I’ve been a ficus fool, so many trees,  I’m so cool. Bonsai trees will make you drool, so much saliva, it will pool. I have ficus blood all over my scissor tool, white sap everywhere, like a true believer of Zuul. 

Sorry, that last line was a stretch, I know. Actually, the whole thing was a stretch. 

Here are today’s trees.  

Ficus salicaria, the vaunted willow leaf fig (a fig is a ficus is a fig is a ficus, all the world around. Pronounce it “fee coose” in the Spanish speaking countries, por favor. And, it’s a fig in the UK, ya’ wankers)  

Ficus microcarpa (the old and ignorant still want to call this a retusa. Yeah, I said that…)  

Ficus burtt-davyi (The species was named in honor of the argostologist and botonist Joseph Burtt Davy, who worked in South Africa between 1903 and 1919, where this ficus is native) 

And, lastly, another ficus microcarpa. I’ve nothing witty or smart to say about this one. Sorry. It’s in a green pot, it’s oval…. 

 Let me start with the willow leaf….  

I did an initial styling not too long ago and here’s how it looked then.  The tree came from Alabama and a friend named Fred.  

I think it’s filling in well, considering. It’s even throwing roots out of the pot.  It’s like it wants to walk away. 

First step, defoliate and prune unwanted shoots.   Let me address the, seemingly, controversial step of defoliation. I get asked all the time the questions “why”  “when” and “how”. So, let me answer. 

Why: 1) It helps get more sun to the bare branches and, therefore helps in ramification. 2) It lets me see the structure better 3) It is easier to wire without the leaves and  4) The leaves grow back smaller 

When: On tropical trees: when they are growing, which, if you give them adequate heat, light and fertilizer, is all the time. If you are up North overwintering them, you can push the tree by supplying a grow light and a horticultural heating pad for the root zone. And fertilize the shit out of them. Then you can be like me here in Florida. 

On deciduous trees: Defoliate in mid summer. In the warmer areas maybe (if the tree is native to your area or another similar area) once in the middle of spring and once in the middle of summer. This is my technique. If you have a local, reputable, bonsai teacher, follow her/his advice. 

How: I usually leave the petiole (stem) of the leaf intact and attached to the branch. The reason is because the new bud is at the base of the petiole and if you rip the whole leaf off, you could accidentally rip that new bud, delaying the regrowth process. 

All this should only be done to healthy trees. Ok?  With that said, time for wire.  


Next, is a tree I got from a good friend, Ronn. It hasn’t grown as much as I’d have liked in the last year and I think I know why.     I had cut it back pretty hard the last time I worked on it in order to get back budding and it has responded pretty well.  

This stump is an example of the dreaded microcarpa dieback.    It did bud at the base of the stump at least….
A little more pruning.  

And defoliating….but I am leaving the terminal buds intact to help the branch elongate and thicken.   

Now, to the reason I believe the tree didn’t grow all crazy-like and stuff: the soil.     This was an experimental mix containing diatomaceous earth, expanded shale and sifted pine bark. I think it compacted and didn’t have enough airspace and water flow.  

Here are the roots…. Not too bad. Not really filling the pot either. 

 Using a trusty metal chopstick (I break the wooden ones) I rake out the roots….. …and discover that the root mass is dry in the middle.   Hmmm…….I think I’ll not be using this mix again. Like I said, it compacted itself and clogged the air spaces. And just in case, I’m going to use a different pot too.  
And some Supermix™

I can just feel the roots reaching into the new soil, rejoicing in their new home.

How do I see this tree eventually?   I don’t think it’s too far fetched to think I could have something resembling this by the end of fall. We shall see. Next tree is the Burt Davyii.  

 I don’t really believe that this ficus really likes Florida much. It’s too humid here and the Burt kinda likes it a little dry, being from South Africa and all. I’ve only really seen one grower in all of Florida with a fantastic one, and she’s in Palm City, which is a weird kind of microclimate where it gets colder in the winter and stays drier than most of Florida. Maybe if I protected it from the incessant rainfall…….

Remove the old wire, repot and prune. At the same time, my daughter will be defoliating the last ficus for me.    She doesn’t like her picture taken. Shhhhhh, don’t tell her. 

Before she begins.  

I get to work.     


It’s amazing how these trees can survive with very few roots.   Being constantly wet, the tree didn’t need to grow that many. And since the roots didn’t grow, the top didn’t grow. 

New, deeper pot, for better drainage.
  New, fresh soil…  

Some pruning and wire.   

And let’s see about my daughters progress….. 

 Well, she’s done, but where did she go…..  Ah, she’s made a mess and when it’s time to clean it up……bam, she vanishes. Sigh….children. 

Oh well.  Brush brush brush 

  That’s a sweet nebari. Oh, look there! I found a lizard egg.   

Rake rake rake   


I’m changing the oval green pot out for this neat, handmade one that a local potter gave to me.   It’s an interesting pot, a little unconventional but I think it will work.  Unfortunately, Daniel doesn’t make any more bonsai pots. 

What do you think?  It fits well so far. Some soil and….. Sorry, gotta flip the chicken. Looks good right? Here’s the recipe:

Chicken, assorted pieces, I like wings myself, my wife likes breasts, the boys like legs and my daughter likes breasts. 

Mojo criollo marinade (buy it pre-made from Goya or Badia or make it yourself: sour orange juice, lots of crushed garlic, pepper, cumin, Mexican oregano, maybe some finely diced onion and lime juice.) 

Iokevto remove the skin off of the thighs and breasts because it holds so much fat and that causes flare ups on the grill. Plus, the marinade gets into the meat that way too. Speaking of which, let the chicken marinate 24 hours and grill until done, make sure you have a good burn on the outside, and baste with the leftover marinade as you grill. 

Back to the tree:   Kinda looks like Alfalfa (for you younger kids out there, there was an old show called Our Gang, or The Little Rascals, in which a character named Alfalfa, who fancied himself a ladies man, had an amazingly akward cow lick popping up on his head.   They did an updated movie a few years back. I don’t recommend it. Alfalfa’s real name was Carl Switzer and he had an interesting life, to say the least. You’ll have to look it up.  But I’ll always remember him like this:


How often we ascribe the characteristics of roles that actors play to their real personalities. 

But I’m not gonna let my tree be called Alfalfa. A tip trim and one wire.   

 …all neat and pretty, then on with the show (sorry, that’s the Mickey Mouse Club..mixing my nostalgias).  

 That’s a good combo, tree and pot,  whaddaya’ think?

So, until next time, (and to further muddy the mix): That’s all folks! 

6 thoughts

  1. Great post…I have several ficus and have enjoyed working with them. I always look forward to your ficus posts. I have been watering my Burt Davy’s the same as all my other trees. Maybe I will change my ways. I live near Peoria and belong to the Quad Cities Bonsai club. I am no expert. I hope this post finds you in better health than you have been.


  2. I love reading your post, They never disappoint, and this one was no exception. I have a question concerning a tigerbark that I’m going to overwinter indoors. Its still in a training pot with course lava, and only lava. I almost feel like an idiot for asking, but what do I need to be looking for in the tree to know when it needs watering? I’ve never seen it wilt since it struck in mid May, nor has it dropped a single leaf. Looking forwards to future post. Thanks


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