by Jerry Meislik
In 1974 I visited David Fukumoto of Fuku-Bonsai at his nursery in Kurtistown, Big Island, Hawaii. You can read more about my visite here.
One of the many items that David gave me to try growing in my plant room in Montana is was a small seedling Ficus microcarpa Chinese Banyan. The plant did well in my plant room and grew a bit. Since I decided to keep it as a small bonsai I would allow it to grow out but trimmed it back often to keep its small size. The plant did well and had no particular problems.
As you can see from the pictures the plants leaves remained quite small and my nickname for it was "Micro Blue" since its leaves were small as well as having a blue surface color. It many ways it reminded me of the roundish leaves of my Rainforest Banyan, also given to me by David in 1974. To see more about this Rainforest Banyan, click here.
as small seedling from you in 2004. First image is probably 2005 or so.
The story starts here – 1974, it was a sons gift to his mother for Mother’s Day, for years it was left to its own habits and grew with very little technique to pruning, but cared for correctly and always remained healthy, at about 12” tall it sat in a sunny window here in Michigan facing east and never went outdoors. See above.
Summer of 1992, I had Chase Rosade in town for some lectures. Here was a good opportunity to get his point of view on its future. About half of the tree was removed that day and a new style started you can see in photo #4. It was still a big tree so it began spending its summer’s outside, Before the evening temps fell below 60 degrees it came back indoors, and back inside to my east window.
From 1992 until 2012 I still had a fig that was just too darn big & heavy, so a style change this time meant a radical move had to be made. Now it was a matter of guts. How much do I have? I was literally afraid to do it because now it’s been the way it is for 37 years, I could ruin all the work that has gone into it, or god forbid; kill it. Seems everyone else likes it the way it is, and I’m just sick of trying to pick it up, I’m getting older, it’s not getting heavier, I’m getting weaker. So that’s it, Its Time, I’ve had enough of this, I’ve ‘thought it to death just do it, no guts no glory. So now, when’s the best time to do it? With a Ficus? – when it’s hot & humid and when it’s growing the most vigorously. In the height of its growing season. That way recovery is immediate.
Since all the top was removed, all the bottom can safely be removed. The secret now is to just toss it out on the table on a hot & humid day and keep it away from water. Do not pot it for 24 hours. I want all the cuts to dry out, to skin over or callus, which ever word you like best. This is very important. No cut paste is used. This is due to the punky wood of the fig, unlike the hard wood of a maple or oak. I would have cut more off the bottom, but because of the way the base of the trunk was, I cut up as far as I could, and that’s one inch below its old soil line.
Tomorrow we pot up.
I like to use a coarse aggregate (calcined clay, decomposed granite & aged fir bark) for a Ficus of this size, and my choice of pot was determined by what I had on the shelves that it would fit. This was a signed Tokanome pot that I had for 25 years and never used, $150.00 and finally found a use for it. Still not exactly the perfect pot, but it works.
Well this is the front or the back, it’s too early to tell – but because of the buttress of the trunk, I hope it works out to be the back. It’s been exactly 4 months, and it’s doing well, if it were in a greenhouse or I was in Florida it would be twice the size. I’ve just started weaning it back indoors because it’s getting cold here, and that means it’s going to be slowing down because the days are getting shorter. You can’t successfully put a tree this size under fluorescent lights to extend the season, but I do have metal-halide if I want to set it up under one of those.
Here’s the way it develops clusters of buds at any random point along the trunk. Here, I’ve left 4 shoots to fight it out, I want the strongest one to eventually be the main branch at this level on the trunk. There were at least a dozen here I removed, they were the little, slower ones, the stronger one here will stay and the others will soon be removed.
Over the 4 months, all the buds were allowed to grow because I needed all the leaves I could get to collect food to strengthen from the stress of repotting. By pruning that growth off to soon would have limited its development in the long term. If it's growing leaves, it's growing roots. Premature leaf pruning would have stunted development. The mass above ground is always equal to the mass below ground.
Now, that the growing season is ending I can thin it out, and start to determine what placement I’m going to have for the final limbs in the tree. Again I’m faced with several possibilities, and have to choose just one style. The final choice is hard to make, you wonder what vision is best. What’s right? nothing would be wrong . . . but what’s best?
Well, I’ve always been in for the long haul, I’ve had this tree for 22 years, and I’ll never be finished.