I host study group meetings at my nursery monthly (if you’re in Orlando for vacation look me up) as well as look after tree for friends from time to time.
My friend Dave (you remember Dave?) will sometimes leave a tree at my place after the study group or after his vacation and I’ve been tempted many times to restyle whatever tree he leaves and see if he notices it.
Temptation has officially been given in to.
The victim:
I know that in some parts of the country this could be considered a nice specimen. The base is three inches and it’s about a foot and a half tall. But it’s pretty average as far as willow leaf ficus (in Florida) go.
There are three things that can be done with this tree.
It can be put into a big pot or the ground and grown for 10-15 years and be made into a bigger tree.
Here it is now
15 (no, let’s say 20) years later we have a masterpiece of….
It’ll be big and fat and full and…..be like too many other trees held up as masterpiece specimens today.
It might as well be an S-curve or a production Japanese pine:
The above pic was stolen from the Internet. Full credit to whomever took it.
The second thing we could do is a trunk chop and, in 5 years, we could have a sweet little shohin.
But….BUT…. How many of those can one person have?
If we always did what everyone else does, they will all be mediocre and the same.
I’m thinking on keeping it tall, give it some style and grace.
Let’s get to it then, right?
I think I had something to do with the original branch placement so I am probably to blame for the odd angles and such.
I know, not very good.
It was a case of trying to make a 1-2-3 bonsai out of it.
You’ve seen it.
Now the tools come out.
Ah…. Looks better already.
It has a little wiggle now.
We’ve taken a tree that really had a feminine trunk, but was superimposed with a masculine style, and made it more feminine.
Before we go any further, I’m going to up pot the tree into a deeper pot.

I’m not trimming any roots and only knocking off enough soil to fit the root block into a round pot (yes, I was that kid who shoved the square peg into the round hole and ruined the toy for everyone. Even back then I was fighting conformity. I colored outside the lines too…..rebel without a clue was I)
Here’s a quick tip: notice the arrow?
That is the front of the tree. You’re welcome.
Scrape it deep into the pot so it doesn’t fade away.
Next, I will defoliate it (yes, in December).
I have two things that will stimulate growth even if it’s not too warm. A deeper pot filled with bonsai soil will dry out quicker, stimulating more growth. And I have a spot in the nursery where it will get full sun).
The one concession I’ll make for winter is I’m leaving the growing tips at the ends of the branches.
All naked and ready for the wire:
I’m not going to wire every single branch, only the main branches.
How is this?
Yeah, there’s something funky with that bottom right hand branch.
It’s too thick.
Let’s talk about art.
Today’s bonsai is usually shown in what is called a “close-up view” or “near view”.
Thick base, fast taper and exaggerated proportions are indicative of the near view. The “sumo” style is the pinnacle of this view.
Many classical bonsai and most Chinese bonsai (penjing if you insist, I don’t) is shown in a “far view”.
Imagine as though you are looking at a tree on a mountain while you’re on the valley floor.
A bunjin or literati tree is the example here.
I’m aiming for this far view in the execution of this design and the left, bottom branch is just too thick.
Not to mention I cracked it a little when bending it.
Off it comes-
A little tweaking of the branches and…
The before:
A sketch…
And the after…..
Even though you could grow a super thick mushroom-y mass of leaves on top with this species I would keep the foliage sparse and trim it often to keep the styling light and airy (do you hear me Dave?).
In the spring the wire should come off and be put right back on, getting all the fine twigs this time.
And I would repot it into a nice, shallow, round pot.
I showed pics to Dave and he seems to like it.
Although he hasn’t called me since……

9 thoughts

  1. I think of all of the trees I’ve seen in your blog, this one is my favourite. I really can see where the wind-swept mountaintop tree is hiding in this one. I guess I’m just a fan of far-view stuff, eh?


  2. I like this! It’s nice to see a break from the super sumo size squat styling I’ve seen so many times with ficus. I feel inspired to do something like this myself, I mean if I had the material to warrant such a transformation.


  3. Really learn a lot from your post.
    Is it vital to only use Bonsai soil and nothing else, best not to cut corners I suppose.
    Do you remove the wiring after it has been shaped ?
    Just getting into this new hobby of mine
    What’s the difference between Red and Black Pine ?


    1. It is vital to use a coarse, mostly inorganic soil if you are using a shallow pot. The more shallow a pot the less drainage there will be so the coarser the mix the better.
      The wire comes off as soon as the branches are set. In this ficus it will be in the spring probably.
      A red pine has red bark and grows taller than the black pine, which has brown bark and coarser needles.


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