Here’s an interesting ficus. I got it from my oldest son’s 7th grade teacher, Mr. Myers. That was a few years ago and it’s finally ready. It’s taken a little while to get it to grow. He had nearly killed it and that’s why he gave it to me, to revive it. I did some serious branch work on it, you can tell by the, almost, healed scars on the main branches. 

It’s an interesting shape, very low and squat. With really quick taper. 

The first branch does break one of my “rules” though. The first bend goes back instead of forward. But that’s because, as you see by that half healed scar, the “forward” part of it died back. But there is a reality that over turns rules, “one must do what one can with shohin trees”. Meaning, there’s so little space on a small tree sometimes you have to “cheat” to get branches where you need them. 

I’m calling this a tiger bark ficus. It’s also known as “golden gate” for some reason. It’s a good, if not the best, ficus microcarpa varieties (don’t call it retusa, please….) the internodes are short, the leaves smaller, and the bark has that cool texture. Like a, well, tiger…..bark. A quick aside: I see this on the forums and pages all the time, do you see the white, chalky looking stuff on the leaves? That’s just water, usually it’s calcium or lime or some other dissolved solid. It just means that the water you are using is hard. If it bugs you, you can use a soft cloth to polish it off, use that “leaf shine” stuff on it, rub it off with your thumb. And try not to get the leaves wet when you water. That last bit is actually a good hygiene practice; wet leaves invite fungus. I see this more in the winter and spring (the dry seasons) because I’m having to water by hose more often (as opposed to watering by hoes, which adds so many more complications…..sorry, I know. Bad Adam). Therefore, using deductive reasoning (as opposed to inductive reasoning, which is what makes an electric motor work) it’s deducible that it, is, indeed, the Winter when I am doing this work. What can I do to this poor tree now, eh? It’s a tropical, do I want it to live? Thrive? Continue to give me pleasure? Well, how about a partial defoliation of the older leaves? I think I can do that. Look at all the branches! That is a bonsai artists wet dream (hence the “give me pleasure” line above). That means that, one: we have something to work with and, B, it’s healthy. Maybe “B” should come before “one”. Meh, it’s just bonsai, right?  How do you achieve branching on a small tree that doesn’t really get as dense as you’d like? 

Style it. Let it grow. Then, topiary trim it. Or hedge prune,  but it’s the pruning that causes ramification. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just prune it like you’re using a hedge trimmer.  You can’t be afraid to cut. In bonsai we have two tools to shape a tree. The scissor and the wire. Prune and bend, cut and shape. Which brings us to the wiring. 

A little loose. That will be a problem in a second or two. 

I had removed wire just a few days ago, which you can see some of the newer scars on the top branch. It amazes me how torqued people get at seeing wire scars. It’s either horror or a holier than thou response. But, and I’ll say it again, on a ficus (and many trees), if you don’t let the wire cut in, the wiring job will be inneffectual. It will just mice back to the original position. 

One branch. 

Oh! Here’s what happens when your sloppy with the wire coils. Tsk tsk tsk!
Wired, before placement. 
Wired, after placement. 

You’ll notice I’ve started the second level of ramification (as outlined in This Post)

On wit’ it, den!

If’n you’re paying attention, you’ll see that I haven’t trimmed the tips yet. If this were a colder winter, I may keep it this way, to minimize dieback. But, since I’m such a rebel, an iconoclast, a loner, and just a plain contrary ass, I’ll prune it too. Just so your eyes aren’t so fixated on the  out-of-sorts leaves. Which, truth be told, aren’t going to help much, photosynthesis-wise anyway. How’s the sun gonna hit that? 

Some scissor discipline…..

Try to leave the leaves that are horizontal with the maximal surface attitudinally adjusted for optimum photosythnthetic effect…….don’t you hate it when people use 25¢ words?  Make sure the tops of the leaves are on top. Now then, that might be all you poor people in the frozen north should do now, with your tree inside under lights. 

But….of course, I’m in La Florida, and I’m going to go just a bit further. 

Push the envelope, so to say. 

Let’s see if good ol’ Ma Nature slaps me down with a cold front. 

Yup, I full out defoliated and pruned. 

You can really see the structure this way, and the taper too. I’m doing it for you all. No, really, so you can see. And I’m trusting in the magic of the Internet to keep this tree growing.  

It got fertilizer, of course, I used Martha Goff’s Tropical Green brand. It’s my first time using it so we will see how well it works. Now, let’s see how the weather holds…..


I did the work about Christmas time and I’m writing the post on January 12th. We had two cold nights, one at 37f and one at 40f (2-4c).  Let’s see what havoc I’ve wrought. Was Mother Nature kind? Did she smack me up side the mouth? 

Naw. I won’t learn that lesson today. Fully emerged leaves. I fixed that wiring by the way. 

There’s even budding back!I count four new buds, do you see them?

Sometimes you just need to thumb your nose at convention and do what you think will work. 

If it doesn’t work then, well, they say that it takes a person killing about a thousand trees before they can become a Master. 

Looks like I need to prune it back on the left…….
Now, seriously, don’t do this to a tree unless you can provide proper conditions essential to growth. I knew that I would have them (above 60f nights, adequate light, moisture etc) and if you are keeping them inside, just invest in some indoor growing stuff like full spectrum lighting, a horticultural heating pad, a humidifier etc. You can push the envelope too, as long as you pronounce it the douchie way, “aaahnvelowpe!”  

11 thoughts

  1. So on the first branch, it appears as though did you not tip the most inside branch but did the second one. Are you planning to grow that one out to more length before you tip it to push more branches or hoping the trimming you did will encourage growth out of the trunk collars to fill in that forward space? Thrilled to see another post, 9 new inches of snow Tuesday so your green photos are so welcome.


  2. Adam,
    First off, beautiful tree! I love the shape you have chosen! I’ve been into bonsai for many years, read many books, have killed many trees, been successful with many trees, I wouldn’t place the title “Master” but maybe one day, I’ve always said, if you wanna make a great omelet, you gotta break a few eggs! That being said, I think you got lucky completely defoliating your tree in winter, you should never repot or defoliate in winter, it puts too much stress on the tree, and a cold snap could kill the tree, or you will loose branches, and thus have to totally rearrange your “style” that you had planned. No big deal, you got lucky, your tree is doing well, try to do that early spring, or early summer next time, every thing is heated up then and the tree should be starting the growing season then. Now, you had asked about ramifications on your tree, you can achieve the best ramifications by cutting every stipule, (that’s the green spikes at the end of each branch, every species of ficus have them, all 850 species, that’s actually what clasifies them a ficus it’s where the new leaves form, it’s actually a protective shell for the new leaves that are about to emerge) this tells the plant, or tree, “hey we need more branches!” so then within about 2 wks, you will see new buds, or stipules forming around each node, and you can make your corections and take off buds or branches you don’t want, directional pruning if you will, all ficus are great for this, you can literally determine which way you want it to grow by directional pruning, they really are my favorite material to work with, they are so hearty and strong that you can literally “hacka-wacka” them, and they just grow back! Now another trick, if you completely defoliate in spring or summer again, you will notice the leaves are smaller, another great quality of ficus, is the leaf reduction! Great tree! Keep up the great work!


    1. Hi Dave, thanks for the high praise! I’m curious though, is this perhaps the first blog post of mine you’ve read?
      I too, have been practicing bonsai for many years and would never call myself a master but, should you decide to peruse the posts, you’ll find that I’ve covered many of the ideas you talk about. I even argue for differing techniques at different times.
      I tend to have a sarcastic and even impudent tone to my posts when tackling “common” knowledge.
      If you couldn’t tell, I knew full well what I was doing with my ficus and I’ve never lost one in the winter from pruning. From freezing temps, yes, but winter is almost a second spring in Florida, many tropicals are actively growing here in Orlando, so I wasn’t worried. Really.
      I also made sure to put a disclaimer in the end part of the article for those not in my growing zone.
      Thanks for the comment and the concern for my trees, I appreciate it! Have fun browsing the 495 posts to catch up on the blog, I’m giving t-shirts out to those who read and comment as they wade through the swamp of my prose. Cheers!


      1. Adam,

        Sorry, it was the first post I came across! No disrespect! You have many beautiful trees! I too also play guitar. I am in Naples Fla. I’ve lost a few benjamina trees from pruning that extreme in the winter so, I just wanted to share, even with me being so much further south than central fla. I’ve never shown any of my work. Been super into it since I was a kid. I’ve got quite a few pre bonsai ficus benghalenisis that I’ve started from seed, 14 to be exact, some, my goal is imperial bonsai, it’s a very addictive hobby! Have some invasive-exotic yamidori ficus religiosa project that I’m working on. They are all over in miami, just growing out of the “boots” of cabbage palms (a native) in parking lots. I’m now trying to focus on a all fla-native tree side collection, I’ve already got some gumbo-limbo, s.fla.slash-pines, pond apples, and ficus aureas. Anyhow, beautiful trees, keep up the awesome work!



  3. Great post! Always enjoy reading about your work. And being from Northern Michigan, your posts help me get my fix and lessen the withdrawal symptoms I get each winter from my trees being under feet of snow. Keep up the great work. – Jeremy


  4. I have a ficus that I’m nursing back to life as well. I had been working on the tree for a couple years and decided it would be a great gift for my mother inlaw. Well, not long after that the tree seemed to take a turn for the worse and most of the tree died. I found the tree still had green underneath the bark, thus still living. I cut the top of the tree off in hopes of encouraging new growth and success I have new growth. I have only been practicing bonsai for 6years and still consider myself a beginner. Would you recommend cutting back the new growth now to encourage more branching or should I wait until spring? I live in Altamonte Springs.


  5. Dear Adam,

    Always enjoy your posts… Education and entertaining at the same time. I love ficus bonsai! I have a few and right now they are all in the house under grow lights since I live in Illinois. Temp here is in the teens right now. Itching for spring to sprung.


  6. Great job on this one Adam. I agree with you on sometimes having to give convention the middle finger. I live in Mobile, AL and I trim, cut and wire ficus all year too. They love it. I take them in when the Temps get below 35.


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