Tag Archives: Willow Leaf fig

Ficus salicaria, Willow Leaf fig

One of the best small leaf fig species to use for bonsai is the Willow Leaf fig, scientifically called Ficus salicaria. It has many great features including aerial roots and wide-spreading surface roots. One possible issue is that it does not like having roots that stay too wet. Water the tree well and make sure to allow the soil to nearly dry before watering it again. Continually wet roots leave room for fungal and other rot problems.

Willow Leaf tree that I lost due to root rot

The “Too Heavy” root

In dealing with a fig that has too heavy a root there are several ways to handle the situation. One, is to simply use soil and moss to partially or completely cover the thick root.

Another solution is to cut the large root completely off. After removing the root seal the cut with cut paste and cover lightly with some soil or sphagnum moss. Usually the cut root will sprout and replace the heavy part with a new and thinner root in much better scale than the original. Cutting off one large root on a healthy tree should not prove to be harmful to the bonsai tree.



Heavy root on the left is not in scale with the rest of the tree



Heavy root on the left has been totally removed and smeared with cut paste

The removed portion of the root is sprouting and will become another bonsai

The cut end of the root on the tree shows new finer roots taking over and once a bit thicker will be in good scale to the size of the bonsai

Yet other ways to handle the heavy root is to split the root or cut the root in half lenghtwise.

All of these will result in a root that is proper scale to the trunk and design of the tree.


A haircut

Developing a bonsai requires many steps. One critical step is allowing the bonsai in development to grow wildly. This allows the tree to gain strength and to form branches that will be used in its development.

Periodically the overgrown tree will be trimmed back, given a haircut to bring the design back to a more compact design while also keeping the needed branches and eliminating the ones that are not necessary. This process is repeated until the later stages of a bonsai’s maturity.

Once mature and the design is set growth is kept more restrained. The cycle of growth followed by trimming back is kept up for many years until the tree hits maturity when a more restrained growth and tim back cycle begins.

Willow Leaf fig that has been allowed to grow wildly in order to strengthen it, provide more branches for the design and to thicken the roots draped over the rock

Willow Leaf fig that has been allowed to grow wildly in order to strengthen it, provide more branches for the design and to thicken the roots draped over the rock




Branches and foliage are reduced back and branches to be kept are selected – now further growth will be allowed 

Reverse taper

Trees ideally should have a wide root base that tapers up into the trunk. A bulge or lack of proper taper often ruins the visual flow from the rootline to the apex of the tree and is called reverse taper.

In this case several root cuttings of Willow Leaf fig, Ficus salicaria, were bound togeter in about 2006 and fused together to form a larger trunk accomplishing  in a shorter time than it woud take to grow the same diameter trunk in my plant room. Fusion was helped greatly by using a large container and allowing free growth of the tree.

The first shot is taken in 2009 when the fusion was successful but the fusion was not totally complete.


2009, with trunks partially fused

A picture of the tree in 2014 shows good fusion and a reverse taper with the roots and base of the tree appearing narrower at the left side of the base than a bit farther up the trunk.

2014 showing the left side of the base of the tree with weak footage

2014 showing the left side of the base of the tree with weak rootage

Three roots were moved around from the left front and left back of the tree. Two of the three roots were fused to other roots at the base and a chisel was needed to separate them from the base, allowing the roots to be moved. One root at the back was just up-rooted and moved around to the left side.


The lowest root on the back was simply dug out and easily moved around to the front


Side root is fused to the base – it is separated with a chisel


2015, the moved roots now enhance the base of the tree and eliminate the reverse taper




Root cuttings

Some species of Ficus will grow from pieces of root. This is fortunate as repotting of figs is required every few years to maintain the health of the tree. At this time thick and unnecessary roots can be removed and rooted to form new plants.

A root cutting is shown from a Willow Leaf fig. The bonsai is now about 10 years old.

Willow Leaf fig from the root cutting removed 10 years ago

Willow Leaf fig from the root cutting removed 10 years ago


This root cutting was removed from a bonsai tree and grew into the above tree

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Bar branches, yes or no?

One of the most basic beginner rules is to avoid bar branches. That is to say remove one of two branches that appear on the same level but directly opposite each other. This rule as all rules for bonsai or any art form is often helpful in designing a basic bonsai for a beginner. In more mature trees and with mature bonsai artists the rule is often broken. See what you think with with this example.


Same tree with mid-level lef branch removed


Now the mid-level right sided branch is removed.

Which one looks the best is or the best one the original design and keeping the bar branches as you see below?

Willow leaf fig as it exists now


Windswept style

A few years back I styled a Willow Leaf cutting into a windswept style. I enjoyed the plant although it was a young and immature plant.

The young cutting shaped out as a windswept style

The young cutting shaped out as a windswept style

The tree was re-potted some time ago and looking at the image of the plant revealed the tree was no longer attractive. What was the problem?

The tree in its new pot just isn't exciting and feels wrong

The tree in its new pot just isn’t exciting and feels wrong

Often when re-potting a tree I get the angle of the trunk wrong. I get busy selecting a pot, arranging the roots and securing the tree into the pot in the process the tree winds up being potted at the wrong angle or wrong position in the pot or tipped forward or backward and out of position.

Tipped back to the right - the design feels better

Tipped back to the right – the design feels better

Once potted at a better angle I now like the final result much better.





Twisting and turning design

This is an exercise in bonsai creation that is just for fun. The plant is a Ficus salicaria, Willow Leaf fig,  grown from a root cutting. This was a very long root, perhaps 2 feet in length. Foliage has sprouted at the cut end but how to design a tree out of it?

One possibility is to place a lot of wire on it and to twist and turn and bend until the trunk is quite contorted. The result is as you see. The foliage canopy will need shaping but for now it is being left untouched to allow the trunk to grow and to hold the shape we have set into it with the wire. Literati or bunjin is the closest shape or style grouping in which this might fall.

I perhaps may change my mind and move the trunk into another shape.

Any thoughts?

The root cutting before it was shaped.

The root cutting before it was shaped.


After wiring and twisting a shape emerges

Or is this shape more pleasing?

Another possible shape

Another possible shape