Warning: even though this is the middle of November, I want you to know I practiced the abuse you are about to witness a month ago, before my Louisiana trip.
And, I must reiterate, I am in Florida, don’t do this in Minnesota.
Here’s the poor victim.

Ficus microcarpa née retusa, in the vulgar tongue, tiger bark ficus.
Are you ready?
It’s not gonna be pretty, sorry.
Oh, did you notice the broken branch?
That’s what happens when you try to bend an unbendable branch.
I didn’t need it anyway, first amputation.

The roots need just a little work.

I’m going to try to rake out the roots, it being so late in the season and all.
Maybe I’ll get a workout today.

So far so good…..uh oh! There’s a giant root in the middle that needs excising.
Breakin’ out the saw!
That’s a big chunk of root.
I’m going to have to be a little more, ah..aggressive, as it were.
Regular tools ain’t gonna cut it here…..sorry, bad pun.
Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound.
I might as well fix the roots too.
This grouping needs to be bent over and simplified…..I really need to focus on it a bit….
And this one is too chunky on the end but, more importantly, it needs to be bent up and flattened out.


I undercut the bottom to help bend it (we don’t need another breaking incident)
Some chopping.

And zer roots ees done.
I know, I was just going to comb them out. It’ll be ok, promise….I can see the future! (Actually, since it’s been a month and it’s growing again, I can safely say that what I’m doing here is not going to kill it. Or didn’t kill it. Or won’t….time travel grammar and getting the tense correct is hard).
Since I chopped the bottom back so hard and traumatized about 2/3rds of my readership, I might as well go for 100%.
Are you ready for the top chop?
I think you are….you’ve been waiting the whole post.
Why am I chopping it?
Easy, there isn’t any taper (or very little) in the trunk.
And with such beautiful roots, why shouldn’t the top follow?
And I know that I’ll get new buds all over the tree.
Here’s an example from earlier in the year on another tiger bark.
I chopped it just above my ring finger and it’s grown about 40 new shoots; so many that I’ll need to thin it out or I’ll get a big ugly knob of a trunk.
So…as you can guess…it’s the saw again.

And I get a big cutting too!
You bet that will root.
Here’s the tree….
…..a little more pruning….

It looks like a voodoo talisman or some weird harvest doll.
Freaky…I need to put it into a pot before it gets up and starts dancing.
Looks like it fits.
First, with a mostly rootless tree like this, fill up the pot with soil.
Then you, gently but firmly, push the trunk into the soil, rocking and twisting it down to the level you want it.
This ensures you don’t have any gaping air pockets.
I made sure to tie it down into the pot….I don’t want any nighttime visitors seeking revenge….
I’m fertilizing heavily.
And that’s it.



This is the “front”, as far as it even having one yet.
What I did here was a step in improving a piece of material that had good potential (but not necessarily style-able yet) and setting it on its path to being a good tree.
Most professional bonsai people would have tried to make it pretty in one step, to make it easier to sell more quickly, but I’m more interested in the art and the growing and the teaching more than I am in the selling.
Now, I think I need to tie the pot down to the bench too, that’s a creepy looking thing.
Is anyone in Minnesota looking to buy a tree?

17 thoughts

  1. From MN. I purchased a similar tree about 5 yrs ago from Jim Smith. In June I performed similar surgery. Finally in 2014 the growth has progressed to a point that I can style it 2015 and hva a Bonsai tree in training. Jim T


    1. Hi Jim i am also from MN and interested in bonsai. If you could contact me at b.a.i.n.p.r@g.m.a.i.l.c.o.m(remove the periods), i would appreciate it. Just have some questions about raising bonsais in our area.


  2. I have a tropical hibiscus that is an “indoor” plant for 1/3 of the year since I live in Siberia a/k/a Da UP of Michigan. If I trunk chop it down to where the taper ends, no branches/leaves will remain on the trunk. Will this kill it? If not, do I have to wait till the spring? I have read that tropical plants don’t store energy like other deciduous plants and it likely won’t recover from such a dramatic chop if I don’t leave branches and leaves. It’s a vigorous, healthy large old plant, with a truck about two inches in diameter. Thanks for any advice.


    1. I would be hesitant, up in the frozen north, to chop anything tropical back now. Unless you had a temperature controlled, full spectrum lit and humid growing space. The roots should be at 70f at least and it needs full light on it to induce bud back. Wait for spring.


  3. I thought you had to leave some green on figs to stop them from dying back?!! Not the case with this one? I have one I might do something similar with, if I am as game as you are! We are heading into Summer here in Brisbane so I’m pretty sure it can take the abuse…


    1. All I can say to the second question is, I’m about 99% sure it will root and I know it from experience.
      The reason I don’t air layer it is for two reasons. One, the time it takes to layer it could be used developing a new leader and branching (it will take as a cutting for me here in Florida). The second reason is that when I tried an air layer of a ficus here, it just healed. I cut it off and rooted it as a cutting


    1. It looks like a bush at the moment. I’m still dealing with my deciduous tree and not really thinking of ficus right now. I’ll post an update in a few months


  4. Thans ks very much gor sharing the experience, awesome 😀.

    I have a very young, 3 feet tall Poinciana ( Flamboyant, Delonix regia) and I wonder if it will resist a similar dramatic chop, it is august in Miami FL. Or shall I cut only the trunk, without touching the toots to have better chances of survival?

    Any help and suggestions will be appreciated.


    1. You can trunk chop them but I wouldn’t repot at the same time. You want all the sugars stored in the roots and trunk to push new growth. You may get dieback on the trunk as well, so chop higher than you think you should and when the backbuds are strong enough, you cut to the best one(s). Give it a season to recover before you do that


      1. Thank you !!!
        I did cut the trunk very short 4” only because I want a mini-Bonsai that never goes above 1foot tall.
        I did repot with a vertical trunk on a clear closed container, as a terrarium, and place it on shade but bright miami daylight, no direct sun.

        The microclimate inside the container made it sprout within two weeks, i did repot again with the trunk at 45° inclination so the new branches grow upright on sn angle vs the trunk.

        Two weeks later the new branches where stopped by the container lid, and branches dispersed horizontally like an umbrella.

        I used wire to compress 4 branches in only one, in order to obtain thickness on the new trunk. It continues to strive within the container, under the lid…. I haven’t decided the next step yet.

        I cannot find how to upload pictures on this blog for your guys !



  5. You’ve got bigger uhh… roots than I do. But then again, I’m in Denver, and am afraid to do anything remotely as drastic as this. What mix and ratio are you using? Also, what fertilizer do you suggest? Thanks and keep on rocking. Great content! I’m learning a lot on your site.


    1. At the time, the soil mix looked like lava, expanded slate, diatomaceous earth, and sifted pine bark.
      And the fertilizer was Milorganite.
      The mix I have now is about the same but I use fir bark instead of pine. And I use miracle grow shake n feed (with half organic/half synthetic) or the organic product from American Bonsai


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