Monday, 5 May 2014

Post 149 Radical correction of ficus

I've been struggling along with three Ficus Benjamina 'Shorty' trees for years.  I've never really liked them and so they were always last in getting attention. I sold off a few others at the annual club exhibition last year and was thinking of doing the same with these next time around.

Interesting for a benjamina sport that it is deciduous and has a tendency to have a little dieback also through the winter season. It has small leaves and a nice tight internodal distance, so despite my feelings probably a good candidate for bonsai.

Style wise they just weren't getting there either. That's the trouble with teaching yourself bonsai. Your early styling mistakes tend to get built in as foundations and are hard to shift later when you know a little better.

The mistake I made was to religiously follow the Japanese school of single trunk, left branch, right branch etc etc. Now that might be ok for a pine tree but the longer I do this the less appropriate it looks for ficus; they just don't grow that way. No matter how well you might execute they will always look just a little like they're wearing the wrong clothes to the wrong function. Ficus invariably grow multitrunk with a wide canopy. Something like this Taiwanese microcarpa, defoliated to really show the branch structure:

What an amazing tree and an ambition well beyond my life expectency. But you have to dream and so I either sold off my remaining shortys or experimented in a little radical pruning, to see if I could harness the value that existed in the nebari of each of them.

The following photos were taken in September last year.

All are root over rock. This first one hasn't got a good grip yet, hence the raffia, but it has a nice spreadung nebari.

Number 2 certainly has a good grip on its rock.

And the third one started as a number of individual trees that have now all fused together and made a very impressive nebari. Unfortunately the rock does point away from the 'front' on this angle but this is the best place to see all the trunks from. I may take the back one out and rotate the tree counterclockwise once it gets going again.

Back in September I expected they would burst into growth with too many shoots to chose from. What happened was a complete surprise - not a single shoot. What did happen was amazing callus tissue development at the cut faces. With no evidence of any intention to reshoot by early this year I took some cuttings from another plant to get rooted scion stock ready for approach grafting. It must have been late January before these had taken and then grown sufficiently to use.

This is a picture of one of the cuts and grafts to show the callus. The grafts took very quickly in this material.


The multi trunk one finally did put out a couple of shoots low down on the left and I used these to graft at the cut sites.
For the single trunk ones the next step next spring will be to graft on some additional material to develop multi trunking.

By way of comaprison here is a nerifolia that I also chopped at a similar time. It didn't hesitate and put out an amazing mass of shoots; literally dozens and dozens. When they got to a size to be able to work with I thinned them out considerably leaving just a few with options to keep or cut as they grow. I'll put a V notch in the trunk next spring.


  1. HiYa. Can you please explain how you put the cuttings onto the callus. You said the grafts took quickly,so Id like to know how you grafted. Thanks

  2. For the graft I cut a vertical but concave slot in the callus of a size to accommodate the scion tightly. Then shaved the bark off the scion in the location of the join.The slot was about the depth of the thickness of the scion. The two are then joined and wrapped with grafting tape.
    The scion in this case was a small rooted cutting in a pot, so the graft was an 'approach' graft.


Happy to hear your advice, feedback or questions