Ficus Techniques : 32

How to make my small Ficus plant into a bonsai?

by Jerry Meislik

My friend David Fukumoto, bonsai teacher and guru of Fuku-Bonsai, gave me a seedling from his Ficus microcarpa 'Retusa x Kaneshiro Taiwan' clone as I was most anxious to play with this diminutive material.

This tiny seedling has been growing slowly in my plant room for about 4 years. It is currently 5" high from the rim of the pot.

I get many requests each week to ask for ideas on how to transform similar material into a mature bonsai. You must admit as a seedling in 2005 that it looked pretty scrawny.


Ficus can take some years to come into their own as bonsai. They often start out looking pathetic and quite hopeless.

This seems to be almost an afterthought with many beginners, but first, it is necessary to keep the tree alive. If you are unable to keep your plant alive then it is impossible to get it shaped into a bonsai. The shaping process will take two or more years. If your tree does not survive 6 months under your care and you are always getting new ones, then you need to learn the proper cultivation and care of your plant. Once you can keep your plant alive you can consider training it.

Newly acquired bonsai in the hands of beginners should not be trained.

Two, know how your plant material responds to trimming, bud removal, leaf removal and defoliation is very helpful. This knowledge can be acquired through reading about these techniques in books and magazines, and the internet. It also will become second knowledge to you as you grow and keep more plants alive and see how they respond to your treatments.

Three, have a rough idea of the style and shape that you desire for your tree. Going somewhere without a roadmap is an adventure but you may never get there! By reading, taking courses and immersing yourself in bonsai you can learn how trees look and how to get your bonsai to look that way.

This tree, although it is still quite small due to its miniature status is beginning to shape into a very attractive bonsai tree. Along the way it has always been in small pots, slowing down its progress. Diligent attention to nipping it back, defoliation, and keeping it alive have all pushed it along transforming it into a lovely small tree.

Good luck with your own "hopeless" bonsai starts.

Ficus seedling, October 2005

The same Ficus, 2009

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