Breaking Up Is Easy To Do!

by Jerry Meislik



With apologies to Neil Sedakas's 1960's hit "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" I have found that breaking up Ficus can be very easy to do!

In May of 2004 I visited David Fukumoto at his Kurtistown, Hawaii, nursery, Fuku-Bonsai. David knowing of my interest in Ficus presented me with a Ficus natalensis, grown from cuttings obtained from a specimen plant provided by the Lyon Arboretum. He had the tree growing in an ultra deep container to help it develop large and long roots which hopefully would become the focus for the tree’s design.

David has created a number of fabulous specimens from this same material including one in the national bonsai collection in Washington DC. He regards this material as one of the top Ficus varieties to use for larger bonsai specimens.

While at the nursery David, Mike Imano, and I removed the tree from its container, bare-rooted it and sawed apart the single tree to become three separate plants each with its own root system. When we were done there were literally no leaves or even significant branches remaining.  The aggressive nature of this fig and its vigorous root system allowed this to be done in one step. With weaker materials such drastic steps would need to be accomplished over several years and several re-pottings.

JM with Ficus in deep growing container, 2004.

Tree unpotted, and being sawn into pieces, 2004.

On left, Mike Imano holding tree 2, JM holding tree 1, 2004.

The bare-rooted plants were shipped to my home in Montana and upon arrival they were immediately potted into containers, made even deeper by increasing the pot depth with aluminum foil collars.  Inside the foil soil and sphagnum moss were added to encourage vigorous rooting and unrestrained growth. The trees began growing new leaves very quickly and adapted easily to my growing room and artificial light. As you may already know my plants are grown in a plant room under artificial light and never spend time outdoors in the natural sunlight.

Pots containing trees with aluminum foil collars.

Initial work in Hawaii separated the tree into three large plants. The fourth plant was removed from the top of plant 1 about one year later. The fifth plant was developed from a nice root cutting from the original plant.

The plants were allowed rampant top growth for a year or two. Nearly all growth was retained; allowed the trees to gain vigor, developed a choice of branches from which to select the final design and encouraged even more root growth.

Periodically the plants were cut back - keeping branches that might be useful in the final design while ruthlessly removing branches that did not work. After the initial design began to take shape initial braches were selected and the plants were potted into smaller containers. Wiring was used as needed to shape the branches but much more of the shaping was performed by clip and grow techniques ( keeping branches and sub-branches that grow in the proper direction).

In the last year, as the design process came further along and defoliation was periodically performed to force more dense branching. Small leaves, a byproduct of the defoliation process, are harmful in the earlier developmental steps but are helpful in the final stages when smaller leaves show the trees in a more suitable scale.

Tree 1

This plant developed the fastest of all the sections, probably in part due its being the largest piece at the start. Its very significant rootage was put to use in the creation of an exposed root or epiphytic, rotted trunk style.

Original piece containing tree 1 and tree 4, 2004.

Tree 1 in free growth, 2005.


Tree 1, severely reduced and repotted, 2006.

Tree 1, 2009

 New top

Tree 1, 2009

Tree 1, 2009


Tree 1, 2015

Tree 2

This tree developing into a dramatic semi-cascade style is moving along quite well. It needs more growth to finish out its apex and to fill in with some secondary branching.

Ben Devall, my student, with piece 2 in rampant growth, 2006.


Chopped back and in potential small pot, 2006.


Tree 2, 2015

tree two

Tree 3

This piece was developed from a chunky, blunt cutting of the original plant. It was quite ugly and it was nearly discarded. Using some inspiration the piece was affixed to some wonderful textured rock and allowed to grow strongly to encourage the roots to grab the stone.

This root-over-rock design has a way to go to its final evolution.

Piece 3 attached to rock with plastic tape, 2005.

New terminal selected, 2006.




rock planting

Tree 4

Section 4 is reaching an attractive point in its development. It started as a leafless, branchless upright section with one or two aerial roots that was removed from the top of Plant 1. It is now on the way to becoming an upright semi-cascade style replete with aerial roots.

Tree 4 , 2004.

Tree 4, 2013


Cutting 4

Tree 5

This plant was a discarded piece of aerial root removed from the original plant. Its root end was planted into soil while the cut end sprouted leaves. The plant is now on the way to becoming a unique cascade style. While not all Ficus will sprout from root cuttings this species is one that sprouts easily from larger pieces of root.

Tree 5, 2015

 root cutting


The vigorous nature of this Ficus allowed for aggressive reduction followed by rampant re-growth, further reduction and subsequent training to produce five bonsai. Tree one is well on the way to becoming a top-notch bonsai. Tree two needs further top and branch development to become notable. Plant 3, the root-over-rock styled plant, will take more years to stabilize on the stone and to complete its root and top growth. Plant 4 will soon be coming into shape as an attractive bonsai. Plant 5 is nearly done and ready to be admired. Some more leaf reduction will make it even more attractive.

By selecting a suitable stock plant with aggressive growth characteristics, good bonsai character and applying sound horticultural and bonsai techniques allowed 5 quite unique bonsai to be developed from one collected tree.

Breaking up is easy to do!

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