Uh oh! It doesn’t look good for this ficus. 

Like they say, the first cut is the deepest. Snikt!!Don’t worry, I might know what I’m doing…..maybe. 

Let’s continue with the insults, it gets worse. Poor tree. It gets worse. You see, I’m interested in these roots. They kinda go round and round like a bonsai Facebook page arguing about the best soil mix or whether or not it’s the correct technique to cut back hard to a node or develop a branch using wire. I like the second technique myself because I, after all, have to make pretty pics for my IG account. And stubs don’t get ❤️’s. Oh, look! Mycorrhizae!

Pine bark and mycorrhizae go together like peas and carrots. My aim today is to utilise this piece of stock ficus material to its fullest. I’ll be processing it for future bonsai development, of course (which many paid bonsai technicians just don’t care to do. I like to think that I cover all the steps in the development of a tree into a bonsai, from cutting to show. That’s just how I do things, because I believe in the expansion of the Art by bringing in new people, and I think the best way to do that is by showing the how’s and why’s, from begat to begone), but I’m not one to waste good or possibly good material for the future. The children are our future you know. And the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago. The second best is today. And one should never forget their roots (you see what I did there? Talk about a segway back into the subject at hand…). I could just saw the roots of here, the tree can take it. But I’m greedy. I want those root cuttings. Let’s see where they take us. Here’s one end, or beginning, depending on how you look at it.  

It goes into this bigger one. 

Which goes underneath. 

On top it’s fused a little. Gotta separate them. 

Under and over. Where’s my knife? Wow, don’t you wish you could do this to every tree? There are some perpetual intermediates out there shaking their heads and muttering that this plant isn’t a proper pre-bonsai, with the roots as they are. Who ever said it was? I, quite possibly, could’ve gotten it from a liner farm or landscape nursery. So there. And I’d rather find them like this, with crazy roots. Otherwise I wouldn’t get material like this:or this….which then turn into trees like this:or this….

To continue…The job is straighten out and add taper to the roots. Yes, taper is important in everything. That’s what provides the illusion of height. Now, get this correct, I am performing this surgery in the month of May in Florida. Should you want to do something like this, you may want to wait to do it when it’s growing, usually in the summer, depending on where you live. I’m getting there. 

Anything growing down gets flat cut. This will encourage roots to form radially from that cut………….and now is the time for a little root bending too. We do that with a wee piece of wire. 

Then the tree goes into a good, granular bonsai soil. My mix? Sure, it’s called the Red White and Blue Supermix®, available soon! 

Make sure you get the soil into all the nooks and crannies, using fingers, soil pics, chopsticks, No air pockets is the goal. 

Now I’m ready to “style” it. 

If I were thinking of a banyan style for this tree I’d keep this low branch. 

But, as they say it in the old west, “Eye-yaint” 

And I don’t believe we need this either. 

Now to the processing of the cuttings. On top we have stem cuttings, I have the best luck with those in early spring on this kind of ficus. I think it’s better if you take them before the summer rains come, the roots form faster. That’s contrary to all the books, but that’s my experience. 

For the root cuttings I just use my nursery mix, 1/2 pine bark, 1/2 perlite. The trick is to soak the pot and soil thouroughly but, when watering every day after that, just pass over it once, splashing the soil. It’s the same as with the stem cuttings, the soil should stay moiste but not wet. That really pushes root development. It’s my belief, from observation, that they tend to react like a succulent in many ways, I’ve seen them thrive on a slab without soil. 

In a month or so you end up with Some cool shapes like these. 

Getting back to the main trunk, I’m experimenting with a wound sealant on the trunk chop. I’ve had very good success with elm and trident maples, but I’ve just started trying it with ficus. It’s a product for A/C ducts called duct seal. I’ll let you know how it works. 

I’m a willow leaf fiend of late, in fact, there are two more I need to finish processing. There are some good trunks in there. 

One last trick before I close it up. I like to leave a little green on the willow leaf when I treat them harsh like this. The green helps to keep the trees sap moving. It acts like a siphon, both ways. It drops sugars down and pulls water up. 

That’s the way I do it. And that’s how you develop trees like this. Find a good root spread, good trunk. Cut it back, on top and on bottom. Let it grow. That’s the technique. It works. Just don’t try it on a juniper. 

8 thoughts

  1. Fascinating ….. cutting a tree down to almost a stump is the hardest job to do. After seeing your process, it just might make it easier now…. thank you.


    1. I have two 18 Yr old azaleas which flower yellow the 1st week in May.
      It is always full of buds bursting to open just as the frosts are ending.
      I’ve started to wrap it in fleece until usually the 2nd week in August when the frosts have gone.
      Unfortunately one has really suffered and watching your techniques rather than disposing of it I’m thinking of cutting it right back and potting it up as a bonsai.
      They are approximately a 24″ (600mm) ball shape.
      Having to destroy one of my oldest trees in the garden I am hoping for it to come back to life in bonsai form.
      I currently have an Acer Beni maiko bonsai, as well as a pinus mugo klostergrun and a Abies Korean Kohouts Icebreaker.
      Any advice would be much appreciated many thanks.


  2. Great advice…I ALWAYS get hung up on what style and the RULES for styling on my subjects (otherwise known as victims)…This blog gives me the courage to just dive into it and see what happens…I can always just let it grow something back…if it survives! Thanx!

    Liked by 1 person

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