Dale Cochoy, American Bonsai Guy

Shogyu Mujo-En…..

This was what American bonsai potter pioneer, and carving mentor, Dale Cochoy, called his bonsai garden. The last word, En, means garden, that’s the easy part.

Almost prophetically, the first two words mean….well, that’s a tough one. Like many words and phrases in other languages, the literal meaning isn’t the whole meaning. This is Dale tending his kiln during his last pottery firing.

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, I found out that Dale passed away. It was not unexpected, but it was still a shock. He wasn’t a good friend, I had met him several times at the Bsf conventions years ago and had interacted on Facebook and Messenger several times. I had no idea what he thought of me. But, reflecting and thinking about him these last days, I’m beginning to really understand what I think, and feel about him and his bonsai legacy.

Here’s Dale somewhere around 1970, he was in the US Navy.

Dale had a long and successful time in bonsai. It is not my intent to list all his accomplishments and accolades. I’m not the one to do that. I can only write about what I know about him and my impressions of the man.

He had many different types of bonsai but, even being from Ohio, he shared a love of tropicals like I do. Green island ficus

Willow leaf ficus.

Unfortunately, I only own two pots from him. This beautiful one, one of his premium brands….

And this neat round one.

It’s kinda funny that they’re both just about the same color, it’s more of a reflection of my tastes than his, as most of his pots were not this color. I believe the second one is in his trademarked “Dry Riverbed” crackle.

His usual style was unglazed, or with an oxide stain, and the textures were carved, rustic or with his crackle.

For the first pot I own, what I mean by premium is he had two ideas in pottery. His Facebook page (Click here) is called Wild Things Bonsai Studio and Yakimono No Kokoro.

Yakimono no kokoro. It, too, is a hard phrase to define. Yakimono is sometimes related to cooked meat over a fire (like yakitori) but in this instance, it is the fire part we are interested in.

Kokoro means spirit, or heart, or mind.

Interestingly, one of his favorite shows, about making knives and edged weaponry was Forged in Fire.

It could be interpreted that Yakimono no Kokoro means “a heart, forged in fire”. I wonder if he saw the connection. I’m sure he did, he was a smart man.

This is the bottom of the other pot I own. I got it at the 2010 Bsf convention.

This is how I remember him from that show.

Not my pic, I pulled most of the ones I’m using here from his Facebook page.

When I met him, it was at a Bsf convention and he was just like this, behind his vendor table, watching the world.

He seemed to always be watching and learning. These last few years, even after all the time he practiced pottery and with his mastery, he took it upon himself to learn raku techniques.

He was also very outspoken. He had opinions and was a conservative who liked motorcycles and guns, voted republican and even liked Trump. As for bonsai and his pottery, he has a distinctive “Dale” style. You can tell a “Dale” pot from a hundred like them, because he was a pioneer in the bonsai ceramic culture in the USA and the world. I don’t think we’d have half the potters we have today, if Dale hadn’t paved the way.

But his was not a subtle style. And that’s the rub. I will only touch upon this for a bit but I’d like to point out the hypocrisy I’m seeing on social media at the moment, with people who definitely would talk badly about Dale, and now are mourning and typing that easy three letter word, RIP, instead of something original (One guy, who is the worst about backtalk, and in his typical tone, even wrote “That sucks”. Classy).

For transparency, I do not like everything he produced. Some of his pottery is too coarse for my tastes and (style-wise) for my trees.

But he was an artist.

And I respected his right to do his art as he saw fit. That’s the difference between intermediate and advanced artists, one group wants you to do as they do, wallowing around in the cold soup of the status quo, while the other wants you to follow the muse, wherever it may lead you. Dale and a motorcycle…..and a cat

I think I even annoyed him many years back when I wrote an article for the Bsf magazine and said that samurai carving tools weren’t good for hobbyists. But I believe he had forgiven me in the end. I had purchased some of his last carving bits a few months ago and he told me I’d better do a video using them. John Naka and Dale

There’s always a battle in any small art community for purity in technique, in execution and subject matter, and in taste. Dale didn’t care, and that pissed off people.

And I’m glad it did, because he made an impression on the American and international bonsai scene. Mitch Boatman, Jim Osborne, and Dale

Dale, thank you. I wish I could have been a better friend, especially towards the end, but I’m not very good with dealing with sickness. My experiences throughout my life have not left me in a good place with death and I just don’t know how to respond to it.

Shogyu Mujo-En…..

This is what hung over the entrance to Dale’s bonsai garden. It now hangs over the gentleman’s garden in the above picture in orange, Mitch Boatman. Mitch really became a good friend of Dale’s in these last few years. I envy him, but he worked at it too. Mitch is becoming one of the pre-eminent suiseki diaza and bonsai wood carvers in the country. He is also on Facebook, if you’re looking for that kind of work.

What does Shogyu Mujo-En mean?

All things must pass.

All things are transient.

Nothing is forever.

All things change.

Posted in Art | 12 Comments

Return to the auction ficus trunk chop YouTube video

Here’s just a quick link to my YouTube channel, revisiting the willow leaf ficus I chopped back (for fun and profit….)


Click here to watch!

Posted in Art, branch placement, progression, videos | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wrightia religiosa and turkey soup for the bonsai soul

You’re in for a treat today! Not only will I be updating the water jasmine I worked on several months ago…..……here’s the tree today…..

…..and the tree, back at the end of this blogpost

….but I will also be chronicling the creation of a classic American epicurean delight:

Turkey Soup!I had to pick up a few ingredients at the store….

But I saved, and froze, two turkey carcasses from Thanksgiving. One bag of bones is from a traditionally roasted recipe, but the second was from a rubbed, injected, inspected, dejected and deep fried turkey.

The work on the tree today, after a full growing season this year, will be removing the wire and cutting it back hard. Why at this time of the year?

Because it’ll still grow, if we let it.

The wrightia religiosa is a tree that can and will go dormant in the winter here in Florida. It’s one of those trees that are considered “drought deciduous”, meaning that, in the dry times of the year, the tree stops growing and can even drop its leaves. It just happens to coincide with winter in most places, and cold will slow down a tree like this, but it’s really the dryness that triggers the dormancy, unlike reduced light duration. A good example for some of the more temperate readers to understand the concept would be turf grasses. In the summer, many grasses may brown out in the dry heat, but as soon as the rains return, you get a good green lawn again.

Awwwww, a flower. I wonder if it will be there at the end of the post?

Let’s discuss the structure of the tree a bit.

You see that the leaves are opposite each other?

And below, you’ll see how the tree will shoot new growth from the inside of the existing leaf? Look near my pinkie.

It will almost only grow from the tip though, never filling in the back. This is good and bad. Good because it’s predictable, bad because you’ll need to hit the scissors hard every once in a while, or you’ll end up with way too leggy branches and a big bush with no definition (I think I’ve made that joke too many times…..).

But that will come after I’ve started my broth. I find this pot combo indispensable. A pot with a nested strainer. It makes for getting rid of the spent ingredients so much easier. Spent ingredients? Yup, we are going to extract all the wonderful and scrumptious flavors we can out of the turkey bones and veggies.

First step, shoving the carcasses into the pot and filling it up with water. At this point I don’t add any seasoning, as the birds have leftover seasoning from both of their previous cooking methods.

Next, the veggies….celery (after sharpening the knife of course, which you can read about in the Bonsai Noodle Soup blogpost from a few years ago)I’ll cut off the ends and the tops and those go into the stock pot. Like so….and then I chop up the stalks and those go to the side for a moment. Now for the onions. I discard the outer layer. There’s no flavor in it.

The second layer, which is still kinda rough, will go into the stock potHow many onions? I used two big ones, I think the Vidalia kind. You can use as many as you want or have. I only had two. They get chopped up and go to the side as well.

Carrots. A lot of carrots. I’m using two of the big packages. Cut the ends off and they go into the stock pot. Peel them and the peel goes into the stock pot as well. You’ll get lots of flavor from doing just this. I can hear the “ewwwwws” now.

We will be boiling this for several hours. If anything is left that can hurt us, it’ll seek us out to kill us with or without our help.

Chop the carrots and they go to the side. and I happen to have an apple. Chop it up for the stock pot too. Bring it all to a boil and then turn it down to simmer for a few hours. Next, cut the stems off your green beans (they don’t go in the stock, it’ll make it bitter). And now, in my 20 quart soup pot (at what size does it become a cauldron?) all the veggies I chopped up get placed, awaiting the completion of the stock (thanks to Ms. Vanessa for the pot).

Which means I get to return to the tree.

Much like with the vegetables, it’s time to chop. I’ll be taking the tree back to twos. Building structure…..Drinking beer (sometimes I’ll put beer in the soup stock, this time I put red cooking wine, I only had one beer left). All the wire was removed. So far, the flower is still there…..anyone taking bets on whether it’ll be there at the end?I only add one wire, on a new shoot that popped up in an opportune spot. The flower is still there…..But the stock is calling.

Look at all that yummy goodness! I’m thinking that I let it simmer for about 2-3 hours. Don’t let it boil as that will “burn” the soup. Which really means that it gives it a metallic, bitter flavor.

And now some real butchery (you thought I hit the trees hard, poor bird). One more reason I don’t season too much at the beginning, if you read the label, the turkey has been seasoned already.

I didn’t buy this turkey myself, it was a gift to my son from his employer, Universal Studios, Orlando, for Thanksgiving. If you click on the Noodle Soup link above, you’ll see a better tutorial on how to disassemble a piece of poultry, so I’m going though it quickly here.

Neck and gizzards go in a freezer bag. Remove the leg….take off the thigh for the soup…….the drumsticks and wings go into the refrigerator for barbecuing in a few days. The carcass, sans all the breast, rib, and back meat (as much as you can get) along with the neck and gizzards, go in a freezer bag for soup on another day.

Here’s the good stuff for the soup. Cut it up into pieces that are about the same size….……try to get rid of as much gristle, tendons, etc as you can. Nobody likes that in their soup.

And now you see why I use the combo pot. This is easier to do than using a colander (which should be outside with pine trees planted in them building trunks anyway).

Get rid of this…unless you’d like to put it in a blender, form it into patties, and batter, deep fry, and make turkey sandwiches.

Not me.

Liquid gold! Homemade turkey stock. Now, the purists would take this broth, put it in the fridge, and let the fat congeal on top to remove it and further, there are proteins from the bones that people like to remove. They do all this to make the broth clear and “pretty”.

My view?

You know my view, I say, who cares. I have a friend Mr. Wade, in the restaurant business, who is owner of Delmonicos Italian Steakhouse. He says that it’s the fat where the flavor is. So there’s that.

And I have four hungry kids that don’t care if they can see their spoons in the bowl, they just want to eat.

So there, you uppity chefs of the world. You can sit at the same table in the corner as the bonsai snobs, and laugh at the rest of us. But you know what, we are really just laughing at you.

In goes the stock with the veggies….And the turkey of course. I had tasted the stock before I added it and gave it pepper and some kosher salt. Lots of pepper, a little salt. Oh! Lots of garlic. I prefer the pre-chopped stuff in a jar; it smooths out the flavor and I can add the juice as well, giving us more flavor.

Then I made sure that the turkey was cooked before tasting again. A visit from Sam and Ella isn’t a happy visit.

And there it is!Looks tasty, doesn’t it?

That’s those “imperfections” floating in the spoon. Tastes good to me.

Back to the tree (this is a bonsai blog after all).

I added one more wire to the top, to bring it down. I’ve been using bougainvillea fertilizer every four weeks during the growing season and I just added some Milorganite now.

And, ye of little faith, I did leave the blossom.

So what did we learn today?

Use all the cast off parts of your veggies to give flavor to your soup stock.

It’s ok to cut a tropical tree back really hard in the winter.

And that even 20 quarts of soup aren’t enough for four hungry kids (it’s all gone!)

Posted in Art, maintenance, philosophical rant, recipes, refine | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Some trees are show-ers, some trees are growers

Rainy days and Monday always get me down.

What to do on a rainy day while sitting in your PT Loser, waiting for the kids? Well, today, I think I’ll do a little whittling.

The tree in the back seat will just have to wait, I guess.

I recently went on a Cub Scout camp out with my son Mathew so, being the man I am, I had to show off a little with my knife skills. I chipped off a piece of pine from a regular ol’ one by six finish board that my family likes to smash (they practice taekwondo and have a propensity for breaking boards and concrete blocks with their feet and fists. Beware, I have three black belts in the family and they are all very protective…..,).

Anyhow, pine isn’t the best carving wood but this piece seems to be working out. Maybe it was that abuse it was subjected to from my family beating on it.

I usually work with a little bigger chunk of wood, like chainsaw carving size, so this is a challenge. But if it weren’t for challenges, there wouldn’t be much more to life than eating, sleeping and voiding the waste collecting organs.

A tiki man, but I’ve done so many of them…….I know, maybe a holiday theme?

Put a hat on him and voila! It’s a holiday tiki dude. With an elf hat…..

But the rain has stopped so it’s back to the tree!

Escambron (it used to be classified as a clerodendron aculeatum but it’s now officially called volkameria aculatea). You saw it last, a mere two months ago, in this blogpost looking like this:

I think it’s done very well for October/November growth here in Florida, including a night that hit 38f (3.3333333333333333333 Celsius) which included patchy frost (not on this tree though, it sits over an old septic drain field that has never gotten below freezing it seems like. Gives meaning to the phrase “hot shit”…..).

The tree is actually greener than I usually see them, greener than in the last post. I guess it likes Milorganite fertilizer.

I’m thinking there’s at least twelve inches of growth here. Better than twelve inches of snow (sorry, I know that insensitive of me, being in Florida and all, making fun of you latitudinally challenged folks…..)

And all kinds of new shoots too. I guess I should work on them more often in autumn…..

It’s even grown a tail!

My next step is to defoliate and get rid of those new shoots I don’t need. Like the tail.

Many people say to me “Adam, when is the best time to defoliate?”

My answer is usually “Well, what kind of tree is it?”

But the real answer, with no irony, is “When it’s ready” and that’s not me being my usual smart ass self.

Look at the branch below…..Notice that there are two, new, small leaves at the base of the larger leaves. There is usually a bud at the base of a leaf on all plants, mostly on the top but sometime on the bottom, and this is the bud that will become the new branch when the main branch has matured enough or after you cut the grow tip.

Once those new buds break out and begin to grow, you don’t need that older, big leaf (older being relative since these are less than two months old), and you can remove the old leaf to direct the growth hormones to the new branch, causing it to elongate faster, and develop ramification.

Therefore, this time, when I defoliate, I’ll leave those new leaves and only get rid of the big ones (and not to get smaller leaves either. The new ones will be full sized when they grow out, at this point in its development).

Now for wire.

If you read the first post, I mentioned that the branches are fairly brittle on an escambron, and you either clip and grow (after establishing the main branches) or you wire them when they’re young. Like now.

Wire applied……Loosely, as I’m expecting some good growth

You’ll also notice I didn’t take the wire out to the tips, but I did wire past where I might cut the branch to.

The reason for the first, is because I’m cutting them back, but why beyond?

It’s easier to wire a long branch and it’s less likely to break if you have extra length to wire onto.

It’s also easier to bend if you have a longer branch, it gives you leverage.

Like so…..

Now I can cut to length.

And viola…(in all the years I’ve used that joke, no one has called me on it. I write “viola” and it should be “voila”. I guess French is a dying language?)

Just like the ficus in the last post, I am building the tree almost one branch at a time. Though I did get an apex out of these last two months, but it’s still a process.

Speaking of process, here’s the tiki carving. My wife thinks I should carve a bunch and sell them. Any buyers?

Back in The Nook for the glamour shot. I’m beginning to like it. It’s interesting enough and is growing enough to keep me entertained.

I’ll keep you updated (we are coming into another cold snap in the next few nights, so let’s see what happens. The tree is from Puerto Rico, so it never really gets a dormant period in the wild, so I think it’ll develop no matter what. Of course it never gets cold either……we shall see).

For the next post, I think I’ll make soup, to warm the bones.

Posted in Art, carving, philosophical rant, updates, wiring, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

One branch at a time….

Here I sit, in a seat that I fit, revisiting a green island ficus that I showed you all last year or so…( in this blog post as a matter of fact).

But haven’t really touched since then.

Some varieties of ficus are funny in a way that they won’t grow if you’re ignoring them. One wold be the ficus Burt davyi. Another is the green island. It’ll just sit there and look at you if you’re not actively pruning it or repotting etc. which is what happened to this one.

I ignored it.

It ignored me.

I mean, damn, looking above, you’d think I would have gotten a little more wire cutting than this? I watered it and all.

Anyway, I’ll be removing the old wire, pruning and defoliating it (to get those juices flowing) and seeing if the cut paste I used….

….had any effect at all.

I did get some interior shoots that may or may not help. We will see after defoliation.

Let the slaughter commence!

Green island are prized for their ability to reduce the leaf size significantly.

Which makes up for their slow development I guess. I still like me a fast growing tree to keep me honest.

Not saying I’m not getting development but man, it’s slow.

And it kinda fills in like a juniper, meaning that, if you leave it alone, it builds its own canopy.

Wire removal time…..

It hasn’t thickened much. It’s kind of amazing that it hasn’t.

But kinda fortuitous too, the wire scarring is just about right (I maintain the concept that, on a ficus, if you don’t have wire scars, you’re just not trying hard enough. Putting wire on a ficus and not letting it cut in means that the branch hasn’t grown enough to set whatever bends and wiggles you’ve put in the branch).

This will grow out. The branch needs to be at least twice as thick as it is now. Think about that…..those scars will be long gone before that.

Now let’s check the cut paste….or putty, in this case.

Well. That’s discouraging. I was experimenting, to see how well the putty accelerated the healing.

There is a callous that’s started but, in my experience, it’s not any more healed than if I hadn’t used it.

Ah well. I’ll get back to it in a minute.

Here’s how a ficus heals. Not like a regular tree really.

The callous keeps rolling inward with the interior wood rotting, making way for the healing.

Let’s get rid of some superfluous new branches.

Snippety snappety……

Choppety chop chop…..

This is all routine pruning. If I had been paying attention during the growing season, and pruned off these in-needed branches, and focused the growth into only the branches I needed, maybe I’d have had more development.

Sometimes, letting a tree grow unchecked is good. Oftentimes, though, you’ll get better and faster development with controlled and directed growth. It depends on the species of course, but on this one, I should have been more diligent.

And now, the big cut. This area just has too much going on. I had left a lot of it in the last post just for sap movement and to have some structure….….but The tree threw another branch in a good spot so…..SNIP!

Some more branch removal…..

And I think that’s all I need to do.

Now I can dress the wounds, the old one and the new one…

Above I just shave it smooth.

Below I first need to dig away the rotted wood…

……and then re-cut the edge to help stimulate new growth.

And that’s all I have left to wire.

Which is enough.

The first branch is the most ramified, of course.Full disclosure, it’s been a week from the first work and Now and the terminal buds are opening already (the bud’s protective structure is called a stipule. On a ficus, it’s usually pointy and falls off when the leaf opens.)

I’ve noticed that (through not having more than an hour at one time to put into a tree sometimes) I’ll get better results from the defoliation and then wiring after waiting about a week.

It might have to do with the unrestricted sap flow that an unwired branch allows.

Here’s that new branch that will take over the visual gap I created with that big pruning.

And even though the scarring is minimal from the wire, I’ll still apply the new wire in the opposite twist. This will mitigate the scarring and create a more rugged bark in the future.

One branch down…..

All branches down, no pun intended (this tree kinda screams for a downward sloping branches, as though it is a conifer in the snowy north. I tend to style my ficus in a banyan, deciduous, or tropical style, with branches horizontal or even up with a 15 degree angle. Tropical trees and deciduous don’t have to shed a snow load. Deciduous drop their leaves for that purpose and, unless something is very wrong, we don’t get blizzards in Florida. Except at Dairy Queen)

I’m still missing a branch right where my hand is hovering above.

But, as the title states, with some trees, you gotta build the tree “one branch at a time”. To illustrate the principle, this is how ow the tree was last year after my first styling (for those that were too lazy to click on the link).

And today.One branch at a time (or two, three or four. I’m not good with numbers…)

I guess it’s good for ones character to have to wait for some things, though it rankles a little, with the tree being not only a ficus, but a ficus in Florida even. As a friend used to say all the time “It is what it is”.

The next post will be a contrast to this one, I’ll show you the tree from this post, which was published on October first this year (2018) and how much it has grown in just two months in Florida, in autumn.

Posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, refine, updates | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

I hear you’re jealous of ficus in Florida….?

I’ve heard that many times.

Well, damn then, I’m jealous of ficus up North. You all have an opportunity I don’t. More on that towards the end. Let’s take a look at some trees then.

This was, in a time long ago and far away, and, as what some of you might know, and what those who might be a little…um…what’s the word…snobbish, call a….ahem, a “ginseng” ficus. There ain’t no such thing, of course, but that’s what many marketing people like to call it. And we all know what those guys are like, I mean, you’ve seen Mad Men right?

Anyway, the above tree started out life just like the typical big box store ficus. Like the ones below:

The trick in choosing one of these trees is to get one with a better trunk shape.

You can read about what I do (or did) to these trees here:


This one below is one I’ve allowed to “escape” into the ground and is just about as tall as I am now.

Can you see it?

Almost, right?

How about now?

Here’s a better angle.

My usual advice to develop a trunk on one of these ficus is to take a #3 (three gallon) plastic nursery pot, fill it only about 1/3 full of regular potting soil, stick the ficus in it and place the tree on the ground. Fertilize, water, all the things that go with keeping a plant alive. Notice that I did not say to cut down the pot. The tall walls on the pot help with aerial root formation. It’s both the shade the walls provide and trapping the humidity that’s doing the job.

And time, of course. There’s several things that are certain in the world: Death, Taxes and Bonsai=Time. No matter how good a piece of material may start out as, it needs time to get good.

Here’s another ficus microcarpa I got from Bruce, a guy up in Indiana.

He’s a cool guy, goes around barefoot mostly, kinda like a hippy.

He sells firewood to campers who use it in a state campground he lives on the edge of……wait?!

Where is he from?

Where’s the tree from?

That’s right, I said Indiana.

But how did he get the trunk from the “ginseng”……

To the banyan looking, tropical style, aerial root monster I now have?

He grew it in Indiana now.

With no benefit of the Florida sunshine or humidity or the amazingly talented, spectacularly knowledgable, and superiorly technical (and particularly handsome) benefit of me growing it.

Well, Bruce has a greenhouse and it gets warmth and light in the winter.

That makes the difference. If you can provide those things, heat and light, then you guys up North (or South, I guess, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. Let’s call you all the “Equatorial Proximately Challenged”). And you don’t need a greenhouse. My buddy up in Pennsylvania, Rick Skursky (his YouTube channel and his Wire Tree website) has just a basement and very bright lights (and a very deep voice).

I had meant to work this tree after my Midwest Tour but I kinda got caught up in stuff.

So now, instead of choosing branches and writing the second blogpost, I’m working on the initial styling. That’s ok though, it’ll still get where it needs to be. All that other stuff “don’t mean nothing no more”.

Of course, the first “styling” in this case just means cutting the verticals so we can grow some horizontals.

Like here. That’s a good branch to start with.

And here….

……unfortunately, not all the branches have a branch to cut back to.

And as you know (or you may not know) these F. microcarpas have a tendency towards dieback. Meaning that when you chop a big branch, that branch will die back to the next branch or a new bud that breaks on the old wood.

So it’s a bit of a guess where this will pop back, but it hopefully will.

Or not.

Then I’ll have to change the plan.

And I do have a plan, you’ll see that at the end. But I understand that the Art I have chosen for my voice, Bonsai, involves a living entity that, contrary to what some artists in bonsai today might think, I am in a partnership with, and it’s not just my voice and vision, but also the nature and character of the tree. If the tree doesn’t want to grow that way, I can’t force it. But I can change the plan.

And I can make it bleed…..

There are times when the trees have made me bleed too, so we are equal.

But it’s respect. Everything I cut off I try to propagate. If it is propagable……

Let’s see if this works.

Trunk fusion and propagation at the same time. I’ll let you know.

Now, to the root of the subject….

The soil is pretty much as it came, though it is in a bonsai training container.

Mostly peat moss.

Now, I’m hearing the gasps and whines about abusing the roots in early November on a tropical. This, believe it or not, is not such a harsh treatment, I mean, I’ve seen and done a lot worse to a ficus than this, promise.

But I shall be protecting this tree from cold weather should we have it anytime soon. That minimum temperature for optimal root growth is 60 f (15.556 c, for the rest of the world).

Now for the pot.

I’m going deep this time. Deeper than usual.

A Korean mica pot, for a few reasons. One, I had it sitting next to me…..mostly though, is because a mica pot (due to its materials) will keep the roots warmer in the winter.

A good handful of fertilizer (let’s dispel a myth, shall we? It’s often said that one shouldn’t fertilize a bonsai after repotting, as this will burn the “new” roots as they emerge. Now, there are reasons not to fertilize some specific kinds of trees after repotting, but that has to do with too vigorous growth and long internodes (deciduous trees), but let’s think a little about new roots and fertilizer………..isn’t a tree almost always growing new roots? If we took the axiom the “there should be no fertilizer after a repot” because of new roots getting burnt, then it should follow that one can never fertilize, as, seriously, a tree is almost always growing new roots. Need I go on?)

So we have the ferts applied, and chopsticked in, and now, those with the sharp eyes, are seeing the addition of a new component in my Supermix™️.

You are seeing some fir bark. I’m testing it in the mix to see how I like it. A lot bigger chunks than pine bark so it won’t break down in the Florida weather so quickly. Hopefully. I’ll let you know how it goes.

And lastly, before I put our Indiana ficus to bed (that’s kinda funny as a popular common name is Indian laurel fig. Maybe I’ve found it’s name?)…..

I will defoliate. Yeah, I know, I usually do that first but I got carried away with all that chopping and the philosophy and all that.

Why defoliate? Especially at the onset of winter? Well, last year, and at the beginning of this year, I started experimenting with some ficus. Not to go into too much detail (go back and read this post and this one, and, finally, this one here), but I confirmed my hunch that a tropical tree can and wants to grow in the winter.

So, defoliation!

And these old tired leaves aren’t gonna do much for this ficus. At the most efficient, a trees leaves are only about 5% efficient (to contrast, a solar cell is on average 15% efficient, meaning it can collect only 15% of the suns energy). The leaf below is damaged, stained, yellowing. I might even say that the ficus is using energy keeping this leaf alive instead of the leaf giving energy to the tree.

Off it goes!

But! I am keeping all the grow tips intact (that pointy thing at the end of the branch, called a stipule on a ficus).

This means that the tree doesn’t need to use extra energy making the hormone auxin.

Speaking of hormones……did you know that rotting leaves give off a hormone in the form of a gas, called ethylene. Most research into ethylene is in the form of ripening fruits, but it does an amazing amount of things in a plant. One of these is to increase root hair growth (the root hairs are the most productive part of the root as far as water, oxygen, and nutrient uptake).

And now, reading the above, you are now looking at the below pic and trying to figure out where I’m going with this tid bit, right?

It could be argued that leaving the leaves on the soil surface will be a useful technique to increase root growth. But, BUT…..unfortunately, ethylene inhibits root lengthening. In this case, we need longer roots. So I’ll remove the leaves.

But, maybe, in the case of a tree that I didn’t just repot, I’d get better root mass growth if I left the leaves? That sounds like something to try.

And, with all that to think about, I’ll “leave” the tree alone to grow.

To conclude today’s visit, I’ll share my vision for the tree in the future.

Something kinda like this. The “Indiana Laurel Banyan”

Not too pretentious, just a tree.

Sometimes that’s all the story a bonsai needs.

Posted in Art, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, rare finds, styling bonsai | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

I’d rather be with an animal

I got this sweet tree from an honest man named Fred, from Mobile, Alabama. I was visiting Joe Day, one of the best trident maple growers and natural rock slab makers in the country. Joe has studied all the variations of seedling grown tridents and has the information collected and notated. If you want to learn how a rough bark trident branches and ramifies, he’s the man to talk to. He’s also of the older generation like Mary Madison or Ed Trout, which means he’s a good guy.

When I got the tree from Fred, it looked like this:There is blog post on it back a hundred posts or so.

But for tonight…..I know, I know, it’s time to weed.

I hate this particular weed. I can’t identify it for some reason.

If you try to pull it, most likely you’ll just break the stem off. Underground, hiding with malicious intent like the troll under the bridge (or on the internet) is a little tuber that, if you don’t get it out, will just grow again.

That’s where the tweezers come into play.

It took some serious digging, like a 4 year old searching for gold in his left nostril, but I got it. But it’s not the only one. You’ll see. The closest I can come to identifying it is a weed called pusley. I don’t think it is though. I broke off a bunch of stems, you’ll see all the tubers when I repot.

This one is easy to ID, it’s artillery fern. So called because when it’s ripe, the plant shoots its seed all over the place like a….well, you can fill in that blank.

Now that the weeds are gone, let’s see what we have tonight. Why, it’s a ficus salicaria (willow leaf ficus), that I think may have started out as a big root cutting.

It has an animalistic look to it (hence the title of this post. Can anyone get the reference?)

I think I wired it at the beginning of spring and the wire is cutting in a little. Not too bad, but not too good.

It’ll grow out quickly, not to worry my friends.

With the weeds gone, you can see the animal shaped trunk.

I like it. It doesn’t fit the normal trunk shape. Right up my alley.

It’s old looking though, and that’s good enough for me.

You know what’s gonna happen next, right?

I’m gonna denude the tree.

Funny that word, denude. It sounds as though you’re making it not nude, and yet, that’s the whole idea. Denude means defoliate.

Now is the best time to defoliate, I mean, the tree is doing it on its own….a good many tropicals, in areas like mine, have two real growth spurts. One in the spring and one in the fall. When that happens you’ll get yellowing leaves like this one.

I can hear the whining of the traditionalists now, “Aww Man, it’s, like, fall, you can’t be doing no work on a tree now! That’s some crazy stuff. Not how I learned it!”

A ficus knows no need to go dormant. If you allow it to, it will and can grow all year long. And that holds true for me in Florida and for you all in the Frozen North where you take the tropicals in for the winter. All you need are nighttime temps of 60f (15.5c) to allow for root growth.

But, the traditionalist refrain goes, the yellowing leaf is evidence of it going dormant.

But it’s not.

The tree is shedding older leaves to make way for new leaves adapted for the reduced daylight intensity and duration of autumn. If you take a gander below, the tree is growing. Let the denudification begin.

My mobile set up. Have Bonsai, Will Travel, as the saying goes. Snip snip snip……

Well now, I guess I look hungry or something…or perhaps he thinks bonsai is a performance art…..…..or maybe he’s been on Facebook and is contributing to the cause.

Damn, twenty bucks!That’ll help. I need more wire….

Almost done with the defoliation. Here’s an interesting fact. If I were to leave the leaves on the soil surface, as they decompose, they’ll give off a gaseous hormone called ethylene, which is responsible for new root growth, fruit ripening (on fruit trees) and the setting of next year’s buds (on deciduous trees). This is one argument for not raking up the fallen leaves from under your landscape trees in autumn (for you English, we call it Fall because the leaves fall. Don’t judge us for language foibles, for it was, after all, you Brits that gave us the word “Soccer” for what the whole world calls football. How, you ask? I’ll point you to A Wikipedia story on the famous Oxford “er” phenomenon. So there. Association football my arse).

All done removing the leaves, and my mess, which I’ll need to sweep. You can see where my wife helped me clean up…..the twenty is gone.

Add a little wire to the ficus…..

And now a word from our sponsor….

Not really, I’m doing a favor for a Facebook friend, Vern, from the Houston Bonsai Society.

They, along with the American Bonsai Society, are hosting a big show next year and Vern, as a part of the HBS, asked me to mention it in the blog. Check out the Facebook event link, the Houston Bonsai Society website or go to absbonsai.org for all the details. With this endorsement, I must add an explanation to everyone scratching their heads wondering why I would promote an ABS event after all the drama in the months of June and July.

I’ll just say that I believe in bonsai. But some people like the blood before the bonsai. I shall rise above all that though and say that, if you’re in the neighborhood, or want to go to a show with many first class bonsai people, go see this one. And say “Hi!” To Vern for me. ‘Nuff said.

Now for a new pot.

I can’t remember where I got this one…..

…..but it’s nice.

If you recognize the signature, let me know.

Beautiful texture.

I love all the tie down holes.

Although I will say that it’s odd that there are nine tie down holes…….

A soil mound (yes, you see some organic in there. I’m experimenting with fir bark, from American Bonsai Tools, to see how it works).

Well, I guess I needed to repot.

This was in my normal mix by the way. Seems to work well.

WAIT! Do you see it?! Some more of those tubers! Told you there’d be more. Too bad they’re not edible, or I’d be making soup right now.

Whenever I repot a ficus, I always try to spread out the surface roots, continually improving them.

…….in the pot, fertilized heavy with some Harrell’s for Florida.And that fir bark.

And that’s that.

Thank you Fred, I’m hoping you’re doing well. I think of you often. And I’ll keep up on the development a little better this next year. It’s in a more prominent place on the benches so I’ll have a better eye on it.

The wider pot will do wonders for the growth. Ficus are shallow rooted and like their roots to spread horizontally, so often a wide pot is better than a deep pot for development. Which makes a ficus almost an ideal bonsai subject, almost.

And that’s all I have to say about that.


Posted in Art | 6 Comments