"MAHALO" - New Life For A Ficus
 By Jerry Meislik

In 1986, the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation was formed to complement Fuku-Bonsai Nursery activities and as a public bonsai collection. The MPBF co-sponsored the Hawaii State Bonsai Repository to keep specific bonsai in the public domain. Beginning with the bonsai donated by the family of Sadakichi Sugahara, the repository has steadily grown to include a number of memorial bonsai to honor past Hawaiian bonsai grower-trainers.

The Foundation includes trees trained by prominently known bonsai grower-trainers at Fuku-Bonsai or in major bonsai conventions or demonstrations. The impressive list includes Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro, Saburo Kato, Shinji Ogasawara,  John Naka, Tom Yamamoto, Pius Notter, and others. 

In May 2004, on a visit to Fuku-Bonsai, I was given the privilege of being a guest artist. David Fukumoto selected a “raw stock” Ficus microcarpa donated to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation that was in need of its initial styling. The photo below shows the tree prior to beginning work.

Ficus being analyzed by David Fukumoto prior to any work.

The tree was studied to determine its strong and weak points. The base of the tree was covered with many small aerial roots that were quickly removed and only roots that were significant and matched the flow of the main trunk were retained.

The base of the tree.

Ficus tipped to new orientation. Red lines indicate the rough cuts to be made.

The first branch on the right was too low and too thick relative to the trunk; its movement was counter to the trunk line and lacked the dramatic movement of the trunk. It was quickly removed and the raw stub was chiseled back to the trunk line. The tree was then removed from the pot and the dense root system was combed out and the long roots were shortened. A forceful stream of water from a hose blasted away much of the old soil.

Ficus roots being power washed.

A saw was used to remove the bottom of the root ball creating a flat plane for the base of the tree and orienting the trunk in the proper orientation. Residual soil was picked out with a root hook and a wooden stick. The tree’s position was brought more upright. The branch structure that existed would not be useful to the ultimate design and the tree was quickly trimmed back to only two stubs.

The base of the fig was cut, sawed and chopped to allow it to sit flat at its new orientation.

A plastic tie threaded through the container’s bottom secured the tree into the training container. Sphagnum moss was placed around large cuts on the roots and soil composed of a peat and lava rock mixture was sifted into and around the root system and firmed into place. All large cuts on the trunk were sealed with petroleum jelly to keep the cambium from drying and retracting back. The soil was then well moistened.

Petroleum jelly is used to seal large cuts.

Fig settled into its new pot.

This process completed the initial phase of the tree’s re-design. The process to this point involved reducing the tree back to its strong points and eliminating any clearly extraneous elements. The tree will be allowed to grow for a period of time without any trimming or further intervention. This will allow the tree to gain strength and store energy for the future work.

Mahalo, to David, Mike and the great staff of Fuku bonsai for making this wonderful creative process possible.

To see the next step in the refinement of this great tree click here.

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