Here’s a tree that has come back to me. There is a story, but that’s for another blogpost.

This is a simple post about this particular willow leaf ficus and it’s styling.

I had originally traded this tree with my friend for a bunch of trident maples he had grown over CD’s (Here’s a post on that technique).

It has a good base and good taper.

Unfortunately, part of the trunk died.

I should say “fortunately”. I like serendipitous occurrences like that.

It gives the tree character, age, a certain “je ne sais quois” that makes it stand out amongst a thousand other trees just like it.

Now is a good time to be working on it still (late June in Florida). A month ago would have been better but I’ve been ill. So a lot of things have been missed this last month that I had had planned (I love it when I can use a sentence where I can use “had had”. Don’t know why but it seems like I’m sticking the rules to the grammar police).

Lots of branches to choose from, I like that.

The tree has been ignored for years; those trees are the best ones to find. The trees that get picked over and pruned too often tend to lack a wildness I enjoy working with. If I go to a nursery, I go to the back where the ugly trees are, or the “propagation stock” is being hidden. That’s where the unique trees hide.

The first thing is to address the dead area.

From experience on ficus salicaria, I know I’ll come to living wood, if I dig down enough.

Root hook for the big chunks….

Wire brush, brass (cuz it’s softer than stainless and more aggressive than nylon)

That looks good, don’t you think? To maintain it, simply “wire brush” it once or twice a year. In about twenty years the tree will heal itself. But it’ll be from the inside out, unlike most trees. But much like us. Just in the slow motion of arboreal time.

It adds some narrative to the story: the tree got knocked or blown over, the roots on the one side died, killing the trunk…

Yeah, these things do go through my head styling a tree.

I’ll think, “why should this branch have grown here? Does it make sense? Will the rest of the tree shade it out and not let it thrive? What if there’s a burst of energy and causes this one branch to go that way fast, becoming a secondary trunk?”

Bonsai is Art, but it is a representational Art, meaning we are trying to take small trees and bushes look like old, big trees.

After some pruning, whittling down, of branches, I don’t think I need (the only bottom branch I’m keeping is the back branch I was fondling two pics up), now we are ready for wire and shaping.

First, I have to decide which way the tree will be going.

To the right, which gives the design an unbalanced but dynamic look, which will cause a bit of annoyance to some people.

Or should I bend the trunk back over the center of gravity, and resolve the tension by balancing the tree?

A tree will naturally do this, if it survives being bumped over initially. Trees with slants don’t last long in nature unless they can grow enough mass on the opposite side of the slant fast enough to counterbalance the weight.

The most ideal way a tree grows, and how they want to grow (mostly!) is straight up, no bends, twists, or curves.

No, really.

The oldest trees in the world (with few exceptions, the bristlecone pines in California, being one) are usually straight, usually have a dead top, and usually are about as wide as they are tall.

But those are boring, so we bonsai artists tend towards movement, design, style.

Speaking of which, some wire…

This is an initial styling, so the wire is spaced out (not perfectly next to each other) which will help you keep the branch from snapping when you do the bend. It’s also loose. I need to keep it on for a long time, so the looser (as long as I have good support still) the better. Less wire marks.

I also prefer two smaller wires to one larger. Better coverage when I get to the bending.

Which is now!


After the bend, this branch is suddenly on the interior of the curve. We don’t want it for a few reasons.

In nature, a branch there will weaken the trunk and cause breakage in a storm.

A branch in that spot will detract the eye from the line composition, basically stopping the flow.

And it won’t grow well because the interior of a curve will be shaded out anyway,


And there we go!

Can’t see that? Neither can I.

Lets get a more proper background:

That’s better.

I like the future this design holds.

It’s still dynamic but it’s balanced too.

Bob’s yer uncle!


6 thoughts

  1. Good job! A lot of my ficus like that get that rotting on the trunk. You provided a solution to the problem.


  2. Love this design, but being more mechanical than artistic, I can’t see the future tree. Can you describe how the canopy will be grown in coming years?


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