Ficus Techniques : 86

Growing Figs in New Zealand

by Pam and Adrian Blok


We have a wonderful climate for most bonsai trees, no extremes of temperature. We may make 30C/86F on our very hottest of days but that is rare and we have a winter that doesn't get below 10C/50F or 12C in the day although we can have frosts overnight but it never freezes. We have a reasonably high humidity factor as well because we are surrounded by the sea and are able to grow quite a range of ficus although they do not have the explosive growth of the warmer tropical locations. One of the most challenging aspects in our ficus collection is a large Ficus macrophylla.  Its bonsai journey began when we spotted it in a large black nursery bag and decided we just had to take it home along with a second large Ficus macrophylla.

tree in plastic bag
A multi-trunked macrophylla in a similar bag

We do some initial trimming at the nursery

Loaded in car
Here is the large single tree being loaded into a van for transport and taking up nearly the whole length of the vehicle

another tree
The second multi-trunked one went in as well

arrived at hom  
On arriving home the next step was to remove the bag and examine the roots

chopping off roots  
With such a monster the lower half of the root ball was cut straight off with an axe and put into its pot

This is such a heavy old Ficus macrophylla that once in the pot it is going to stay there for quite a while.

in bonsai pot  
This was in August (almost spring) of 2006.

On looking back it we think it was chopped a bit high up on the trunk but one never knows where shoots may develop. 

By October 2006 with great excitement we could see small shoots appearing

longer branches
At least we hadn't killed it and by July 2007 one year later we had some lengthy branches

Over the next years we have gone through a process of letting it grow wildly, and then trimming back; all the time not having any exact plan in mind until some branching was established. 
No branches grew on the left hand middle section of the tree so we made attempts at approach grafting, at first removing a small section of bark and nailing two lower branches further up the tree.  Neither one took so the next step was to use brass screws to secure the approach grafts.

grafted branch
In this attempt one was successful and you can see it today having totally engulfed our screws while the unsuccessful scar is just visible still on the trunk in the second picture

another view of graft
The trunk cut can also be seen here as it has been carved, wood preservative applied - just in case of deterioration

We are not keen to sever this branch in case its still feeding from the mother branch but maybe in the future we might be brave enough.
We feed our ficus a variety of food. We can purchase ready made processed sheep pellets and a nitrophoska slow release fertilizer. We also supplement these with homemade worm juice which seems to be most agreeable to them.

the hoist
When we redeveloped the bonsai area we needed to shift our large fig.  A portable hoist seemed the best way to tackle the problem

This picture was taken on the 5th November 2013 so you can see we are going for wide drooping lower branches which happen in nature and with pruning have developed quite a dense crown.  We do not want it to get any higher than this and are now working on the middle sections reducing the length of the branches to encourage ramification  thus getting smaller leaves in these areas.

tree growing branches
5th November 2013

This next photo was taken five weeks later on December 14th 2013 when it had grown quite unruly again.

further growth
December 14th 2013

The latest picture is the 28th January 2014 with its latest prune. The spaces are slowly filling with leaves and the size of the crown leaves are reducing nicely. We try to maintain some vigor in the tree at all times so do not prune harshly and are prepared to put up with the larger leaves at this stage.

looking more mature
28th January 2014

We have never defoliated this tree as we are are not sure without tropical temperatures that the tree would respond well.
The multi- trunked Ficus microphylla was treated in a similar fashion but we didn't remove the bag and pot it into a training barrel until mid October 2006.

October 2006

growing out in the garden
It lives in our front garden and is developing a good dense canopy with reduced leaves.  We are thinking about future ideas for bonsai styling.

We enjoy seeing just what we can do with our ficus plants and found this Ficus retusa in a pre-Xmas sale; with a little bit of repositioning some selective pruning and a new angle in the pot we can call it the Baby Elephant Fig.

Elephant style
Feb 2014

Another oddity is this Ficus rubiginosa growing alongside a statue which it is slowly engulfing with banyan roots.  It reminds us of the lost temples in a far away jungle. We made a framework of wire covered with sphagnum moss to encourage the aerial roots to grow in the right spaces of the broken ornament.


mossed aerial roots
Moss draped over a wire frame is used to encourage aerials to cover the ornament

Not all of them were obliging but the ones that have hit the soil level are thickening up nicely and they are passing right through the hole in the broken figure without a face. We will try to encourage more roots to grown down around the figure adding to the effect.

moss removed
Aerials now grasping and growing through the figure

close up
This Ficus 28th January 2014


All Rights Reserved © Ficus Forum 2014