Nov 23

Ficus Microcarpa

This is the first prebonsai I ever purchased, possibly 13 or 14 years ago. The first photo was the original planting position, with the base of the tree coming straight up and a ninety-degree bend in the trunk.

The new planting angle had a nice movement to it, so I was quite pleased in May of 2005 with the way it looked. This was actually quite a few years after actually changing the planting angle.

One flaw of this tree (of which there are many) was the arrangement of the roots that clasp the trunk. They looked a little unnatural; Notice the nice “X” at the base.

I took the tree to work with me to work for the winter of 2007 in a nice southern window at the Honda dealership. It did okay, but didn’t really advance at all.

That spring, we visited my daughter Martha and stayed on the big island (Hawai’i), where we visited Fuku Bonsai (sadly, David Fukumoto was not in.) Some of his trees inspired me, especially his scheffleras like the one below.

So in May 2007, I wrapped long-fibered sphagnum around the trunk and held it in place with aluminum foil. I left it on through the year and this is the tree in July 2008.

Folks question how much infrastructure might be needed to grow tropicals in climates a bit farther north. I have almost none. So, during the winter, not having greenhouse access, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I placed the tree in my only south-facing window that was free, draped a clear plastic dry-cleaning bag over it, watered it well, and tucked the bag in under the drip tray. I was hoping that the added humidity and heat would keep the tree healthy and promote aerial roots. I found that this technique worked exceptionally well as the tree sent aerial roots out almost everywhere. Roots can be clearly seen spreading out the bottom of the pot.

Following the repot:

This pot is actually at least two inches wider than the previous pot, yet the increase in trunk size makes it seem about the same size. I added some tape to bring some of the aerial roots in to the trunk and help them bond there. In future I hope to get more aerial roots farther from the trunk for a banyan style tree.

Oh, and the “X marks the spot” roots on the back of the tree?

I was so pleased with the results, I rewrapped the tree for the rest of the year. I would be starting to work on this tree for styling the following May.

When May rolled around, I began by cutting the trunk back hard, using the second section of the trunk as a place to begin changing the smooth S-curve.

I didn’t wire much because the new growth was entirely too small:

By July of the same summer, just two months later, the tree had grown so quickly that it was ready to be defoliated. I removed most of the growth from the tree, but left all the leaves on what I intended to become the new leader.

Above, from the side. Below, the rear of the tree.

The front of the tree:

And finally, a crude diagram of where I hope to take the tree over time.

The tree has grown exceptionally well since 2008, with the new leader really taking off. I defoliated again this summer and the tree is now comfortably resting in its makeshift greenhouse. I keep that room warmer than the rest of the house, and it has already sprouted new aerial roots again within a week !

I’m having a blast working with this tree. I hope to have it show-ready within three more years.


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  1. Charles M

    I’ve been looking for a long time for information/photos on how to induce aerial roots on a ficus grown in a temperate climate. Thank you for this! Next spring I intend to try this technique on one of my benjaminas.

  2. bonsaikc

    Charles, there are other good techniques as well. Some split a soda straw, and place it over nascent aerial roots to direct the new root to the place they want it. Done properly, this can still maintain a very natural appearance for roots farther from the trunk, as in a banyan style. Just be sure to split the straw beforehand, as it’s difficult not to damage the root later on.

  3. Martin

    I would like to ask You of any professional advice You can give for me. I’ve got Ficus microcarpa tree and its kinda damaged but I think its still possible to do something about it. I don’t have experience on bonsai trees but I just couldn’t let him die so I took it for myself. If You would be willing to answer few question for me. please reply here or text me @@@@@@@@@@@ and I will explain story of that tree.
    Here is some pictures of it. http://martynasbaltrusaitis.imgur.com/3Q116#YJyFV
    I think its around 30 years or over and as you can see it needs professional help asap. Thanks in advance.


  4. bonsaikc

    Martin, thanks for your comment. Looking at the photos of your tree, I think perhaps it might be a ginseng ficus instead of microcarpa. Nevertheless, the care is about the same. This tree needs some serious help, as you recognize. it’s possible to get it healthy with proper care, and then perhaps some new branches can be grafted on the trunk.

    Your best bet is to find someone who knows about bonsai in your area and get some help. I will email you to find out more information.


  5. Martin

    Hi Chris,

    thanks for your answer. http://martynasbaltrusaitis.imgur.com/bonsai_tree_updated_7th_of_june#XDPF0
    as you can see my tree is getting better. I removed dead branches and thinking about removing one or two small new branches because it seems like it is wasting of space. what I mean is that those small ones is covered by bigger ones and growing in same direction. Ill update this album sometime next week. Planning to buy scissors to cut those small dry branches by the trunk coz it doesn’t do any good as well. Would You mind to give me your email or other type of way to contact you. You see I’m not professional and sometimes I need and advice and I don’t want to give up on it because tree is doing pretty well. I’m watering it every day. giving as much sun and daylight as possilbe (in UK) and feeding once a week with non-organic bonsai food. Is there any good books about specifically these kind of trees? Thanks for your help.


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