Tropical Update

In 2014, I received this old ficus from a family member who had done bonsai for 50 years, and this was supposedly his first tree. With no desire to own a tropical tree, and yet some obligation to continue the care for this tree, I decided to use the best and trash the rest. That’s the lesson today.

As received, about 25” tall, in poor health and leggy, but with a large, salvageable base, the best part.
The rest is history.
This is what I restarted with. August 2014.
August 2020, 6 years later and it has earned a spot on the bench.

If you have a tree with trouble spots, can they be removed, and when the tree is stripped back to the best parts, can it be started again and redeemed in a few years?

Summer ‘Soji’

Soji is the term for cleaning up, and in this context, cleaning up the surface of the soil. Oxalis grows like crazy, as does Irish moss (Sagina subulata), and once it takes hold, it is a pain to eradicate during the growing season. These two weeds are my sworn enemy.

Irish moss circled above.

It is important to remove weeds to allow for good watering and air exchange. Irish moss, in particular, keeps the soil wet.

This azalea has gone several years since the last repotting, and the oxalis spreads like wildfire in the off years. During repotting, it is possible to distinguish the tree’s roots from the white rhizomes that support the oxalis rampant growth.

First step is to pull the moss, and get as much of the oxalis runners and rhizomes as possible. I use a root hook and tweezers.

Then, I use a hose blast to get rid is some of the mud…

…and use opportunity to remove some of the oxalis rhizomes.

Then fill in with some recycled soil until I can do a proper repot next spring.

Next up, JBP

See the velvety tufts of moss on the far left side? That’s the early growth stage of Irish moss. It’s really pretty at this stage, but it gets nasty when it grows.

Using tweezers and a root hook, the moss and top 1/2″ of soil is removed. I also remove the moss growing up the trunk.

One of my favorite details about this tree is the nebari starting to age on the left side. Over time, I’m hopeful the right side will develop as well.

Moss and crusty top layer removed:

And filled with some new soil…

Twisted Itoigawa Shimpaku pruning

I’ve also let this tree grow wild this year.


Some of the branches have gotten a bit long and leggy, and I want to tighten up the design around the trunk some. Removing a few long branches, replacing them with shorter, newer branches will help. These were removed from the first left branch:

And a back branch:

And again, by removing the growth in the crotches of branches, reducing shoots down to pairs, then bottom growth, and trimming strong runners.

And after a little wiring to tame the apex: