If any one tree in my collection deserves the moniker “project tree,” it’s likely my ficus. When I wanted healthy roots I let the branches run. Now that I want to stimulate new branches I cut back hard.
Ficus before cutback
That’s it for the time being – another round of growth and cutback will follow in late summer or next spring.
I’ve been having fun watching my new ficus develop. After seeing how quickly it’s grown, I can better understand the appeal of ficus bonsai. Here are some shots of the tree since the initial cutback in April (see “New Ficus Bonsai” for details).
After heavy cutback and repotting – 4/1/12
After 6 weeks in greenhouse – 5/13/12
After another 4 weeks in greenhouse – 6/17/12 (10 weeks after repotting)
I figured it was time for some cutback so I began evaluating the good and bad points of the tree. The good is that the trunk has good size and some movement. The bad is a large, straight branch with a large wound. I decided to remove the branch and see what happens. I made the first cut with a saw.
After sawing off the largest branch on the tree – note rotting wood near top of cut
I removed the last half-inch of the branch by nibbling away at the wood with a concave cutter. I left the wound convex so the resulting scar would be rounded rather than flat. After removing the bulk of the wood with the concave cutter, I cleaned up the edge of the cut with a grafting knife and applied liberal amounts of cut paste.
Somewhat convex cut
I returned the tree to the green house where I will begin feeding it to further accelerate the growth.
The remaining half of the ficus
My goal for now is to let these branches grow freely in an attempt to heal the large scar left by removing the large branch. Along the way I’ll be thinking about the future of the tree. And at the rate it’s been growing so far, I don’t think it will be long before it’s time to trim the tree again.
A few weeks ago, I found myself walking away from the Golden State Bonsai Federation’s Mammoth Fundraiser with three new stands and a large ficus. The ficus sported a funny, bulbous trunk and a nice, full silhouette. So I did the natural thing people in bonsai so often do – I removed the bulk of the foliage, inadvertently creating a sort of tropical Charlie Brown tree.
Ficus before cutback
Ficus after cutback – ouch!
I fully – and regularly – accept my non-bonsai friends’ critiques about the “beauty” of my collection. I consider this to be part of the intake process. When I get new trees, I focus on getting them healthy, and tree health always begins with the roots. I knew I would soon remove the tree’s soil and would therefore need to remove a commensurate amount of foliage – that’s what led to the big cuts.
The repotting went smoothly. I began by removing the old soil and trimming the roots.
I then went to work on some large roots that didn’t make sense for the tree. One large root in the front of the tree was too large for cutters so I gnawed away at it the best I could and then smoothed the wound with a chisel.
Removing a large root
I didn’t leave many roots. Healthy ficus can typically withstand fairly severe root pruning, especially if the tree is well cared for after the repotting.
Rootbase from above
Rootbase from below
Such a small rootbase made finding a bonsai pot easy. When I was finished repotting, I placed the tree in a greenhouse where it will be misted, but not watered much, for the next month or two.
Ficus – side A
I have yet to select a front for the tree, or an apex – it’s too soon for that. I still need to remove the top third of the trunk to address a large, open wound, and I don’t want to make that final cut until the tree has more vigorous shoots – and plenty of roots. I’ll start thinking more about the future style of the tree when I get to that point.