Refining a ficus salicaria (formerly nerifolia,salicifolia, et al) The saga of the Willowleafianus

……and we join this post already in progress:
I’m in Cincinatti with Evan, current president of the BSGC. Mid June. Day three of my trip. Doing some BS with the Prez of the BS of Greater Cincy and talking some BS, too.

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This is the debris from removing the first root. It was cutting badly into the trunk.

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When we first get a ficus tree from a nursery we should be removing any crossing or encircling roots. I realize perhaps that’s why you bought it or that’s the way it “naturally” grows but what we are trying to is to make a small, pot-grown tree look as though it is an aged, full size tree (a bonsai) The roots on a full sized ficus in the ground don’t do this

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This was a tree from a bonsai artist in the northern part of the U.S. whose pines, junipers and deciduous trees are second to none.I don’t want to say who it is, but this willow leaf ficus, which he had had for 30 plus years, looks as though it is a tree (at least on the nebari) that was styled by a novice.
To put it more simply: the nebari may look old, but it’s oldness simply looks like it has just been in a pot for a long time (hence the roots going in circles). It doesn’t look like a majestically ancient tree digging its roots into the earth. To me it actually looks precarious. Like a tree in a woven basket about to topple.
On some ficus,it is possible for those roots to fuse together. On the willow leaf ficus this will not happen. Or it hasn’t happened yet that I’ve seen.
Back to the operation:

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This root and

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this root have to go.
The first I gnawed off with my teeth, the second I had to resort to a saw

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And a pry, ah…, tool…

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And even then I couldn’t remove it. The roots were so tangled it was like one of those worksheet exercises we were given as children; where does line “A” end up?

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I was confuseled, perplexed even…

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I Hammerfist it!
And I was successful.

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This root will make a good root cutting. A nice cascade eventually.

I should note: the removal of these huge roots will not kill this tree if, first, the tree has been growing healthily and has good sugar reserves (the roots are a reservoir of energy).Second, the time of the year will allow for 65 degree Fahrenheit nighttime temps for at least 1-2 months (roots grow at night). And thirdly, the tree is not stressed after the operation. Which means nice even watering and slow fertilizer.

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There it is potted up. Note the more shallow pot. This species will continue to grow in a bonsai pot and the shallow tray will make the base thicken and the top roots flatten out. Plus,the extra water a shallow tray provides (yes, the more shallow a container, the less the water will drain; It has to do with a thing called gravity, I’ll cover that in another post perhaps, though, truth be told, it is an awfully dry subject to write about ) will make this ficus thrive.
The tree has old, unhealed cuts that needed to be addressed

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The unhealed cut is to the left. The concavity with the black edges. One reason this may not have healed is the cut may have been done during a period of slow growth. On any tropical tree, if you make a large cut when it’s dormant, the healing will be effected. To affect rapid healing on a ficus, I won’t do major cuts when I can’t assure good growth. If cuts must be done in the winter, a greenhouse will insure your tree against slow growth. Also, make sure you’re putting your tree in full sun. There are people claiming they’re doing the opposite with their tropicals, doing major work in the winter. You can do that too, if you want to, but it may take two years (or more) to heal. But enough homonyms. Back to work.
This wound will not callous over like a new wound. It will heal from the inside out. All the newer cuts will callous, though.

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I recut the edges (which will restart the healing process) and dug out the rotted wood. The previous cut paste used was a kind that dried hard and, in my opinion, did not work well. The black residue is the remnant of it.

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This is the paste I’m using to seal these cuts. It’s more like putty I guess. It works well though. As the wound heals the paste crumbles off.
Now to the wiring. Too bad the wiring process does not go this quickly in real life.

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First branch

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Halfway done

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Right side, Hi Evan!

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Left side

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All done and back in the sun.
I don’t hold with the idea that we should keep trees in the shade after work on them. And remember, I’m from Florida, the sunshine state. I also fertilize right after repotting. Full strength. I use an organic fertilizer but I know at least one professional who uses a regular, slow release, chemical fertilizer right after repotting. In fact, he mixes it into the soil.
The one requirement I do take great care with; water. Not too much but don’t let it dry out. If you use a mix adjusted for the species and your climate, it is hard to overwater.

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The before

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And the after.

Sorry I didn’t get a better pic. Maybe Evan will send one when it’s leafed out.
Over and out for now.

About adamaskwhy

Visual artist specializing in bonsai, mostly.
This entry was posted in refine and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Refining a ficus salicaria (formerly nerifolia,salicifolia, et al) The saga of the Willowleafianus

  1. Steve Moore says:

    Looks like some great work!

    I have to agree about the particular willow-leaf you mentioned, with the “whirlpool nebari.” To me, that doesn’t look natural; it makes the hand of man look even more evident.

  2. Scott says:

    Looks great. I just recently got into bonsai and I was wondering what kind of mix you use for your willow leaf ficus? I just picked one up from a local nursery in Florida and it came as a plug. Its currently in a regular potting soil that is pre-mixed with a slow release fertilizer. Thanks for your input.

    • adamaskwhy says:

      Thanks. If its in a bonsai pot I use my standard soil; Red lava, calcined clay, pine bark.
      If I’m growing it out I’ll use a regular potting soil mixed half with either bonsai mix or perlite.

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