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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Nebari-Enhancement Technique Revisited

     If I believed in weather gods, I might wonder if my last post provoked them: two days later a storm roared thru, tearing down branches and whole trees, dumping roughly half-an-inch of rain in 20 minutes, and knocking out our house's power for more than 10 hours. (We were fortunate; others in the area waited much longer for electrical service to be restored.)

While we waited for electricity, there wasn't much to do, except go outdoors and work on bonsai. (Wasn't that terrible? <wink>) It was in fact a good chance to take care of two rather urgent repottings.

Back in the store pot after the storm.
The first tree was a small willow-leaf fig (Ficus salicaria) that I bought a few weeks ago to develop and then sell. It has a good basal flair, and a gentle curve to the lower trunk that looks very natural.

The storm blew this tree off its perch, and some of the soil was lost, enough to make immediate repotting a good idea. I planned to repot it soon anyway; the storm just hurried things up.

When I depotted it, I discovered that most of the root system consisted of an enormous knot of roots, almost Gordian in its size and complexity! It was clear that the best option was the flat-cut technique that I described here.

This time, tho, I remembered to get "before" pictures. Which is the main reason I'm writing another post on the same topic so soon!
The original root system. How does one develop a decent nebari from a root system like this?
A small Japanese saw made for general garden pruning gave a good cut. I chose the cutting angle with the trunk's eventual posture in mind; I wanted to preserve that gently-curving slant.

Please forgive the quality of the next three pictures. They aren't the best, but I believe you can see what you need to see.
"If you aren't appalled at what you've done, you haven't pruned enough." -- Unknown.
The cut face is roughly 1.75 inches across (4.5 cm.)
What was cut off.

Cut paste was smeared on the exposed wood to discourage pathogens. I didn't apply the paste all the way out to the cut bark. (The line between wood and bark can be seen clearly on the right in the left-hand picture just above.) I don't want anything to keep new roots from breaking around the perimeter of the cut face. We'll see if my approach works.

Tree seated with cut face flat on potting mix, and anchored.
The growing pot is a cut-down 1-gal. Rootmaker®; the mix is roughly 45% Turface, 40% organics (bark and coarse sphagnum,) and 15% granite poultry grit. The mix was sifted to remove particles smaller than 2 mm.: Ficus salicaria does well with a coarser soil.

I filled the pot to within 3/4-inch of the rim, and leveled and firmed the mix. Then I seated the tree, with the cut end flat on the surface of the mix, and applied the anchor wires. Anchor wires are obviously essential here, not just desirable: the tree has no roots yet to hold it upright.

More soil mix was added to just below the pot rim, and then the tree got a good soaking.

Soil filled in and watered. You can still see a little of the plastic-tube padding on one of the wires.

This fig will spend at least the next several weeks under an "ICU:" an inverted 10-gallon aquarium, placed in almost day-long shade. I am indebted for the "ICU" concept to Carl L. Rosner of Margate City, New Jersey. Carl is a self-described "northern tropicals nut" and a thorough gentleman. Follow the links at his home page to see some of his trees. (You won't be sorry.)

Finished and in the ICU, along with various cuttings.
Given how fast Ficus grow in warm weather, it is altogether possible that I'll have to repot this tree again within the next six months. I don't mind. That just means it's developing more quickly. Whenever I repot this, I'll post a progress report.

I mentioned above that I did two repottings on Friday. But this post is already long enough. I'll tell you about the other one in a few days!
:-)  :-)  :-)


  1. I hope you didn't throw away what was cut off!

    Those cuttings can make wonderful multi-tree plantings . . . as the new shoots come up all around the edges of the cut.

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    2. Mary, I didn't even give it a serious thought: whatever grew from it would still have that gnarly-turnip root system. But such a root system just might be turned into a feature, especially of a clump ... and the attempt might teach me something new.

      Thanks for the thought! I'll rescue it from the compost pile. It may not make it now, but no harm in trying.

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