Ficus Techniques : 20

How to create a bonsai from raw stock?

Scott Schowalter, a talented bonsai grower from Ohio shows us how he has taken a Ficus benjamina plant and transformed it into a handsome bonsai in only a few years. It is just the type of nursery material that is found in nearly every plant section of every box store in the country.

"I've included some photos for you, showing a progression. The species is F. benjamina, unknown cultivar. I got the parent plant (a large house plant) at Target. The first photo was taken on May 10, 2003, the year after striking the cutting. I wired the trunk that year, and obviously did not remove the wire soon enough. The second picture was taken on September 11, 2004, and aside from some basic pruning and selection of a couple branches, it had not had any other training at this point besides the initial trunk wiring.

Honestly, I had wired the trunk just as practice, and as an experiment. I just pruned it every once in a while, and fed it, but otherwise I pretty much ignored it. I really did not take this tree very seriously until 2006, when some of my pruning started to show results (or at least when I started to see some potential). I think the primary reason I started being more interested was the development of the nebari, which totally took me by surprise. I had been working on the roots during the yearly repotting, but somewhere along the line, a nice basal flare and radial nebari showed up . . . almost magical! I guess I was doing something right. That's when I started working more seriously on this tree, and I'm glad I did. Unfortunately, due to this neglect, I evidently did not take any photos during the time between 2004 and this year.

The final photo was taken on July 29, 2007, just a few weeks ago, and is probably pretty much as you remember it. The pot isn't right for this tree, but the pot it was in had fallen and shattered, so I grabbed a similarly sized pot and put it in. It has stayed in that pot since, but I view it as a training pot. I'm still not sure what final pot would be best, but I'm thinking of a dark brown rectangular pot with cloud feet, flared lip, and maybe some type of relief on the front?


I think we will all agree that Scott has taken an ordinary houseplant and transformed it into a beautiful bonsai. And in only a few short years. We look forward to seeing this bonsai advance even more under Scott's care.

Ficus benjamina, May 2003.


The Ficus trunk wired to shape, September 2004.


The bonsai, July 2007.


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