Building a bonsai is all about the process

Well, that’s a mess. Sometimes, though, it’s when you’re at your messiest is when you’re at your best. That’s the process.

If you are so worried about being neat, you’re not really throwing your whole self into the creation.

And, like they say, a clean desk is the sign of an empty mind…….

Or, more likely, what I just said is just a pile of fertilizer.

Say hello to Kathrin. I made her hold that tree for a full 2 minutes trying to get the perfect pic.

And that is her ficus microcarpa she started from a cutting. She is deep in process of slowly building the structure, growing out the trunk, with wired movement, then the branches. Growing them, wiring, then cutting back. That’s the point she is at now. The next step in the process is the thickening of the secondary branches. Who out there is saying to themselves “If your thickening the branches, why did you cut off all the leaves?”

Aha! Good question! We follow the concept here at Adamaskwhy Bonsai Central that it is hormones that drive growth. Energy plays a role, definitely, but hormones will cause a plant to keep growing until there’s no more energy left.

And by defoliating our ficus (which is healthy and just bursting with energy) but, leaving the growing tips (whence the auxins accumulate) the tree will put on new growth at those tips, first, and elongate the branch, thus thickening it faster.

That’s using hormone theory for growth and development (let me fix an all too common misconception in modern day speech. The word theory is not what people think it is. A theory is the accepted reality as we know it as far as science can describe. For example, we have the theory of gravity. Gravity is real, and it is observable. It is true we don’t know exactly why it works, but it works.

The problem is that most people confuse the words theory and hypothesis. Or, more precisely, they say theory but mean hypothesis).

Thus spake Zarathustra!

How did I come to this theory?

I read.

I pour over scholarly articles on hormones, touching such subjects as rice, or sugar cane, or oak trees. It’s amazing the variety of plant species that are studied (and not studied!). I tend to eschew bonsai articles as they teach more about the traditional and passed down techniques and knowledge. I am a firm believer that often times schooling gets in the way of learning. When these scientists do their experiments, they may have a hypothesis but the theory doesn’t come until after all the data has been collated and examined. Traditions are good, and needed. But when they are incorrect, they are incorrect.

I think I’ve made my point.

I teach four studygroups every month, on top of any clubs or private sessions I go to.

This is the Saturday Sarasota group. They are an amazing bunch of people, willing to learn and (more importantly) they laugh at my bad jokes.

This willow leaf belongs to Steve. It’s a testament to process. He started the tree more than twenty years ago from a cutting as well.

He let it grow, chopped it, wired it, let it grow. But he followed the process (there is a blog post I wrote about it a few years ago when I was boarding the tree for a few months while he was moving and setting up His new house). Now it’s a show stopper. But it’s still developing…..notice we took off a front branch to open up that amazing trunk line. It has near perfect taper and subtle movement. This is, in my opinion, one of the best banyan style willow leaf ficus in the state.

Here’s a ficus of my own. It’s been in the blog before, and now it needs some work.

It’s been a little weak this year, but with the advent of our second spring (what you in the Frozen north call autumn) , it’s beginning to grow again.

Old leaves make for inefficient photosynthesis. They got to go!

The signal I was waiting for was this: new growth. If you notice the slightly red tinge to the leaves? I do believe, by that red tinge, this is a ficus microcarpa “kinman”. Which means “red head”.

The process on this tree, defoliation, then some atomic green fertilizer (Harrell’s brand)……….in the defoliation process I left the growth tips……….you see, F. microcarpa sometimes have dieback, by leaving the grow tips (stipules), the flow of hormones (in this case, auxin) continues the growth. In about a week or two, when the fertilizer kicks in, I’ll cut the stipules, and this will direct the growth inward and increase ramification (we remove the auxin, which is an evil oppressor of the weaker, yet important, hormone called cytokinin. It activates the secondary buds).

The next tree (I’m just burning through them on this post!) that’s in process, is a Brazilian Raintree. You’ve seen this one too. I think even this year.

I’ve removed the wire several months ago (part of the process) and let it grow.

It grew almost two feet on that one branch.

Now, because I’m listening, the tree is telling me it’s time for some new work.

The language of a BRT is easy. If it s leaves droop, it needs water, or shade, or it’s night. If they stay droopy most of the time, it’s telling me that it’s defoliation time.

This constant droopiness on a BRT is because of a process called senescence (I wrote a post on it way back in 2016).

But it’s not just the droopiness that is speaking at me. Below, you’ll see the new bud ready to go.

It will eventually pop, but it is my experience that we can help the tree by getting those old leaves out of the way and letting it grow.

Now, wire.

And yes, I’m leaving those branches that long. On a tropical legume like this BRT, the growth habit tends to be long and twisted.

But first, I gotta get to The Nook.

The kids are here and Mathew is ready to rock!

At The Nook, it’s time to get bent.

Ooooops! Ah well….I will point out that it cracked where the wire was not protecting the outside edge of the curve (read the post on the escambron for that lesson, scroll about two posts back I’d say).

A break like this is called serendipity.

I can make it work.

Twists and turns, ups and downs….

Dog legs and switchbacks……

Try to make it look spooky.

I’ve been building this tree for a few years, getting the structure and movement, slowly.

It’s a small tree but I like it. Not much more than a stick in a pot but it does have character.

That matters.

Both in bonsai and in real life.

I think it’s almost time to find a good pot.

That’s the next step in the process.

What’s next on the bench?

But that’s another story……

About adamaskwhy

Visual artist specializing in bonsai, mostly.
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4 Responses to Building a bonsai is all about the process

  1. Darlene Hutt says:

    Thanks for a good stuff in this blog! Always a pleasure reading and seeing your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ditto…..you are the blog; that’s what makes it interesting for me and helps me get through the day

    Like

  3. Steve Gale says:

    Thanks for the detailed comments and your appreciation of my willow leaf ficus. I’ll take most of the credit for it’s development over the 20+ years, but your observations, advice, and guidance over the last few years have helped me improve it even more.

    I must also comment about “a neat desk is a sign of an empty mind” from your post above. I tried to use that when Mindy asked me to clean my desk for the umpteenth time. The yoga instructor in her stated that a neat desk is the sign of an uncluttered mind (and house), and yes, she is both a certified yoga instructor and a registered/licensed dietitian. Anyway, she is looking forward to your next visit to our home – you know you are always welcome, but come at your own risk – LOL

    Steve Gale

    Liked by 1 person

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