I bet you’d like to own this tree.
Good size, not a bad pot.
It was styled by a pretty big name in the business too!
Wanna buy it?
No, you don’t.
Look close at that right branch.
And there, on the left, in the back.
That’s pretty severe, wouldn’t you say?
This is worse.
Ready for the horror?
I am not even sure what happened here, but it looks like the Hydra. Maybe Heracles retired to Florida and took up bonsai.
As for the nebari or buttress, at first glance it’s pretty wide and tapered but, examining it closer….
…it’s not very attractive. It’s a flat plane being presented in the front. The back has more dimensionality to it.

I think there might be something better underneath these roots, but I’m not going to go digging into them right now, I’ll wait for spring.
Lesson number one: if the roots haven’t been improved, it’s not really anything more than a stock plant. Not even a pre-bonsai.
And that’s an expensive lesson; you might pay anywhere from $200-400 on the internet for this tree because it’s in a bonsai pot and has a full canopy. I see that all the time, a tree that looks pretty, sold as a bonsai but, unfortunately, the fundamental root work hasn’t been done.
So now I have this ficus “bonsai”, what’s my first step?
I’m going to remove some wire, I think.
I can unwind the wire in most places but, since it’s grown in so much other places, it might be better to cut some off.


You know what? The whole thing has to go, I’ll deal with it later.
That will make an interesting cutting.
That escalated rather quickly, and I’ve just begun.
This is technically a twin trunk tree, but both trunks are of similar size, which is boring, and the split occurs a little too high in the tree. I would have cut one off in the initial styling. It doesn’t have as bad of a wire cutting problem, maybe I can salvage something….
There isn’t much taper here.
As was drilled into me in my formative years,
“Taper, taper, taper!”
That’s better.
Maybe not.
It’s like a broomstick, really.
Lesson two: Taper, taper, taper!
The quickness of the taper, or, the ratio of the base width and the trees height, really depends on that initial angle of the roots coming out of the soil.
This tree is really indicating to me that it wants to be a shorter tree.
Where’s my saw.
That back trunk needs to go too.

What do you think?
There is a long shoot here:
It needs to be cut back or all the energy that is in the trunk and roots will be pushed into it and the top will slow down or even die back from it.
Now it’s fertilizer and water and allow the tree to grow until, ah…summer, at least.
(*disclaimer alert* I say this all the time but there are hundreds of new readers every day- I am in Florida and when I do things to trees may not be the same time that you do things. It is mid November as I write this. Truth be told, I wouldn’t recommend a fellow Floridian do this now.)
What about all those trunks I cut off?
I’m not going to waste them, I’ll try to root them as cuttings.
To prepare the cuttings, I remove the lower growth and branches (don’t cut them off flush, leave a small nub, it is from those points that new roots usually emerge.) I also trim the growing tips off to cut back on transpiration and to stimulate new growth.
The Hydra should take root easily:
It already has roots.
Now what?
I’ve just set this tree back at least a few years, how can I make any money on it now. (You see, I ultimately acquired it to resell at the nursery…..which reminds me about a bit of advice I was given recently. A bonsai professional told me that I should take my trees and just make them pretty enough to sell them quickly, and then, after the sale and hopefully with a new client that needs help, any major work that’s done to the tree should be billed to the new owner as styling and upkeep…..oooops, maybe I shouldn’t have told that little secret. It’s ok, he doesn’t read my blog, at least, I don’t think he does.)
Anyway, I have a new tree at the nursery for sale, it used to look like this:
And it may again, some sunny day in the future.
I think I like this angle as the front.
It’s really extreme what’s happened to the tree, it being November and all. Why, then?
First, it makes for good copy. It’s dramatic. If I could have used a chainsaw I would have.
Second, there were lessons to be learned (the third lesson, in case you didn’t notice it, has to do with how much work needs to be done and how much time to grow back. If a tree is 20 years old but it’s going to take ten years to fix those flaws, it’s not worth the price that’s on the pricetag).
Third, I wouldn’t have cut it unless this bud wasn’t here.
I sealed the trunk chop too.
And last, I’m pushing my trees, trying to figure out the real limits of what I can do and at what time:
I’m questioning and asking “Why?”
That’s what I do.

8 thoughts

    1. It depends. Often, a big cutter will split the trunk or branch you are cutting and then you have to go lower than you wanted to. A saw, if sharp, will cut pretty straight across and it gives you more control.


  1. I actually really like where you went with it. I can’t see it as setting it back but I’m sure many do. It was extremely necessary based on how it was.

    What I love most about this post, is that it teaches how to look beyond the faults.

    Great job!!!

    I’d buy it now, if I could afford it.


  2. I see this a lot, especially in the respect to the root work. Some wire scare can push itself out over time but what you demonstrated is beyond neglect. All to often a tree comes across that is merely placed in a bonsai pot and sold as that. It truly hurts the image of the art. I love that you are one of the brave that would be willing to take this tree down to what you did. Please update on its progression! Pushing the envelope on what can be done and bringing it back to what it’s potential is to be! So many tropical bonsai suffer here in Florida due lacking the basic fundamentals of the are. Schooling those either begging into the art or even some avid enthusiast can always use a back-to-basics refresher. I do this often, just as I did reading this. Great work!


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