Working the impossible

By August 4, 2017 No Comments


Turning a normal Ficus Australis to a bonsai is a difficult task, so by doing so, it is like working the impossible.  Why am I saying this?  For those who knows about the Ficus Australis, this ficus species leaves by nature are large, making them very large for a bonsai.  This experimentation to reducing the size of the leaves started after I purchased this Ficus Australis from a nursery (May 2015). Reducing the leaf size in ficus is not a new thing in bonsai, what is new is that I know no one in the community that experimented with the Ficus Australis.  It started after I fancied the tree trunk texture, and wanted to experiment in reducing the leaf size with two options:

  1. Reduce the leaf size with constant defoliation
  2. Graft branches from another ficus to this trunk

For the time being I am still working on the first option, to decrease the leaf size.

The first step

The first step after purchasing this Ficus Australis is to remove branches that were not suitable for a bonsai tree.  Once ready defoliated the complete tree.  This was the first step to start reducing the foliage to a more interesting size.  Since the tree is kept in a pot and not in nature, and by regulating watering and fertilising to a minimum, the leaves should grow slightly smaller.  After defoliation, the energy of the tree will push new leaves and since light is hitting all the branches, new buds will also emerge.  The theory is that by dividing all the energy in all the new leaves and buds, the tree will reduce the leaf size.  If I had to fertilize regularly, the tree will flourish and enlarge its leaves to their normal size.  Left the tree to grow back the leaves.

A year after this first step I noticed that the new leaves grow smaller than the previous leaves the tree had on purchasing.  One small success although the leaves are still large for a bonsai.  So the theory works.  I need to push it again to reduce them even more.

The second step

So after a year from the first defoliation, I decided to apply the second step to this ficus australis.

Ficus Australis after first step (6th June 2017)

Close up of the Ficus Australis leaf  in 2017

The second step was a repetition of the first step, selecting the desired branches that will form the crown of foliage and another drastic defoliation.

Drastic defoliation (6th June 2017)

I also wired and bend to the desired position the branches to start shaping the style.  The style I selected is a mixture of a slanting and broom style.  To eliminate the ugly cut deadwood, I worked with an electric tool to form a more simple and natural deadwood.  This correction is an initial one, since I know I will have to add more interest to the overall look of the tree by adding more deadwood.  What I am planning is to create more movement to a somewhat straight trunk.  I am planning to do this deadwood in February next year, when I repot it in a bonsai pot.  I will keep you updated.

Today, just after seven weeks from the total defoliation, the tree is bursting with new foliage.  Although I water daily, I am still keeping the fertilizer to a minimum.  I noticed that a good number of back buddings have emerged on every branch that will help me in two ways:

  1. The crown will be more dense
  2. If I feel the need to reduce the crown size, I can, thanks to the new back buds along the branches

New foliage growth (30th July 2017)


The next step will be carried out next February, that is repot this Ficus Australis in a bonsai pot.  I need to find the right pot for it, and for the time being, i have no clue on how the pot should look, round or square, glazed or unglazed.  Till next time, I will sure need to refine the foliage crown and some more deadwood.


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Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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