Fusing a fig tree

Using fusion to improve a fig tree is a valuable technique. However, it is necessary to use genetically identical material or the fusion my show differences in bark, leaf, etc. that can detract from the uniformity and believability of the design.

In this case seedlings of Ficus virens while very young were fused to create a sprout style tree. On careful examination of the trunks it is clear that they are not identical in bark character.

Ficus virens in a clump style created by fusion of seedling trees

Note that these three trunks do not look identical because genetically they are not the same

The base of your fig

One of the most attractive features of Ficus trees is their amazing, wide-spread surface rootage and the strong buttress of the base of the tree. This occurs more quickly when the tree is kept in relatively shallow containers. The fig responds by developing a very strong base and radiating powerful roots. However, care must be taken in shallow pots to keep the roots from rotting.

Ficus salicaria with powerful basal rootage and buttress base of the trunk

Ficus ingens, the Red Leaf Rock fig

Ficus ingens, the Red Leaf Rock fig, is an African species that is not very commonly used for bonsai. I have been working with several plants and do not find them the easiest species for leaf size control, and proper density of branching.

Here is one before defoliation with old, tired leaves. The appearance is quite messy and disorganized

The leaves are large, worn and old. So defoliation is undertaken.

Without the large leaves one gets a better view of the branching

After defoliation the appearance is much neater and looks more refined.

The new leaves will be red for a week or two after they grow in, giving it its common name.

Root-over-rock style

One of the most interesting styles of bonsai is the root-over-rock design. Simply a tree is designed to grow over a rock. There are many variations to this form but Ficus do very well in this configuration as their roots are aggressive and will cling to a stone if given a chance.

One caution is to use a normal form of a fig and not a dwarf form. The dwarf forms grow more slowly and it will take longer for them to anchor on the stone and to form good branching that will be needed to bring the design to life.

Ficus microcarpa ‘Taiwan Medium Leaf’ in a recent photo – more detailing and refinement of the branches is needed

Five years ago the tree was attached to the rock and it was buried deeply and allowed to grow freely

This is a Ficus microcarpa ‘Taiwan Medium Leaf’. It is one of the smaller microcarpa forms and is much slower growing. Initial work attached the tree to the stone and I buried the stone quite deeply. Growth was allowed with little trimming for several years to get the tree to stabilize and adhere to the rock. In later stages the branches and sub-branches will need to be defined to bring out the best in the bonsai.

The definitive reference work on Ficus
for bonsai. The book is a softcover, 8 by 10 inch volume, with 144 color pages, containing detailed information for the beginner as well as the advanced hobbyist.

Fusing Ficus

One of my favorite techniques to obtain larger material is to fuse young rooted cutting together. I use cuttings all taken from the same mother plant so that the bark, leaves and general character of the fused plant will be completely the same. In this way I can develop larager plants since my growing space is limited to one indoor growing room and I do not have space for really large pots or the ability to grow plants in the ground. Growing in the ground or in large growing containers would be faster and easier ways to get larger material.

Some images of fusing materials follows. Most are just early on and not totally fused. It takes anywhere from 1-7 years to achieve good fusions depending upon the age of the material, growth and the genetics of the plant.

Ficus virens

Ficus virens

Ficus virens

Ficus natalensis

Ficus virens of a special deep red leaf color


What I do when I am puzzled

Very often I have some trees that just seem to be a puzzle. I can’t quite figure out what design might work for the tree. I usually put these on the bottom shelf and just let them grow and wait for a burst of inspiration. Perhaps the tree will speak to me and I can listen to it and style and train it to become a wonderful bonsai.

But, sometimes the tree isn’t speaking or I am not listening. Not all bonsai creations will be created “instantly”. Sometime the bonsai will evolve after the tree or the designer mature.

Ficus virens which has been allowed to grow wild

No brilliant ideas so I take the tree back to the best basic structure and allow it to grow

Another Ficus virens that has not worked for me and it was allowed to grow wild

With no inspiration, I just cut it back to the best trunk line that I could think of. Time and growth may show me a way in the future.

Taking a tree apart to improve it

This is a young rooted cutting of Ficus natalensis but the two roots as indicated did not look right to my eyes. So I split the tree and allowed it to sprout back. I like the two new pieces and with more growth I think each may work out to be a reasonable bonsai tree.

Ficus natalensis, rooted cutting, with arrows showing the roots that I did not like

Ficus natalensis, rooted cutting, with arrows showing the roots that I did not like


The small root on the right sprouted out

The small root sprout has been potted up and will be allowed to grow to develop an apex

The small root sprout has been potted up and will be allowed to grow to develop an apex

The larger piece will need more development but I like it better now

The larger piece will need more development but I like it better now

Grafting figs

Grafting is a very useful way to improve a fig. It can add branches, new roots or thicken trunks. One factor to keep in mind is to graft identical parts together. Simply use material to graft, the scion, and the stock that are genetically identical. If this is not done the bark and foliage will be a mis-match and not suitable for bonsai.


The graft point is at 1 and the 2 shows that the foliage of the graft and the stock are not the same. Both are Ficus microcarpa but not genetically identical.


Close up of the graft point, 1, shows the mis-match in the bark color and texture

Thickening the trunk of a bonsai


Ficus virens with a nice thick lower trunk 

There are several ways to thicken the trunk of a bonsai. One way is to take aerials that are near the trunk and pull them over to touch the trunk and hold them tightly in place. Over time the aerials will fuse to the trunk enlarging it, as well as creating improved surface rootage/nebari.


Three or four years ago the same Ficus has small aerial on either side of the trunk. They are pulled close to the trunk and held in position

Aerials are now fused to the base, increase the taper and thickeness of the lower trunk