Last month, I attended a Tropical Bonsai Workshop at Chicago Botanic Garden. A month had passed since the Beginning Fundamentals class ended, and my job since then had been to keep the ficus outdoors and make sure it was well-watered and fertilized. Over the weeks, I trimmed the larger leaves to encourage back-budding (the growth of leaves on the bare areas behind the main clusters), and fed both liquid and slow-release fertilizer. No more little fruits presented themselves, but a number of small leaves did burst forth. Theses leaves remained small, which was a good sign. That meant the tree was receiving enough sun.
The good news is that the instructor felt that given the amount of back-budding and new leaf growth, this tree had turned the corner. He had mentioned repotting towards the end of last month’s class, but felt it wasn’t necessary for now. Instead, he had me remove all the wiring–I was surprised to see that in only four weeks the branches had grown so that the wire had started to press into the wood, leaving shallow grooves behind.
After I removed the wire, the instructor trimmed back several of the branches to the point where new leaves had budded and begun to form offshoot branches. For now, the tree appears less full, but eventually the new branches will fill out and more back budding, I hope, will occur. The goal is for the interior branches to fill out, and for more branches to grow, leading to the formation of a small, “tight” tree.
Here’s how my tree looks now. The branches are shorter, and have been turned upward by the wiring.
For purposes of comparison, here’s a shot taken just after it was wired, in mid-June. The larger leaves were still in place, and the back-budding had yet to start. To be honest, I felt it looked okay. But it wasn’t considered good bonsai form as it was too “leggy” and the leaves were too big. It didn’t look like a real tree.
Here’s a ficus I saw at a recent display at the CBG. The goal is to develop a tree that looks full-size, with proportional leaves and branches. My tree still has a ways to go.
What’s next? Well, I signed up for a Fall/Winter Preparation and Storage workshop in September. When fall temperatures settle in, I will have to bring the ficus indoors because it’s a tropical tree. But I will have to provide it decent lighting so the leaves don’t grow oversized, which means acquiring a lamp of some sort. I confess that when I started all this, I didn’t expect it to be this complicated. My goal had been to learn to care for the single tree I had. But now I have three additional trees, a small spruce and two mulberry saplings, that I am considering making into bonsai, and they will need to be developed and cared for just as diligently.
What have I gotten myself into?