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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Good things come in small packages

Today's post is about doing a drastic top and bottom reduction on a Ficus nerifolia or Willow leaf Ficus.
These trees were growing in 5 gallon cans as future bonsai material. In January of 2005 we had a - for us - major freeze in Los Angeles, especially where we are located, in the San Fernando Valley. For several nights in a row we got down to the mid 20's for several hours overnight. Needless to say most every ficus, bougainvillea and other tropical plant froze, most to the roots. There were tens millions of dollars in losses between nursery stock and citrus in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. I told my assistant to throw away all the dead trees.  We had hundreds, ranging in size from 4" pots to 15 gallon cans - most of them were rotted to the root ball, but several dozen managed to stop rotting part way from the base of the trunk. My assistant decided it was going to be his mission to save these trees. He cut them back to solid wood on the trunks, repotted them and hid them in the back of the nursery. A couple of years later they were growing back like gang busters.
I am going to do a workshop at the Golden State Bonsai Federation Convention in 2011 and was looking for material to use when I thought of these. As ficus tends to do, these trees grew large roots called tubers and had very ugly nebari or root bases.
I decided that I would do a major pruning of the roots with the idea of developing good nebari and shohin sized trees. It should be noted that ficus is one of the few varieties that you can do this kind of work on at this time of year.
This photo shows  one of them before any work. The tree is 11" tall and is 1 1/2" wide at the soil line.
Notice the large root on the right side, this makes for a very poor nebari.
First thing I did was to start to cleaning away soil from around the base of the tree. What I discovered was another couple of inches of trunk below the soil line.
I continued cleaning the soil from the base until I found where the lowest set of roots flared out from the trunk. I cut all the roots above this area off.
Having gotten the roots trimmed back to where they would form a good nebari, it was time to decide where to make the cut on the trunk to reduce the height. Besides reducing the height, we want to add taper to these trunk lines. At this stage I'm not too worried about the branches - they will grow all over from the trunk in the next year. Here's the tree after making the trunk cut.
The dark area at the bottom of the trunk is the area that was buried under the soil. The tree is now 5" tall and 2 3/4" across the base at the soil line. These trees bud out well even from old wood. By the time the workshop takes place there will be plenty of branches all over the trunk to use in designing the future tree.
I hope you enjoyed today's post. I welcome any comments or suggestions for future subjects.

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