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Bonsai, defoliate, ficus, July, pot, style, wire

Bonsai is an art form. The most effective bonsai artists employ the skills of artists who work in other media (our medium just happens to be living plants.) Among these skills is looking — I mean REALLY looking.

Ficus microcarpa, July 2020, before work

What inspired me to think about looking was some routine summer work on this humble little Ficus microcarpa. It held on to life through the winter months, and has started to find some of its summer vigor, even in this ill-matched pot.

Now that it is growing strong, it is time to defoliate, prune, wire, and repot. For just about anything but a ficus, doing all of these at once would be foolish. And for most species, doing any one of these in the hottest part of the summer would be just as foolish. But for ficus it works.

Ficus microcarpa after defoliation

So I removed all the leaves, cutting through the petiole of each.

Defoliated Ficus in a new pot

And I got it in a pot that I hope is a little better suited. (In case you are worried, I should mention that this wasn’t much more than a slip pot operation. I trimmed minimal roots around the outside edges and left most of the root ball undisturbed.)

Defoliated, potted, and wired

And I wired the branches, and got it to the point you see above. But what’s all this fuss about looking?!

Well, here’s the deal… I was looking the whole time, right?! I was looking from different angles, and looking even more carefully when I was lining up to take a photo. But this go-round, I did the work, took the photos, and then couldn’t think about it for a while (my 9-to-5 got in the way). When I got around to looking at the photos, all of a sudden I could see things I didn’t like that I didn’t notice before. The photos and the separation from the work (time) gave me a new perspective that I needed.

Teaching yourself, and practicing different ways of looking to create this exact situation (forcing a new perspective), is something artists do in their training. There’s a great article called Critical Looking on What It Means For Art, an Art Education blog. You might not be into art education, but if you are into bonsai, check it out for a list of ways to practice different ways of looking. It just might make you a better artist!

I almost forgot! We were talking about a tree.

After taking another look at the photos, I had to revisit the plant. I adjusted one wire, and snipped two more small branches. And it’s better! Can you see the difference.

Before final adjustment
After final adjustment