Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What Ficus Microcarpa has taught me

I have been working with a lot of ficus microcarpa this year. I have learned a few things (and I realized I have many more things to learn).

I have posted many times before on how resilient ficus microcarpa is. Many times I thought I had killed a tree. All the leaves would drop. It would look so sad. I would set them aside to discard later where i would forget about them. Then I would find them some time later with little green buds pushing their way out of the bark. That's not to say that some have not died all the way (The Princess Bride, anybody?). I have bent trunks to amazing curves. I have potted trees in the smallest of pots, I have pruned all but a few short branches and these trees keep coming back. I have seen pictures of abandoned ficus bonsai which have broken free of the pot and have become full size trees.
Epiphytic Ficus Microcarpa

Something I have noticed about FM is that there is a big difference in pruning green branches versus pruning hardened or lignified branches. Knowing what happens can help in bonsai design. When you cut a green branch it will die back to the node just below the cut. You can cut a foot  from a node it will still die back to the first node under the cut. The benefit to this as I have seen is two part. First, as the branch continues to grow it will heal without a scar. Yes, that type of pruning heals fast and if you remove all the dead tissue it will heal smoothly.  Second, I notice that if you cut the bud while the leaf is still small the leaf will pretty much stay the same size. You can get amazingly small leaves like that.

Cutting bigger lignified branches is a different story. A lignified branch is a branch that has become woody. These branches can bud anywhere along the branch. That means that if you cut it short it will bud somewhere in the vicinity of where you wanted it to bud. You may also get multiple buds. That means more branches, more ramification, and more leaf reduction.

New branches started growing after I cut the original branch

There is some differing opinion on what I am going to say next. Please keep in mind that this is a post about ficus microcarpa. If you leave a branch uncut it will thicken faster than  if you prune and let the new branches grow. Here is an example: I let a new branch grow to cover a bald spot on a tree. I did not prune the branch until it got to a thickness close to the other branches. So far so good. Yet, at the same time I have branches that are six month older. These branches i clip because I am trying to develop fine ramification. If these two branches thickened at the same rate I would have incredibly thick branches with exaggerated taper, which is not the case. An uncut branch will thicken faster than branches that are pruned.

Thinner branches on top are older than the bottom branch that has been wired

A great thing about ficus microcarpa is that they are ready to grow aerial roots. All you need is moisture. Here is what I do. I add ground bark to the pot to the height I want aerial roots to grow. Then I water as usual. In as little as a week you will be able to see aerial root buds. Leave the bark (or sphagnum moss, or anything that will keep the trunk moist) on for as long as you want. I have a tree that grew aerial roots very low on the trunk. Now the tree has buttressing roots. I know in cold climates where you keep ficus indoor in special light and humidity grow containers have a high number of aerial roots because the humidity is so high. I have not grown aerial roots from branches yet. I am devising a plan as i write. I will put moss on said branch and will wrap it with mesh. The mesh will help me regulate humidity through spraying. It might be easier to wrap it with plastic, but why make things easier on me?
Aerial roots
Chinese banyan aerial roots

Ficus microcarpa love fertilizer. Ficus microcarpa want to grow. I have seen growth as little as two days after fertilization. I fertilize at the fertilizers manufacturers recommended full strength. The ficus love it. I fertilize every two weeks. However, some times I have fertilized weekly. I have seen amazing growth. I do not fertilize any cutting until I see a few leaves. I figure if the cutting has leaves it has roots. The more roots the more fertilizer it absorbs the faster it grows.
Before, (March 24)

After, (May 23)

I have taken cuttings of varying sizes from epiphytic ficus microcarpa. Some have been the thickness of a pencil and some 4.5 inches in diameter. I would say that 99.1 percent have survived. I have taken cuttings from a FM tree. I have had 60 percent success with those. I always plant cuttings in bark. Bark retains little water yet keeps things moist. Bark has barely any nutrients, so after the cuttings have rooted I put them in composted soil i buy for two dollars American from the big box store. Even the huge cuttings I have taken I have put in bark.
Large cutting

That is all I can think of for now. If I remember anything else I will add an update. Cheers.

Oh yes, more info here:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bonsai, it's the sushi of the horticultural world

I needed a picture for this post, so I chose this

It's time for one of my rants. Subject: Suhi. No, Not really. It's about bonsai. In fact, it is about the evolution of bonsai, and international bonsai.  

A while ago I watched a Begin Japonology episode about sushi. Sushi at first was fermented fish preserved in rice. This was something similar to what had been done in China. Sushi was an import. It slowly changed according to prevailing circumstances. At first sushi was a food only eaten in Japan. Sushi eventually made it to other countries. Some of these countries started making sushi with local ingredients. A good example is the famous California roll. The use of local ingredients has created in some a desire to eat/ learn about “authentic” sushi.

Is this sounding familiar? The parallels to bonsai is very uncanny. One could formulate many reasons as to why this is, but that is a post for a future date.

I was watching NHK last weekend. The subject was sushi. The last segment of the show was about the evolution of sushi in other parts of the world. The consensus was that international varieties of sushi should be encouraged. Sushi should be an inclusive food. Also, that sushi from other parts of the world does not detract from what sushi is in Japan. In japan you can get conveyer belt sushi all the way up to sushi made by Jiro.

You have already talked about what a bonsai should look like before Ivan. I know, I have. However, This is a different perspective. Sushi and bonsai have many similarities. Like any metaphor they are not identical. Yet, it is interesting to see how two distinctly Japanese things that are popular around the world  are perceived by the very people who make them. The differences in how each group embraces the evolution of the two art forms is remarkable. Why is there so much push back from the bonsai people in regards to evolving bonsai design. Why is evolving sushi trends more palatable ;)?

Do we who love bonsai love to argue? There are many points of contention in the world of bonsai. Why is that so?  Are people who are attracted to bonsai by nature grumpy people? I do not think so. If that was the case every bonsai club in the world would be composed of one person. Maybe its that bonsai attracts people who like to make things “perfectly”. These people want to make the best bonsai possible. In their quest for the perfect tree they become very meticulous. Or not. Cheers.    

Friday, August 19, 2016

August repotting of a pre bonsai, the roots are moving to a deluxe apartment in the "sky?"

Here in southern California the heat is on. We just had a heat wave accompanied by a huge forest fire. I live in Los Angeles. This city can get very arid. Since I live close to the Los Angeles International airport I sometimes bump into tourists. One in particular was a very nice man from England. One of his complaints about Los Angeles was that it does not have many green spaces. The reason for this is that los angeles is in fact a desert. We have little rainfall. We have few rivers and streams. If it were not for aqueducts and the great San Francisco earthquake we would have been a small town of little importance.

The fact remains that it can get hot in Los Angeles. Heat is wonderful for growing tropical plants. I potted this ficus cutting in a bonsai pot so the roots could start growing. eight months later and the growth rate has been amazing.

I believe that this is the perfect time to pot this tree in a bigger pot. Some people repot conifers and deciduous trees in August. Some tree species go into a dormant phase during August. I am not convinced that tropical trees go into a dormant phase in August. However, it being a ficus it is very resilient, and to tell you the truth I would repot it any time of the year. It's just that I am doing a lot of repotting this week, so I decided to repot this tree as well.

This specific cutting loves to grow aerial roots. In fact, if you look at this picture you can see that some aerial roots have thickened and now look like buttressing roots.  Humidity in Los angeles is midrange to low. When I water the trees i wet the brick wall, I wet all the ground, and I have a tub under some planks to capture the runoff.  All this increases humidity which means more aerial roots.

I am going to try to keep the root ball intact even when it is time to pot in a bonsai pot. I noticed that this is a technique used in conifers.

More space for the roots means more growth. More growth translates to quicker development, or so the story goes. Cheers.