Here’s a challenge:

Ficus microcarpa. A seedling grown one, looks like it, or what the trade calls, a “ginseng” ficus. Which isn’t a variety, but just a marketing thing. Like calling American style Chinese food “Chinese Food”. I got the tree from Nick, over at American Bonsai Tools. He got it from a closing sale at Japan Nursery. It’s an ugly mofo of a tree, ain’t it? I’ve had it too long and, since I’m cleaning up the nursery and all, well, it’s probably time I got to it, huh? 

Onto the operating table:

This was probably the front, at one time, a long long time ago. 

This might be the new front. 

This is not the front. 

Maybe but probably not. Let me explain the idea of a front, for those that don’t know. First, even though a bonsai is a three dimensional art, you’ll hear most seasoned bonsai people talk about “The Front” all the time as though that’s the one and only true vision for viewing a tree. They are kind of, mostly, right, as many of the design principles and tricks for making a small tree look big work best when viewed from one angle. And often the pruning scars or evidence of certain growing techniques are hidden when viewed from that fixed angle. But the “front” tends to be a little more complex than that one chopstick stuck in the soil by the master du jour at your local clubs byot workshop. In my view, the front is about a 45 degree angle, starting from one corner and continuing to the other. As though, amazingly, you are walking past it and you begin looking at the tree as you approach it. Now, what does that mean when selecting the front? It means it’s your job to have something interesting, a focal point or a certain feature, like the root base or a hollow trunk or Jin, anything that will arrest that dude walking by your tree, in that 45 degree arc of sight. The idea is to have your tree, your art, be looked at, talked about, praised or criticized (I usually go for criticism “what was he thinking of? Putting that on his tree!”). Anywho, let’s get back to our “pot of spaghetti”. Gotta get out the full set of tools for this job….I’ll need them. 

First, let’s chop off some of these long shoots, to see what we have. 
Plus, I promised some cuttings to a friend, Sonny Boggs (who happens to be a very talented potter by the way, you can find him on Facebook and the Facebook bonsai auctions from time to time). I’ll be seeing him in Kannapolis, which means I need to root these by the beginning of December. 

That’s better. You can see why I called it a “pot of spaghetti” now, right. 

Let’s slip off the pot. See what’s hiding underneath. 

Well, looks like dirt. 
Before I begin to organize the roots, here’s what might happen, if you’re neglecting a ficus. 


Fat. You end up with an ugly bit of obverse taper. 

I’ll try to fix it by cutting off some branches, by changing the planting angle and, importantly, spreading out the aerial roots to “fill in” the gap on the bottom. Moved from here to here

But first! Remember those worksheets that our teachers used to give us with the scrambled up lines? 

I often feel that those activities were training for my ficus bonsai work. 

At least the roots on the bottom aren’t so messed up. In fact, I think it’s the poor soil it’s been sitting in that might have caused the over abundance of aerial roots on top, to compensate for the terrible roots in the dirt. But, what do I know, right? 

Let’s choose some branches. I like this as the top. 

But I’ll need edit out some of these ones. They are contributing to the obversity.  

Let’s expound on the subject of aerial roots for a bit. There is an orthodoxy, a, dare I say it, even a conservative segment of the bonsai world, that believe that aerial roots have no place on a bonsai tree. 

No, seriously. Even though a full grown ficus will have the various types of aerial roots (those that come down from the branches, those that parallel the trunk, and those that shoot off the trunk in a 45 degree angle, downward, from the trunk), it’s not considered “proper” for a bonsai to have them. Even though a bonsai is supposed to be a semi realistic representation of a tree, in miniature. And even though they look cool. 

Anyway, those reactionary elements will point to the work of the Taiwanese bonsai masters and say “Well, you never see aerial roots on their ficus trees, do you?”, or, “….in Japanese bonsai, which is the end all, be all of the state of the art, you would never see aerial roots, because they are grotesque!”  

You know what I say? I say, ” Fellas, it’s my tree, they happen in nature, I like them and it’s My Bonsai World”. 

That said, even though I like aerial roots, I insist they follow my design rules. And are in good taste of course, because “Good Taste” is what really drives bonsai design. Uh huh. You know, to a lion, we all have good taste, can I get a holla? 

My rules for tasteful aerial roots: 

They mustn’t travel horizontally or across the trunk or branches. 

They mustn’t cross each other, unless they need to. 

They must accent the trunk, not take away from it. Lastly, they must travel straight down from a branch, if that’s where they originate from. 

I’m sure I can come up with a few more. Give me a minute while I untangle the bottom roots. Freaking dirt. No, dirt isn’t good for root development, even on ficus or tropicals. Dirt is good in the ground. And for flinging at your enemies reputations. 
Not in a bonsai pot. 

But that’s another post. These roots will need some straightening out……and this hole needs some filling. 

I enjoy filling holes. Insert…..joke, here. 

I may or may not need these roots. They’re kind of in an odd area, almost on the inside of the curve. And that would take away from that curve. 

Yeah, they gotta go. Let us, as they say, start the party. Chop!

Horizontal rootage….


Getting there. 

Bust out the rusty saw. Reminds me of my CIA days….

OH! Dayum!

I’m on a roll now. That’s a good cutting. Sonny, my friend, you are in for some killer cuttings. Even Pablo agrees!

Slow and steady. Or fast and messy. I’ll clean that up later. 

What a rats nest, huh? I need to come back to that. Let’s turn it around and look at the front. I see four when I should see two, maybe three, tops. 

Choppy choppy. 

Three is a good look. 

I’m feeling stronger. Back to the backBAMMMM!!!

Theses are a mess but let me think on them. 

Wait, what’s this? Huh? A zip tie. Or the remains of one. 

Ok, I’m getting there. Making progress. 

The last real choice is whether this root stays or goes. 

I could try to approach graft it???Let me think on it. 

Time to poop or get of the pot. Or repot, as it were.  The pot it was in was too small for development. It might work as a display pot but that’s a few years away. 

This mica training pot will be perfect. Mica pots, in case you didn’t know, are great for developing bonsai. The material they are made out of, mica, helps to keep the roots cool in the summer but warm in the winter. 

But, before I put the tree into the pot, I need to take care of those last roots. First, I’ll use this tiny one to fill in that hole I pointed out earlier. 

A few stainless steel staples will do the job nicely. 

And that other root…..

I think it might work right here. 

No staples here, I think I can tie it with some wire. 

Soil (my trademark Red White and Blue Supermix™, no doubt). 

Lots of fertilizer….and there it is….side view. 

Back view. 

The other side view. 

And the front. 

Now, maybe a little wire. Right after I strike those cuttings, that is. 

I don’t use rooting hormone on ficus when I’m taking cuttings. I use my nursery mix, which is half perlite and half standard potting soil. I usually remove the leaves, or cut them in half, but this time I didn’t. Lazy I guess. I put the pots in the shade, keep the soil moist and the humidity up on it. Let’s all hope they take for our friend Sonny. 

Back to our tree. Let’s call him Stubbs. 

With the wiring, I’m really just interested in the first bend on the branch, at this point. 

Which is why I’m not worried about wiring this branch. 

I’ll probably cut it back to here, when it back buds. But for now, this is it. It goes into the full sun, to help stimulate those dormant buds. And it gets the hose. A good soaking. And that’s that. 


And after:Kinda looks like a crazy alien flailing his arm wide, riding a two headed sloth. 

Make sure to bookmark this post. Starting next year, I plan on showing how hard I can push this tree, using my techniques, my knowledge of hormones and how they affect growth, and I am predicting by this time next year I’ll be at the tertiary stage of branch development. Anyone wanna bet me? 

6 thoughts

  1. Nice change to this tree! Questions, shouldnt you wait 15 days to put some fertelizer, eventhougt it takes 15 to start kicking in since ita organic? And full sun after transplant? That’s not bad for the tree? Well i know now that it isnt if you put it there but i have to ask!


    1. It’s a myth that fertilizer hurts new roots. If that were true, you couldn’t ever fertilize because a tree is always putting out new roots.
      Putting it out into the sun would be detrimental if I had left leaves on it. The leaves will use water, and without many roots to take water up, it would dry out faster. But with it leafless, it’s a better that the sun stimulates the latent buds.


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