Building Structure

There might be a tree here. Underneath the leaves, somewhere. Maybe. But I do believe it’s time for the scissor. Let’s see what’s underneath.

 Ah, I see a trunk. We might have a bonsai here, instead of a bush. Not that a bush is bad…..

There are even some branches. Yup. Uh huh. Movement too.

 Sometimes I feel like a sculptor with a hammer and chisel, chopping out the superfluous. Like here. Three branches from one spot.That’s the easy first step, cut out one. I love these challenges. I’m going to do the work as I usually do it, branch by branch. 

First, I get rid of these….….singularly, they’re called “syconium”, more than one are called “synconia”. Latin is weird sometimes. I was called out once about the plurality or singularity of the word. Bonsai people are funny.

This tree is a ficus microcarpa “green island”. A ficus is a fig, a fig is a ficus, so most people mistake these round, fruit-like thingies as figs. But they won’t be figs until they become pollinated, usually by a specific wasp. So now we will call it a synconium, which the official definition is: a fleshy hollow receptacle that develops into a multiple fruit, as in the could call it an inflorescence, a modified stem, some even think of it as a kind of bract. Hell, you can call it a potentiality followed by an actuality. Anyway you think of it, consider this a combined entomological, etymological, and botanalogical lesson for the day. You’re welcome. 

Continuing forward, I clear out the multiple branches and defoliate the old, damaged, and shaded out leaves. I keep the growing tips (stipules, if you would) and the last one or two leaves. Aha! Here’s a good example of multiple branching from one point. There are three. I haven’t figured which one I want to keep yet, give me a minute. This one above is a definite removal

And the one going back, and that’s it. 
I often will keep younger branches and get rid of older ones, for the vigor and flexibility the younger ones offer. But in this case, I don’t need it. 

Here’s a choice to be made. Do I keep this to wire over the top?

Or get rid of it?  I think it goes. The first level needs help. 

I think that’s good for the moment. Notice I didn’t cut any tips yet? I’ll get to that. Now we need a new angle of attack, I think. 

That looks good. 

Let’s look at the roots. It doesn’t need a repot per se, but I can adjust the angle a little. A change of view almost always changes your view……….now I’ll get rid of some branches that are hiding the trunk. And it’s time for the wire. Obviously there’s good movement that’s been achieved from clip and grow, but that process leaves definite straight lines. Nature abhors straight lines. Mostly. But in bonsai, straight lines often don’t look natural. Even conservative bonsai artists don’t like straight lines. That’s where the wire comes in. Back to the tips. Notice the leaf is now almost upside down after wiring? Those leaves will not, no matter how much you believe it to be true, give anything to the tree. It is better for the development, the health, and the structure of the tree to get rid of them. It’s a defoliation thing, ya’ dig? Only those leaves that are laying flat, and able to catch the sun, or can be wired into that position, are useful or even healthy to keep. That’s another reason I remove old, discolored, and damaged leaves. It takes less energy to replace them than it is for the plant to move them or fix them. And damaged leaves can’t be fixed anyway. The buds are already there, the energy is allocated to grow them. Let the tree replace the old leaves with new ones. It works. If there’s anything I’ve learned about life from my teenage kids, it’s better to work with those hormones than against them. 

When we think of plants, and how they grow, think of the hormones as computer programs that tell the plant how to grow. It’s hard to fight the programming of the hormones, the plant will do what the hormones tell it to do, even if it kills it. That’s why it’s important to learn what the hormones do, and when, and importantly, the right time of year to perform the techniques we use in bonsai. 

It is June in Florida, the ficus is growing, both in the root and crown sections of the tree. The tree is very healthy. The weather has started the summer schedule, finally, which means daily rains, evening heat, humidity, and lots of daytime sun. Now is the best time to do this. 

Now, I’m thinking this branch needs to go:It hides the trunk a little, but it can stay for now though. 

I still left many growing tips (stipules, remember?) intact because I need some elongation of some of the branches. Not to mention the tendency of this variety to abort branches. Regardless of this, what’s great about the species is the ability to reduce the size of the leaves to about the size of a dime (.705 inches and 17.91 mm). Great for bonsai. And that’s it. All the leaves are laying down, the branches are splayed out, it just needs a little more growth and then it’ll be ready for prime time. 

Posted in branch placement, Horticulture and growing, refine, wiring | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

It was a Monday

I’m walking through my collection on a Monday. Last Monday, or maybe two mondays ago, as I write this, but you may be reading this three years from now so I’ll just say, “It was a Monday”. I’m looking around at the trees, as I do, and I see an empty spot. Of course the first thought is “Uh oh, someone stole it!” But the second is to look around on the ground in the jungle of growth under my stands. And there it was. I’d like to blame the cats. But the stand needs to be repaired too (tip of the day, metal stands rust. They look cool but you gotta fix them after a while. Fertilizer really eats up steel). So here I am, oh, woe is me, a broken pot, a rusty stand, I’m in for a bad day. But, as is always the case, my problems are pale by comparison to the rest of the World’s. 

On the Tuesday, I learned of a friend’s passing. His name was Paul Katich, an American bonsai potter, bonsai artist. My Monday wasn’t so bad after all. His obituary, as they all do, leaves too many details about a man’s life, out. And I don’t know many of those details either. I only know what he did, which was excellent bonsai and bonsai containers, and the conversations and time I spent with him. And that’s what life is, spending moments and remembering those moments when, perhaps a shared joke, or a drink, or meal, make the loneliness that is the true reality of man, go away for a little while. And it’s those moments One should cherish. 

The last time I saw Paul and his beautiful wife Norine, who is always smiling, was at the 2017 Abs/Bsf convention in Orlando. But, because of a snafu that occurred with a scheduled teacher that didn’t make the seminar, I was suddenly occupied for the whole event, teaching four classes and giving a demo. The only words I spoke with him were the usual ones “Hey! How are you? How you been?”. I spoke with Norine a little more, she told me that Paul was just getting over a cold. She was always looking after him. Of course, I wish now I had spent more time with him at this convention, even just a short conversation over pots, but, as I thought, I was too busy. 

I remember a convention, this one was in Lake Mary Florida, several years ago. I was instrumental in finishing a bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon that Paul had brought along. We both got in trouble that night. That’s where I learned why it’s better to buy, and drink, good bourbon. 

I have a new student, his name is Evan. He is going to be a senior in high school next school year and he’s already thinking of college. What that means, if you are into bonsai trees, is that you can’t take them with you when you do go to college and stay in the dorm room. Bonsai don’t live very well in dorm rooms, as you may have known. Evan is so intelligent and has the forethought to understand this, a good two years away from his dorm room experience, that he reached out and asked, on the Bonsai sub on Reddit, for some suggestions as to what he should do. As usual, on any Internet forum, there were many a varied and convoluted bits of advice. Well, for my two cents, I volunteered to board his trees at my nursery in exchange for labor, like pulling weeds, carrying heavy things, etc. After some private messages, and asking his mothers permission, we came to an agreement. And now I have a student that comes once a week. He’s helped with unwiring and re-wiring, repotting, defoliating. And carrying heavy things too. 

How does that relate to Paul Katich? I let Evan choose a new pot for the ficus from above. Here’s some of the choices:  As I set Evan to work defoliating that ficus (it’s a ficus salicaria, btw, a willow leaf ficus)….. …let me show you the pots. 

First, these are all pots made by Paul. 

His building skills were near perfect….……just look at the lines of this round….……you could etch glass with it. His glazing skills were even better. 

Not only were the glazes interesting and unique, but if you liked a glaze on one pot but needed a larger or different shape, he could reproduce it. He took copious notes on the processes and recipes when he practiced pottery. He knew what worked and what didn’t. He made handbuilt, slab built, thrown, and pinch pots. Which is a rarity in today’s bonsai pottery scene. 

He used different clay bodies, washes, stains, and glazes in complementary and complex ways. 

And, most importantly, he shared what he knew without reserve. He wasn’t competitive. 

This was one of the first pots I got from him, I still love it and think it’s one of his most beautiful. It’s a wheel thrown round. One of his first. You can just see a few things off. The drain hole isn’t quit the perfect circle he achieved in his later works. The tiedown holes are a little small and not as numerous as on the later pots. And he just has a chop, he hadn’t started his signature FLA-USA with his catalogue number. The name, Bellota, came from Bellota Italy. He loved the area and loved the name. I believe the chop might be an acorn with leaves. It is the acorns in the region of Italy that are fed to pigs to produce a type of ham that rivals the Spanish or French cured hams. 

The number system on the bottom of the pots are how he kept notes. It allowed him to be able to look up the build and recipe specifics and be able to reproduce those effects on that specific pot. That’s the difference between a hack, like I would be, and a true master. And he was a master. This is him winning first prize for oval pots at the Third National Juried Bonsai Pot Exhibition at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, June 2015. He also won 2nd place for rectangles. 

The three pots that fit our poor ficus today are these:Evan didn’t know but I let him chooose which one we would use (well, I guided him a little). The funny thing is, his first choice was also his last choice. Here’s the tree in each pot. 

Those of you who follow me on all the socials, know which one we picked. The greenish blue one. 

I loved how many tiedown wire holes Paul began to put in his later pots. I’d like to think I influenced him in that way, we had a long discussion about it at one of the Joy of Bonsai shows one year. 

The reasons we chose this one were a few. The shape of the pot wall mirrored the trunk movement on the left. With this being an emergency repot, I wanted a deeper pot for the health of the tree. Lastly, the color complements the new, red growth of a willow leaf ficus. 

You chose well Evan. 

And now Paul. It’s hard to write this. I wish I had spent some more time with you. It’s always going to be that way. You were young, and your passing was and still is a surprise. I still have the dwarf acer rubrum you gave me. I’ll grow it out and cherish it. I have these too few pots to cherish. I have the memories, especially of the time right after I got out of the hospital the first time. I went to that years Joy of Bonsai, the one where they had the special benefit auction for me. The one where I got shocked looks from everyone because of how bad I looked. There were people who said I looked like I was dying. You didn’t treat me any differently. You just let me sit in your booth and we shared time. I can’t remember much of our conversation but it was a comfort. I remember that. Thank you for the time you gave me. I wish I had had some more time to give you. I won’t say Rest In Peace, because, even though you had had some challenges recently, you always seemed at peace, with a smile, a laugh, and a warm handshake. May your journey be one of delight, discovery, and creation. I truly feel for your wife and your family for the hole that your passing has left in their lives. I cannot imagine their pain. Thank you sir. 

In memorium:

Paul Katich, Bellota Pots: December 17, 1955-June 12, 2017

Posted in Art, goings, pictures | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Not your dad’s bonsai anymore

I wasn’t going to write a blogpost on this tree but, interestingly, when I posted it on the Socialmediaverse, I got a bunch of people asking me to do a write up. A ficus Benjamina.The weeping fig. It belongs to Cosette, who got it from her dad. My job is to style it so that Cosette likes it. At the moment she doesn’t.  As some of you may know, the ficus Benjamina is not a well liked tree in the bonsai scene in the West. Not talking about Japan, because there aren’t many Japanese nurseries that use any ficus (though Kimura has one) but in the East, it’s used extensively, especially the southeast Asian countries. 

In the West, I believe the contempt is two fold. Firstly, many people consider it an indoor houseplant. And once you describe a tree that can withstand being indoors,  there’s a knee jerk reaction against it (to explain what that means to the non Americans, knee jerk is referring to a reflexive response that has no thought, reasoning or even emotion behind it. It may have begun with those things but the response is now conditioned so that when one might say “hello” you reply “hi”). But there are many plants we use for bonsai that can be indoor plants. It’s usually the understory trees (meaning they grow under taller trees) that work best. A notable example: azaleas. Yup, the classically Japanese bonsai subject that usually ranks very high, if not at the top, in lists of the most beautiful bonsai in the world, can be grown indoors. 

The second reason people dislike Benjamina as bonsai is their propensity for dieback. This post will describe a technique for the proper pruning to minimize dieback. But to address the prejudice against Benjamina simply because of the dieback, let me give some examples of other, notable, bonsai subjects with significant dieback: maple species, bald cypress, pine, juniper, and several other species of ficus. Now, before you all get wrapped around the axle about me including pine and juniper in that list, I know what your arguemebt will be: one has to learn the proper pruning techniques when working with them. And I think I mentioned, about 60 words above, that there is a proper technique for pruning Benjamina. 

Amazingly, it’s very similar to how one deals with a juniper. 

First, growing tips are important. When doing a clean out before pruning, remove any interior branching and old or damaged leaves. But leave growing tips. On a ficus they’re called a stipule. Those are the pointy things at the base of the leaves on the above picture. 

These would be the interior leaves and branches to remove. They do nothing but take energy from the plant, being as they don’t get light, just like on a juniper. Get them outta there. 

There is an Achilles heel, much like spider mites on a juniper, that Benjamina have. They are the first to get a bug called a thrip. You’ll know it by the leaf folding in half. Prune off those leaves and treat with a systemic insecticide. 

Here’s the tree just about cleaned up except the top left. 

I can, for the sake of brevity of work, just cut out some of the branches I won’t use in the final design. The question now is, how does one do that to minimize dieback? 
Same as with a juniper. Cut to another branch with strong growing tips. 

Now to get rid of some larger branches. By leaving the strong growing tips, I’m not worried about any serious branch dieback. Time to do some chopping. 

Here’s where I get to brag a bit about the Benjamina. It heals wounds faster and better than most ficus. I’ll get to that in a minute. First though, a repot. 

That’s right, the good old reciprocating saw manuver. It’s one ficus I use it on when I need to reduce the root ball. 

If there’s one mark, one legacy I can impart on the bonsai world it is this:  Please untangle your ficus roots!On a Benjamina, which grows the best trunk and nebari without the need for grafting, it’s just a matter of straightening them, pushing the roots against the trunk, and tying then down. 

On the front of the tree you can see how well they fuse. It makes for a twisted and mature look on the trunk. 

I don’t like these crossing roots but I can’t do too much about them now. If I cut them out it would look terrible, they’ll flatten out in a shorter time than closing the wound from any editing I do. 


Tying down those roots. 

The systemic insecticide. 

Now, the fun part. Hee hee! 

To me, it looks like a scarecrow with those two heavy branches so close on each side of the tree. One has to go. Let’s chop of the left. 

 I’ll be using some duct seal on the wound, after some carving out of course. After the knob cutter. 

Get out the big gun. 

Smooth……ish. After the mini grinder and a sharp knife. The “eye” shape helps the sap flow better in order to heal the wound faster. 

Here’s are some other wounds I cleaned up as well. That grey putty is the duct caulk. 

How about some wire?

 This is the only big branch that needs moving. It’s in the back but it’s parallel to the trunk plane. Parallelism isn’t pretty. 

It needs to be more of a back branch. 

I’d say two of these will work. 6mm aluminium. 

Told ya’! My wife was skeptical. 

A couple more branches here or there….….only a couple…..

And we go from the scarecrow look….. Yes, that was the front. 

To a little more refined look. 

Structure instead of a bush. 

Look at the subtle trunk movement without that branch. 

Again, the before: 

And the after:

I’d like to see it in a more shallow, cream colored oval with a dark clay body. 

 I think I tamed the beast and, most importantly, Cosette, the owner, likes it now (sorry Cosette’s dad…). And, bonus, Cosette is a potter and is already thinking of a new pot for the tree. That is very gratifying. 

And with that, I think, my work is done. 

Posted in branch placement, progression, refine, roots, wiring | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Why even airlayer? That’s not doing bonsai, is it? Or, Where does the story end? 

Propagation. Taking cuttings, growing from seed, air layering. That’s not what bonsai is. Bonsai is taking trees that have been grown by farmers, or nurseries, with the first, second, back branches  there already, and styling them so they are all purty and you can pose in front of them with a serious look on your face (almost that constipated look….really) and post it to Facebook (because Instagram is for losers you know). I mean….I mean….growing a tree isn’t bonsai, no siree. For the true bonsai artiste, the tree must be at a certain level of growth and refinement already, before those professionally trained hands can touch it. The tree must be, to use some cross industry jargon, fluffed. 

Ah well, maybe I’m just an asshole but I disagree. If a bonsai person can’t work on any tree at any level, like Suthin, or Guy Guidry, or Ed Trout and several others can, then they are either maladjusted snobs or horticulturally deficient. Rant over. Let’s talk airlayering. The tree above is a golden raintree (Koelreuteria elegans). Not a bonsai.  It’s an invasive tree in Florida and I’d like to get rid of it. But the problem is, I have an overly zealous friend who likes to cut trees down but doesn’t like to clean up after himself. And I told him to not machete the poor thing because I don’t want to clean it up either. I’m tired you know. So what does he do instead? That’s right, he cuts a ring around the tree to kill it so I wouldn’t have all those branches and leaves to get rid of. Problem is, he did this about 2 months ago, the tree is still alive, and the cut, miraculously, is healing back. I told him at the time that it wouldn’t work and he asked why. I reminded him of the airlayer we had just done. What’s happening here is, basically, the water and nutrients go up through the outer layers of the wood, as shown by the red arrow (coulda used blue I suppose, but that’s why the top hasn’t died yet).  The yellow arrow represents the sugar or energy going down through the cambium. Since the bark is cut, the downward moving stuff collects at that site. If we were to wrap it with sphagnum moss, like with an airlayer, that downward energy (and hormone) movement would cause the tree to grow roots. Kinda neat. In this trees case though, it’s just healing back. Like I said, neat. And this  is why I’m ranting and raving about propagation today. You see, my other friend, Cullen (I only have a few, I’m running out of them you see….) got a couple of Brazilian raintrees at the last Abs/Bsf convention and I’m pretty excited about them. Here’s one. Not much to it. A big trunk, some sparse growth. Here it is with a broom for scale. I didn’t have a banana. It’s too tall and lacking in any taper for a good bonsai. It needs a trunk chop. But I’d rather not waste that trunk girth (that’s what she said), so an airlayer it is. The question is, “Where?”  It has an interesting nebari. The trunk, no matter where I end it, has little movement, except in the muscularity of it….…..or taper. In fact, it has either inverse taper (if you’re a cool kid), reverse taper (if you’re an old timer), or obverse taper (if you are a botanist). Meaning there’s a section of trunk that is wider above than what it is lower down. That’s the best place, usually, to airlayer: at that wide section. Let’s get to it then. First step: sharpen your knife! Next, be careful with existing wounds. This section is a good place for the airlayer but it’s too close to that cut. So I’ll go below my thumb. 

And the rule of thumb, make the ring about the thickness of the trunk or limb you are layering. Moss and foil….

And lots of fertilizer. Make sure you mix it in. 

This soil mix is a little porous, or dry, as they say, and I don’t want the tree to wilt while I’m, as the professionals say, in process.  So the modus operandi is to cover the soil surface with the leftover sphagnum. 

The other raintree is smaller and has another situation. Because of the lack of taper it is literally two trees. Or two potential trees I guess. This one I’m going to try something new, I don’t know if it will work or where the idea came from first, but I’ll try it. 

Cut the bark ring. The wire is a platform for this plastic cup lid. Then the moss. And the foil. The idea is for the roots to spread out horizontally instead of ball shaped like a regular airlayer. Usually you have to spread the roots out after the top is cut off the bottom, which means that you could damage the new, tender roots. I’ll let you know how this works. If it does I’ll take credit, if not I’ll assign blame.  Maybe I’ll go further with roots and plant it on a wooden board, spreading out and stapling each root until I have the perfect nebari. Maybe. If I do, it’ll be just to show that it can be done and that I did it. I don’t really care for perfect nebari. I like interesting root spreads. 

The next tree-BONUS!- since I’m on a roll, is a hackberry I picked up at Dragontree Bonsai Nursery, at the beginning of the year. It’s, umm, tall. Really tall. Super tall. From the floor of The Nook it hits the ceiling. That’s maybe 8 feet tall. Good candidate for an airlayer. The question here is, again, where? I got the tree because of this Shari. So I don’t want to damage it at all. Above that we have some taper and movement. I’m gonna tell you, I’ve been looking at this tree for many months. It’s been tough to figure out where the story ends. 

Looking at the canopy…..….I think I figured it out. Let’s do some pruning first, to get a look at what I’m doing. There we go. About 4 feet tall now. The height and the gradual taper are suggesting a classical trunk to height ratio, to my eye. So the air layer will be way up top. This’ll be interesting. That wound is right where I need to do the layer. It’ll either make an interesting root spread, if the layer works, or I’ll kill the top. Either way, that top needs to go. So let’s try to save it. ​Kinda hard to get the knife in there.  

Moss and foil. For the curious, I use foil because it molds itself to the moss, and it keeps the layer site a little cooler in the Florida sun. 

Now, I feel confident to prune and do a rudimentary styling on the tree. Because of my studies with the scientific literature concerning plant hormones and the role they play in plant growth (or death) I know, or am fairly certain, as to what happens when I am cutting and pruning a plant. Think of hormones like a computer program. They tell the tree what to do, regardless if it might kill the tree carrying out those instructions (which is why I said death earlier). You can read about hormones and bonsai in the epic blogpost, I use some fancy words to justify my defoliation habit, go figure. It’s a page turner. 

Pruning for shape and structure. I’ll need some wire too. This needs to be here, for example. 

Pruned, and…….……wire. I’m using larger gauge and looser loops to minimize wire scarring. Getting some good movement. I’ll do a few blogposts on this tree I’m sure. Again, heavy ferts, some new soil on the bottom of the pot and as a top dressing. And it’s still too tall to put in my normal tree pic taking spot. You get the gist. 

To review. A fat airlayer. 

A flat airlayer. 

And a tree that every stylish bonsai person will say it’s too tall, that kinda looks like the eye of Sauron. Keep it secret. Keep it safe. 


Posted in Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, rare finds, roots, tips and tricks | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Ain’t got a leg to stand on

I was picking up some tools from American Bonsai Tools in their warehouse a month or so ago and I came across this cool…..thing.Cullen, the owner, likes antique things that are made well. Stools, lamps, metal shelves and such. I would guess my find is a sorting bin of some, ah…sort. It’s old and a little beat up. Like I am becoming. A little rusty. But still strong and useable. In today’s world, something like this would be replaced with plastic or even cardboard. I like it. He said I could have it. Now to figure out how to turn it into a bonsai display stand. 

Ah. I know, I have some old wood in my shed.  Old pine planks from broken down pallets I collected before it was cool to make things out of pallets. I was a hipster before it was hip. The ultimate hipster. Don’t judge me. I hoard building materials. 

And the texture of the wood matches the bins character. To Work!

The planks arent wide enough so I need to join some together for a large enough top. That means I get to play with the table saw! Too bad you can’t hear this. It sounds like what being a man sounds like. Eat your heart out Sean Smith. What I’m doing with the saw is to make some flat edges to glue together, to “join”, as they say. It would be better if I had an edge planer but this’ll do. Now some glue….…..and the clamps. Wasn’t that a punk rock group? First, measure the pot to make sure the top is the right size. Looks good. Measure once, cut twice, that’s the motto my father in law lives by!Cool. Not just my Chuck Taylors but the board size too. Now the glue and then the clamp….Awesome….the clamp has succumbed to the humidity that is Florida. Rusted shut like the mind of the Perpetual Intermediate that will hate this stand. Yeah, I’m taking about you! What do you do with a clamp that doesn’t clamp? No worries, we don’t need no stinking clamps, we have bonsai wire! A couple of lengths. It is aluminum, alas, but it’ll work. It always does. 

Twist em’ tight. Bondage….

The clamps are just to keep the boards even. And they look good, in case people are only looking at the pics. 

Now, time to alter the metal contraption. For this I turn to my trusty angle grinder with a metal cut off wheel ….and, I can’t plagiarize this any more, but, the most important part about shop safety are these………safety glasses! 

The next pic is courtesy of Ben. Now you’ve done it, you broke it! Split it in twain!Now we put it back together. I found these pieces of angle iron when I was digging the post holes for my new fence. Good book btw! 

A little cutting to fit. And I have Guaracha to weld them. He actually wouldn’t let me do it, even though I know how. He’s greedy. 

I told him to make the welds dirty and mean looking. You know, to fit in to the overall look. 

Now, the fun part! Trying to figure out the finish on the wood. 

Let’s see, I tried burning. Wire brushing. Wire cup wheeling. Did I mention that there are active termites inside this wood?A scotchbrite pad. Some of my rusty vinegar stain. I’d like to get the wood dark, to contrast the pot, which is  a cream color. Something’s not right. I know, I’m  not showing enough of the metal. Metal is important, Metal is life, Metal rules. That’s kinda the Main Idea of this stand. 

Like this. But I still need that wood aspect. How about this? That’s perfect. So much for all that clever joinery with glue and the bonsai wire…..I’ll use it somewhere else, I’m sure. But the board is too thick, I’ll need to plane it down about a quarter inch. This, my friends, is the tool to have if you use recycled wood. ​

There’s the noise! The smell! The machinery! The shavings!   It either makes you feel manly or like you want a hamster, which is definitely not manly. I’m a little confused on how I’m feeling right now. 

There we go, it’s level now. 

Back to some more experiments with the finish. 

Wax!……hmmmmnnn…..……interesting……………..scented candles….. I think I know what to use. 

The color though, it’s still not right. So I went to my neighbor, Bob, and asked him what he thought. He said, “I have just the thing..” and dug around and got me some stain…..……aha…..I think that’s it. 

And I have the sequence of application, for those who wish to steal my techniques. I can put it all together now. 


A wire cup wheel on the angle grinder. The idea is to accentuated the grain. 

The top. On the bottom I burned it first then wire wheeled it.  

I burnt the top too, a little, just to boil the pine resin, darken it a bit.  Then the stain. 

And then, while the stain was still wet, I set it on fire. 

Oh yeah, fire. 

Then the wax. I chose the green because I liked the smell, like Christmas trees. 

Some polishing and…..viola! You can see the difference between the top board….…..and the “finished” one. 

Drill a few holes.  

And some lacquer for the steel, to stop the rust.  

And Bob’s your uncle (my neighbor, in this case, thanks man!). 

Looks good to me, about the look I had in mind. 

Old but still strong. Aged but noble, showing the materials it’s made of. It’s working for me. 

I know it’s not many people’s cup of tea. They want that traditional, regular, boring stand. And that’s fine. I can make those. Anyone can really, that’s all just equipment, wood. Some technique. Easy. Or buy one made already. That’s even easier. Just need cash. 

From where I stand, I want something interesting, something unique. Something that screams, “Hey, Adam made this!” 
I think I accomplished that. 

Now, just wait ’til you see the companion plant………

Posted in philosophical rant, rare finds, sculpture, woodcraft | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Developing The Tree

You might remember this tree, its was featured in the epic, groundbreaking and  confirmationally biased blogpost, ” I use some fancy words to justify my defoliation habit, go figure“.  It’s a ficus microcarpa, sometimes described as a “ginseng”, as though it’s a separate variety. P’shaw! They’re really just ficus grown from seed, hence the bulbous caudiciformogical root bulge, and called “ginseng” for marketing purposes by marketing porpoises. 

Now, I know what you’re saying, I’ve heard it before. You’re saying “You’ve gone and done it now Wonka!”“You’ve ruined your watershed!”…… I mean “You’ve let the wire dig into the branch, ruining it!”Nah! Think about this, that branch will be 2 to 3 times thicker than it is now in a few years. The wire marks will. E long gone before I show the tree in an exhibit.  All I’ve done is caused some gnarliness. Rest easy, keep the emails to a minimum. It’s not the end of the world.  It’ll be okay, my dear friends, it’s a ficus. 

The leaf color is something to look at though. There’s a bit of mottling, but I believe the worst looking ones are just last years leaves. Leaves get old and fall off. No worries there. Though there might be a bit of thrip damage. I have something for that later. Let’s get to the meat of the blog post, developing the tree. I’ve let the branches grow out since last you saw it:

So now it’s time to cut the tips and encourage back budding (don’t make me repeat myself about those hormones, you know, the auxins and the cytokinins and all that, it’s all in the above linked blogpost). As I prune, on this fig, the microcarpa, I like to leave at least one or two leaves. 

Like here: I’d prefer to prune back to where my middle finger is pointing (yeah, take that!) But it’s very likely to abort that branch altogether. Not sure why, most of the microcarpa varieties back bud amazingly, but the specie doesn’t.  

To the pruning, right? The above branch has been the strongest on the whole tree. In the previous blogpost, it was the only one I cut the growing tips on. 

It’s a process, grow, wire, grow, unwire, rewire, grow. In this case I’m not going to rewire again until maybe June. Which means it’s a good time for some synthetic fertilizer……I call this radioactive blue. Let’s do a short lesson on fertilizer, ok? 

There are two basic forms: granular and liquid. That’s pretty self explanatory. Granular goes on or in the soil and the idea is to provide nutrients every time you water and stays there for several months. 

Liquid is applied to the leaves and soil and is absorbed by the tree as you apply it. You might get some residual nutrients if your soil has a decent cation exchange capacity, such as a clay or organic based mix, but mostly it drains out of the bottom of the pot. 

Then there are two kinds, organic and synthetic. What’s the difference? It’s easy too, because nitrogen is nitrogen, potassium is potassium etc. The difference is in the action of delivery. 

Synthetic fertilizers have all the nutrients available immediately for the plant to use, in a form they can use. They work. Sometimes too well. If I have a tree in a bonsai pot with synthetics, and every branch is wired and I forget about it, I might have really ruined the branches because those wires could possibly be permanently embedded in them. I have some trees like that. 

Organic fertilizers have nitrogen and all that too, but it’s usually in a form that needs to be processed, usually by microorganisms like fungus or bacteria, and then the nutrients become available to the plant through some form of symbiosis. This means slower and, sometimes, healthier growth. 

All my trees with wire and in bonsai pots get organic fertilizers. I just can’t keep up with the growth when using synthetics. But there is a place for both. Say you need to get some winter growth on a ficus. Use a liquid synthetic foliar spray and you’ll be golden (er…green). Or if a plant is struggling in the summer, use an organic, cake style fertilizer like SumoCakes, with some microorganisms included in the cake itself, and the tree will respond slower but stronger. 

But enough on that for now, I’ll be writing a more in depth article on ferts soon, delving into ph, uptake, action and reaction etc. I can’t wait……’ll be as fun writing that as my first soil post.  

I’m also putting down a granular systemic imidacloprid treatment for that thrip control. I prefer granular because spraying is unhealthy for me and other things, like lady bugs or bees. The first time I used a spray I remember being all shaky and trembly, but not in a good way. Not a good time (it could be said that if one remembers a good time it really wasn’t a good time…..) 

I chopstick it all into the soil because, really,  who wants to look at all those radioactive blue granules? They look like Nerds candy. The chopsticking also helps to aerate the soil if it’s compacted at all. 

Tell me now, between the two of us, you gotta admit it. You like that fat bottom, don’t you. Makes you want to touch it……

And, that’s all. No wire, but lots of water, sun. 

I will update you in about a month, after I get back from Louisiana probably. I’ll be in Lake Charles for the Louisiana Day of Bonsai on June 24. Should be a blast, come out and see me, I’ll be the one dressed in black. I’m also doing private sessions for those who are between Orlando and Lake Charles Louisiana. 

Posted in maintenance, philosophical rant, progression, rare finds, refine | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Chop chop chop, is it technique or butchery? 

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. 

Posted in Advanced basics, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, rare finds, roots | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments