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 , , , , | 6 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

Cleaning a pot but still keeping some of the “patina”: The “Just Made Up”method 

We have a pot.   You may remember this calcium and lime riddled pot from that popular and witty post: Buy the Trunk, not the Branches. The tree featured was suffering pretty badly from chlorosis and neglect. 

Our pot has what could be called “patina”.  Lots of patina. I might even call it “the Florida Patina”…. even. Way too much, in my opinion. It’s the result of the Florida water, of which our source is an aquifer (the Floridan Aquifer System) located underneath most of the state and is encased in carbonate rock (fossilized coral really) that was formed during the Paleocene to Miocene eras when Florida was underwater. The water in the aquifer is estimated at about 17-26,000 years old, not that old really. The water in Orlando is drawn from what’s called the deep aquifer….  

  Which is on the edge of the true Floridan aquifer. But our poor pot comes from the Palm Beach area, which relies on the Biscayne aquifer, a surficial system. What does this mean? 

Easy, it has to do with the amount of dissolved solids present in the water. There are so many dissolved solids in the Biscayne aquifer that, for it to be potable, the water must go through treatment to remove some of it. I think this is why so many old people move there; the extra calcium in the water helps those aged brittle bones….sorry, I just offended half of my readers. Orlando has from 0-250 milligrams per liter of these dissolved solids (calcium, rust, lime etc) whereas the Palm Beach area easily surpasses 1000 mg per liter. All this adds up to this on your bonsai pots.  

 I know that I’m going to be asked this question from my friend Rick so I’ll answer it now: you, my friend, are on the edge of the Orlando water source so your water is probably about twice as hard as mine. Sorry man. But this post is for you! 

Ok, enough back story, regardless of how the mineral deposits got there, they are there (that’s a profound philosophical statement right there) what to do? Well, I, me, myself, I will do this, which is completely made up by me and my own brain. You may quote me and and use these methods yourself, but be warned, it’s not the “classic” way, and that opens you up to all types of discrimination and ridicule. 

First, let’s gather some stuff.  

This is super-fine synthetic steel wool. It’s a lot like those green scotch bright pads.    Silicone spray. It doesn’t matter what brand. I like this because of the use of the word “fabulous”.   

Gloves, so I don’t have to smell silicone spray on my hands when I’m eating my microwaveable beef ‘n bean burrito I plan on having for lunch later. I’m very sensitive to smells on my hands. Let me illustrate: I use baby wipes quite a bit all of a sudden (I use them in an operation called “swabbing the opening of the bag”. I won’t explain that, you’ll have to figure it out yourself) and I can’t stand the baby fresh scent most wipes have to them. Therefore, I use, specifically, the off-brand that Dollar General sells. Don’t judge me.  Curiously, I don’t mind the smell of sweaty leather on my hands…….man, there’s so many jokes I could make there. 

Let it begin. Usually, in the bonsai world, the oil of choice is camellia oil. I can’t afford camellia oil. So, today I am trying, first, silicone spray.  

A little on my abrasive pad.

Some on the pot.  What I’m trying to do here is to remove some of the scale build up but not all of it. Contrary to what many think, some grime and dirt build up, if properly oiled and prettified, is actually a desired feature on a pot. The old and weathered is revered in the east and in Japan especially, age in an object is respected. But it must be well cared for and curated properly. Hence the meticulous and almost ritual oiling and polishing that pots are subjected to. 

After the first pass….

Not bad. Could be darker.   


I did not use any oil on the inside of the pot in case it might hurt any tree I might put in it.
  For that buildup on the inside I’ll use just water and a wire brush.  


Huh, look at how the water beads off the surface.    I know that these highly refined oils have a tendency to evaporate so the next step is to let the pot dry to see how well the silicone spray worked.  Not very good, huh?  

Ok, let’s try 3-in-one oil.  

 I apply it with a rag……

   Maybe a little burnishing with my scrub pad.  
 Oh yeah, I like that.   
This is a secret, so don’t tell anyone, but most of today’s camellia oil is actually a mixture of 3-In-one oil and camellia oil. The reason is that camellia oil being a plant based oil, tends to go rancid, and a petroleum oil added to it, stabilizes it. It is possible to get 100% pure camellia oil (tsubaki oil as its sometimes called) and that’s what you want if you are oiling chefs knives as it’s non toxic. Food grade mineral oil is also good for knives too. And pots as well. It makes a good massage oil when you’ll be using your tongue as well. But for that, the flavored oils are my go to (strawberry is my favorite). 

Anyway, how’d the 3-in-one work after drying? You tell me.    

 Nice! That’ll work for an exhibition, just enough patina to make the pot look old….but not so much to offend the OCD. 

Ok. How about two months later? (I actually did all this work before I got sick this last time, at the beginning of June. It’s August now)  

 Compared to how we began…  

 I think it looks pretty good. It just needs another oiling……like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Mr. Olympian days.  Good….

Compare and contrast…     

When I use this pot, this will be the front.
  This rust and gunk is like one of those planned drips on a glazed pot, but totally random and wabi/sabi. Sweet! 

And, since I’m known for it, a last glamour shot.    

Some people think I use filters on some of my photos. I don’t, I use an app called “Snapseed” that allows me to adjust individual values like saturation, contrast etc. and I really just make the photo look like the way I see it. Try it out and stop using those canned filters. Your pics will look so much better. 

Now, if you want to remove all the scale off the pot and want it to look new, use muriatic acid or that CLR stuff designed for it. And, for good or bad,  I’m sure that I’ll be bombarded with the “Proper” technique from all over the cybersphere, just make a comment in the blogs comment section, not on my various crosspost profiles, so that the readers can see what you have to contribute. 

And that’s all, direct from the confines and dark passages of my, perhaps, uncouth and unconventional mind. 


Posted in maintenance, tips and tricks | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Redesigning a Brazilian Raintree after it goes boom boom

Flashback to December, 2014. I was in the hospital, full of shit (I’m sure there were beans involved), trying to stay alive. I guess there was a mighty windstorm (or my rambunctious 6 and eight year old boys) and one of my Brazilian Raintrees was blown/knocked off the bench. My brother in law got it cleaned up and fixed as best he could. The pot, surprisingly, didn’t break. 

When they finally let me out, after some exploratory slicing and dicing and a bit of plumbing reorganization, I had this waiting.  Yup, that’s a big piece of deadwood, broken off. 

You’ve seen the tree before, in this post: Click here, it’ll learn you about brt’s

Here’s how it was in that blog post.  

Here we are today.    Ok, I know, let me defoliate it so you can have a better idea of what we have left.  The big difference is the missing Jin, of course, that big, beautiful, piece of deadwood that will be mourned like your beloved MeeMaw, she of the marshmallow jello salads and afternoon pink lemonade (real pink lemonade, look it up) that blushes your cheek and makes you smile.   What else broke off was the branch on the right.  The fall also split the next branch up and Steve (bro in law) wrapped raffia around it to try to save it.    It’s a strong tree and it worked.   

First, let me explain the wilting leaves you are seeing and worrying so much about…. ….it’s because it’s night and the tree is indoors. The BRT’s leaves just do that in response to lowered light or, as you might guess when you think of the name, in the rain. 

I need to repot. I haven’t done it in two years, I think.  

 The tree also wilts when it’s dry. Which it does easily at the moment because it’s so pot bound. 

   Let’s talk about the pot, it’s made by Paul Katich of Bellota Pots.  

 Beautiful glaze, awesome lines. Really a work of art. And it didn’t break when it fell of the bench. 

The roots are pretty healthy….   So healthy I might not need the prop rock anymore.   

I mentioned in the title that this was a redesign. After losing that Jin and that branch, the whole tree was bass-ackwards, falling over and just not tree-like.  There are no back branches left if I use the original front either, and the dead wood is hidden. I know! Let’s flip it around.  

 Yes, and maybe an angle change.   

Ok, I might stll need that rock after all.  

 Now, back at The Nook (I’ve been at the CFBC meeting, if you couldn’t recognize the locale) I need to clean and apply lime sulfur to the deadwood.  

Wire brush for cleaning.      

Lime sulfur for the preservation and color.   I use lime sulfur full strength, since I will get asked and (at the chagrin of the re-bottlers out there, to whom I apologize to some but not to others) you can find this brand on the Internet, in this giant bottle, for less than buying a tiny bottle that says “for bonsai” on it somewhere. Just be aware that there are several states in the U.S. whose respective regulatory agencies have limited or banned the sale of lime sulfur and you may get a visit from a jack-booted, polo-shirted bureaucrat, trying to justify his continued employment, vampiricly suckling on the public teat.  

And then back on the perch from whence it fell to the earth.   A few more pics: a far off establishing shot and then the inevitable glamour shots.  

   That’s a tall bench to fall from. Like Icarus, with his fancy set of wings made of wax. Perhaps a less lofty perch? Nah. 

 No blog post is complete without a good shot of a turgid piece of wood. For you Glen and Seth. Bear and Otter. 
   The live vein is rolling over the deadwood nicely.  

 Ain’t nobody gonna call this no tanuki in this neighborhood!

 Top view.   And, finally, the front.  Taa daaa!

I’ll post some pics on the AAAB Facebook page when the tree is in full leaf in a few weeks, just to prove it’s alive still.

  What’s next? P’raps that soup? Maybe some ice sculpture? How about falconry? That might be cool, it’s the sport of princes, they say, and lately I’ve been a royal pain in the ass, just ask my wife. 

First, a trip to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles tomorrow. Wish me the patience of a saint and a disciplined mouth. I’m allergic to bureaucrats. 

Posted in maintenance, progression, redesign | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

A painting

For you bonsai people out there, I know this seems like a big departure, but I started my journey as a fine artist and I felt the need to paint something. 

 So I did. And, since it’s my blog, I thought I’d share.  

It started with this sketch: 

 Those who follow me on social media have seen it already. I asked, almost hypothetically, if I should expand the idea into a full work. The response was a yes, so I thought about it and went into the shed to look for a surface to work on. I had decided to use a wood board already, and I just needed to dig one out.   It’s basically 1/2″ plywood and 44″x36″ large. Not the biggest piece I’ve worked on, but adequate. 

The next step (as it is with most art)  was to stare at the board for a few days and figure out what I needed to do. Comparing the process with bonsai, you could argue that it’s a harder starting with a blank “canvas” as opposed to a physical tree or, quixotically, that it’s easier, because you don’t have an existing structure to get in the way. I’ll let you decide because whatever I say won’t sway you anyhow. 

As the idea of the piece took shape in my head, I decided that some of the details in the sketch were either not right for the theme or not as personal/applicable to the subject. And so, after all that, it’s time to begin.  Unleash the Kraken (rum) and Sheldon. 

 Yes, that is white housepaint I’m using. 

A charcoal sketch to give me some lines to work with.   

Blocking in the walls.   I showed the progress pics to a friend and he, “literally” (sorry, he’s a millennial and uses that word often) thought I had built a 3d box.      

A little distance breaks that illusion.
 Next, after several sketches (or studies. Each art form has its own jargon, like nebari or Jin, in bonsai) of the seated figure,  I picked this one.    And photocopied it several times.   I could just put the original sketch on the painting. Or paint the figure in. But the process of replication adds random effects to the image though, and that’s a technique I use often in my works.  This “accidental” idea is prized in bonsai: a unique yamadori, or tree collected in the wild, has more value and artistic challenge than one created in a nursery. I like the image on the left, it has some reproduction errors I like. 

A little glue….  Some paint to insert the image into the plane of the “room”  You’ll notice that you can still see, if you look closely, the paper that the image is printed on. That’s just technique. I could do a totally realistic rendering where there isn’t that reminder of the piece being a mixed media work. But the jolt of seeing the paper, or whatever other 3d object coming of the flat plane of the board (there will be more…) brings your thought processes to the forefront of the act of viewing, as opposed to just lazily watching a scene. It also involves the viewer in not just the creation but the act of creation (you see the brush strokes, the sketch, the squiggly lines).  It’s a part of the dialogue I have as an artist has with the viewer. I find it important that the viewer has an idea of the workings and perhaps the thoughts behind the inclusion of those images and effects on the finished piece. 

Next is the insertion of the “painting” on the wall. In the sketch it’s a landscape but I don’t think it’s quite right. Here are some ideas: 

 I like them all but I decide to go with a printed pic of the initial sketch.  

 Framed even. What’s next? How about a guitar and a fan. My biggest fan (my only fan after this post, probably)

   Again, I draw them out on paper and glue them to the board, and add color and paint to include them into the scene.  
   And one last object: an actual I.V. line.  
  Nailed it!   
I drilled a hole in the board and inserted the line into the stomach of the figure and the “outlet” on the wall.

 I outline a few accents with pen and ink and pencil and added some more details.  And I believe I’m done.   It is easy to overwork a painting so sometimes finishing seems  like an abandonment instead of an ending. It’s emptying. But I’m satisfied with it. It came out the way I saw it in the sketch and in my head. 

I’m not going to outright tell you the meaning of the piece (in bonsai it’s usually pretty easy to guess. “Uhhhh, dats a tree!”) but you should be able to figure out some of the themes. It’s not all that obtuse. 

Thanks for enduring this brief and wacky departure from bonsai, I know that some of my regular readers may not quite appreciate the style or execution or even the melodramatic theme of the painting (or they are wondering why I didn’t just paint a picture of a guy working on a bonsai….I mean, duh, isn’t that all you need?) but as I said, it’s my blog and I believe I need to fulfill the “Art” section of the “Adam’s Art and Bonsai” title every once in a while. 

Anyway, I’m seriously thinking of soup for the next post. Does anyone have a preference as to what recipe? Or maybe that Brazilian Raintree I talked about? Or……..

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Accepting bonsai from Bohemian bonsai artists

This is not my mess, I know I’ve been incapacitated of late but it was this way when I got it from this mad Bohemian dude I know.   I’ll need to clean it up a bit just to see what I’m doing and what I have, be it treasure or trash.  Wow, that seems like a lot of, what I can only call, “green”, fertilizer, but it’s a medium amount. I’ve seen more on other Florida trees. Piles and handfuls. This is conservative compared to that, coming from a Bohemian and all. It is also planted on a rock (which makes it heavy, like a German philosopher’s prose)  
And the whole thing is, like, totally pot bound. Literally.  No love for the tree from the mad Bohemian. Oh, sorry, it’s a dwarf ficus benjamina (not sure if it’s a Kiki or a too little, the leaves have been allowed to grow out and they revert to specie to a degree).   

Like I said, no love for the tree. Our Bohemian friend (maybe he said Roma, like a gypsy, I just don’t remember) just doesn’t like benjamina bonsai. But how can you not? Look at the trunk and base.  

Hot damn that’s sexy, slap my ass and call me Trigger. If you can’t appreciate that fat bottom, I just don’t know what art form you’re practicing. 

Now, granted, she needs a little cleanup, a little styling and some work, but who wouldn’t, being as old as she is. Let’s call her Cinderella, shall we?  Come here darlink, a leetle of zee top, yesh, yesh.. Eets all comink togezer now… Bee-yoot-ee-full, no? Like a mysterious and exotic temple, lost in the jungle in South America or Indochina. Let’s see if I can tame the top.     I should note, in all fairness, that our intrepid Bohemian kind of inherited this tree from a, now deceased, acquaintance and therefore any mistakes in pruning are probably the dearly departed’s and not our raggedy Bohemian’s, but, since it’s not well to speak ill of the dead, I’m blaming the Bohemian for all the mistakes. It’s only fair. Let’s hope he does the same for me one day. 

What’s up here?   Who would leave stub like that? SMH. Time for the serious tools…  ahh, rusty. Two months outside in the Florida humidity will do that to any black steel tool. Even those mysterious “Black Scissors” that seem so hip and clique-ish all of a sudden.   

Aaaannnnnd that’s why I have stainless steel tools from American Bonsai Tool Co.     A little dirty (sorry Cullen) but still rust free. It’s a’choppin’ time! 

 Much better. Now the rest of the tree  

 I’m thinking of maybe shortening it. Here? 


Or maybe here, to this back branch?   Nah, for some reason I just can’t see the tree clearly in those pics…….hah, get it? The pics are out of focus…..can’t see……jeez, you guys are tough.

 I know, how about here?  Hmmmmnnn…….

Let’s move on to the roots.  Yeah, I don’t think this has been repotted in years. A ficus tree’s roots need to be cut back almost yearly. 

Speaking of roots, did you know that it was our Bohemian friend’s ancestors that gave us the beer that most of the world drinks? Here’s some geography and history for you in 500 words or less. The kingdom of Bohemia used to look like so: 

 It was the end of WWI and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that removed the country called Bohemia from the world. 

From that point it was a part of Czechoslovakia, an amalgamation of the Czech peoples and the Slovaks. The Czechs are what the Bohemian’s came to be called in the early 20th century. They combined in an effort to be free from their (respectively) Austrian and Hungarian overlords. Little did they know that those monarchies would be replaced with an even more authoritarian empire: the USSR. 

Is anyone paying attention to the word count?

What does all this have to do with beer? Hold on. 

This is Czechoslovakia:  In 1989, Czechoslovakia overthrew its communist masters in an event called the “Velvet Revolution” (you should look it up, fascinating) and the Free World was allowed its first taste (in about 4 generations) of the whole point of this mini essay; that being the first beer you didn’t have to chew to drink: Pilsner Urquell. It was the first clear beer in history. 

 In 1993 (a brief 4 years after independence from the USSR) Czechoslovakia split back into its component states, Slovakia and Bohemia (which they call the Czech Republic now. They should go back to calling themselves Bohemia, right? It’s way cooler). The reasons for the split are debated, whether it be industry, language, culture, etc. but I think it had to do with the beer. 

You see, Pilsner Urquell is the beer that all other clear beers, like Budweiser and Miller, are descended from. And it was created in Bohemia.  And once the Slovaks started sampling western cultures and cuisine, especially the abomination called Bud Lite (the piss king of beers), they didn’t want anything to do with a group of people who could subject the world to that type of infamy. 

Dark beer rules. Bringing us back to our tree. It’s roots are so tangled (like the Czechs) I’m worried about it surviving this repot. I knew we couldn’t trust a Bohemian, that’s just an old fashioned word for a filthy hippie. I need an implement to correct this neglect.   (I’m not actually worried, I was just in the moment).   The roots are actually healthy. I’m using a tray that’s usually used to carry small potted plant, like annuals.   

  And that’s all.  I won’t heap any more derision upon our dear Bohemian, he’s endured enough (breaking up a whole country with his heritage brew and all)…….wait, there’s something wrong….. I hate that branch. Yeah, that one:  

Ahhhhhh, much better now.   It just goes to show you, sometimes you need to tear something apart (like Czechoslovakia) in order for the structure and unity to be more perfect. 

A note on the pruning of ficus benjamina: you’ll notice that I left green on all the branches. The benjamina is prone to dieback if you don’t. And you don’t see any wire. In my experience, a benjamina is best trained using clip and grow or directional pruning techniques. And it looks best as a “canopy” tree. So if you have one, work on the trunk character first, then the branches and canopy.  

Now it just needs to fill in like this.  

Next post will be either on a Brazilian Raintree or on a painting I just finished. Or I’ll make soup. 

What do you think? 


Posted in goings, Horticulture and growing, redesign | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The “Keep Myself Sane” Tree 

I finally got the portulacaria I had been working on in the hospital (from the last post) repotted.  Here’s how you saw it last:  This was how it was sitting in the pot. Pretty straightforward potting, widest base flat to the viewer. I had showed it in different angles in the last post to give you an idea of how just adjusting the front could change the character of the piece. 
 I was also considering a pot change. I brought a few that might work. Fast forward to the CFBC meeting last week and the repot.    One note on repotting of established trees and dwarf jades especially: unless you are developing a branch and need vigorous growth, a repot doesn’t have to be a complete exchange of the old soil for new. Just gently removing the outside roots and soil is sufficient to keep the tree healthy (of course, this only applies if all the soil in the pot, especially right up near the base of the tree, is bonsai soil. If you are still transitioning from dirt or regular potting soil, you need to continue that transition). 

Let’s compare pots, shall we?  An oval: 

A slightly bigger oval……  

And the original pot.   

Let’s see how the tree likes them.  

Hi Dave! Hmmmm…. A little small and I’m not feeling the glaze. 

Next…. Too big…..

I guess it’s back into the old pot for now. Which I kinda like. It gives the tree a bit of gravitas, or formality.  

 That’s about how I was thinking at the end of the last post, right? 


Speaking of the last post, I left off an important visitor when I was mentioning them; none other than Mr. David Cutchin.  

 I’m not sure who took this picture but I stole it. David took the time out of his heavy touring schedule from bonsai magazine photo shoots (he is featured in the current Bonsai Focus issue) to visit me during my hospital stay. I don’t remember too much of what we talked about (I blame this:   You’ll have to read that last post to understand just what that green button is). 

I do remember the reading materials he brought because I still have them. An album from D&L nursery’s celebration of this year’s World Bonsai Day.   And an important book on Art philosophy by  Alex Grey which is, very basically, about how art should awaken a spiritual state when practiced by the artist and, to another extent, in the viewer of that art. Deep stuff. I recommend it. It will either open your eyes or close your mind. 

And I’d like to publicly apologize to you, my brother Dave, for forgetting you in my drug addled haze, won’t happen again. We need to get together and do some more bonsai together. Which brings us to the end of the post. 

Here’s the portulacaria for your perusal.  This is important: when you repot a portulacaria, do it dry and, when finished, don’t water until you see new growth on the tips. This means that the roots have calloused over any cuts you may have made, and they are growing, searching for water (opposite off most plants, which need water immediately after repotting). 

Make sure you check out my various social media for an update on the tree when it fills in again. 

Next post will either be on a ficus Benjamina (just to annoy some people) or maybe I’ll make some soup. 

Posted in philosophical rant, updates | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments