Bonsai, defoliate, ficus, prune, repot, summer work

Do you name your bonsai? I don’t necessarily “give my trees names” as such. In my notes I often give descriptive names to individual specimens especially when I have multiple trees of the same species, but those are usually names like “concord” for a tree I found on Concord Drive, or “monster” for that particularly large tree. The closest thing I come to giving a proper name is when I refer to a tree by the person I got it from, such as “Acer palmatum, Sandi” for the Japanese maple that I got from Sandi’s collection.

But this is Fred…

Fred in an office window, March 2020

Fred is a Ficus benjamina that I have had for a fair number of years. My notes are shockingly bad on the origins of this plant, and that’s ok. After all, we are talking about naming trees here. (We will not go too deeply into bonsai practices.)

I did not name Fred. A friend and coworker of mine did. If I recall correctly, which I probably don’t, my friend decided a number of years ago that she liked two of the trees that I would bring to the office in the winter. She named these two ficus George and Fred. We gave George an honorary place near my friends desk until one year I took it home for the summer and did some major design work. I made some big cuts and the tree was a good bit smaller when I brought it back the following fall.

This didn’t go over well with my friend and she decided she wanted Fred to be near her desk now, rather than George, and every summer since she has given strict orders not to chop Fred down like I had done to George.

Fred after months outside, August 2020

You may not have noticed, but the first photo of Fred in the office window included a yard stick. In March he was a full 36 inches tall, pot included, but after enjoying some warm summer weather, Fred was starting to add some serious length. Above he is pictured in August with a good 16-18 inches of new growth. Yikes!

I shared with my coworker that it was time to do some work on this tree and she conceded to allow me to do what must be done but asked that I leave Fred “on the tall side.” I might not have mentioned that I was going to defoliate, but I had to do what had to be done! Right?

Fred after defoliation, August 2020

To encourage a bunch of new growth and branching throughout the tree, I removed every leaf by cutting through the petiole (the leaf stem). I saved time on the longest branches by cutting several inches and a number of leaves off with one snip to shorten them down a bit. above is what I was left with.

I added some wire and put a lot more movement into the branches. These exaggerated bends are sure to relax later after the wire is removed, so I am ok if some of the branches seem a little overly twisty at this stage.

Fred all wired up, August 2020

It won’t take long for Fred to start pushing new growth all over the place. He has been repotted to a slightly better front, and got a bit of a root prune to promote new growth under the soil as well.

I may joke about my friend being “controlling” over this tree, but in fact allowing this tree to grow out without working it for several years has helped it to progress. Some old cuts are healing over nicely, the trunk has thickened, and it shows a nice overall taper. Not so bad for a Benji. Who knows when Fred will make it back to the office (we are working remotely most of the time these days) but I’m sure he will come back strong and be healthier for the work that has been done.