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!
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.
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.
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.
I will open my blog presenting a project that I have worked on for about half a year or more. Its a Ficus Benjamina trunk fusion project. I have bought from a nursery 6 ficus trees about 30cm high each and using natural raffia I tied them to fuse in one trunk. I had an unpleasant surprise, that after about 2-3 months, the trunk from the center of the fusion died and this did not allow the rest of the living ones to reach each other in order to start the fusing process. Hence, the only solution was to cut the raffia, remove the dead trunk and tie it again with new raffia. This was done somewhere in the beginning of April 2017.
In the picture above you can see the tree after removing the dead trunk from the center. I left it to develop leaves, roots and to thicken with the remaining trunks and start fusing them together. Even if ficus trees are kept inside as these are tropical species, I have observed that during late autumn and winter, these are slowly progressing due to lack of strong sunlight. However, from late spring till late summer are growing quite fast. I keep my ficus trees on a windowsill where they avoid direct sunlight at midday but from afternoon till evening the light reaches their leaves. This proved to be a good position for them and by their development, I would say that they like it and combined with proper fertilizing and watering, at least for my flat, this is the optimal position.
In July 2017 watching the progression of the tree, I have decided that it is time to remove the raffia, wire the branches into the right position and trim those where it is needed and repot the tree working a little to place the roots into proper position. At the moment of decision, the tree looked like in the image below.
In just a few months it developed many new leaves and the trunks fused together. The raffia ties already started cutting in the fused trunk so I decided that there is no more time to wait and I have removed it. In the closeup picture below you can see the marks caused by the raffia ties. However, a nice thing is that with ficus, these heal quite fast and what remains is some nice texture on the bark. To be honest, I have left on purpose the raffia on for reaching these future textures.
The next step was to wire each branch in the proper position and in the same time giving them a little bit of movement as ficus branches tend many times to grow perfectly strait. Where I had thicker branches I wired around it and moved it into the correct position. With thin branches, wounding the wire around it is more than difficult and also dangerous as these branches can break quite fast. So what I do is I pre-wound the copper wire on a thin screwdriver to obtain a coil with the inner diameter larger than the branch. To place this coil on the branch is very simple, you just have to rotate it like a screw around the branch. After the wire is in place, you can now twist and shape it to move the branch where you desire. The outcome of my wiring process can be seen in the picture below. It is important to mention that from now on I have to pay serious attention as the tree will grow and the wire can cut into the branches. So where it will be the case, it has to be removed and replaced with a loosen one.
As said earlier, the plan was to also repot the tree. First I prepared a new soil composition. What I use is lava, clay (fine mixed with course) and nursery planting soil. The mix I use is 4-4-2. In the image below, from left to right is the lava, the fine clay and the course clay. Mixing 4 parts of each with 2 parts of soil proved to be a lucrative solution for my trees.
I live in Romania and here, bonsai art is not too evolved so it is more than difficult to find tools, pots, soil or any other stuff that you would need. So many times I need to improvise and find solutions with what I have at my disposal. As pot for my tree, I bought a ceramic tray used probably for cooking, but I liked it and considered to suit quite nice my tree. I have drilled holes in it and covered those with draining screens as it is usually done.
Here is a closeup of one hole that I have drilled in the bottom of the tray. It came out quite nice. Two such holes are more than enough to ensure good draining of the soil.
Next, I removed the tree from the old pot and started working around the roots, combing out the old soil and trying to untangle the twisted roots. Before starting this entire repotting process, I did not water the tree for a few days to be able to work the roots easier. If the soil is wet, it sticks to the roots and forcing to comb out the roots can break them and loss of too many roots can endanger the survival of the tree. I use as a comb an old fork that I have bent a little each spike’s end. Seems to be a helpful and very cheap tool.
After removing all the old soil, I washed the roots of all the remaining dust and combed again gently the feeder roots in a radial shape, untangling them all. I also cut some roots that were growing directly under the tree, as I want all of them to grow only to the sides and not under it.
On the bottom of the pot I evenly distributed a layer of the new soil and placed the combed roots over it, making sure that these are in the proper position. Even if it is against my way of fixing trees to the pot, as this one is quite tall, about 55cm high, I passed a wire through the drainage holes and tied the tree to the pot making sure it will not trip over. I will remove this wire then the new roots will bound the pot and will be able to keep the tree in position.
Finally I filled the pot with the new soil, and worked it around the roots with a chopping stick to make sure that no air pockets remain to damage the roots. A heavy watering to ensure that all the soil is wet was the last step. Now I have placed the tree back on the windowsill and wait for it to see how it reacts to the new changes. Hopefully on my update on this tree I will show improvement and growth compared to this moment. The result of today’s work is in the picture below.