Two trees on my bench, which to work first….. 


The left hand one is the tree I teased at the end of the Clump style willow leaf fig from a sawn off root ball post. The right hand one was a tree I teased about on Facebook. I was challenged by Seth Nelson (Mr. Melon, as he’s taken to call himself. I call him Spanky, it’s Bohemian for “he who whacks off his trunk”) because he has never seen a semi-cascade willow leaf ficus. 

Let’s go left to right.   Look at that base! I can’t wait to see what’s underneath the soil, the anticipation is terrible, I hope it lasts. You can’t really see much with all those leaves though.   I know, the solution to every problem, let’s get naked!   Awesome! Very interesting trunk, right? Difficult even. Before you begin any branch selection you should find the base of the tree and decide what your front is. We are looking for the widest face with the best rootage (radially emerging from the trunk) and the best trunk line. But the base is usually the dominant indicator of the front view.  

There’s a good question: why must a bonsai have a front? The answer is easy. You can only look at one side at a time. Seriously though, even though a bonsai should look natural from all sides, the aim of bonsai and the art used in accomplishing this involves the best view of the trunk, the base, the movement, the first few branches. The best front should do this. There’s always those who think they are being revolutionary by claiming their tree is a 360 degree tree. I’m sorry, but they usually look like bushes or lollipops. Or both at the same time. 

Here’s a good front for this one.  Well now, that’s a nice development. It turns our tree from a sumo style (short and fat) into a more upright style. 

I told you it was interesting. Since we’ve found the front it’s time to remove some branches.  

 You’ll notice the dieback. Even though it’s a ficus, it will have dieback on smaller branches because it’s a ficus microcarpa (a retusa or tiger bark). That’s just what they do.  I’ll be removing most of these bigger branches because they are just about unbendable.  

 I have plently to work with. This tree probably started out as a larger s-curve that was dramatically reduced and allowed to grow out again. Something I might do but I got the plant from D&L Nursery in Ocala. One of my go-to places for quality trees. Their website is  Dave (the “D” in the operation) has a tree at Epcot this year, a serissa, believe it or not.  I just learned today that this is his second favorite serissa at his nursery. 

Getting back to our ficus, I’ve chopped off those branches which offended my eye.   They shall be cast off, as all offal should. Hence the name “offal”…..get it cast off…..offal? It might be because offal is awful, as opposed to awefull, which means full of awe. Although we all are full of offal, maybe this all comes down to some guy who had a good recipe for asshole soup that filled him with awe. Geez, etymology is hard, harder than entomology, which is like bee stings and beetle carapaces. 

Sorry, got distracted. Back to the tree.  Trimmed on top: 

Trimmed on bottom, installed in pot.  

Now for some fun. Power tools!  

This chunk has to go:  It’s in the front and it’s contributing to some obverse taper. 

The tool is a German made mini-angle grinder that is distributed in the U.S. by King Arthur Tools. The wheel I’m using is the thinnest carving wheel on the market (made by an Australian company called Arbortech).  

   The shape and configuration of the cutting teeth are very much like chainsaw’s chain.   And it is- 

 Arbortech is about safety. This part of the wheel….. ….is designed to keep the tool (and you) from taking too much of a bite at a time. This makes it safe by decreasing kickback (that chattering and bouncing you may have seen on some carving videos or experienced for yourself) and giving you more control (and therefore a neater carving line) and confidence when you have this electric tool rotating at 15000-20000 rpm’s. 

The combo of the mini-grinder and the carving wheel is fantastic.  

 And messy! 

You’ll notice that on the bottom of the carved portion I brought the cut to a point.   I’ve talked about this before, by shaping the cut like this, it facilitates the healing process and speeds the callus formation. This technique was discovered by the master bonsai growers in Taiwan. 

So where are we now? I think I’m ready to wire.  

Man, that was fast. Hardly satisfying at all.   

On to the next tree, I had fun with this one.  Wait ’til you see the end product.  My challenge was to make this into a semi-cascade. A little background on the tree. You’ll notice the, almost, caudex like growth on the base.  

 This tree was propagated by a process of growing called plant tissue culture or micropropagation. This type of propagation allows the propagator to create exact copies (yes, it is cloning, and yes, cool) and produce disease free plants and…….you know what? I’m going to keep you in suspense and keep this whole technique and the tree for the next post.

I’m such a stinker, I know.  But I think it deserves its own post and not just a brief write up on the second half of a post.  In apology, here’s a quick styling of a tree I grew from a pencil thin cutting. I believe it’s been ten years growing.      I hope that helps. 

Don’t worry, I’ll write up the next post soon. Until then, your homework is to study tissue culture and see if I get anything wrong. It’s highly probable I might, and then there are those who believe that everything I write is wrong…….

See ya’ real soon!

3 thoughts

  1. It is probably nothing, but ‘offal’ sounds awfully close to ‘affald’ (very literally: ‘off-fall’) the danish word for garbage or trash. so … there you go. Nice little retusa!


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