Ficus Techniques : 42

Dealing with coiling roots

by Jerry Meislik

Kurt Smith of the Flower Market in Dundee Michigan, invited me to do a demonstration on a pre-bonsai Ficus salicaria, Willow Leaf Fig on a recent tour to Michigan. Kurt is an expert bonsai grower as well as owner of the Flower Market. The Flower Market is a full service flower shop, water garden center and carries a very extensive assortment of bonsai material and trees.

Before any work was done this Ficus was quite attractive. Once removed from the pot it was obvious that a problem existed with the roots. Nearly all the roots coiled round the inside of the pot and were quite out of character with a naturalistic bonsai appearance. In addition the roots in the pot were so tight and ingrown that uncoiling them would be impossible. Turning this bonsai into a splendid specimen would involve correcting/removing all these coiling roots.

A very attractive Ficus salicaria at the start of the demonstration

Bruce Baker, bonsai expert, discussing shaping the tree

The audience had many interested observers including well know bonsai gurus like Bruce Baker, and Jack Wikle. Bruce is working hard with his newest endeavor, Radius Garden Tools, a line of high engineered, high quality garden tools.

When a bonsai such as this has spent years in a pot the roots naturally grow until they hit the edge of the container and then proceed to grow round and round the edge of the container. Some bonsai whose early years were spent in a growing container have never had this error corrected and still retain the root coil revealing their intitial training in a growing pot.

Kurt teasing out the root ball

The first step in correcting this problem is to remove the tree from its pot and to examine the whole root system. From prior experience I know that most of the root system of a healthy Ficus salicaria can be removed if needed. In this case the roots are just too old and inflexible to be re-shaped. The only solution is to use a fine toothed saw and to saw off the roots and allow a new more appropriate root system to grow out.

Kurt and Dustin Mann sawing the root ball down

Once this was accomlished the tree could be styled selecting out the branches to retain and removing supurfluous branches.

Bill Heston and helper working to put finishing touches on the tree

The final result is an attractive informal upright tree that will improve immensely once it recovers from its drastic root and top work. Kurt will nurse this tree back to full vigor and a recovery picture will be posted one day.

Ficus salicaria potted up

Thanks to Matt Jones of the Toledo Bonsai Club for allowing us to use his photos of the demonstration.

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