On the way back from my Louisiana bonsai tour last year (great times, can’t wait to get back) I made a stop in Mobile Alabama and had a visit with Joe Day (he had actually offered to buy me lunch. And I’m not one to turn down a free lunch).  He’s pretty well known for his seed grown trident maples and his natural rock slabs. 

I took a tour of his garden…  

An old trident.  

A forest on one of his slabs.    

Something you don’t see often, a cascade podocarpus.   

And an old (old) boxwood.   The last tree is in a live oak style (and extremely natural and well done). Joe has taken a study of live oaks in the South and hopefully he’ll publish his observations on their growth habits and branch patterns. 

After pulling my jaw off the ground, (my poor photography does not do these trees justice, I have many more photos that are even worse than these) Joe took me to his friend’s house who also practices bonsai, Fred. 

Fred prefers tropical bonsai. 

Here is a schefflera he’s been building.   

A close up of the roots, that is a rock they’re growing on.  

And a ficus salicaria that he’s added deadwood to the center.   

This next one I really wanted but I felt I couldn’t afford what it was worth and I didn’t want to insult him by low balling him.   What an amazing nebari! He had many trees of this quality and it was astounding, considering how cold it gets in Mobile. A greenhouse makes a difference I guess. I noticed this year that those trees in my greenhouse, as opposed to those outside, were still growing through the winter.  

I did get one tree from Fred, one I thought I could afford. And a challenging one at that.  


It’s a ficus salicaria (nerifolia, salicifolia, a willow leaf ficus). It looks like a root cutting to me.  


Let’s see what I can do. I’m thinking maybe an angle change.  




Let me start at the roots.  


My handy dandy homemade root hook.   Let’s get to work!

What a tangled root system.   

 This aerial root is promising. I’m hoping I can move it.  


 A little more chopping, straightening and untangling.  

I’m ready for a pot now.   Uh oh. I’m gonna need a wider pot. 

 That’ll do. While I prep the pot, I’ll put up some nudes for you to admire. 


 Ok, enough of that. The pot is ready. 

  Put the tree in the pot and tie it down…. ooops, there’s nothing to tie too. 


I need a chopstick, methinks.  

   The chopstick will serve two purposes, one, I’ll have something to tie to and two, I can pin that big root in place. 




Backfill with some soil.     Cool. Now, the easy part and the hard part. Chopping and choosing where to chop. Here’s the, not so blank, slate we shall begin with.  

 The tree is at a good stage of development. It’s been allowed to grow and thicken the leader and branching, now it’s time choose some branches and to induce some taper.  

     That wasn’t so hard. A little harsh but only a few cuts. 

Some wire.   It’s got a few years yet, it needs some filling in.  Like this.  But it’s a good start.     It’s got potential. I’m excited. 

Fred (last name Morales) has had some medical difficulties of late and is trying to sell some of his trees. I personally vouch for their quality. Look on the Facebook auction pages for his listings. 

Thanks you, Fred, my friend, for the opportunity to own this tree and work on it. 

Stay well. 

16 thoughts

  1. Wow- I’m in awe both at the little trees ability to survive such surgery, and at your confidence in knowing how to find the potential in the plant. I bought two little Acer trees yesterday and potted them up- want to include a pingback in my post today to your site here. WG


  2. I especially liked Joe Day’s “old (old) live oak style boxwood”. It makes me want to go outside and see if there’s anything that I can do similarly with mine – a couple of old gangly semperverins I removed for someone several years ago that have been patiently waiting for me in the buckets. I agree with you, he has definitely been studying the old ones – and has come pretty darn close in his design. Thanks for another great post.


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