Dare I call it a ginseng ficus? What does that mean anyway?

My work area is getting worn out. Like my soul.
The black background is really taking a beating, with me breakdancing on it and all. The headspins, windmills and backspins are taking their toll.
And the stainless steel bench….smh. Sorry Dave.
The rust is from me leaving organic fertilizer granules on it overnight.
It’s a good thing I have a tree to work on, I might have to do some real work and sand it down.
Man, the details behind bonsai are hard work.
Pull the weeds, water the trees, clean and maintain the benches, pay the bills.
And the politics…oh boy oh boy do the politics drain the joy out of everything…..considering that we are just playing with little trees here, some few people are vicious in the bonsai world.
Some of it is ego, let’s be honest.
But a lot of bonsai politics has, at it’s roots, a belief that the bonsai world is a zero-sum game (Oh no! I’m letting my slip show with that one). What this means is that people believe there are only so many clubs, nurseries and people who do bonsai and therefore, every sale, every enthusiast, every club member should belong to you.
To put it more plainly: people think that the bonsai world is finite pie to be cut up and you’d better not touch my piece or I’ll call you an ignorant, son-of-a-motherless goat and whisper in everyone else’s ear that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Little trees fellas.
What we should be working towards is expanding the pie so that there’s enough for all.
What that entails is working with beginners, garden clubs, going on radio/tv shows and volunteering with local bonsai societies. The more people we can get interested, give the correct info to, the more people will progress towards that high end, rare air, stratospheric height that people like Ryan Neil prefer to work at.
Ya’ dig?
That also means working with beginners with trees like the juniper mallsai or those ugly, much maligned, ginseng ficus they sell in box stores.
Like it or not, these trees are the trees that most beginners begin with.
If you call their little tree they’re so proud of a piece of shit, most likely they’ll resent you a little.
I had a customer today who came by with a “ginseng” ficus.
Her name is Carlene and she called up because she was concerned that the leaves were falling off.
When she got here I started with the questions.
Where do you keep it?
How often are you watering it?
How are you watering it?
Of course, she was keeping it inside. She was watering correctly (pouring the water on the top of the soil) but it had the ubiquitous glued on rocks on the top of the soil and it was planted in, unexpectedly, two pots, with a drip pan and in totally organic. There wasn’t even perlite in the soil.
My diagnosis for the falling leaves was: inadequate light and too much water.
I explained about minimum light requirements, had her pick out a proper pot and I repotted it for her into my soil mix.
I then styled it for her.
Here it is.
She had picked out a decent tree with good taper and branches in the right place. The tree from the front isn’t so bad but…,
Like many beginners, she had gone online to try to diagnose her trees problem and it was there where she discovered that her tree was considered, by general consensus, to be a shit tree and not a real bonsai.
We talked about this and I walked her around my nursery to show her what her tree could become.
I showed her these two trees.
These are just one year repotted and rescued from a box store shelf.
How’s this?
Or this?
Imagine one more year. Or five.
That’s the thing about bonsai, they take time.
Her tree is already starting to mature.
Give it two years, with the proper care, and it’ll be fantastic.
If she chose to grow it bigger (putting it in a big pot or in the ground) she could end up with this tree.
I think I’ll work on it in the next post.
So what did I charge Carlene for the work? I do bonsai for a living after all. If you wander around the site you’ll see find my rates. She was here for about two hours.
I only charged her $15.
Basically just for the pot and for the soil.
Why? I coulda made enough for a trip to the market to feed my four children.
But, I could see, in her, a spark, a tiny ember of interest that was almost extinguished because some troll on an Internet forum called her tree shit.
They called it a houseplant with no hope of ever being a real bonsai.
Tell me something, answer me this, motherfuckers: why do you feel the need to belittle beginners and their trees?
Is it to make you feel better about your pathetically mediocre trees? Did the boss laugh at your bonsai collection when you were sharing photos of them? Does your wife compare your penis size to your shohin?
I don’t understand the need to make fun of other people’s trees (except when there’s a full-of-shit bonsai professional bragging about his trees, it’s in all of our best interests to knock those fuckers down a notch).
Ok, enough ranting, I think I’ve made my point. How about a “ginseng” ficus that’s beyond the norm?
You’ve seen the tree before. I can’t find the post.
I know!
Let’s have a contest.
The first person who finds the original post this tree was in and links to it in my blogs comment section gets an Adam’s Art and Bonsai T-shirt.
I’ve wired it a little but mostly just let it grow.
Oh…from now on I will not use the term “ginseng ficus”. These trees are really the original, non hybrid form of ficus microcarpa.
They are also grown from seed, which explains the caudex-like root base that gives the tree it’s common name “ginseng”.
If you grow them as cuttings they don’t get the bulbous roots.
I’ve let it get weedy and out of shape.

The wire’s cut in a little too.
I’ve had the tree in its training pot for almost two years, it’s time for an upgrade. One of these two pots.
I’m also keeping the rootage as simple as possible. Which means that these roots are going bye bye.
But first, (if you’re a frequent reader of the blog you’ll know the drill) some defoliation.
And some judicious trimming.
Some of the growing tips will be left alone to continue the elongation of that specific branch.
Like this one.
Letting a branch get long thickens it faster.
On other branches, I’m cutting the growing tip.
The red circle is the growing tip. The orange slash is where I’ll cut the branch.
I’ve been asked why I trim first, then repot, and then rewire.
Simple, it’s easier to clean up before potting the tree, you don’t get leaves in the new soil
And I wire after potting so I don’t have to readjust the wires after putting the tree in the pot.
Let’s look at the roots.
It’s time to repot.
And clean up the crossing ones.
You may think that a ficus bonsai is required to have random and tangled roots.
Nah, I disagree.
Sometimes tangled and messy roots work in the design.
Most times, like here, they don’t.
They are contrary and jarring to the root base’s flow into the soil.
How can you not agree?
See this root?
Even though the tree will fit in the pot as is, the root should be cut back.
It’s only the small, feeder roots that are useful. The big roots only provide support in the ground. When you cut them back they’ll push out new roots all along the cut edge.
The next big decision is: which pot?
This one?
Or this one?
I like the naturalness of the second one.
It goes with the raw sexiness of the tree.
Oh yeah, curves baby.
And now some wire.
When I first styled it it was pretty sparse but it’s filling in nicely. Lots of branching to work with.
From above.
I’m in love!
Well….sorry for the long, rambling post. I’m kinda passionate at times.
It all turned out well in the end though. You got to see a cool tree.
And I think that the tree takes the idea of a “ginseng” ficus and retires it.

Posted in branch placement, philosophical rant, rare finds, roots, updates | Tagged , , , , , | 23 Comments

Rochester or Bust: My trip to the 4th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibit

My wife was not happy.
You see, I had no plans at all to make the trip to Rochester, NY this year to attend Bill Valavanis’s bonsai show, the 4th U. S. National Bonsai Exhibit.
What happened to stir the ire of my spouse was my accepting the invitation of the American Bonsai Tool and Supply Co. to help represent them at the event.
I tried to blame it on Cullen, Da’ Boss, over at the company, but she wasn’t having any of it.
I’m not saying I was banished to the couch, but she wasn’t waking me up to go to bed either.
Anyway, that left me with just a few days to get ready. While perusing the TSA website I found this infographic:
Since I always shave with my 300 year old samurai sword (as any real bonsai artist does) and I was not checking bags (per Da’ Bosses orders) I guess I wasn’t shaving.
At least I didn’t forget deodorant like Stephan did.
Say “Hi!” Stephan.
Notice his beard?
He started growing one to fit in with me and Cullen and our magnificent facial follicle adornments.
Da’ Bossman, Cullen:
We are calling ourselves the Bearded Bonsai Bros.
Here’s Cullen modeling his cute carryon bag. He’s going to try to claim it’s really my bag. Don’t you believe it.
And yes, if you look closely you’ll see Stephan is wearing wing tips.
Here’s another wing tip.
We flew as the sun was setting so I got this epic pic. I would not see the sun again for four days.
The show was the weekend of the 13-14th of September, with set up beginning on Thursday evening, but we arrived on Wednesday evening. I guess flights were better priced then.
We also flew into Buffalo instead of Rochester; the first two nights we stayed at Cullen’s familial compound, Chateau Mariacher.
It was awesome. Not only the compound but the hospitality of Cullen’s family.
His dad is a bow hunter.
As well as an avid fisherman.
More on that in a second.
Da’ Bossman’s dad’s name is David.
When we got settled in the guest wing and joined the patriarch of the Clan he asked us what we wanted to drink.
He actually said,
“I don’t know what you losers are having but I’m getting a whiskey. You want some?”
Cullen’s timidly asks his mom if she has cranberry juice so he can make himself a Jack and Cran.
I, of course, said “Sure, on the rocks”
Stephan, who started calling me “Dad”, said “Why not?”
We surprised our host with that, I think.
We also finished off the bottle.
It was Jim Beam, for those who want to know, the big bottle.
Anyway, Dave convinced us to go fishing the next day.
Fishing for Musky, actually, on Lake Chautauqua.
It only cost him a near full bottle of Beam.
We drag ourselves out of bed the next day, have a fantastic breakfast courtesy of Cullen’s Mom, and make our way to Lake Chautauqua.
In the rain.
Our boat….
It’s known, variously, as The Black Death or Old Black N’ Blue.
It floats, at least.
Ah, you noticed the heavy jacket.
Yes, it was 58f. To us Florida boys, it was cold.
I counted four layers on Stephan.
Looks like a potato man with French fry legs.
Or a Tim Burton illustration.
The boat managed to stay afloat but, with the four of us on board, wallowed like a pregnant sea cow in the choppy water.
Cullen and his dad shared the bonding opportunity of fishing together.
Steve and I chose to pursue a different type of bonding exercise.
And then, it began to rain.
Now, if you look at the horizon on the last three pics you’ll notice that we were having what is called “movement” on the water.
It was all I could do to relax.
Especially when I get this pic from the home front.
My own David watering the nursery.
It looks warm.
58f, windchill, waves and rain, hunting the elusive muskellunge.
Wow. We survived. We didn’t catch anything except this.
I did learn a valuable bit of self knowledge I hadn’t known before.
I can’t pee off of the back of a boat.
They had to put me ashore (I trespassed on a closed-for-the-season boys overnight camp to pee on a tree…..I know, sounds creepy to me too) during which we ran aground on some shoals. Dave had to get out to push us off the sandbar.
I felt bad until I felt the water, it was warm compared to the air. We shoulda gone swimming.
When we make it to the Compound and Steve and I finish off the Captain Morgan bottle to warm up our insides (sorry Cullen, no more girly Captain and Cran drinks for you).
Early the next morning (I think it’s Friday) I wake up to this outside the window.
It’s a doe, a deer, a female deer.
But no ray, no drops of golden sun.
From what Cullen says, Buffalo is cloudy about 91.2324% of the time.
I guess he did a term paper on it back in high school and that’s the “official” number.
Ok, now it’s time to go to work.
Off to Rochester and Bonsai!
The, now obligatory, bridge pic.
It was about an hour drive to the event building.
Tip for those attending in two years: if you use your gps and type in “Total Sports Experience” you will be presented with three different locations.
It’s the one next to the Tim Horton’s.
What a nice coffee shop.
I ordered a Croissan’Which. They just gave me a flat stare.
We had arrived and it was time to lug in some boxes. I must say that a box full of bonsai tools is quite heavy.
Or at least that’s what Stephan and Cullen say, I just took pictures.
Now, I must apologize to you all if you thought that I would have a gallery of the exhibit trees for you.
I wish I could have done it but it wasn’t technically allowed.
I did take two pics of two very well known trees, what I figured I could get away with.
This is an amazingly old bonsai from Japan that was donated to the national arboretum in Washington, D.C.
It’s a Japanese white pine.
Just damn.
And the next is a larch composition created by Nick Lenz.
It is often referred to as ” Root over Penelope”
If you ever want to tease me about the trees I can’t grow, the two I most wish I could are the Japanese white pine and the larch.
And those two above are spectacular, aren’t they?
As for the other trees in the exhibit I invite you to peruse Peter Warren’s Facebook page Saruyama Bonsai or even William Valavanis’s page (or any hundred others out there. The exhibitor could photograph their own tree(s) and all the other pics I show of exhibit trees are stolen from Facebook.)
Bonsai shows have bonsai and bonsai sundry vendors (that’s why I was there after all), so here are some of the trees for sale.
A couple of junipers.

Some trees from Jim Gremel.
I’m going to steal the twisty bending process on the above tree.
And some familiar species that I will definitely be stealing the technique the vendor used to shape these trees.
He’s using ficus burtt-davyii and ficus natalensis and fusing the trunks to get bigger trees.

I’ll do a post on the process soon, I have a bunch of small cuttings I can use.
Bonsai conventions are just as much about friendships as they are about trees.
I made many new friends, renewed some old ones and hung out with some familiar faces from my part of the country.
Justin from Ft. Myers, goofing around.
Mike Lane, bonsai teacher from Wigert’s.
He had a tree in the show.
As did Jason Osborne (Chef)
He had a sweet pink pixie bougie (pic from his Facebook)
Which he took on the airplane.
He only broke off the apex on the way home. No problem.
Here’s Paul Pikel
Right after a shot.
This one actually.
Which I did not partake of, in fact, I didn’t really drink at all, I had a sober, serious business trip, talking bonsai and tools. (Sorry, wife was looking over my shoulder….)
I also got to meet a fellow Blogger, one I read religiously, Jonas Dupuich of Bonsai Tonight.
He is the authority on growing and developing Japanese black pine stock and bonsai in the US. I think he’s even surpassed his teachers.
On the the awards.
Bill Valavanis has posted all the winners on his blog (click here) already so I think I’m safe to post the ones I’m most proud of.
You see, Florida bonsai won the most awards, as far as I can count.
Paul Pikel won the All American award for his buttonwood (a native, american tree) in an American made pot (I think by Rob Addonizio) and an American stand (by Mark Rhymes).
(Photo by Mike Lebanik)
Aaron Bucher from Miami won the Best Tropical Award.
(Photo by Bill)
Below we have Aaron, second from the right. My friends Hiram and Gus are on the outside (left and right, respectively) and I’m not sure who the random dude is.
(Photo stolen from Hiram Macias’ Facebook)
And finally, one of my favorite trees, the winner of the Yuji Yoshimura award for the Finest Classical Bonsai, a Japanese black pine by Louise Leister.
I say we be representin’, takin’ home the bling!
Before you ask, I did not show a tree. I wasn’t going to attend if you remember.
I will next time, promise.
And that’s about it.
The American Bonsai Tools were a hit, I’m fortunate to be in on the ground floor of this amazing company (www.americanbonsai.com).
Thank you guys!
And, open the heavens, just as we were leaving, the sun poked it’s head out for a moment.
Oh, glorious sunshine!
And then it’s gone.
As a parting pic, I’d like to share my absolute favorite tree at the show, from my friend Owen Reich.
A Japanese maple in a Lang pot.
A 6 am flight and it’s home and back to work.
My wife is still mad at me.
I’ve apologized and begged forgiveness.
I know, I’ll just nuzzle on her neck a little, that might help.
Until next time, please excuse me, I have some nibbling to do, among other things.

Posted in goings | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

5 or 6 shohin willow leaf ficus in varied states of dress

I can’t count today, how many trees do you see?
I thought I’d share some work with you on varied trees in different levels of advancement.
Basically, what to do at each stage, from the first trimming after a total cut back to the removal of a maintenance wire and repotting. And what should happen at each stage.
I’m gonna go quick, I have lots of work to do.
I’ll start with this tree.
It needs repotting, wire removal, and a slight trim.
The moss is looking a little old.
But it’s still kinda green, which is better than any moss in the nursery.
I’ll be able to reuse it.
Why reapply it?
I’m glad you asked.
Here’s the advantage of using moss: the roots are able to use the entire volume of the soil in the pot because the top layer of soil doesn’t desiccate so quickly.
Kind of looks like my pub…..nevermind.
Too bad I need to cut them back.
But it’s just as important to trim the roots on a ficus as it is to trim the top.
New soil, now to the top.
Unwire, defoliate and cut the tips.
Next tree. The little guy.
I’m afraid I’ll have to change out the pot, awesome though it is.
It’ll make a good finish or show pot (a tricky thing many bonsai professionals do is to grow a tree in one pot and, when the show comes around, shoehorn the tree into a smaller one. We should keep that in mind).
The pot is one I made, so of course I like it.
But it’s not deep enough for this poor things development.
In order to encourage side roots, I cut back the middle root.
And, of course, defoliate (and de-flower…..
……yes, that thing that resembles a fruit is a flower. It only becomes a fruit when a specific, and naughty, wasp pokes into that opening with it’s poking thingy and pollinates it, which will cause the hole to then close and the fruit will then ripen.)
Looks like the scene of the crime.
Next tree (if you didn’t notice, I’m saving the after pics for the end of post. It’ll be way more dramatic that way. Way more)
This one just needs repotting, I removed the wire and cut it back maybe 2-3 weeks ago.
You can see the difference when you don’t repot.
Every other ficus salicaria I have where I repotted and trimmed at the same time is looking shaggy. They’ve exhibited sufficient growth and backbudding.
And this one (you should remember it from a few posts back) even needs a second hair cut.
And after…..I warn you, this next pic is shocking.
Don’t worry, this won’t hurt the tree.
You gotta clean the pot…..
….before you soil the pot.
Next tree.
This is a tree that’s very early in its development.
It’s for sale too.
If you can read the price tag that is.
All the wire on currently on it was the first wiring.
There was some dieback (as you see) and the wire cut in pretty badly.
Again, not to worry, the scars will grow out by next year.
It’ll help to thicken the trunk and give some gnarly-ness to it.
Wire off.
Cut back.
And heavy fertilizer.
All the trees I’m working on are getting a handful of fertilizer, they need it.
Next tree.
This is a tree I won in the Bsf convention’s auction.
I don’t want to tell you how much I paid, but, it was worth it. It is a tree that was worked on by Jim VanLandingham, one of our Florida ficus masters.
I’ve let it get super shaggy and grow everywhere.
This stage of development consists of choosing the strongest and best branches and defoliating everything except the growing tips.
You leave the tips to elongate the branches and, therefore, thicken them faster.
No wire at this point simply because the branches won’t set, they’re too young.
I could do it and show off but, really, why? I’d like to see the tree develop faster and if you put bends and kinks in a branch, it does the same thing as if it were a garden hose. It slows the flow.
I think I’m done?
Has anyone been keeping track of the number of trees?
Let’s count.
And six:
And that is that.
I’m off to the National Exhibit in Rochester now and I’m not sure if I’ll send any missives from the show.
If I know myself, though, I probably will.
Unfortunately, I can’t take pictures of the exhibit trees, it’s not allowed, but I’ll get some of the vendor area and the people.

Posted in progression, refine | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Orange jasmine, or whatever we’re calling it now

That’s better…look at all those roots!
The tree is a murraya paniculata, variously known as orange jasmine, or orange jessamine, or box orange, Chinese box etc.
In Florida they call it Lakeview Jasmine.
I have a suspicion why, but I won’t tell.
I’ve had this tree for a long time, I originally got it from Walmart when they were still selling plants in big pots, this one was in a 15 gallon size can. I’m guessing I’ve had it maybe about 9 years.
I haven’t repotted in 4 or 5 years, too many, but it’s not shown stress until this year.
It hasn’t developed much either.
The older leaves are yellowing but it’s put out new growth and it even has flower buds starting.
The flowers are white and very fragrant, a real feature of the plant.
They are why it’s called “orange jasmine”.
These are the roots before I raked them out.

Here’s something interesting.
Whenever you see mycorrhizae, you should put some of the old soil into the new soil.
Sifted, of course.
Try to get as much of the old roots out but don’t obsess if there’s still some left.
I know a few people who would be in there with the tweezers, not me brother, not me.
This is what you want to keep.
All the white moldy bits you can get. Mycorrhizae is a fungus that benefits the tree by making the roots more efficient at nutrient and water uptake.
Some trees, like pines, are almost totally dependent on the fungus. All plants use mycorrhizae so be careful with your indiscriminate and haphazard use of broad spectrum fungicides; especially try not to let the liquid get in the soil.
That said, there are good bugs and bad bugs, so the same applies for insecticides.
I’m using the same pot but I’m trying some new drain hole covers from AB tools.
They are made from anodized aluminum and will last longer than the plastic ones.
Here’s how I secure them into the pot.
I prefer the “double, over-the-top, and opposite” Secure Lock System™.
It has nothing to do with the fact they look like the letter “L”.
What I’m liking about the new mesh is the rigidity. If you have to use the drain holes to put tie down wires through, the plastic mesh often deflects the plastic and can create a little environment for a critter to live in or even let the soil spill out. The aluminum isn’t bending at all. Good idea Cullen.
And, after all that, we are back where the post began.
Some new soil (with the old soil added).
And now, ladies and gentleman, I give you the first, fully American-designed and American-manufactured tool from AB tools.
It’s a soil chopstick designed to minimize root damage. You’ll notice how thin the tip is.
It’s also ergonomically shaped.
Now, to be honest, when they showed me the 3D-printed mockup, I was a bit skeptical. I was thinking, why bother?
I can steal as many chopsticks as I need from my favorite sushi bar whenever I need one.
Who’s gonna pay for a fancy soil pick?
Then Cullen gave me the new, CNC’ed one made out of stainless steel and I put it to the test.
The feel is perfect in my hand, it’s balanced and heavy enough for the job.
The wasp-waisted handle just feels right. Like holding your sweetheart’s hand in yours, it fits.
I was (and still am) impressed.
My two complaints:
There needs to be a smaller size for shohin trees and I think it needs to come in different colors (like a red or blue) so I don’t lose it in all the mess on my bench.
I was still skeptical about people shelling out money for a fancy soil pick until a client of mine used one today and he ordered one on the spot.
Flabbergasted is the word.
Enough about my new toy, how’s this look?
At the next repotting I’m going to remove these two roots.
They aren’t bad but there’s another root behind it that’s more mature looking.
If this were May or June, I might cut them off now, but it’s September and kinda (not kinda but really) late to be repotting this tree, so I’m going to be cautious and wait.
Here’s a little more history to the tree:
It was originally styled by Suthin Sukosolvisit.
I took the tree to him in a CFBC workshop and totally expected him to chop it down and turn it into a shohin.
It really surprised me that he didn’t.
He understood the flowering aspect of the tree and that it would lend itself to a more “treeish” look if we kept it tall.
It was also an opportunity to explain taper.
There are two types of taper, basically, and they are fast and slow.
Fast taper means the ratio between height and trunk base is closer to being 1:1 (we are all looking for that perfect Hershey kiss tree, aren’t we?).
Modern bonsai is pushing towards that aesthetic of wider bases and shorter trunks and many old school bonsai masters abhor the look. It’s grotesque to them because trees don’t really look like that.
What is it that makes modern bonsai artists make trees that are short and fat?
A tree with fast taper forces perspective and makes a tree look bigger. Try this: pick a tree outside, a medium size one, and lay at the base, looking up at the top of the tree.
Makes it look huge, right? The base takes up your field of vision and the apex disappears in infinity like a set of railroad tracks.
It makes you seem kinda small, doesn’t it?
Now, walk away from the tree about 100 yards. Looks small, right?
The tree with fast taper is a “near” view tree. A tree with slow taper is considered a “far” view tree. More on that in a minute.
It’s easier (and takes less time) to make a tree seem bigger with fast taper, kinda like using the comic book trick of shrinking the size of the head on a human figure to make it look taller, and with today’s younger stock trees, we need all the help we can in creating the illusion of age.
It used to be the ratio was 10:1 but nowadays it’s taught as 6:1. I’m partial to 3:1 myself, but I grow a lot of shohin.
Let’s turn to the far view.
You should be able to guess that the ratio will be further away, 6:1 or the classic 10:1.
The far view depends less on a massive trunk and more on subtle cues like twisted branches, finer ramification, and taper that is smooth and natural. Slow, in other words.
Suthin chose a far view for my murraya and I’m going to continue with his vision.
Well, mostly….
Wide nebari.
And decent trunk size.
Thinner first branch.
And thinner up high and so on.
The problem is that I have branches with no taper.
Now, even though I’m setting back the development years, I’m going to have to do some chopping.
I learned that camera angle from Nick.
Choppity chop chop!
And so on….
Not much to look at, eh?
That’s about what it looked like when Suthin left it.
I know it’s tough to see what it might develop into, here’s a progression to give an idea.
And next June:
Maybe July.
Some growing tips:
Lots of water, lots of fertilizer (lots of chelated iron too), trim, trim, trim, and full sun.
Hold me to my prediction that the tree will look that good next summer.
Hell, if it does, I’ll enter it into the 2016 National Bonsai Exhibit.

Posted in Horticulture and growing, redesign, roots | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nick and his big old ficus.

Nick came over the other day to work on his big ficus microcarpa.
It is the very beginning of September and, considering that he wanted to repot the tree, he came in the nick of time to do it…..sorry, I had to make the joke, but seriously, this is the absolute latest I would repot a ficus in Florida.
Well, maybe I might consider it if it were a warm winter.
Anyway, here’s his tree.
Pretty impressive, ain’t it?
Nice base and trunk.
I noticed these damaged leaves.
This is thrip damage. I usually treat with a systemic insecticide called Merit. The name of the active ingredient is Imidacloprid. It is also the active ingredient in the Bayer Advanced 2 in 1 products.
Let me stand upon my soapbox for a moment.
Actually, let me not, except to say this: I just erased about 800 words about this insecticide, about bees, and about organic vs. synthetic insecticides; there is way too much controversy for me to expound on that subject here.
Maybe I’ll write another post in the future. Not now though.
Back to Nick’s ficus.
If you open the leaf.
You’ll see the thrips. Nick has treated the tree already but if he hadn’t, the bugs would be moving.
Especially the black ones.
We’re gonna repot first.
This is one year root growth.
Nick says it looks textbook.
Seems a shame to rake it out.
And a lot of work.
I let Nick do it.
He is here to learn, after all.
We find some big roots that need to be removed.
It’s a boy!
Soon to be a girl!
At this point you’re asking, “Why bother cutting off those roots when the tree obviously can fit in the pot with them there?”
It is true that the tree fits in the pot as is.
But we should prune in anticipation of future growth.
A big root takes up room in the pot that could be filled with the small, productive, feeder roots.
Big roots are there to hold a tree into the ground, we have wire to do that in a bonsai pot.
I feel like I’m holding up a prize pig.
New soil, Nick brought his own but it’s identical to mine, nothing to say about it except I sift more.
There’s lots of room for the roots to grow, which will come in handy with what we do later to the tree.
We tie it in, and do some chopsticking.
And a little arranging of some aerial roots.
How’s that?
Ok, with that done, it’s time to style.
I set Nick to the task of defoliation.
Nah, I’m not that mean. We pruned out the unwanted branches first.
Then I made him defoliate.
Hee hee!
The one long branch I have propped up next to the tree above is just one year’s growth. Makes you wonder why you don’t live in Florida, right?
Now we come to the hard decision.
The big gimmick of the blog.
See the problem?
This one.
The big part of the branch is just unbendable.
The end part is bendable, but it’ll just look bizarre.
Here’s my proposal to Nick.
We cut it here.
Whoa man!
Drastic, isn’t it?
I take him out to the display area and show him this ficus.
Which we will call exhibit A:
I did the same branch chopping on this tree.
Aha…look what’s waiting for us out there.
Do not tell my wife.
Cute guy.
I was talking about the snake, sorry Nick.
You know, maybe you should tell my wife about the snake. Then she won’t come outside and bug me so much when I’m working on my trees.
Back to work, leave the snake alone.
Time to chop!
Nick took this picture.
Did I mention that he’s a photographer?
He got all dramatic and angular and everything.
Wow! That is a bit drastic.
It’s done now, it’ll grow back.
How about some wire?
In fact, I’ll give you some quick tips.
First, here’s Nick’s solution to the wire holder question.
Next, I have invented a device for sale (only $19.99) to measure the angle of the wire as it’s wrapped on the branch.
As we’ve all been taught, the angle must be 45 degrees, no more, no less.
Just like this….
Ok, maybe not. The angle really depends on a few things.
First, how tight a bend you are making.
The more extreme the bend, the more obtuse the angle. The more flowing the bend, the more acute the angle.
Next, is it against the law to cross a wire?
Why, yes it is, the Bonsai Police will take you away…..
You should know better.
Look at this scenario.
I need to wire the left hand branch on the fork.
If I use the “no crossing wire” law, I will not get a good anchor on the left branch.
Even if I started the wire from the branch tip it’s the same thing.
The wire just isn’t anchored and with a bump the branch could just break off.
Here’s the solution.
From underneath.
What are the reasons people say you shouldn’t cross wires?
It’s supposed to create a pinch point and cause the wire to cut in faster.
That’s an easy one to answer: Ahhhh, it is metal wire, if the tree grows, the metal isn’t going to stretch no way, no how anyway.
The most cited reason is that it’s unsightly.
It most often is but how does this look?
I’ve seen this type of crossed wire in shows by big name bonsai professionals and artists.
One more acceptable crossed wire scenario is here.
This helps anchor the smaller wire and the bigger wire.
Wanna see the tree?
Ok, but ignore the amputated branch.
It’s a glaring absence, kinda like when Denise Cosby disappeared from the TV show A Different World (there’s a reference both the youngsters and old timers will have to google).
This might help.
That’s kinda weird, like when Ted Danson stopped dyeing his hair.
What about this?
That’s a bit like the first Lord of the Rings movie way back in the 70’s with the weird rotoscoped animation over film.
This is even worse.
I think it ultimately will be shorter than it is now. The apex is always changing on a ficus. And maybe removing the first branch on the right….hmmm, maybe.
Now, I have some work to do on my own tree.
A repot, some trimming and defoliation and two wires.
Here’s an interesting thing I found in the soil:
Can you see the mycorrhizae?
Cool, must be the pine bark. When you see this beneficial soil fungus make sure you sprinkle it in the new soil. It is a symbiotic organism that helps the plant take up nutrients and water and the plant reciprocates by providing sugar.
The big reveal!
It’s been about two years getting this tree to this point (the last post on this tree was here about a year and a month ago). It’s really getting ramified.
In Nick’s case, he should be able to get his tree to this point in less time; he has the advantage of an apex where I had to build mine (go read that post).
I’ll make sure to get update pics from Nick for you.
They’ll probably have sad clowns in the background, you know how weird photographers are.

Posted in progression, refine, tips and tricks, wiring | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Here’s an unusual tree , you might remember it

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

Posted in branch placement, progression, rare finds | 5 Comments

Sea grape bonsai and some first-aid training

Here we go again, I just know I’m going to get all kinds of guff for this post.
Oh well.
Here’s the tree.
Yup, a sea grape…..I can hear it now,
“The leaves are too big! Why, oh why would anyone try to bonsai a sea grape?! The world is going to implode if you even attempt it and there’ll be earthquakes, floods, fire! Oh no no no no nooooo!”
Or something like that.
Ha ha!
Are you ready?
Considering that it’s illegal to collect a sea grape from public land and you need specific and perpetual permission from a private land owner in Florida , I got the tree from a reputable and licensed nursery involved in the vegetative propagation of sea grapes for bonsai use. Not only cuttings and air layers but even from seed.
This tree looks like an air layer to me.
I’m not sure though.
It’s definitely not collected. Surely not.
The Latin name is Coccoloba uvifera, which means “like a grape and bearing grapes”. Kinda redundant but cool to say.
The grapes are edible and people make jam and wine out of it.
I’m waiting for a distilled product myself. You could call it Florida Sea Spirits.
I had flowers on my tree this year but no grapes. It’s dioecious, which means that you need a male and female tree to make the grapes, which only occur on the female tree.
My tree is evidently a strong, manly male, stout and burly, like me.
I’ve had the tree for a lot of years but recently I’ve neglected it.
It hasn’t been repotted in maybe two or three years. I can tell by the leaf size; they’re about half the size they should be and I haven’t tried reducing them at all.
And suddenly, there is an elephant in the room.
The leaf size is not conducive to bonsai, yet it is a very popular subject in Florida and beyond.
This is the biggest leaf on the tree right now.
I have seen them as big as dinner plates before….well, European dinner plates, not American size. I’d say about the size of a certain bonsai artist’s head.
Now, imagine this, if you can, reducing the needles on a Japanese black pine by 90%.
Can you?
I’ve seen a tree with leaves the size of an American quarter (about an inch wide).
About as wide as the fleshy part of my middle finger above.
A feat like that is achieved using numerous defoliation sessions and keeping the tree pot bound.
Now, look at this leaf:
The chunk taken out of it was probably done by some insect having a meal. Look closely at where the damage was done….no browning, it doesn’t look damaged at all.
If you were so inclined, you could even trim the leaves to be smaller.
But that’s cheating though, that would be like cutting the needles on a black pine….whoops, they do that the day of a show or photo shoot, don’t they?
I’ve never showed a sea grape so I’ve never had the need to trim the leaves, but I just might.
Ya’ never know.
With this tree today I’m going to repot and restyle.
And get rid of the ugly orange pot too…..anyone wanna buy a pot?
You know the drill: Defoliate.


And comb out the roots.
It was root bound. The soil looks about like the mix when I was experimenting with Oil Dry. Surprisingly, it isn’t completely broken down.
Oil Dry is a calcined clay that is softer (not as high fired) than the athletic field variety (like Turface) and therefore shouldn’t maintain integrity as long.
It’s kinda like low fired akadama in its crumble factor but it’s grey in color.
The product is made to absorb oil but it’s also labeled for soil amendment use. Most bonsai people poo poo it because it breaks down but, duh, so does the miracle soil, akadama instead of orange.
Look what I found in the soil…breakfast!
Lizard eggs, anole lizard eggs to be precise.
That’s good for about 6 calories, I just need to find about a hundred more and I’ll have a good meal.
No, I didn’t eat them, anoles are good insect control. We have two types, the native green and the brown Cuban. There are many people who hate the brown ones because they are supplanting the green ones. I think it’s just racism. Everyone knows that green anoles are superior in every way. Better music (Pat Boone man, alright!) better food (American cheese and Wonderbread dude), better hair…..ok, anoles don’t have hair.
I have both flavor anoles in my yard so I won’t destroy these eggs. I’ll replant them in the ground.
Maybe I’ll get an anole tree.
Like I said earlier, I’m changing the pot.
I don’t think it’s the best pot for the tree but it’s better than the orange one….which is still for sale, best offer, any offer.
Maybe I’ll post it on the Facebook page Bonsai Classified. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a great resource for selling and buying without the onerous eBay fees. And they are selling real bonsai, not those overpriced, production mallsai. Check it out.
The sea grape looks good in its new home.
Some minor trimming and tip pruning…
One more branch and….YEOWWW!!!
I’m clipped!!
How can I continue?!
I’ll be maimed for life, I’ll have to become a wheelchair salesman again…oh, woe is me!
I will just have to soldier on, this tree needs wire.
Lots of wire!
They say blood is good for the soil…
Have you ever seen “Little Shop of Horrors”?
Feed me Seymour!
I manage, in my incapacitated and dripping state, to finish wiring the tree.
Then I run out to the DG (Dollar General store) and get some peroxide and some superglue.
That’s right dear readers, superglue.
I learned a long time ago that, if you go for stitches in the emergency room, 8 times out of 10 they’ll use superglue.
And I’m not paying a $399 bill when I can do that myself.
Superglue wound care procedure:
Clean thoroughly, use a scrub brush if you need to.
Dump the hydrogen peroxide into the wound.
Remember that there are children in the house, so the screaming and cursing must be quelled. Do so biting a stout leather belt between the teeth.
Apply the superglue and squeeze the wound closed. Be liberal with your application rate.
Don’t glue other fingers together.
All fixed up!
Here’s the before:
The cut was about a half an inch deep.
I had made a video of it talking and singing, but my wife won’t let me post it.
She’s probably smarter than me.
And that’s about it….whoops, forgot to take a finished pic of the tree (all of the work was done at the club meeting last Friday).
Here is tree today.
It hasn’t changed since Friday, at least not that you can see.
To conclude:
Sea grape: not an obvious choice for bonsai but, with the miraculous leaf reduction possible, worth a try.
Flesh wound: superglue $1.99, ER visit$399.99
Any questions?
Please shower all praise in the comment section below and direct all criticism to this email address: owenrme@me.com, Owen Reich can handle it.
See ya’ in the funny pages!

P.S. That’s not Owen’s real email. It’s close though. He may not appreciate any emails as such my readers might send….if you do though, say you are complaining about Ryan Neil, or Peter Tea or someone other than me.
Tee hee hee!!

Posted in rare finds, redesign, tips and tricks, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments