advice. 

How: I usually leave the petiole (stem) of the leaf intact and attached to the branch. The reason is because the new bud is at the base of the petiole and if you rip the whole leaf off, you could accidentally rip that new bud, delaying the regrowth process. 

All this should only be done to healthy trees. Ok?  With that said, time for wire.  


Next, is a tree I got from a good friend, Ronn. It hasn’t grown as much as I’d have liked in the last year and I think I know why.     I had cut it back pretty hard the last time I worked on it in order to get back budding and it has responded pretty well.  

This stump is an example of the dreaded microcarpa dieback.    It did bud at the base of the stump at least….
A little more pruning.  

And defoliating….but I am leaving the terminal buds intact to help the branch elongate and thicken.   

Now, to the reason I believe the tree didn’t grow all crazy-like and stuff: the soil.     This was an experimental mix containing diatomaceous earth, expanded shale and sifted pine bark. I think it compacted and didn’t have enough airspace and water flow.  

Here are the roots…. Not too bad. Not really filling the pot either. 

 Using a trusty metal chopstick (I break the wooden ones) I rake out the roots….. …and discover that the root mass is dry in the middle.   Hmmm…….I think I’ll not be using this mix again. Like I said, it compacted itself and clogged the air spaces. And just in case, I’m going to use a different pot too.  
And some Supermix™

I can just feel the roots reaching into the new soil, rejoicing in their new home.

How do I see this tree eventually?   I don’t think it’s too far fetched to think I could have something resembling this by the end of fall. We shall see. Next tree is the Burt Davyii.  

 I don’t really believe that this ficus really likes Florida much. It’s too humid here and the Burt kinda likes it a little dry, being from South Africa and all. I’ve only really seen one grower in all of Florida with a fantastic one, and she’s in Palm City, which is a weird kind of microclimate where it gets colder in the winter and stays drier than most of Florida. Maybe if I protected it from the incessant rainfall…….

Remove the old wire, repot and prune. At the same time, my daughter will be defoliating the last ficus for me.    She doesn’t like her picture taken. Shhhhhh, don’t tell her. 

Before she begins.  

I get to work.     


It’s amazing how these trees can survive with very few roots.   Being constantly wet, the tree didn’t need to grow that many. And since the roots didn’t grow, the top didn’t grow. 

New, deeper pot, for better drainage.
  New, fresh soil…  

Some pruning and wire.   

And let’s see about my daughters progress….. 

 Well, she’s done, but where did she go…..  Ah, she’s made a mess and when it’s time to clean it up……bam, she vanishes. Sigh….children. 

Oh well.  Brush brush brush 

  That’s a sweet nebari. Oh, look there! I found a lizard egg.   

Rake rake rake   


I’m changing the oval green pot out for this neat, handmade one that a local potter gave to me.   It’s an interesting pot, a little unconventional but I think it will work.  Unfortunately, Daniel doesn’t make any more bonsai pots. 

What do you think?  It fits well so far. Some soil and….. Sorry, gotta flip the chicken. Looks good right? Here’s the recipe:

Chicken, assorted pieces, I like wings myself, my wife likes breasts, the boys like legs and my daughter likes breasts. 

Mojo criollo marinade (buy it pre-made from Goya or Badia or make it yourself: sour orange juice, lots of crushed garlic, pepper, cumin, Mexican oregano, maybe some finely diced onion and lime juice.) 

Iokevto remove the skin off of the thighs and breasts because it holds so much fat and that causes flare ups on the grill. Plus, the marinade gets into the meat that way too. Speaking of which, let the chicken marinate 24 hours and grill until done, make sure you have a good burn on the outside, and baste with the leftover marinade as you grill. 

Back to the tree:   Kinda looks like Alfalfa (for you younger kids out there, there was an old show called Our Gang, or The Little Rascals, in which a character named Alfalfa, who fancied himself a ladies man, had an amazingly akward cow lick popping up on his head.   They did an updated movie a few years back. I don’t recommend it. Alfalfa’s real name was Carl Switzer and he had an interesting life, to say the least. You’ll have to look it up.  But I’ll always remember him like this:


How often we ascribe the characteristics of roles that actors play to their real personalities. 

But I’m not gonna let my tree be called Alfalfa. A tip trim and one wire.   

 …all neat and pretty, then on with the show (sorry, that’s the Mickey Mouse Club..mixing my nostalgias).  

 That’s a good combo, tree and pot,  whaddaya’ think?

So, until next time, (and to further muddy the mix): That’s all folks! 

Posted in roots, updates, wiring | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A couple o’ three ficus. Just because, well…..ficus

I’ve been a little more mobile of late, after getting off The Machine. (Welcome my Friends! Welcome…to The Machine!) It’s the same machine I was allegorically referencing in the post A Painting a few articles ago, a negative pressure wound therapy contraption that helped in the healing of that foot long midline incision I was left with after my last surgery (of which I’m still offering signed photographic prints, hit me up, I’m having a half off sale!). 

Anyway, here are three ficus (Fici? Ficuses? Bah, who knows, there haven’t been any Romans around to ask for millennia). 

The first is my small, banyan style ficus microcarpa.   Sharp readers of the blog will notice the different background. I am doing so well that I was able to drop in on the Bonsai Society of Brevard’s monthly study group at Dr. Reggie Purdue’s house. 

Dave came along too…..  Although he looks a bit like Yule Brenner there. That’s Donny in the background performing the Herculean task of defoliating a massive ficus salicaria. Dave is working on a collected buttonwood from Puerto Rico while I was busy defoliating and un-wiring my tree.  

 This is only about a third of the wire on it. In fact, there was so much wire on the tree that it was generating a magnetic field under the right atmospheric conditions. It made it handy when I dropped my shears in the tall grass, I just waved the tree around it and they stuck to the trunk. Sometimes I even picked up a radio signal from Tokyo. Anyway, I chose not to repot this year and no reapplication of wire (yet!). The ramification is really beginning to develop.  There are a few branches that need a few spins of wire but I’m letting it grow; wiring sometimes slows growth because the bending could damage and restrict the sap flow. All I did was remove the top layer of soil, added fertilizer and put a new soil layer over that. 

Back at home in The Nook, I tackle my own, smaller, ficus salicaria.  

  I don’t believe I’ve touched it since November of last year (at the Brevard club’s zoo show.  Click here for the post). 

You know the drill: defoliate, unwire, prune:

 I think I’ll change the pot this time too. If you haven’t been active in the Facebook bonsai scene, there are several auction pages and groups that one can find good deals (on one of a kind trees or pots, and other bonsai related sundries) that have come into being. I won this pot from one of those auctions.  

   It was made by an Indiana potter named Mike Thiedeman and I recommend you keep an eye out for his work. He’s beginning to make a name for himself. His work is outstanding. 
Here’s a tip for you, involving the securing of those pesky drainage hole screens. My method (the only one you really need learn, IMNSHO). 

Make two loops, going in opposite directions and make sure the wire loops over the top.   

The end of the loops should be spaced about the size of the drainage hole.   


Next, push firmly on the top of the doodad.   

And then bend the ends going through the hole, flush with the bottom of the pot.   

If you have the hand eye coordination that video game play had bestowed upon me, or you’re just naturally mechanically inclined, this should secure the mesh tightly and keep it from moving. As evidenced by my straining fingers in the next pic.     That’s not a faked pose, I am really trying to move the screen. It’s pretty darn secure, I’ll tell you what. 

Some soil…   

Some wire….  

I didn’t need to wire every branch this time, the tree is definitely developing well.   

It really has great taper and superior movement. I got it from my good friend Rick, who grew the trunk and the first few branches. He makes some good trees.  

Next up is one of the trees that put me, briefly, in the hospital, way back in April: a tiger bark ficus I got from my friend Seth during a marathon styling session.     You can read about it Here, along with my exploits before and after the hospital stay. 

This is how we saw it last: 

 And again, defoliate it (I didn’t wire it at the time, I was really under the weather, I left some surprises in the guest bathroom that day, sorry Seth) and prune.  

 It’s moved fast this year. And in that super shallow, oh so sexy pot too. 

Now, it’s therapy time (or you could say it’s time for my fix, almost the same thing, endorphin wise)…..wire and shaping! 

Oh yeah!  Damn that’s a sweet tree. Thank you Seth Nelson my man! 

Everything gets fertilizer and a fresh application of a pre-emergent weed treatment and then back to the benches and the nourishing Florida sunshine and rain. 

 I truly enjoy summertime and the ficus work it entails. You can push them like no other tree. But don’t neglect them either, they grow so fast you can severely damage a branch if you let the wire cut in too much. I think the next few posts will be ficus themed with at least one BRT thrown in. 

And I’m working on that soup recipe for you too. Or maybe I’ll try some babyback ribs on my gas grill and reveal my super-secret method for getting them to be so tender they fall off the bone without having to smoke them for four hours…..maybe. We shall see my friends. Ttfn! 

Posted in branch placement, tips and tricks, updates, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments