Ficus Salicaria, 2015 to Present

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This is a cutting I took from a Ficus Salicaria in June of 2015. I just cut it off, trimmed the edges of the cut with a very sharp knife, and pushed it down into this little blue pot. 


Here in Virginia, I keep ficus in my office window during the cool months, and outside in the summer. (I don’t have a greenhouse to protect them from the cold.) I try to protect my tropicals from any temperatures below 50 degrees F, which I have been told is far to conservative, but be that as it may, they are inside about six months of the year. They do pretty well though. The cutting above, for example, grew to this in two years:


And that was starting with zero roots!

As I mentioned in my last post

I like to let my ficus get hot and happy in the summer sun, and just as they start to show signs that they are going to push a bunch of new summer growth, I do whatever heavy work is needed: pruning, repotting, wiring… the works if necessary. In my experience, this approach results in a quick recovery time and gives the tree more than enough time to grow out before they need to come back inside in late fall. 

This little Salicaria has been outside for a few weeks, and those lighter green leaves on the tops of branches in the image above are new growth. Time to get to work!

Since I knew this had been a stick pushed down into the pot, I figured a good part of the base was buried. I needed to see what I was working with before making any decisions. 


As expected, the roots were very low in the pot. And look what I found when I washed most of the soil off.


Pretty sweet, right! Now that I could see the base of the tree, I could begin to decide what to do. But where to cut… I know. Right about… here. 


Did I do that?

Now, before you think I am a terrible, horrible person, I want you to know I am not crazy. I learned practically everything I know about working with Ficus from someone… well, from someone who is crazy! Adam Lavigne gets all the blame here! (Thanks, man.)

Seriously though, Adam really knows his stuff. If you don’t follow his blog, AdamAskWhy.com, you should. And besides, after you check out some of his projects, you won’t think I’m such a horrible guy. 

Now, where were we. Ah, right. The butcher job. 


I cleaned up the cut with a nice sharp knife and got it tied down into the same pot. A chopstick is the tool of choice to make sure soil fills all of the spaces below and between the roots. And then I decided to do some more cutting. I mean, it really doesn’t need leaves at the moment, right? 


Now we have visible surface roots, a nice bend in the trunk, and taper. All good things! And I swear it will be pushing out all new leaves in a matter of days. 

But wait! We’re not quite done. I did just chop off a significant chunk of a tree that rooted super easily. Let’s do it again. 

Here’s the big chunk. 


This time I decided to try a little rooting hormone on this and two other branches that seemed a shame to waste. 


Here they are. Three cuttings in the same pot. 

The irony is, I don’t really want these. My office window is only so big. Maybe they will find their way into the hands of one of my friends from the local bonsai club. We shall see!

A little Captain Jack, anyone?

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This is the second time in as many weeks I have made a Pirates of the Caribbean reference in a blog post. You can check out the first one HERE. I don’t know what that means, but since I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with my therapist yet, let’s talk about bonsai… and figure out what it’s got to do with pirates. 

I finally got around to bringing this little guy home from my office window to spend some time outside this summer. 


Not so little is it! But do you see how tiny that pot is!? This Ficus Microcarpa has done really well in that office window over the past 7 months or so. 

As I walked out of the office with it this afternoon, I suggested to one of my colleagues that I should take bets on how tall it will be when it comes back in the fall. Not to suggest it would be taller… quite the contrary. 

You see, I like to let my ficus get hot and happy in the summer sun, and just as they start to show signs that they are going to push a bunch of new summer growth, I do whatever heavy work is needed: pruning, repotting, wiring… the works if necessary. In my experience, this approach results in a quick recovery time and gives the tree more than enough time to grow out before they need to come back inside in late fall. 

My colleague made a face that bonsai folks know very well. You know the one. The face that suggests we are cruel to our trees. 

She searched for the words… “it’s like you are castrating it.” Queue Captain Jack. 

https://youtu.be/dRE4cs4AEhk
The quote that popped immediately to mind is at around :50 in the video above. But those of you who know Jack, know that he has a bit of an obsession with Eunuchs. (And those who don’t know Jack… Well…)

Here are some other selections:

You’re not a eunuch are you?

Lovely singing voice though. Eunuch.

If only she knew! It is, in fact, my intent to gradually develop a very manly tree indeed! And maybe it will have a lovely singing voice as well. We will all have to wait and see. 

And speaking of wait and see, let’s hear your votes. How tall will it be after I work on it later this summer? Here’s a closer shot with a ruler to help you out:


I will make sure to share the work I do when that time comes. 

Weed and Feed

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No. Not weed and feed like the combination fertilizer and weed killer you put on your lawn. Keep that stuff far away from my bonsai. I mean “weed and feed” as in, “If you feed the critters, you may need to weed more often.”

Can you tell what you are looking at here?


I suspect a squirrel or chipmunk carried as many sunflower seeds as it could shove in its mouth and spit ’em all out into a little hole they dug I the bonsai soil. This is the second such cluster I found this week!

Stay out a my pots ya little whipper-snappers!

Carving Away Trunks

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This Vicary Privet is happy and healthy, and while you may not be able to tell just how many, it has way too many trunks. 


Not sure about the front yet, so here’s another angle. 


It’s time to make some decisions, but HOW?! I took a good long look and tried not to move too fast — a common mistake for me. There were a couple that I knew I wanted to keep, and a couple that really obviously needed to come out because they didn’t have much growth or were interfering with the keepers.


 This got things moving in the right direction, and after removing a couple I could get a better look. Now I could see that one was far too straight. Another was angled counter to the flow that was beginning to develop, and eventually it was clear that I needed to take it down to three. 

I am no pro at carving, but I decided to get a start on shaping all of these large cuts. 


In addition to hand tools, I put this Nibbler bit to work. 


I wired just a couple of branches to get them angled in the right general direction, but I refrained from pruning anything more than the trunks that were removed. 

Here’s how it looks now. 


And to give you an idea of my vision for the future, I will leave you with a sketch. 

A Young Redbud 

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I was struck when I took an initial look at this redbud today. As it is shown below, there is a tip toward the front at the apex and there are branches at textbook locations on the larger trunk: left, back, right, left, back, right. It was almost too good to be true, so I moved it to the bench and grabbed some wire to start this young tree on the path. 


Closer examination told a different story. This next picture shows the base (with some poorly applied wire) from the same front as above. Can you see how it curves under and back as it meets the soil?


On the other side, the base flares out toward the viewer giving a greater sense of age. For now, this will be my front. 


Branches were wired down and new growth pruned a bit to encourage some branching. Unfortunately, the tip at the apex, which now goes in the wrong direction, had to be removed leaving what’s left of the apex rather skimpy. 


This is a very young tree though. It has a long way to go, but this is a fair start. 

Layers of Buxus

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In my years in bonsai, I have noted a consistent interest from non-bonsai folk regarding whether we name our trees. I name trees only when I need to distinguish one from another of the same species. I call this boxwood “Concord2.”


It was retrieved from a trash pile on the curb along Concord Drive. At the time it had three trunks. I split this twin trunk (it got to be #2 because it has two trunks) from its sibling tree, a single trunk tree I call Concord1 (one trunk). Concord1 is the tree in this recent post.

Well, now that I have bored everyone let show you what is am up to with Concord2. (And I’ll try not to explain any future names.)

The photo above is how Concord2 looked when it was shown last fall. Even as it was on display, I was planning changes. I’d like the foliage to be more layered and complex with multiple pads rather than just the three foliage masses it had then. Today I took the first steps toward that goal.

Here’s how it looked with fresh spring growth before work began.


And here it is after.


This is just a step down the road, and it is clearly not refined. Some branches were removed, others were repositioned with wire, and one branch on the back toward the top will be removed eventually, but for now I am going to let it grow out as a sacrifice branch.

It doesn’t look like much at the moment, but it is on a good path for the future. I think I will slip this into a slightly larger pot to grow. I look forward to sharing its progress in the future.

World Bonsai Day Festival

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I spent a good chunk of the past weekend at a bonsai festival but haven’t written about it. I hate to think I have disappointed all three of my loyal followers. 


First and foremost, the setting was stellar. We were at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. We were literally in the shadow of great trees, including Goshin, above, which is claimed to be the most famous bonsai in the world. 

(Ok, I don’t like when people misuse the word ‘literally,’ so I will qualify the “literally in the shadow” thing. It was cloudy and rainy for most of the weekend, so there weren’t a lot of shadows… and even when the sun was out on Sunday… Well, you might have to bend down to be LITERALLY in the shadow. I mean, they are bonsai!)

Here are a couple shots of the Potomac Bonsai Association trees displayed in the China Pavillion. 



A nice showing. We also had a formal display challenge (apologies, no photos), a great bunch of vendors, and much more. 

Thanks to all those who worked so hard to make it all happen, including dozens of volunteers. This is an event to look forward to each year!

Plans for after the show

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I come from an art background. When an artist submits an artwork for exhibition, it is bad form to change the artwork from what was shown to the juror. 

I don’t really know the “rules” when living, growing things are selected for exhibition. I did some refinement pruning on this tree in advance of showing this coming weekend, but there is a little part of me that says I should not make any further changes before the show… even though there is obviously a branch that has to go. 


Do you see it? Just below the apex the trunk splits in three directions. One of those three has to go. I’m going to remove the one on the right. The question is, when? It can definitely wait. The real question is, do I have the patience to grow it out as a sacrifice branch to thicken the trunk. Maybe get a graft out of it and get a branch down lower on the trunk. 

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.