£4 ficus plants

So whilst I was in town today I nipped into Wilkinson’s where they had a cheap and cheerful ficus planting. I figured that I could give it a go as a fusion project or get multiple trees.

For a home store plant, especially at this price it looked to be in good health. Obviously lots of cuttings or seedlings wrapped up together.

The first task was to have a look at what was going on under the hood.

I managed to separate four individual plants and one fused root group of five. So after a little root pruning and height reduction I ended up with four plantings (I scrapped the smallest plant).

It’ll be interesting to watch these plants develop over the coming years. I’ve wanted a ficus for a while and I now have 4. I’m running out of windows to place these trees in. I need a bigger house!

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Saplings day

As the weather was a balmy 15-17°C today, I spent some time in the garden putting some of my saplings into proper bonsai soil and checking out their roots.

On my list was to get the remaining Apple seedlings individually potted, salvage what I could from my willow cuttings (after a full on snail attack) and check on a collected sycamore tree. For those of an American persuasion, I’m talking about a proper sycamore of the Acer variety.

I didn’t bother taking any photos, because none of what I was working on was any interesting material. 

The apples had awfully twisted tap roots which I lopped off hoping that what is left will support them. 

From the 12 willow cuttings I had, only one made it through the winter, but it is big enough that I should get a decent cutting off of that. It had a very workable radial root system that I was very happy with.

The sycamore tree has also developed much more fine roots, so I shortened the thicker roots as much as I dared.

Not the world’s greatest update, I grant you, but hey. At least I’ll be able to look back on this next year and remember what I did to f#*k up my projects.

Azelea starter

So this is my latest acquisition. A free Azelea ‘Orange Beauty’. 


It’s not too bad in terms of structure, I think that lowest branch on the left will remain for a while as a sacrifice branch to fatten up that skinny ass trunk. 

The biggest issue I have with our little friend here, is that there is very little foliage. But I’ve been reliably informed that if I feed it well until it flowers, then cut back hard and continue feeding after the flowers have gone, all should be golden! 

First things first, I need to get it out of that God awful compost that is its sat in and have a look at the roots. 

So on this lovely late winter afternoon I have this little guy on my bench. Unfortunately, as I’m new not only to bonsai, but blogging as well, I completly forgot to take enough pictures. So cut to… 

… Potting up! 

There wasn’t a huge amount of usable root on the plant, so I just combed out what was there and started to work them into the soil. 

Now this is my usual soil with the addition of a couple of PG tips tea bags. I kid you not. I’ve been informed that the tannins in the tea leaves help the plant grow mighty! Well we’ll see won’t we. 

I don’t usually wire my trees into the pot, but this is so top heavy, with so little root that I didn’t trust my usual couple of little rocks on the soil surface until the roots take hold. 

Time to let this recover for a while and then I’ll start feeding it with a high acidic feed. 

First ever pot purchase

This might be a little strange, but I’ve never actually bought a bonsai pot before. They have either been given to me, or come surrounding the roots of a tree that I have bought.

I decided to break my duck (careful with auto correct on that phrase!) And treat myself to a teeny little shohin pot I saw on eBay.

1st little pot

I know I’ve only just reported my little crassula ovata cuttings, but I think one of them might just sit in here quite nicely.

Trying out an avocado

I successfully germinated a couple of avocado pits a while ago. Now I know it’s never going to make a stunning bonsai tree, because they are so apically dominant and the leaves are quite frankly huge. But what is the point in a hobby of everything is easy and the same. It’s an experiment that I’m going to enjoy working on.

Germinated directly in soil

So I had originally planted this in a cut out plastic bottle so I could see the root development. It was germinated directly in the soil as opposed to the method of suspending over water. Now I did try that method too, and it worked but died over the Christmas period after I’d transplanted it into a soil mix.

The first step for this one though was to get it out of the bottle and have a closer look at the root system.


That’s quite a good amount of root really, what I need to do now is start to flatten out the root plane. I don’t want to go all the way yet, I don’t think it would survive. Maybe it would seeing as it still has a fair amount of energy in the pit, but I want to take this slowly.


I think that will do for now, I’ve gotten rid of a fair portion of that tap root and left it with a couple of layers of feeder roots.

I’m not going to touch the foliage yet, because it’s only got a couple of sets of leaves and not many healthy looking buds.

So time to find a slightly bigger pot for it and place it in done nice bonsai soil to develop those roots further.


I haven’t decided what to do with the trunk yet, I may at some point wire it up to create a bit of movement because it’s going to get quite tall I imagine and the trunk is already quite tough. But we’ll see how it reacts to this operation first

Crassula Ovata cuttings, one year on.

So I took four cuttings from my big plant about a year ago and potted them into individual 9cm pots with some basic soil / grit mix. All of them took as expected, it is Jade after all and put on some decent growth. Unfortunately I don’t have the before pictures from a year ago, because I didn’t take any!

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Here’s one of them as it is today.

As you can see, they haven’t become humongous, but there is new growth and it is nice and compact.

So today I took them all out of their pots and had a good rake through of the roots which had grown really well as you can see from the pictures below. I just tidied them up so that they were really nice and radial then trimmed off the rest of the cutting below the root plane.

And finally all that was left to do, was to repot into some make shift shallow pots. I actually used the same pots but cut them down to about 2″ tall in the hope of keeping the roots radial and fairly flat.

I don’t want these trees to be huge, I see them maybe getting to around 7-10″ tall eventually. My primary concern at the moment is to keep developing the roots and the trunks. I’m not concerned about the branches at the moment.

But this is how they look now, I did end up taking off some of the larger leaves.

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Non traditional Bonsai (Poinsettia)

So I’m not particularly familiar with this plant, I’ve had a couple in the past just as Christmas decoration, but never kept them alive past the holiday season.

This year I got one for a table display and after seeing some images of them in various stages of bonsai development online decided that I would give it a go.

However all of the leaves fell off of it!

With nothing left to loose for this plant, I thought I would cut each branch back to its first nodes and see what happened. Sure enough after a few days in the shade, new buds started to appear, so I whipped it out of its terrible soil (seriously there was all sorts of rubbish in there) and combed out the roots, which were surprisingly radial and fairly evenly spread.

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It wants to live, you can tell.

I completely forgot to take pictures of the root system, so you’ll just have to believe me that not only they exist, but that they are as good as I’m making out.

I repotted him in some of my nice bonsai soil and gave it a really good watering.

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Lovely new home, shame about the crappy pot.

I’ve piled up the soil a little higher, because the way it was planted before the roots were literally 1-2mm below the surface and it wasn’t very stable. Once its established I’ll probably raise it by raking away the top of the potting medium.

I knew I’d forgotten something!

So the other day I had this nagging feeling that I had forgotten to do something, turns out I had been neglecting to water the bird plum which was inside for the winter on a window sill.

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Looking a little crispy there fella!

So yeah, damn near killed the poor little bugger. As you can see, I’d also been attempting to create a bit of movement in the trunk over the winter period, which seems to be holding well and I think adds more interest.

But no amount of trying to distract you from the poor health of this tree is going to work is it? What foliage is left on the tree is dry and crispy. The only reason it is still there is because it is too damn stubborn to fall off.

First step was to remove those crisps…

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Looking better already

Now I can say its just a winter silhouette right, right?!

Anyway, there’s me thinking, in for a penny in for a pound. Lets give this mother a repot and have a look at those charmingly wild roots.

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Ghack!

Well not as bad as they were, believe me! Oh yeah, I have by this point already checked beneath the bark to see if in fact the tree is still alive in some fashion and joy of joys it is!!

But those roots man! Why do you have to do this to me?!

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Maybe it’ll live through this…

That’s better, hope I haven’t just hit the head of the death nail though. I’m not going to touch this any more now. BACK AWAY ADAM!!!

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Doesn’t it look pretty!

Time to get this tree back indoors and try to nurse it through. Good watering later and a couple of nice lava stones to hold it in the pot whilst those roots do something and its got a new home right in front of where I sit in the evening so I don’t bloody forget to water it again.

 

First attempt at mixing soil

So one of the things that I’ve been dying to do since getting into this hobby is to mix up my own bonsai substrate. Where to start? It’s been said many times in various books and online forums that there are as many soil mixes as there are practitioners of bonsai. Everyone seems to have their own mix, for their own trees… and they are all the best thing since the invention of sliced bread!!

I struggled for a long time, should I just buy a pre-made mix from a store, or muddle my way through?

Muddle!!

There are of course some basic things that a Bonsai soil needs to provide. Drainage, moisture retention and air circulation – leaving aside for now nutrients.

There is much to be said for traditional components such as akadama and the like, but they all seem to be quite expensive and for the most part for good reason, such as shipping it half way around the world. So then, the key appears to be finding materials that are locally produced or at the very least already available locally for bonsai or other purposes.

So then, I hear you say, get on with it and tell me what you’re using!!

Well my first attempt consists of Perlite and Tesco (British supermarket) low dust kitty litter – which as has been mentioned by various people in the UK bonsai community (most notable Harry Harrington) is a diatomaceous earth. The last ingredient is some chipped pine bark, which I found in the form of ‘Jungle Earth’, a cage bedding material for reptiles and insects.

Costs:

  • 10L gro-Sure perlite – £6.99
  • 10L Tesco Low Dust Cat Litter – £2.70 0r 2 for £5
  • 4.5L Exo Terra Jungle Earth – £3.50

Total – £13.19

 

Out of this, once it was sieved through a 2.5mm mesh I ended up with approximately 6L of Perlite, 4.5L Cat litter & 4L of bark. Giving me a grand total of 15.5L of usable bonsai soil for about £13.20. The closest equivalent mix I could find pre-mixed online was 2L for £9.99, so it would have cost more the £75 to get the same amount – crazy shizzle!!

Is it any good? Well the short answer is I only mixed it up today and re-potted four of my trees into it, which are still dormant, so I don’t know! However it is very similar to the mix that Nigel Saunders uses on most of his trees (if you don’t know who that is, check him out on YouTube) and his trees seem to be doing just fine… Well better than just fine.

The bonus in all of this is that I have kept the finer grains that were sifted out in the mixing process which I will probably use for planting seeds in that are destined to become bonsai. This may require mixing in a little more organic matter but I’ll keep you updated on that in the future.

I’m not going to bother going through the process of how I prepared the mix because others have done that before, in fact THIS is the exact process I used and if you watch the video, you get to check out that guy Nigel Saunders I mentioned a while ago.

So guys and gals, thats it for this post. Have you tried a similar mix, or even a completely different one that you fancy sharing then comment below. Extra points for thriftyness!

About me and this site

Hey there, I’m Adam.

I’m a writer, photographer and video maker by trade, but I have always been into gardening. Just recently I have gotten into Bonsai in a fairly big way. I guess its just a natural progression combining my artistic nature and my love of gardening.

Anyway, this blog isn’t so much going to be about tutorials or anything like that (there are better and more qualified people out there providing that service), what I am aiming to do is just to document my progression and the techniques / materials that I am using. In doing so, I will explain the process that I am using and keep the projects updated so that you can see my results. I am in no way saying that the way I go about it is the right way. Just the way I am experimenting.

I hope you enjoy following my progress, and comments / feedback / help is appreciated, but I do intend to try out fringe methods at times, purely for the experimental fun of it, so comments along the lines of ‘Hey that won’t work, thats the wrong way to do this…’ won’t be that constructive for me.