Lowering a branch on an historical bonsai

Man I’m getting around a lot here recently. I’m literally living a “Have bonsai, will travel ” lifestyle on the blog.

Today, as I work on a Brazilian Raintree (which you’ll see in the next post or so), I’m at Agresta Gardens, in the studio, assisting Ben (read that, taking pics and nodding my head in support when he waxes poetically about certain bonsai trials and tribulations) in the lowering of a big branch on one of Ed Trout’s signature ficus salicaria. Ben purchased it from Ed about a year ago and has been maintaining it since.You can see my little stick of a Brazilian (which has good movement, in its defense) in the foreground.

Ben had spoken with Ed about lowering the branch, and Ed agreed with the idea. Ben is doing a slight defoliation, just to see the branching better.

That thick branch in the center of the shot, below, is the candidate for lowering.

You can see a guy wire on a secondary branch. That’s part of the technique that’s being used here. It will get a bit more….invasive… in a bit.

First, a screw is drilled into the root base so we have something to attach the bottom of the guy wire to.

On the branch, some aquarium tubing is used, with a split cut into the topside so the wire can be twisted tight (I think that Ben came up with this himself)

Pull it tight…..

Push down on the branch a little, so that when you twist the guy wire during the operation, you have more downward movement, without running out of twisting space.

He’s so delicate sometimes. You should watch him sipping afternoon tea….

With the wire in place, the next step is to mark the cut.

Wait?! The cut? Yes sir and or ma’am or they.

I’m sure you’ve heard of cutting a wedge in a branch to lower it? This technique is similar but instead of a wedge (which is hard to match the angle of the wedge-cut with the ultimate downward movement of a branch, ending up with a bad match of cambium layers, resulting in uneven or no healing at the cut site), we will be cutting a slim blade’s width, and then lowering the branch until it closes, then cut another slice, etc….until the branch is lowered adequately.

First, some Lysol to sanitize the saw. Which is repeated several times during the operation

Then the cut…..

On a ficus, we want to go almost all the way through the branch, only leaving the bark layer on the top, intact

My tree being ignored over there while I assist.







I think Ben performed the slice/twist technique (which is the opposite technique that’s performed by a מוהל) about six times or so. To clarify (thanks Peter) the slice is in the same exact place each time, just removing a blades width of material.

Ben added a second guy wire, which pulled the branch back a little, to get a few more degrees of twist to the pad.

that’s my hand just to show you that I’m just the camera jockey today. I think the regular readers could tell anyway. Look at those nails, who bites them down so short, anyway….ewwww.




And I think he is done. For the record, Bob really is his uncle.

And there’s the end result.

The before…..

The after….

Even though the amount of material taken out at the cut site was less than a quarter of an inch (>6mm) , the movement at the branch tip was probably about four inches (Ben says six. I’m not one to argue. That measurement is best left between him and his wife….)

He didn’t seal the cut site as a ficus “bleeds” it’s own latex, effectively sealing itself (interesting to note, the white latex from a ficus is not its sap, but, depending on whom you listen to, is either a defense mechanism against chewing bugs and animals, or a sealant for when wounds occur and it helps the tree heal faster).

The tree went back into the bench to get some sunshine and to let it grow.

Next post, the friendship BRT.

Posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, tips and tricks, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Face-hugger or Swoosh? You decide


Inner-est-ing. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I like to work with non-traditional shapes very often in my art. This is not the first time you have seen this tree…..……nor shall it be the last (….back back, over the falls….)

Cookie cutter bonsai, both in trunk form and branch selection and placement, is easy. Once you learn those artistic principles, you are allowed to exaggerate, edit, or even throw them out. That’s what Art is. But art is also about being successful at what you are trying to convey.

So if you are trying to make a tranquil, natural representation of an upright deciduous tree, you’ll tend to want taper, radial roots, the branch structure, etc. that convey that idea.

If you want a face-hugger, you gotta use something else for inspiration.

I’m looking at changing the pot on this bad boy (I had a reader say that they are never bad boys, they just need a firm hand….).

It’s not a bad pot really, but for this tree, it is. Notice the considerable bulk hanging over the edge?

It keeps tipping over and resting on the lower branches. Not really falling over but resting. And it doesn’t help in keeping that first branch where it needs to be. Wire removal…..


It’s a crazy sexy, beast, amirite?

I came across this cartoon by French cartoonist, Rémi Lascault, that aptly describes why so many people prefer a tree in a leafless state (with permission from the artist)Hee hee!

Now the knife comes out.

My very sharp knife I carry everywhere. Just for cutting things.

Or, you know, cleaning my fingernails.

But I’ll need to retire to the cabin of my vehicle for the surgery. It’s gonna rain!

Somehow a wound developed on the top of the tree (wait, I didn’t introduce you to it yet, did I? It’s a ficus salicaria root cutting I got last year at the Bsf convention from my friend Mike at Emblem Bonsai and Exotics, a very talented bonsai artist in SE Florida who has some of the best developed stock anywhere. And his trees are not average, but of specimen quality).

This wound was not there when I got it but I think it might have come from sunburn. A common bark wound cause here in Florida. I need to clean it out and get to good wood.

Like this.

I can hear the collective gasp. Don’t worry, it’s a ficus, it can handle it. Hopefully.

I think it actually improves the trunk silhouette.

The rain has gone and now I need to repot.

Good roots, which I expected in that deep pot.

Here’s the new pot. I’m not sure of the maker but I believe it’s a full time potter who just made a bonsai pot.

Which explains the quality of the glaze.

If you can tell what that says, you’re better than me (which isn’t hard, I’m low end good, at very few things).

Screened and ready for the tree.

Ahhhhh, that looks better. No more falling over (unless we have a hurricane. Speaking of hurricanes, keep our Carolina bonsai friends in your hearts as they brace for Florence. It was this week last year that Hurricane Irma hit me, and I know the heartache it can bring).

Time to go back to The Nook to wire, after picking up the kids.

Back at The Nook.

Let me try to explain some of the techniques….

The branch in my hand below needs to be twisted back and counter clockwise.

Like so…

The branch behind it just so happens needs to be twisted clockwise.To do that and keep the wire from unraveling, you need to wrap the branch in the direction and/or the way you are twisting the branch. And since I have two branches with the need of opposite twists, I can use them to anchor one wire. Here’s one of My YouTube videos explaining the how and why of wiring.

I don’t need this branch anymore.

Now to the wiring.

That’s better.

Just a little teasing.

It is a great pot. And you can see the root base better in it than in that cascade one.

I’m liking it. But I don’t think it’s much of a face hugger anymore.

And I probably shouldn’t be calling it a swoosh either.

I don’t generally name my trees but I think it deserves one. I’m open for suggestions, leave a comment, let me know what you think.

Posted in Art, progression, rare finds, refine | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Carving and wiring: a tale of a bougainvillea, a Ficus, glass and sawdust.

Tree number one: Bougainvillea. Needs repotting, wiring….

……and some carving. The nubs above…..

…..and above…..

…..and above……

But below, we have a willow leaf in need of some bondage. There is, amazingly, a YouTube video on this tree here

I do apologize to my YouTube watchers on the infrequency of my videos. I’ll get back into the groove with them soon. I just don’t like being on camera. I prefer for the trees to be the star. But…..

…..I’m just the dork…..to do the work!Don’t you wish you were as dorky as me?

Let’s get to the point.

The trunk is pretty nice. It was purchased from Wigert’s nursery by my client.

it’s in an Italian bonsai pot, believe it or not.

Your ten cent trick of the day is this: when carving, its best to cover the soil surface. Raw sawdust isn’t good for the soil. Since I’m repotting, I won’t be doing it today. The reason you cover the surface is, the sawdust will cover the soil, and, as the wood is breaking down, the microbes that facilitate the breakdown process, bind nitrogen and, therefore, the tree can’t access it. If you want to use an organic component, it’s best to use one that’s been composted.

Dod you notice I used the word “bind” instead of “use”? Those same microbes will release the nitrogen after the first year of decomposition. That’s why composting is important, it gives you a very high quality soil component (used sparingly of course, we want slow, healthy growth) that reduces the need for excessive fertilizer applications (which are polluting our waterways and aquifers). But what do I know? Let me get back to carving.

First pass done.

Some fire work.

More fire work.

At this point I realize I didn’t take the “before fire work” pic so here is the “before fire work” pic.

My flame thrower I use for fire work.

After burning I use a wire brush to clean up the fire work. I burn the wood to help remove the tool marks and the pithy fibers that happen carving raw wood.

The wire brush is to bring out the grooves in the grain. It helps to “age” the newly carved wood.

Bougainvillea wood takes to carving well, in my opinion.

My tip on carving deadwood is to make hollows and cavities that create light and dark lines on the piece, as opposed to carving lines as though you’re drawing them (this comes from my twenty years plus of wood carving in general. I’m an artist first and bonsai is just one of my mediums. I’ve been a sculptor in wood longer than I’ve done bonsai. You can “draw” a nose or a mouth onto a chunk of wood, or you can create three dimensional eyes and noses and mouths, without lines, and let the interplay of light and dark on the piece create the lines our eyes need to distinguish form)

Now I just need lime sulphur. But that’s later.

Let’s repot and style this baby first.

As you see, the sawdust is as thick as a politicians dandruff on the back of a lobbyists suit. You’ll have to think about that one for a bit.

This is a client’s tree and we’ve been trying to increase the branches for the last year. And except for the top, which needs lower branching on the apical shoot, there are enough to make a nice canopy with which to hang the blossoms on.

Next is the YouTube famous willow leaf. As you can see, it needs repotting.

As per custom, a quick defoliation (denuding, if you’d like. I stole that from a Brit-words like that makes one feel oh so posh)

A length of wire.

Held above the tree.

The anticipation is palpable.

Sinuously coiled around the ficus’s limbs. Gentle.

You’ll notice the attitude and bends the limbs are in. Makes for an exciting image. Don’t scroll down……

I warned you. Not sexy at all. It looks to me to be algae.

The pot the ficus has been in is made of glass. Glass, in this case, is translucent, and let’s the sun hit the soil. I think that’s why it’s there at least. I’ve said many times, anthropomorphic logic and horticultural facts don’t always agree.

The tree is healthy enough so I’m not worrying about it much.

The pot is just too cool.

Really well made.

I got it from Emrys Berkower, a glass artist (Tokenlights.com) who works very rarely making bonsai pots. He will post some on the Bonsai Auction pages on Facebook, if we are lucky.

I could call the dirt “patina”. But I won’t insult you all that way.

Don’t judge me for the red drainage hole screen. “Any port in a storm” as they say.

Old soil raked away like last autumn’s leaves and regrets.

Root work and improvement.

In the pot. Fertilizer and all that.

And now I’m ready for the detail work. This is where I have fun.

Well, right after I go on a rant (I have fun with rants too….)

I am what one could call a mild anarchist. I don’t like rules, and hate arbitrary ones less.

But, if I were king for a day, I would outlaw the selling of one millimeter bonsai wire (or similar sizes) in one kilogram rolls. It looks pretty and all when you first buy them but all it takes is a slight bump and bam, a rats nest of metallic annoyance and wasted time trying to find the end (or beginning) of the roll.

What I do is to take the roll and wind it into smaller rolls……

…….I totally recommend this. Bonsai, as they say, is supposed to be relaxing.

Alright, sorry.

Back to the tree.

I told you there’d be bondage.

This is technically the second styling, and I’m surprised by the ramification I have already.

I can only say, “Bob’s yer Uncle”

From different angles….

To everything, turn turn turn….

Wait, I have a video. Just tilt your head a little….

I like the melon flavored Powerade best, by the way. It mixes well with tequila.

And that’s all the damage all I can do today.

I think I’ll try something different and work on a willow leaf ficus for the next post……

Posted in Art | 5 Comments

You’ll never guess who I got this ficus from!

Seriously, unless you’re an avid reader of the blog there’s no way you could guess who I got the tree from.

Here it was in its first appearance. Which was several years ago.

And now, today (after a quick defoliation).

And after a quick wire removal.

The pot it’s in is a Bellota, by the late Paul Katich.

I’m going to repot, rewire, and make some choices.

I get this all the time “uh oh, wire scars!” On a ficus or any fast growing tropical tree, wire scars are no big deal. It means that what this means to me is the branch is “set” in place. And I don’t have to rewire as heavily. Don’t feel like you’re a failure if you have wire scars. Take a look at even the most high end trees you see on the internet. They all have wire scars. Even Japanese trees. The ones that don’t have the one thing that can’t be faked: they have time. Time heals all scars, even wire scars.

I get this question a lot “how do you defoliate?”

The answer is to leave the petiole attached to the branch stem. Or cut off at lest 55% of the leaf (many artists won’t cut off the whole leaf, thinking it’s not healthy. My view is you need to remove enough of the leaf to cause the tree to abort the old leaf and push out the new bud at the petiole’s, or leaf stem’s, base.). So when you see leaves like below….

That’s just me being lazy on the first defoliation pass through. I’ll go back and “refine” the leaves. Ha!

Now that we can see the structure, we need to simplify each branching to only two twigs on each fork (which means it’s not a fork, considering a fork should have at least four tines on it, being the root of fork is “four”. A fork with three is technically a thirk. So it follows the a fork with only two tines is a twerk. Although it is kinda weird to say your’e using a twerk to toss your salad before serving it up……..but I digress).

Anywho, it may seem that it’s counterintuitive that I’m trying to build ramification by cutting off branches, but the structure will look much better this way and develop faster. Example, we have four twigs coming out of this tip.


And we have a cleaner structure.

Another reason we prune like this is, in nature, a branch will self prune these types of branches using hormones (like auxin) and abort the less vigorous shoots.

Making progress, defoliated, unwired, thinned out.

Now to re-wire.

I’m at my children’s school, waiting to pick them up, and I only have scrap wire to use, but that’s ok. You can re-use aluminum bonsai wire. Which is what I use almost exclusively. And have been called everything from a sissy to a low brow to a four year old for this.

But who, in their right mind, would even suggest using anything but aluminum on a fast growing tropical tree like a ficus, huh? If you can answer that, I’ll give you a dollar.

Not only can aluminum be re-used, but it’s also almost infinitely able to be repositioned.

This branch needs to not only be wired into position, but also twisted so the “pad” is in a better viewing angle.

In this case, I’ll be twisting it clockwise (as you view it).

That means you twist the wire onto the branch in a clockwise spiral.

And, when you twist the branch, the wire tightens, preserving the holding strength.If your wire is applied in the opposite direction of the way you are moving the branch, it unwinds and the wire becomes ineffective.

Now for that promised editing portion of the blog. It’s going to be exciting. Ready?

I don’t think we need this branch anymore. It’s too skinny and too low.

Now we are cookin’ with gas.

The kids have been picked up and it’s back to The Nook for pot selection.

I have a few…..

Don’t ever feel guilty for having more pots than trees. As you will see, choices are important. And you don’t have to water a pot. Unless it is pot. But that’s only in certain parts of the USA.

Whenever we repot, it’s important to improve the root structure. Just like a branch, if you prune a root it will spit into two or more rootlets. Below, where the bright white blob is (sorry for the undifferentiated blur of visual noise, iPhone camera…) Your roots should have taper, ramification, et al, just like your trunk and branches.

The fitting room is open. How’s this…..Not bad, but I need more pizzaz, more color.

Yellow again. More shiny but….

Ooooo….But it’s just a little too shallow. Maybe for an exhibit, if I ever show a tree again, that is. I’m going into a hermit phase….

This is a good green, but again, too shallow.

Aha! A nice color, good depth. I think I have found a new pair of shoes.

I especially like the cobalt drips on the rim.

I’m not sure of the maker, but I’m sure someone knows who it is.

And that’s that.

Well, I do have another tree. Another ficus salicaria that needs work.

I made a game out of it on my social media pages.

I gave everyone a chance to pick the front.

I could’ve gone with either of the three choices.

Here’s the new pot. This year I’m going for deeper pots in most of my shohin, someone told me I’m a little shallow recently.

You recognize it, it was the pot that the first tree was in.

The roots, a little mo’ better than I thought.

And my choice, the final result.

I guess the first tree needs a glamour shot too, right?

I just cropped, and added a vignette circle to it is all, darkening the corners. iPhone digital trickery (part of my tag line on Instagram).

Now, my loyal readers, I haven’t forgotten the blog title, the challenge falls to you all: Can anyone guess who sold me the tree originally?

Posted in Art, branch placement, progression, rare finds, updates | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

It sometimes seems like I have a Brazilian Raintrees

I’ve made it my mission this year to get some of my bigger trees into training pots. I have way too many project trees and not enough time. And I haven’t shown most of them, like the hornbeam and hackberry from early spring, but, as an example, you saw the casuarina from the last post.

This tree is a big air layer off of a tree that used to reside in a friend’s yard, from the east coast of Florida. I acquired it from a guy in Tampa, who drove over and and dug the whole tree up (and I mean a tree) for a couple of hundred dollars and a shotgun.

Considering this was a branch off of that tree, you can imagine how big it was to dig up.

It really has interesting movement, probably stemming (heh) from it being an air layer of a branch.

And it’s pretty big, comparatively speaking, to most BRT’s in bonsai, as you can see by the six pack below.

One thing I’m worried about on this tree is the color of the leaves.

They’re just a little yellow. And, with most things horticulture, the reason can be many different things which can be contradictory.

As an example on this tree: it can be staying too wet, or it can be staying too dry. It can be lack of fertilizer or fertilizer burn.

I’ll give you my guess a bit later, and (since I’ve already done the work a few days ago) I know the answer.

The size and growth of the raintree means I get to use my handy dandy secateurs.

They’re even Japanese!

My first guess is that the tree will end up at this angle.

Let’s dive in (metaphorically, some of those thorns are bigger than my pinky finger).

Chop chop!

I might consider this the front . The opportunity for deadwood carving is better from this side. But the branching is not very good, I’d have to lose those big limbs near my hand.

Whichever way I figure it out, the trunk will be cool.

This is bonsai from a development point, you grow and grow and grow, then you chop off what you don’t need. It’s like a big block of marble that will be carved into a dancing female figure, you end up chiseling off at least half of that rock.

Those chopped off branches might seem like a lot, and it is a lot, probably 85% of the canopy, but I’ll be taking it up to about 90-95%. (That’s one reason tropical bonsai can be called superior to practicing bonsai on temperate trees: this won’t kill my BRT. It’ll make it grow more and gain more strength).

Now for a look at the root flare. It is that which will ultimately tell me where the front of the tree will be.

First, the investigation as to why the leaves are so yellow. You may remember my previous posts about the symbiotic relegation ship that BRT’s have with a nitrogen fixing bacteria and the modules that result from this partnership (I’ve written much on them, here’s an interesting post to explore).

I’ve also written about the scourge of root knot nematodes on BRT’s (don’t let them sit on the ground, ever. Here’s a post on them. To answer the question you’ll have after reading it, the crab had little effect).

Back to today’s tree, my first inclination was nematodes. The symptoms above the dirt for nematodes is a yellowing of the leaves, almost constant senescence, and poor growth. But, surprisingly, there’s no evidence of nematodes bow the dirt. My second, off the wall guess was a lack of those nitrogen fixing nodules. And there aren’t any. I guess being an airlayer, the bacteria never had a chance to populate the soil in the pot. Or, the original potting, after the layers removal, had too much synthetic fertilizer and killed all the bacteria. In my garden, my raintrees are almost always green (I use mostly organic ferts, and I infect my raintrees with soil I know has the bacteria in it) so the color on this one was an anomaly. I guess I solved the case.

It wasn’t getting nitrogen from bacteria and I wasn’t fertilizing it.

Now I get my hands dirty!

Let’s see what kind of roots we have.

Not much on this side…

Which precludes me using this as the front.

Looks like it’ll be somewhere here….

Yup. That’s a good root.

Do you see how the tree flows down into the soil? That’s what you want, a nice transition with the roots looking stable, gripping the earth.

Here’s the training pot. It’s not a fancy mica one like in the last post, but it’ll do. Now, as much as you might think so, or have heard from some “experts” we don’t need to bare root on the first potting. I’ve seen many trees killed doing that. This was an airlayer, so there aren’t huge tap roots to remove, and the soil it was originally potted in isn’t that bad.

It’s not bonsai soil but it’ll be fine for now. When I repot into a ceramic pot next year, I’ll work on getting rid of the rest of that potting soil. Don’t you worry, I know what I’m doing. Mostly.

Now, I happen to have, in a pot, some soil from a raintree that had thosenitrogen fixing nodules in it. And that’s what’s in my dirty hand now. And a few handfuls is all I need.

The fertilizer I’m using is from the Ft. Wayne Bonsai club. I purchased it while I was on tour a few months ago and I think it’ll be perfect here. Looks like a brownie to me, but they call them cakes, (edit: they call them “Blocks”)

I just break it up and mix it in (I don’t care for using fertilizer baskets or tea bags for my fertilizer applications. The soil microbes need that organic material in the soil to be the most efficient they can be. It makes little sense to me to set the fertilizer way up on the soil surface where a microscopic organism, which might travel a half inch in its lifespan, to find and release the water insoluble nutrients locked up in the fertilizer cakes)

There we go.

I fooled you all, as I guess it seems that the trees want the tree to be a semi cascade. Which will be interesting to style, since I’ve never attempted one yet (I’ve done a cascade before, but those are easy).

Let’s see what else I don’t need and can chop off.

That was easy (I know it’s not really, but you have to know how the tree, any tree, responds to pruning to do chopping like this. I know from experience, and I can’t teach that, you have to get your own hands dirty and bloody before you can have the confidence to do these chops. Start off with small trees, sticks in pots even, and beat the hell out of them. Then get better trees).

One cool thing about this plastic pot is these little grommeted holes where guy wires can be attached.

And, the tip of the day, after cutting almost all the branches off, it’s easier to de-thorn and defoliate the remaining ones.


I mentioned carving.

Below, you can see the “top” of the tree, where it has the famous BRT dieback from heavy pruning.

When you cut off a branch, you should leave a nub to help mitigate the dieback. Sometimes it doesn’t work and the dieback goes into the trunk.

Like so….

But that’s not a bad thing in this case. The whole tree lacks taper, and I’ll be able to remove some of the heaviness and make it taper, when I do carve. Call me the lemonade man.

And, as I’ve been doing lately with my BRT’s, a layer of sphagnum moss on the soil surface, to promote root growth.

And is I have another big tree in a training pot.

I’m excited to begin work on it. You see on the right is where I guy wired one branch down. But I’ll let it grow out for a bit. Then the real wiring will begin. Like I tell my students all the time, “Let it grow”.

Stay tuned!

Posted in Art, Horticulture and growing, rare finds, roots | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Taming a She-Oak

Today, for your narrative and viewing pleasure, we have an: Aussie pine, she oak, ironwood, horsetail tree, beefwood, whistling tree, and every combination of the above. Here in Florida we call the casuarina equisetifolia an Australian pine. Some call it a filthy invasive that should be eradicated. There is evidence for that, as some research has been done showing where the leaf litter acts like a pre-emergent herbicide, preventing seeds from germinating. This is good for weeds, but not native species that are endangered on the Florida coasts.

But the specimen we have today is a collected one, dug up and removed from nature, proactively, and responsibly, making way for native species to flourish…..or something like that. All I know is that, in a bonsai pot, it’s not reproducing in nature anymore.

I’ve let it grow since I’ve gotten it…..Maybe too much.

I’m on my way to the Central Florida Bonsai Club’s monthly byot workshop. And I can get it in….damn it, where are my loppers?

This month’s meeting is graciously hosted by Mr. Ben, in his studio at Agresta Gardens.

I promise I’ll do a few blog posts on his trees as soon as it’s a little more hospitable outside. It’s a little too hot at the moment and I melt easily.

I’m sitting on a couch, in air conditioned comfort, spinning the tree to figure out the best front.

Hmm…uh huh…not bad…cool…

It’s going into that pot, a big mica.

The big fluff ball is either Luna or Nova. One of Ben’s Newfoundland puppies.

Here’s both of them. Nova on the left, Luna on the right. Big dogs. Photo by Ben. Yup, they’re puppies.

Hmmmm……yeah, the front is on this side….

The “front” is usually around a 5-10 degree arc, and it changes as the tree grows and matures. Surprisingly, there have been seriously vicious flame wars “discussing” the front of a tree.

Relax guys, they’re just little trees…

Time to chop. I think I need some liquid inspiration.

Damn good stuff. Looks like turpentine in that can, but tastes like a crisp autumn afternoon, the cool wind bringing up goosebumps on your arms as it blows through the brightly colored leaves piled up under the trees.

Kinda like the mess I just made on Ben’s floor, except the color, and it’s air conditioning and a fan blowing on me.

And there are no goosebumps.Just sweat and hubris.

But that’s how we do it here in the F L A. Chop what you don’t need, regrow the rest.

At least on this Australian pine that’s been sitting neglected in a corner of my nursery for three years.

Rob Kempinski, one of the gentlemen who collected this about 6 years ago (Reggie Purdue was the other one) looked across the room (that’s him in the pic below on the extreme right, just at the edge of the scene..) and said it looks like one of the towers in The Lord of the Rings.

The CFBC has two meetings a month, the first one (on the second Friday just to confuse you) is usually a formal meeting, with a guest artist or special program. The second meeting (on the fourth weekend, whatever day works best) is a byot workshop where you can bring ten trees, or none, and just watch. If you need help or advice, there’s someone there to help, or if you can help a beginner, that works too.

That’s Bruce below, sweeping up his mess. Wish someone would sweep up my mess in The Nook.

That’s Aaron and Ben (our host today).. We welcome everyone as a guest to our meetings, though we might start wondering if you will join after 3-4 visits. No pressure though.

Our website is Centrafloridabonsai.com, which has our calendar and special events on it.

Aaron, myself, and Ben. Photo by Rob.

Back to the tree, here’s the rootball. It was planted in a regular potting soil mix after collection.

The raked out rootball.

The pot, ready for wire.

My boots, and the tree.

Since Rob has only seen the movies, I had to tell him the tower he thinks it looks like is Minas Morgul, the citadel in the Lord of The Rings where the Nazgul live.

It kinda does. I like it.

My soil (this is the link to my newest soil recipe).

Since I’m at Ben’s, I’ll just use his fertilizer. It’s kinda like osmocote but it’s called Suncote, in this product.

That’s Ben, flexing for the ladies….

And some sphagnum moss on the exposed roots. I had to sit the tree a little higher on the right than even I like.

And the real reason I took this tree to the workshop: it now fits!

Yes, I know….I need to clean my car.

And yes, I could use a larger vehicle than a PT Loser, but, in its defense, if I remove the back seats there’s plenty of room. And, admit it, you always wanted one and now you’re jealous of my good fortune at owning this finely designed piece of machinery from the engineers at the Chrysler corporation. Ahem.

The Aussie pine didn’t really have any styling done except for the chop job. So no glamour shots today. But I’ll update as it grows and I get some wire on it.

What’s next? I take requests, if you’d like to see something I haven’t done, or need an update on.

Posted in Art, rare finds, roots, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The wind in the willow…leaf ficus

I have two ficus trees for you to ponder today.

This sweet sumo:

….and this one that’s in serious training. Let’s look at it first. My daughter removed most of the wire on it already for me…..….but she left me the bigger wire. I should probably have had her do it about a month ago…..

…..the wire is cutting in…just a little……

…..OK, a lot. Don’t worry, it’s a ficus.

I got the tree as stock material from Dragon Tree Bonsai down in Palm City, FL. An amazing place where old time Florida bonsai attitudes still prevail.

I picked out like 5-6 for development and resale. I only have this and another one left.

As is the case, though, I usually fall in love with the trees I work on the most. So it may not be for sale soon.

Just some clean up and elimination of superfluous branches.

Snip snip snip.

This ficus had most of the main branches in place when I got it and they stayed with the first styling, which is why they’re so thick and well developed. I find too many people cut off bigger branches when they do an initial styling because they see others do it.

But leaving the bigger branches allows me to chop back for taper sooner than later.

My students get a little nervous when I do this. They usually say “it took me months to grow that and this jerk just chops them off”

I’m thinking I need to cut back that first, left branch just a little more.

My daughter won’t be happy that she removed all the wire just so I could cut the branch off.


Taper is one of the design principles that help with perspective….making a small tree look bigger.

This branch will be left as a back branch.

It’ll help heal the chop as well. It’s better to have one on top and bottom of a wound as it closes a wound fast. But, alas, I just have the one.

Looking at my structure now, I’m seeing a problem.

The branch I’m pointing to above is at the same point as the one below….

What will happen is, as the tree develops, the trunk will thicken and you’ll get a knob.

It’s a toss up as to which I remove, and it’s really a design question and not horticulture, so the right one goes in this case.

There we go.

And that’s all with this one. The purpose of showing it was to show progression techniques. This would be a third or fourth level willow leaf. First would be a trunk chop, then branch selection from the Cousin It stage. Then a real first styling.

Now to the short and fat one.

Background on it:

It was styled several years ago by Jim Van Landingham at a Bonsai Societies of Florida convention. I won it in an auction, beating out some unsavory types who only wanted it for resale purposes (which means I paid too much for it).

It’s in a very refined Taiko Earth pot, by Rob Addonizio. It’s almost egg shell thin. Very dainty and subtle.

Here’s the tree last October. It was looking fine even then.

And here’s the now, after I snipped all the grow tips (which are called stipules, on a ficus. Pay attention, there’ll be a quiz).

It’s a tree on the move now….a tree in motion.

Have you ever eaten at Freddy’s Steakburgers and Custard?

That’s where I’ve ended up, and things are about to get good.

At least that’s what the sign says.

Burgers and fries ensue.

And the bonsai wire. The tree abides it all. Especially the funny stares from the other diners.

After a meal that couldn’t be beat, and custard so rich it’s in a higher tax bracket, it’s time to go home.

But I’m not done yet with the tree.

And it still has one more stop on its tour.

It’s a beautiful and bright morning and somehow I’ve ended up here… in Agresta Gardens studio!

I’m here mostly to steal soil and fertilizer. And to get Ben to buy me lunch.

I should do a tour of the Garden eventually. Not today though. I’ll wait for the weather to cool off a bit.

He too, has a Wall of Pots, but it’s a little more….organized than mine. And bigger sizes too.

But I’m not here to marvel at all the variety of pot he has, I still have work to do.

Time to repot!

Now you’ll see why I haven’t cut off those long air roots.

Nice root ball!

The roots that grew above the soil can now be folded under the tree when I place it back into the pot, improving the root spread (nebari in Japanese. Remember, there’ll be a quiz).

I’ll also need to shorten those roots that were circling the pot

This one in the back decided to get real big. The initial potting, done by Jim V, consisted of cutting all the downward pointing roots flat off, and treating the stump like a big cutting. I’d say it worked.

Now I do the same, but with the secondary roots that have come off those original stumps.

And just like on a branch, you “ramify” the roots.

The pot has been prepared.

The roots are spread out….

The soil is clean and sifted (for those who are wondering: 2 parts scoria (lava) and one part everything else, pumice, expanded shale, charcoal, zeolite, and maybe an oak leaf or two. Just for fun.

I tie all my trees in. It’s important for me as I have four children and so cats (at the moment. They keep showing up and I’m too much of a softy to chase them away).

Now for the fertilizer. I’m using this new one I made after hearing about it online. It’s homemade, by me, and it’s only two ingredients, dehydrated Powerade, infused into coffee grounds.

Look up on the Google machine “Powerade fertilizer method”.

It has to be Powerade, as it has high potassium (like Gatorade) but it also has high levels of B vitamins (unlike Gatorade), which, as you know, are good for roots. It doesn’t have nitrogen but it does have sugars, which feed the bacteria in your soil, which in turn, precipitates nitrogen out of the atmosphere, and then gives it to the the roots in a symbiotic trade with the tree.

The coffee grounds provide an acid environment for the bacteria to thrive in, and the caffeine acts as an organic pesticide, disrupting the nervous systems of insects and arachnids that are harmful to a plants roots. And they’re an organic medium that roots love to grow in.

Pour the Powerade in a pan and reduce by half, sprinkle in the coffee grounds and be careful, as the grounds absorb the Powerade and it’ll get dry very quickly. Don’t burn it! And viola…fertilizer!

Actually, all that above is a lie, I was pulling your collective legs. I was also just illustrating that, using partial truths and 25¢ words, one can concoct up a very plausible sounding narrative to make you believe anything. Just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t make it true.

The fertilizer above is actually Milorganite, my go to product. Which, ironically, doesn’t have any potassium. Too bad the Powerade fertilizer isn’t a real thing though…maybe…it could work……hmmm.

The fertilizer below is a real experimental one though. It was given to me by Zach from Ohio. The company developing it is called Biowish Technologies.

It is mostly nitrogen in an ammonia form.

But the cool thing is it has four different active bacteria that help the tree absorb other nutrients.

The nitrogen is very high so the application rate is low.

I’ll let you know how the trees respond to it. I’ve put it on both trees.

Just a little.

And also on the orange jasmine from the last blog post.

Alas, except for a short ride home, our journeys are over.

A few last shots from Agresta Gardens….

Which is becoming more SPLENDID all the time.

Here’s the tree again, for reference, last October (it’s the end of August now).

And now, in The Nook. It’s filled in and thickened some.

Time. That’s the one thing we have to wait on with our trees. You can speed some processes up, especially with tropicals, but patience is a trait one must have with a tree.

And that’s the way it is.

Posted in Art, branch placement, progression, refine, updates | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments