HUGE Ficus Benjamina help

thamsOctober 19, 2012

Hi all,

A friend gifted me a formerly 7-foot Ficus Benjamina that he was about to throw in the dumpster. He chopped the trunk(s) down to about a foot so he could more easily lift it to throw out.

I was able to rescue it, but only after the trunk chop... I still think it could make a great bonsai tree, but I've never tackled anything like this before.

It's about 14" high with a couple of patches of foliage (and spiders) throughout. The multi-trunk diameter is about 8 inches and it's sitting in a 20" deep pot. It looks like a lot of the trunks are fusing together, so it's got a really cool look to it. He said it's been sitting in the same soil for years, but it seems to be doing alright despite that.

Question is: what do I do with this thing?? I know I need to get it into a more shallow pot, but I think I should wait until its peak growing season to do that. Also, I know this tree isn't a fan of predictable backbudding, so I'm going to have to take what I get.

With this many trunks, I have no idea how to achieve any kind of taper. I suppose I could cut the outside trunks shorter than the middle ones, but I'm afraid of getting ride of any more foliage (especially since there is none on the middle trunks). What would you do if this were your tree?? Thanks to everyone in advance!

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Same tree - top view.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 11:48PM
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Matthew Condon - Indiana.Matt - IN, Zone 5/6(Indiana Zone 5/6)

Well, I don't know a thing about ficus and I have never grown a Bonsai, so I'm not the best person to answer your question, but since no one else has answered you I thought I would through out my thoughts about it.

I think I would clean up the cuts, they look a little rough. The trunks that have leaves on them - I would prune the trunks down to the twigs with leaves. The ones without leaves I would just clean them up with new cuts. Then I would water, feed, and sit back and see what happens. Don't repot it yet. Just see what happens. After you have lots of new growth, you then will be able to have something to work with. It's very difficult to visualize what you might get out of the plant. Seeing new growth will help.

Just my inexperienced thoughts,


    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 9:43PM
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Thanks for the response Matthew -- I've been researching like crazy to make sure that I'm looking after this tree(s) as best I can.

Small update: While a friend and I were moving the tree, the pot slipped from our grip and fell...and broke. I definitely didn't have a pot that big to repot. Also, this thing had HUGE roots on it. Large tuber roots that I didn't even know what to do about.

Long story short, I pruned A LOT of the roots off this thing to get it to fit in the largest pot I had available. I cleaned up the trunks and staggered them to create more interest. I then crossed my fingers, watered sparingly, and set in good light.

I'm now getting a good amount of backbudding on the trunks, so it appears the tree had a good amount of reserves to push new growth. We're not out of the woods yet, but I'm optimistic that I'll have a decent little tree (likely with some grafting) in a few years.

A great all around reference for ficus and especially the Ficus B. reduction technique is I'm sure a lot of you are aware of this site, but I thought I would pass on this resource. I'll post pictures once the buds begin really taking off.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 10:48AM
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Hi - if you want a real bonsai, you would get rid of 90% of the trunks except for those that have really already fused... bonsai is not about a big lump of trunk, but one that's been thought out and pruning choices made by you, not the tree. But if you just like having a very large, but ultimately not very interesting multitrunk 'stand' in a pot, go for it :-).

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 11:14PM
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Some of the trunks have been severely shortened to create greater taper. I never suggested that chopping the tree(s) automatically made it into a bonsai. Rather, with a lot of time, some skill, and patience it could eventually be called a bonsai. I left a good amount of the trunks in tact because they can fuse, in time, into an impressive trunk with great root flair.

I know you probably didn't mean to come off this way, but your post read more preachy than helpful. I appreciate constructive criticism -- if you're going to comment on a post, at least be specific in your suggestions.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 12:17AM
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If this was mine and I was experimenting, because I would not know what would happen really. I would cinch the trunks to touch or as close as I could and let the trunks fuse together. If you can figure out what part will touch skin the bark off in those places before cinching the trunks together. I also would figure out a way for the trunks to grow around a unique sculpture stuck in among the trunks. Have fun. Aloha

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 8:40PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Thams,

I was wondering if you have ever visited Wolftrap Nursery in Vienna, VA? I have looked at their website and they also have a collection of Bonsai material and trees and offer advice on Saturdays from a Master if anyone has any questions. I have been watching since they offer classes and other information for interested students.

I thought i would ask.. maybe it would be a fun trip since you are in the DC area. I am down in Virginia Beach and it would be a "field trip" for me. If you do get there, please let me know what you think and what they have in their nursery for Bonsai.

Just a thought for you...

Take care,


    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 10:51PM
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Hi Laura,

I've been to Wolftrap Nursery a number of times and my experience has always been pretty good. I've never been there when the bonsai master is present, and the other employees' knowledge of bonsai in general ranges from decent to almost non-existent in some cases.

They have a good number of bonsai and pre-bonsai on hand -- mostly tropical and some deciduous and conifers outside. Most of the outdoor varieties are oak and Japanese Maple. I'll list some of the tropical varieties (which I focus on) that I've seen while visiting: good size Tiger Bark Ficus (6"-14" or so), small to medium Serissa (of different varieties), Fukien Tea (one monster size one that's about $400 I think), large Brazilian Raintree (which I think sold), Singapore Holly, New Zealand Christmas Tree, Brush Cherry, Bougainvillea, Hibiscus, and a HUGE narrow leaf Ficus grouping that's around $2000 or so.

I know I'm leaving out a lot of varieties that they carry and their stock seems to rotate fairly often. Their pot selection is ok, but nothing spectacular. Nothing high end, but more the run of the mill Chinese pots that are decent but not awesome.

I would say it's worth a visit if you're in the area, but I'm not sure I would make the day trip unless you're attending a class there or you're seeking specific advise from the bonsai master when he's in.

My next stop is Meehan's Miniatures, but I haven't had the time to make the 3-hour round trip from DC yet. I've heard good things and I plan to go there to get some styling help in June or July for two fairly large ficus that I just purchased from some awesome nurseries.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 8:59PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Thams,

Thank you for the great information on Wolftrsp Nursery. Sounds like they have a pretty good selection based on what you just mentioned. We don't have any Bonsai Nurserys down south, and some larger nurseries only carry limited stock. They don't even carry containers. I have to order mine online.( which is fine with me) But , i still would love to walk into a Bonsia nursery and just see what is available. I will plan to visit in the spring and hopefully visit Meehan's Minatures as well. I believe that is in western Maryland?

Sounds like you enjoy the tropicals as well. I have a few Siressa starts from a friend and i also have a few Ficus, Star Flower and a few Port. Afra trees. I have been playing around with a few Evergreens too.

I am just a beginner, but i am enjoying what i have and what i am learning in the process. Love to just look and see what i can and "might" do. What satisfaction it gives me to see these little beauties.. : )

Thanks for your input and i hope all is well with your trees.

Always enjoy seeing your post!!

Take care,


    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 6:53PM
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Here's a little progress on the tree(s) -- as I mentioned it's popped buds all over the trunks. Pretty good progress so far. I just need to make sure I'm regularly rotating the tree to give each bud equal opportunity to the sunlight.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 8:26PM
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Just a quick update -- I knew the ficus would love my new T5 lights. I'm taking this guy to Meehan's Miniatures this summer for branch selection and wiring.

This picture was taken after two light pruning sessions to develop the initial overall shape.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 11:48AM
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Matthew Condon - Indiana.Matt - IN, Zone 5/6(Indiana Zone 5/6)

Wow...look at all those leaves!
Very nice. Thanks for the update.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 11:57AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Nice re-leafing!


    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 10:47AM
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All I can say is, the guy who chopped up and gave up that ficus for any reason was clueless. What a loss. If that had gone on eBay or Craig's List, he could have sold it for bigtime money. Thank God you got it at all.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2013 at 9:41PM
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No kidding -- I was really really happy to take it off of his hands. I think he just assumed it wasn't worth anything since when he bought the plant it was tiny.

Here's a picture of the tree with lower growth removed to quicken the top growth. I know the roots need a lot of work -- the nebari on the right side is pretty well buried. I also think a couple more trunks need to eventually be removed to increase taper. That'll come later when the tree is stronger and the strongest branches are selected.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2013 at 9:56AM
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Matthew Condon - Indiana.Matt - IN, Zone 5/6(Indiana Zone 5/6)

It's coming along nicely. It will be fun to see how it develops. Keep the updates coming!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2013 at 10:01AM
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Ha! Wow, that is an awesome tree. In several years it could be really impressive. look at those roots! One of the saddest things that I have ever seen was a neighbor who was keeping a 8' tall benjamina outdoors all summer but then didn't take it in in the fall. I had to watch it slowly die while thinking every day of just what a waste of a good tree it was. the guy was a jerk or i would have asked if i could have it. Keep the updates coming. this is an exciting tree!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 2:22PM
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Thanks! I'll be trimming it for shape for now -- it'll eventually be trained in an umbrella style. Once it's clear which branches are strongest, the rest will be removed. It'll eventually be repotted into a much shallower pot. I have my eye on a couple of different pots from New England Bonsai.

I'll post more pictures in the near future after it's trimmed for shape for the first time. Thanks for following!

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 6:30PM
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Matthew Condon - Indiana.Matt - IN, Zone 5/6(Indiana Zone 5/6)

You should try rooting some of the trimmings.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 9:08PM
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Not a bad idea -- I'm sure I'll need to thread graft this guy at some point. It would be nice to have some genetically identical grafts to work with.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 9:14PM
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great going! i've been sort of dwarfing my ficus salicifolia for years and also fusing trunks on it and also on f.benjamina. you could create a taper by twisting a few semi-wooded trunks together in the future. also i have been slowly exposing the roots on salicifolia. i'd prune some of the criss-crossing roots on the right - they could become chokers. also trim some small roots .
i've been using this book for ref:
jerry meislik 'ficus the exotic bonsai'. it great pics and info on fusing, grafting (that another thing you can do, if you cut off a trunk/branch - you can regraft it!).
he is well known - lots of pics for ideas if you google.
he works extensively with ficus.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 10:52AM
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Matthew Condon - Indiana.Matt - IN, Zone 5/6(Indiana Zone 5/6)

Hey, how's that Ficus doing? Haven't seen any new posts for a long time. Would love to see it.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 7:17PM
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