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Ficus Benjamina – Root over rock –

Ficus Benjamina – Root over rock –

I have some Ficus Benjamina cuttings that rooted in water mixed with some liquid rooting hormone. For a long time I was thinking about what new design should I approach with these in order to do something different. As I visited Greece this summer, I collected some interesting stones that inspired me for this project, so I started building my design as soon as I returned. So, the new project was established: root over rock of Ficus Benjamina. Usually, all the bonsai masters all over USA and Japan teach that root over rock projects start with adding wet sphagnum moss around the roots till these are established and reach the soil. However, I have a different approach. As usual, we learn from mistakes or from coincidences. I have a root over rock project with a Lonicera tree. At that moment, the rock was too large and the roots of the tiny tree did not reach the soil. I was in a hurry to leave so after I fixed the tree to the rock, I wrapped the rock with the small roots with an old t-shirt that I watered just enough to keep the roots wet. The idea was to continue the next day the work with sphagnum moss. Next day I was busy again, and then the next day thesame … so the tiny tree’s roots on the rock remained wrapped with the t-shirt. I just added water daily to make sure that the roots are wet. In a few weeks, I saw an increasing vigor and the tree started developing new foliage  and normally new roots. By the middle of summer all the roots reached the ground and due to the t-shirt that was tight to the rock, these ran in the close proximity of the rock, following its shape. Today they look awesome, these are thick, shaped just like the rock and again, due to the t-shirt it did not develop any feeder roots, tempted just to grow fast down to the ground. This is how I developed my approach and I will share it with you all as follows.

The rocks that I have collected have many crevasses and these look just perfect for such a project. 

These are the rocks that I have collected. They are pretty tall, so I had to fix them to the pots. In the pictures below, you can see the slim pots that I considered to use in order to put the accent over the tall rocks and their future trees.

In order to fix the rocks to the pot, I found the best place in the pot that advantages the design. I drilled two holes that will allow the wire to pass via the bottom of the pot and the lower side of the rock to make sure there is a strong bond between the ceramics and the rock.

In the same way, I drilled a hole in the rock and cut away the bottom side of the spikes of the rock to ensure a straight contact surface between the pot and the rock.

After fixing the rock to the pot, it looks like in the pictures below. Now you can understand why I chose a slim pot and why tying it strongly to the pot is mandatory.

In the same way, I fixed the second rock to the second pot. There are several good reasons why you have to make sure that the rock is not moving, the roots can grow with no danger of braking and when building the upper part of the design you will have a good and solid base to work.

The next step was to fix the trees to the rocks. For this, I use natural rope because it will keep the tree in position for a period of time till it will develop new roots to establish the position and in a few months it will rot away. Using a chopping stick I also arranged the roots in the desired places. When placing them, always think of the way where these will grow as the roots are tempted always to grow downwards and try to find the shortest path to the soil.

I added the new soil and the roots that were long enough, I placed them already to reach the surface of the soil. I know that as soon as I will start watering the trees, the roots will find their way into the soil. If you push them down into the soil there is always a risk to harm them with the force you use to push them in.

In the end, I added parts of another old t-shirt, tie it with the same natural rope and add some soil mix in the areas where the distance between the rock and the textile remained too big. In case you consider that the textile will dry out too fast, you can use a plastic transparent bag or kitchen wrapping plastic to create a closed environment that will retain the water. However, you have to leave the upper part opened to be able to water and to allow oxygen circulation.

I hope that by Spring of 2019 I will be able to remove the textile and give you all an update on the two Ficus designs. Normally, by then, the roots should have reached the ground already. Just as last mention, I already stated this in other posts. I do not like using sphagnum moss because it tangles between the roots, it never rots away and it encourages developing feeder roots close to the rock and not pushing the elongation of the roots down into the soil.

This is my approach that I found to work quite fine, so be my guest and try it on your own.

Thanks for the visit,
M.

Airlayer separation – Ficus Benjamina

Airlayer separation – Ficus Benjamina

In August 2017 I started a new project airlayering a ficus benjamina in the post entitled Ficus benjamina airlayering based on a technique that I read about somewhere on the internet. I let the tree develop for about 10 months and then in May 2018 I decided that it is time to do the separation. Looking at the root system that was developing inside the bag in the airlayer, I considered that there were enough feeders to be able to supply the tree after separation, taking into account that I was planning to do a preliminary structural pruning as well, so a large quantity of the foliage was to be removed from the canopy.

As it can be seen in the picture above, there was a large number of leaves that I intentionally left on the canopy because the principle is simple: many leaves are photosynthesizing carrying sugars down to the roots right in the layer under the bark. As the bark is interrupted, the sugars cannot reach the roots in the soil of the tree, but these will promote creation of new roots at the point where the bark is interrupted. So, the more leaves that move sugars on the tree, the faster the roots in the layered region will grow. I wrapped the bag of sphagnum moss in aluminium foil just to prevent the light from penetrating it and disturbing the roots development because as we know, roots are photo-phobic plant parts.

After removing the plastic bag and started moving around the moss, I found many roots that where keeping the moss together compact.

Overall, the tree and its new root systems looked like this. To be honest, I was glad to find many roots there that I knew will be more than enough to sustain the separated tree, but disappointing was when I realized that the moss cannot be removed to comb out nicely the roots. When I insisted on removing the moss, I observed that the roots were so tangled in it that the risk of damaging them was inevitable.

So I cleaned out as much moss as I could without damaging the new fragile root system, and perform under-cut of the thick useless remaining trunk. The problem is that I knew at that moment that I will have to pot the tree with the moss package and with the roots chaotically tangled inside it. Another disadvantage of the moss is that it is a sterile moss and the instructions on the bag with which I bought it claims that it is treated to not rot. So I know that it will stay there close to the tree for a long time. Unfortunately, I had already done another airlayering on a Bougainvillea tree using sphagnum moss. However, I will never use it again for this purpose, and instead I will use a plastic container filled with flower potting soil that I know I am able to remove and place the new roots in proper positions.

The final product of the potting and pruning for preliminary stilling is depicted in the picture above. I did not do any wiring nor serious pruning to shape the tree in its final position. I pruned it just to give a preliminary architecture and leave enough leaves to help the new roots to establish in the new soil. Because in the middle of the pot, right under the tree there is the moss and around it towards the edge of the container is my classical bonsai soil mix, is another drawback because practically in the pot there are regions with different water uptake and different drying coefficients. This will make the watering process a little difficult but, it is as it is.

This entire process of separation took place in May 2018, as already said before. In July 2018, the tree was already getting into shape pushing new growth and letting me know for sure that the root system is working and developing new roots as well.

This is the way the tree looked in July 2018. I am planning on pruning it and wiring it in the end of August, starting of September and then let it grow over the winter till March 2019 when I will start pruning it back harder to work on the ramification more.

Hope this helps you and thanks for your visit!
M.

Ficus forest spring pruning

Ficus forest spring pruning

This post is actually a progression of my forest projects that I started to present last year here: Ficus forest project – progression

As day light already lasts for at last 15-16 hours I considered it’s time to prune my ficus benjamina forests to promote back budding. For this process, I had a proactive approach as from last fall till now I continuously fertilized these trees to increase their strength – and in the same time preparing them for the heavy prune that I will show in this post. Simultaneos, I needed to clean the soil surface because as ficus trees grow, they drop the covers of the new leaves and these rot on the soil surface. In time, it creates an ugly black layer of dead material that, if kept indoors, it will mold, smell ugly and promote fungal issues.

Comparing to the pictures from the post I indicated in the begining you can see that there is quite some growth at this time.

Here is a closeup of the surface soil that is quite ugly and full of dirt and dead material from one season of growth.

Here is the second forest that I created last year. If you concentrate on the soil surface, you can see that here the black material is more aggressive and obvious. This tree as well had a very serious and vigorous growth for one season.

However, both forests are too large already and their branches overlap creating a barrier for the light reaching the lower branches. For this reason, as seen in the pictures, the development of the top of the canopy is more aggressive than of the bottom’s. This must be corrected by pruning now, on one hand, and by future back pruning of the top branches to encourage lower one’s development. Also, the height that the trees reached is over the one that I have envisioned so they will need to be reduced.

Hard pruning combined with partial defoliation was the approach that I did for these trees. For ficus trees, it is important to prune back in this case to 2 or 3 leaves to encourage ramification. A very important issue to consider is that not all the leaves will back bud, there are some that never back bud. A strategy to make sure you cut back to leaves that bud out is to let them start budding. I achieved this by fertilizing them as I already mentioned and letting the branches grow out. On any species of trees, a rule of thumb to promote back bud is to leave it grow long. If you do so, you can see when and where you have to prune, as back to the trunk as possible but always to an already existing bud that will ramify your tree. I cleaned the soil surface back to the clear clay particles that the trees are planted in. Now it remains to continue fertilizing, watering and keeping the trees in sunny condition.

If until now I left the trees to grow wild just to gather strength, from now on I will be more careful about ensuring its growth on the bottom branches and slower growth on the upper ones. This does not mean that I will prune back as soon as new branches appear on the top of the canopy, but I will decrease their growing power by cutting of leaves on these branches. This method ensures the energy distribution of the branches that have more leaves that those with fewer ones.

Hope this helps you and thanks for the visit!
M.

Ficus Benjamina Variegata – one season stilling

Ficus Benjamina Variegata – one season stilling

In January 2016 I bough from a supermarket a Ficus Benjamina Variegata that looked more like a bush at that moment. The choice was based on its multiple trunks and the final idea was to fuse them into one think trunk. I took good care of it, keeping it over the winter on a sunny window sill, fertilize it every second week, never prune it and let it elongate as wild as it felt to do so. By late Spring 2016 it grew quite a lot and probably doubled its height. I considered it is time to start working on it, motivated also by the ambient temperatures that were already increasing. Longer days with an abundance of sunlight were at my disposal now, so I had all the necessary ingredients to start the process of fusing the trunks.

Preliminary I pruned back the Ficus, and removed closely all the leaves from the branches.At that time I did not have at my disposal natural raffia so I used instead of it used hemp cord. As you can see in the picture below, after finalizing  pruning and warping the tree. Using hemp cord proved to be a bad idea. At the lower side of the trunks, due to higher humidity as the cord is close to the soil, this rotted fast. Even this was no problem, but it promoted rotting of the trunks.

By early spring 2017, only one trunk remained. The rest of the rotted away and I removed them as deep as possible from the soil. One interesting thing is that one trunk fused to this remaining one. Its base rotted and now it is still there sicked to the main trunk. Details about this are depicted later in this post, just roll it down.

I was not too satisfied with the progression of the tree over an entire year. In early summer 2017 the tree looked more like a stick with some branches and leaves here and there. Far away from any of the initial ideas that I had with this tree. I knew at the moment what I had to do in order to thicken the main trunk and the side branches. I had to place the tree outside and expose it to continuously changing weather conditions such as rain, wind, sunshine, warm and colder rays. Especially wind, because it moves the trunk and the branches helps a lot in a fast thickening of the wood as it tries to repose to bending.

I wired with copper wire the branches into the desired positions and covered the soil with natural fertilizer and then with moss to make sure that humidity is kept constant when keeping the tree in full sun. This process started in May 2017. The tree was watered every other day, excepting rainy days when it was not necessary.

Wiring the branches into their correct position gave a nice distribution of the leaves both to ensure forming levels of branches with leaves and also making sure that sunlight penetrates and reaches the trunk and the leaves from all sides. A top view of the tree proves this. Too long branches were pruned to keep a nice harmonic overall shape of the tree.

Thicker branches required doubling the wire to make sure that those will stay in the desired position. In the picture below one can observe that the top branches were bent to form lateral pads. To create the force and the tension in the wire required to bend them and to make sure that aggressive windy days will not move the branches in other position, doubling the wire has to start from the trunk creating few spirals around it and only after that to be wired around a specific branch.

As expected, by early fall (September 2017) the tree had a serious evolution. The trunk and the branches thickened a lot. The base of the trunk actually doubled its diameter. As it can be seen in the picture below, the process was so aggressive that the wires cut inside the wood, in some regions of the tree they were so deep that the actual bark of the tree was maybe 1mm higher than the wire. I know, the wires should have been removed much earlier to avoid scars in the bark. My experience with Ficus species proved that such scars are many times advantageous.

On Ficus species, such scars will heal in less than 6 months completely. The nice thing when healing is that on the surface of the bark a texture remains uneven due to those former scars and this by all means adds to the value of the tree and proves to compensate the simple bark present of Ficus species. So, to be honest, I left intentionally the wire there to bite in and create those scars. I always do so!

I was writing earlier about the fusion of a former complete trunk with the main trunk of the tree. In the picture below one can see where the old trunk was cut of as it was dead and rotting. It is fused to the main trunk, it has branches and leaves and lives very well. Even more, when I wrapped it for the first time with hemp cord, I passed between the two trunks a branch and now it is growing from that fusion point, as it can be seen in the picture below.

As the temperatures outside are quite low now, the tree was moved inside. I have removed all the wires of the tree in order to start the healing of the scars. However, branches that still were not in the desired position were rewired making sure the new wire is not inside the scars created by the former wires that held the branch through Summer. In the picture below, the pads formed are already visible on the Ficus tree. Of course there is much more work to do, but comparing the overall design of the tree now, with the moment at the beginning of Summer, one can say that a big step forward was made.

From the roots there are two new trunks that I intend to use to create a new lower level of the tree. I wired these too into the right position and trimmed some of the branches that were growing strait up. All that it remains now is to winter the tree inside, keep it warm, in sunny  window sill and fertilize it with liquid fertilizer every two weeks. In 2018 I will move again the tree outside and repeat the experience from this year. Doing this, I think that in 2 or 3 years I will have a quite nice tree ready to be called bonsai by all means.

Ficus benjamina airlayering

Ficus benjamina airlayering

In 2015 I bought from a local nursery a ficus plant with three trunks grown in the same pot. At the moment, the idea was to interweave the trunks and fuse them together to form one tall plant as room decoration. On the way of fusing, something went wrong as  the trunks did grow unevenly. Hence, it was impossible to continue the same project because there were no more trunks to fuse. In the picture below you can see the interweave trunks. However, this plant grew vigorously for the past 2 – 3 years and I have decided that the only remaining possibility is to airlayer the tree exactly at the highest fusing point of the former trunks.

On YouTube or on Google there are several methods for air layering, mainly all being based on using sphagnum moss as wet coating. Many methods are based on cutting the bark  around the three for a height of few centimeters. Many such procedures failed because the tree rooted only on one side or not rooted at all. I think that if you create a “custom made” root system, it is highly important to start the right way. Cleaning a section of the bark around the tree can result in uneven roots. One method to control the roots for a certain position of growth is to clean off the bark of the tree only in the points where you are interested in promoting new roots. In the same time, using such a technique one can obtain a nice nebari evenly distributed around the tree.

As it follows I will present step by step how I did the airlayering of this ficus tree. First thing to be done is to moist sphagnum moss in tap water (or rain water if available) for at least half an hour before starting to airlayer. If you moist too much moss, it is not a problem. You can use the rest of the moss to distribute it evenly on soil’s surface. This will eventually give new living moss if proper care is considered by misting it several times a day.

For airlayering I have considered to use the point of the trunk where the last fusing happened. It is strange how after fusing, practically only one trunk grew continuously and the other two faced lack of energy and had a very slow development compared to the other one.

Using a drill, of course not fixed in a drilling machine but driven by hand, I performed few holes in the bark, around the tree. The depth of the holes is dictated by the thickness of the bark. However care should be considered to not penetrate the tree too deep to damage it. Doing so, you will be able to control the new roots to grow only from the holes performed with the drill. creating the holes around the tree at the same height will ensure that the nebari will have the same plane of development.

I have drilled one hole directly in the point where two trunks fused. This hole had to be deep enough to penetrate the bark that is quite thick. This hole was drilled deeper than the other ones from the surface of the trunk. You can compare yourself the holes from the picture below.

The holes performed by hand were all powdered with rooting hormone for woody plants. This was bought from a local nursery. I personally use for powdering with rooting hormone a brush used by makeup artists. This helps in a correct and even settling of the powder in the holes. To increase the speed of the the rooting process zip ties are used to strangle the trunks. This will slow down the energy coming from the leaves to reach the roots in the pot and will force new roots to emerge from the holes drilled in the trunk. Mainly this is the motivation of using these zip ties.

The last step is to fasten a transparent plastic bag around the holes and fill it up with the sphagnum moss moistened earlier. I closed up the bag as strong as possible to stop the humidity from inside the bag to evaporate. From time to time I put some water on the upper part of the plastic bag and it slowly finds it way inside keeping the moss moist all the time.

As soon as the new roots will develop, the  transparent plastic bag will help to see the actual new growth. More, this helps to decide when the new roots are sufficient to perform the separation of the new rooted tree from the old trunk and pot it into new soil. I will keep this topic updated when this moment will come.

Ficus forest project – progression

Ficus forest project – progression

In spring 2015 I have started a ficus benjamina forest using few thin cuttings from a tree bought from a local nursery. I treated the cuttings with rooting hormone in powder form. At that moment I have used a soil based more on flower soil mix, bought from the same nursery, so not the best solution. I had many problems with it such as mold, smell and slow development. However the cuttings started rooting even in those vicious conditions. The first picture taken back in 2015 at the very beginnings of the forest details the dimension of the cuttings.

A small traditional Romanian clay house was added just as theme for the project. The ceramic tray housing the forest was placed on a sunny windowsill where in the afternoon the leaves receive direct sunlight. In spring 2016, the forest was replanted and the soil was replaced with a clay based one, using grit mixed with flower potting mix in a ratio on 7-3. The position of the trees was also changed, placing the clay house in the middle, to be surrounded. Regular liquid fertilizer was applied and some pebbles of slow release fertilizer were added. The forest was left on the same windowsill to grow. The new soils mix that allowed better drainage, hence often fertilization, helped the forest to grow much faster. In fact, in early summer 2017 it became mandatory to do radical changes of the forest as it did not fit any more in the oval tray where it started growing.

In the picture above the result of 2 years of growing the forest can be seen, reaching a quite dense ramification with a large amount of leaves. At this moment I have decided that for healthy future development I had to divide the trees from one to two forests in two different ceramic trays. As I had no intention of trimming the roots because these would have more than enough space to spread in the new trays, one day before repotting, I watered well the forest. By this I increased the chances of success when getting the roots out of the soil. As I tend to use the same soil composition as the one from 2016 in both trays, I mixed the fresh soil with some of the old soil. I did this to make sure the new soil will have remains of the bacteria needed by the trees that was already established in the old soil.

I did comb out only the surface soil from the roots, leaving the rest that is fixed by the feeders in place. Working with wet soil also increased the chance of success when replanting the trees. Usually this maneuver is quite stressful for any tree. I had the misfortune with other ficus projects that were not successful due to too much trimming of the roots.

After preparing the new soil and the new ceramic trays with holes and draining screens, I have placed the trees in the desired positions and started filling with soil. Using a chopping stick, I have worked the soil around the trees to ensure no air pockets remain close to the feeder roots. Step by step I have filled the trays up to the top. When finished I gave it a good watering, making sure that everything is properly wet. For one tray I have kept the clay house as theme and for the second one I have used a tin soldier placed on a rock, like a warrior inside the forest.