Tag Archives: defoliation

Playing with images to design your tree

One thing that I find very useful is to photograph my trees on a regular basis. This allows me to see how the trees progress over time and lets me photographically change the images to see if a better design emerges from the image manipulations.

A series of pictures to illustrate how the design might change after playing with image manipulations.

The Ficus benghalensis as it looked some years back, straight trunk and large leaves

Using some heavy wire the trunk was bent to create some movement in the trunk

The tree partially defoliated as it looks today

With Photoshop one section of the tree was removed. Is it a better desgn?

Yet, another piece is removed graphically. Is this one better?

Ficus ‘ExoticaJS’ and defoliation

This Ficus ‘ExoticaJS’ has been in training for only a few years from rough pre-bonsai stock. It is an excellent material for bonsai and it is not often available for sale.

Periodically I defoliate many of my bonsai figs. Doing this produces smaller leaves and makes the tree more showable. It also allows me to see defects or problems in the tree more easily than if leaves are covering the tree.

Ficus ‘ExoticaJS’ seen with all its leaves

After defoliation the structure of the tree can be seen and it is apparent that the right lowest branch needs thickening and more sub-branching while the left lowest branch is too thick and needs to be kept from growing too much

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.

Starting with less than wonderful material


2011, at the start not looking too promising

This is a pretty typical plant. Ficus rubiginosa, that one can purchase in a nursery. It has had little or no training and seems unlikely to develop into a bonsai tree.

First step a chop to reduce the height

First step a chop to reduce the height

Allowing growth

Allowing growth

More growth, some trimming to shape

More growth, some trimming to shape, and wiring

2016, partially defoliated to encourage more twigging

2016, partially defoliated to encourage more twigging  

At last one begin to see the potential bonsai emerging from its rather humble beginnings.

How to work with a large leaf bonsai

Utilizing large leaf plants for bonsai is difficult. There are various techniques to deal with plants that have large leaves, like Ficus benghalensis.

The first shot shows the tree with its various sized leaves. These are large but already reduced just by being grown in a small container.

Ficus benghalensis with leaves that are too large

Ficus benghalensis with leaves that are too large

The second shot shows the tree in a defoliated state. In this leafless condition the branching and structure can be studied and analyzed. The bunjin/literati style is now appreciated once the distraction of the large leaves is removed, albeit temporarily. Once the new leaves grow out they will be smaller but eventually the newest leaves will grow out as full sized and ruin the illusion once again.


Defoliated the bunjin character and style of the tree can be analyzed and the scale of the design is now appropriate

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Ficus ingens, Red Leaved Fig

Ficus ingens is a fig found in Africa and it is often growing over rocks and is thus called a “rock-splitter”. The leaves are moderately large with a wavy edge and prominent yellowish veins. Its main attraction are the new leaves which come out varying shades of red. The spring flush is a very attractive growth with the tree covered with red leaves.

As a bonsai it is not the easiest of subjects as its leaves reduce but not extremely well. Branching is not dense so the growth tends to be rather open.

The red leaf color seems to be accentuated in bright light.

Leaves are large for this small sized bonsai

Leaves are large for this small sized bonsai


Leaves are attractive with a wavy edge and prominent main veins


The bonsai when defoliated shows the beginnings of proper structure for a slant style