Pretty impressive, right? At least the base. One of the anthems of my day, when I was young and idealistic, frames this trees proportions with élan and grace…..”Baby’s got back!” That’s why we are even looking at it, to be honest.  It’s one of those ficus benjamina office trees that got put outside several years ago and forgotten. 

It’s a little bit taper challenged. I’m in West Palm at my client Greg’s house. He just purchased the place and part of the purchase, I mean, actually in the contract, was this tree. I think it raised the selling price even. You read that right. Greg told the real estate agent that if the tree wasn’t part of the sale, there was no sale. Nope. Nada. No commission. 
All the beginners out there are scratching their collective heads wondering what in the hell is wrong with Greg.  Don’t worry, it’ll hit you soon. You’ll be overlooking a beautiful scene one day, say, in the Grand Canyon or on the mountain trails of Maine or in some relaxing Swiss Chalet, next to your honey or love, sipping wine or a beer, maybe a hand crafted cocktail, and you’ll be looking at that pine on the ridge, looking at climbing routes, do you need ropes or can you be lowered down to it. What tools? A spade? Pick axe? Is it the right time of year? The moon phase? Has it rained recently? Is it legal or can I get away with it if it’s not? Should I call someone or will my love help me?

The old timers are scratching their heads too, wondering why anyone would worry about a stupid ficus like this. It must suck to be jaded.

 Me? I’m excited! Time to get to work!

And I have a lot ahead of me. 
I need to address the bugs first. Thrips, to be precise. This is just an old leaf. No bug damage here. 

This is thrip damage. Usually, when you open it you see the bugs. None in the above pic but in the bottom…Evil little things. 

For long term treatment I use a systemic insecticide. Today, I will CRUSH THEM!

Next up, the soil isn’t much a….soil ….anymore. 

It’s because the pot has no real drainage. Let’s fix this. 

Tile cutting wheel, angle grinder. 

That’ll work. Some screen and we are ready for the tree. 

The top of the tree is a mess. It’s not a bonsai or even a pre-bonsai. Let’s see if I can be creative. Gotta love the reciprocating saw. 

And the big tools. Those are what make the bonsai artists you know. Big tools and big trees. 

Watch this….

That’s how you fix obverse taper and give some movement to a big tree. Ficus are perfect for the technique, especially a benjamina. Granted they have the branch dieback problem but they heal big wounds better than any other ficus we use for bonsai. I think it’s because of the trees apical dominance and auxin creation that makes it excellent at the compartmentalization needed for fast wound healing. 

Now for some fancy fixin. We have two leaders, which one do I keep?

This one has shoots lower that will be easier to work with and it will help heal that big wound at the tip of my saw. 

This one has better movement. I’m going to have to go with the health of the tree I think. I left a stub because I’ll get new shoots at the branch collar. 

The branch I cut off I think I can use. 

Just call me Victor Von Frankenstein. A little whittling, drill a hole. Insert tab A into slot B. Yes, I literally drilled a hole in the trunk, whittled down a branch end, and stuck it into a hole. We will be calling it a “peg” graft. Just don’t do a google search for pegging. 

You’ll notice the aerial roots hanging down from the base? That’s my lifeline for keeping this branch alive while it grafts into the side of the trunk. 

And a little putty should keep the branch from drying out too fast. While I’m at it, I’ll use some of those other aerials to help heal some of the other wounds and put a little interest in the trunk. They’ll graft onto the bark sections where I have those staples holding them down. 

Some branch selection…

There’s not really styling involved. Just removing excess branches and simplifying the branch structure to guide the growth. 

Some green tape (to make it look professional and stuff) and hold those air roots to the trunk. 

A whole bunch more putty. And a pink flamingo to criticize me(I am in West Palm you remember) 

That useful reciprocating saw for a little root work. I took about an inch off the bottom and hosed off the theoretical soil. Added new bonsai soil, fertilizer and the systemic insecticide. 

And that’s it until next summer. Let it grow Greg, let it grow. He has two boys now so he doesn’t know the pain yet from that song. But his wife is pregnant with a girl now. Congrats my friend…..…both on your soon to be born daughter (he has no idea what’s in store for him, does he? ) and on this beautiful frankentree I have left for you. 

You should have seen the look his wife gave me when she saw it. She literally asked me if I got paid for this type of work. Literally. 

8 thoughts

  1. Would be interesting to see a progress report on this one. Please do it. Also for Ficus, you do find a lot of these neglected forgotten samples in local nurseries. I am in India btw.


  2. I like the way you write. I like your bonsai stuff, too. But the way you write is like you’re an explorer going up the Mississippi. You pretty much stay on route but you stick your bow up each estuary long enough to notice something interesting. You’re a sick man. I mean that in an interesting way.

    I’m a big fan.
    6’7″ 310 Ride a Night Train.


  3. Hi,
    Is it better to use putty? Doesn’t need any screw? does the peg grafted branch end blending well or will always look grafted? Can the aerial root be cut as son point?
    Thank you for shadings. 🙂


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