Uh oh, I’m doing it again. Look what I’ve done gone and found: 


Before we begin, click here for the soundtrack. No, really, you’ll be amused. I need to make more YouTube videos, you can actually make money on those.  

 Anyway, we have a not-so-average “ginseng ficus” from one of the big box stores, I’m sure you can figure out which one by the color. This one doesn’t have that obnoxious root system most examples have. 

 It’s a perfect candidate for what we westerners call the “sumo” style. With some mods of course but, then, I’ll get to that in a bit. That’s kinda what the post is about.   

The two ugliest roots are here.   

This one happens to be a grafted foliage version.   But It seems as if they just grafted the same leaf as the rootstock. 

Here’s the grafted foliage.  Which looks like retusa to me. 

And here’s some original foliage.   It looks identical to me. We shall see in a few months, after it’s  grown out some. I may have to do grafting of my own if not, because I’m using the grafted foliage this time. Usually I remove it because trunk development goes better with the rootstocks original foliage. I’d put the tree in the ground or a big pot and let it mature for a few years. But this trunk is just about the way I want it. I don’t even want aerial roots. 

Let’s test the theory that glued rocks don’t let water penetrate into the soil.  

Seems to go right through.  Busted! Damn, that’s one I would use all the time. 

 But let me show you this. If you buy one of these (and don’t do any of the harsh and mean things your about to see) you at least need to fix this problem. There’s not only one pot,   nor two,   

but three pots here. And the last one isn’t really a pot. 

Hey, lookie here, a care card. Let’s read it and have a laugh.  

 Aha! That’s what I’ve been doing all wrong. It’s a houseplant! u/small_trunks over in Reddit is fist-pumping right now, drinking his Belgian beer in Amsterdam, saying “Told you so, you wanker!” 

What does the other side say?  There’s one of those QR code thingies. I don’t understand the point of those. Let’s put some vital info about the tree you might need to keep it alive and require you to have an electronical device to decode it. It’s probably just an advert anyway- buy more crappy ficus from us!Let’s see: Water well, but let dry? Not with a ficus. It should read: Keep uniformly moist. 

Fertilize when growing…..makes sense there. 

Don’t set on fire….good advice. Keep between 50 and 85f, those temps are outdoor temps because no one keeps their house below 50f or above 85f. Except my wife’s grandmother.  Useless info. 

Getting back to the pot situation, the decorative one doesn’t have a drainage hole. 

Which makes it useless for our purposes today. 

 Ok, yeah, I paid $19.98 for it. I know, I know, I could get this wholesale from China for about .50¢ (if I buy a thousand or so) or I could get them from an importer for about $5 each (minimum order of $500) or from a wholesale bonsai nursery for about $12 ($250 minimum), but then I’d have a whole bunch of ugly “ginseng” ficus I didn’t get to choose. 

And I wouldn’t get this neat beverage holder as a bonus.   

Now that I have some ice cold libations to lubricate the process, let’s get to work, it’s Hammer Time! Someone once asked how to remove the rocks. I replied: a hammer. I wasn’t lyin’  

Damn that’s terrible soil.  It’s so fine I could snort it. I might actually have. I’m not telling. 

In a container, even if it’s not a bonsai container, the soil needs to be a more coarse with more air pockets. Soil this fine doesn’t allow for proper oxygen exchange to the roots. No wonder these “bonsai” die so much. Add that to a pot with no holes. Poor trees.  Let’s wash off that nasty dirt. 


Damn that’s one big root.  It’s like the John Holmes of ficus.   I’m almost uncomfortable touching it. Ok, sorry for that image. Here’s a worse one, especially if you’re a male reader. Time for some “root” pruning.  

It’s almost like cutting a sweet potato.  

 Don’t worry about the lack of fine roots.   At this point in its life, a ficus is more of a caudiciform, instead of a tree-iss-a-form. It can survive with little to no soil. Often they are even epiphytic, germinating in trees (the seeds having passed through the digestive tract of various animals) and becoming “strangler figs”, throwing long aerial roots down in reach of the earth.

We want radially dispersed roots though, so, by making a small cut or two,  

  We can encourage them to emerge from those cuts.  You’ll notice I cut the end of the root off as well. Roots are much like branches, if you prune them, they will “backbud”. Roots aren’t really buds but the concept is the same. 

Before I pot it…. 

It will be easier to clean up that clumsy graft if I can hold it in my hand.  

Using a fine saw and a sharp knife….   ….I cut out the dead material in the wedge that was left after the clefts were cut for the scion insertion (that would be a cool band name, The Scion Insertions)  


Now I’m ready for the pot.   

And the real fun begins.   I don’t really have all the branches I need for a good representational styling, but I’ll make do. 

Again, like in the last post, I’ll be doing a partial defoliation.  On the side branches I cut the terminal bud. 

On the apical shoot, I’m leaving the terminal bud. I want the energy to channel into growing the top trunk thicker.  I’ll let it grow several feet. It’s called, variously, a sacrifice, an escape, or a running branch.  

Some wire.    

And that’s the first shaping.  I left that first branch on the right a bit long, same principle as the escape branch. 

It’ll be shortened here eventually.  

In fact, let me just doodle a bit and show you how I would like it to grow. This is a good structure.   

Add some foliage.   

A blue pot, oval.  Some moss too, because people like moss.  

Maybe a little more foliage on the left, with the roots flattened out with age.  

Yeah, now that will be a respectable tree. I expect it’ll take about five years to mature, especially the trunk. The branching will be there by the end of the summer I suspect (it’s April now). I’ll update as it develops.

So, like I’ve said in previous posts about the “ginseng” ficus (I put the word ginseng in quotes because there isn’t a real species or variety called ginseng. Almost all figs will form these tuber like root structures when they are grown from seed), in order to find a good one, you have to pick one out that has a real trunk-like quality to it. 

 Next up is a sweet ficus I got from Old Florida Bonsai a few years ago and am finally doing the initial styling. 

If you are anywhere near Tallahassee on Sunday, April 10th (2016)  I’ll be at the Tallahassee club leading a workshop. And on April 17th I’ll be in Deland at Schley’s Bonsai for Jason’s annual spring open house. I’ll be doing a shohin willowleaf ficus workshop in the morning a demo in the afternoon. Did I mention free beer? Check out his website for details. See you there!


14 thoughts

  1. I was anticipating a flat cut across the tubers. Will the trunk swell in the bonsai pot as you grow the branches out?

    Last year I bought a “ginseng” ficus in an attempt to grow it out with aerial roots into a more banyan style like one you’ve posted before on your blog. I’ll have to make a blog post about it.


  2. Yes! I much like as you do your “something from nothing” ! What about to try air layering? I´m thinking about a lot of months.


      1. Yes, you are right, but air layering can provide better nebari in some occasions.This fat trunk attract me to do that. But…much more work and time with not so sure results.


  3. Finally I found my bonsai! That’s exactly what it looks like( at the beginning) I need to prune it and wire it, you think I can do at this time of the year? I’m in Sydney, it’s autumn now and I usually keep the tree outside, but I bring it in in winter months ( it goes down to 5-9 degrees at night). Or should I wait until spring?


  4. I like in Lakeland Florida and I believe my ficus has been over-watered and too little light if i have read some of your other posts correctly. The leaves started drooping and falling off. I was considering repotting as i have had the tree for over a year since I bought it from Sam’s club. The soil looks too thick and not airy enough so I ordered a new mix online. Would it be a bad idea to repot right now? It does need a new pot because the current one doesn’t have drainage holes.


      1. Ok thank you. Would you suggest using fertilizer any time soon? Or waiting until it has been repotted for a while to start with the fertilizer?


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