Three trees, a ficus, a raintree, and a water jasmine, walk into a bar….….they each say, in three different languages, the same thing, 


Sorry. I think I’ve made that joke before. Sounds like one of mine. 

We need some wire, maybe some repotting, some love. Some beer too. Maybe the jokes will get better. I’ll wait, go get yourself one. Or wine. Or some of the hard stuff. 

First tree:A Brazilian raintree that has been in its pot a little too long. It’s a wee bit pot bound. But, it not only has the much sought after nitrogen fixing nodules, but it has a healthy mycchorizae  colony too. That’s the white fungus. The round balls are the nodules (you can read about them a little more in this post). It’s adapted to my neglect, the nodules feed nitrogen to the mycchorizae and the mycchorizae feeds it (and helps with water uptake) to the tree. Or something like that. The roots are so thick that even removing half of them, there’s still a thick mass left. Since I took off so much, I’ll defoliate this  time, as I usually do (if you scroll back a few posts you’ll see that I’ve been experimenting with adding sphagnum moss on the soil to help with moisture loss after a repot on my Brazilian Raintrees).  It’s ready to push new growth anyway, as evidenced by the swelling buds. If you see them, it’s usually safe to defoliate. Sometimes the foliage will look like it’s always wilting, or kinda yellow and ragged,  even after it’s been watered. You’ll probably see those same buds at those times. I’ve observed that it’s almost like the tree is asking for help in shedding its old leaves, so a defoliation is almost always in order. I’ve even done this in the middle of winter and the tree popped out new growth within a week. Anyway, a quick potting. 

Some wiring….ummmmmm……well, after a quick beer….hard root beer after a hard root prune. How appropriate….

…..and on to the next tree. A wrightia religiosa (it might be a wrightia vietnamensis, the dwarf water jasmine, but I’m not sure. It does have small leaves. I had a big specimen of the dwarf water jasmine but I sold it to Mr. Seth Melon on the agreement that he would propagate it and I’d get the first few new plants, but he seems remiss in his promise. Maybe this public humiliation will set a fire under his butt and get me some cuttings). 

I got this cute little guy from the Hukyu Auction in Clearwater a few weeks ago. It’s my first real mame, which means a miniature bonsai under a certain size (which varies depending on who’s book  you read, but about 4″ or so) 

A quick thinning and some wiring. 

And I think I’d like it in another pot. How about this one?I like the color but……maybe a little more fancy. How about this one?

Yeah. I just need a little more soil and moss….It’s so cute! I can hardly wait for flowers! It gets little white and very fragrant flowers that hang down. They call it “water jasmine” because the only way to see the bloom is in the reflection in a pool of water. 

…and now, on to my daughter’s willow leaf ficus. I almost killed it (and another one)  last year at this time after working it heavily and repotting it all at once. 

So there won’t be a repot but I’ll trim and wire it. I’m learning, really, I am. I’ll still defoliate it. 

Ain’t nothing wrong with that. I still get the question often: Why do I defoliate? 

Well, first, I do it so you all out there in the ether can see the branch structure in my photographs. Scroll back up to the after pic of the wrightia…..can’t see much except leaves there, can you? You can’t really see how I applied the wire or how I placed the branches, can you? Not really instructive that way. Just kind of a before and after. 

Secondly, defoliating a tree, done at the right time, will cause back budding. At the base of the petiole is what the botanists call an axillary bud. By removing the leaf, you will activate the buds growth and you’ll get, not just a new leaf, but a new branch. Ramification. 

Thirdly, it’s way easier to wire without leaves. And I’m a male in the 21st century. I need things to be easy. 

Now, make a big note and tape it to your fridge, Defoliation is only effective at the correct time of the year, and only on appropriate species of trees that, most importantly, are healthy. Dig? Don’t go defoliating your black pine (unless you’re plucking needles…..doh!) 

Some pruning for taper. 


See how easy that was without them pesky leaves? 

And viola! Now, tell me what you’d see if it had leaves….

Not much. 

Aftercare. A good application of fertilizer on all three. The raintree will go into the full sun, as well as the water jasmine (I didn’t touch the roots much on it. It went into a bigger pot). But the ficus will go into the shade. That’ll help the fine twigs (thinner than usual for this tree) from getting sunburn. Like this one just did:

Looks good here but….


This is today. 

This was a willow leaf I almost killed last year at the same time as my daughters tree. I was testing a theory this year, whether it was the repot or the tree going into the full sun that damaged the branches. So I didn’t repot it, but it went into the full sun. And bam!Almost that whole branch is dried up. 

I’m going to have to go with exposure to the full Florida sun as the real culprit. 

Like I said, I’ll learn. 

In the shade you go then, until I see new growth on all the branches. 

And that’s that.

Next post, a ficus microcarpa and what happens when you fertilize it. See ya’!

6 thoughts

  1. I started reading your post in Apr/may and just finished the last one. You could probably condense it into a book(s) and you should also consider writing one. I would buy it. I enjoy reading your blog Thanks


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