Hank Miller is a great bonsai grower who has moved to upstate New York after spending many years in South Africa. Hank developed a special interest in Ficus while living in Africa.
Ficus natalensis and burtt-davyi are two of the ficus that Hank finds especially well suited for bonsai and easy to grow even in New York.
Hank, describing the pictures below.
" For the last 5 years I have been busy commuting, working on our house here (still not finished) and trying to start again with my bonsai.
I have done a large amount of grafting and it finally is beginning to pay off. The trees, which are made from a number of fused cuttings, develop into really fine trees in a relatively short period of time. Most of the trees in the photos are less than five years old. See below.
Below are two photos of a portion of my greenhouse after I have moved the trees in from outside a few weeks ago. Some of the grafts (mostly burtt-davyi and natalensis) are really beginning to take shape and I plan to sell some of them in the spring.
I am particularly pleased with the burtt-davyi grafts as they are a bit more difficult to graft than natalensis.
However both are excellent for root-over-rock and a number that I have started are coming along nicely.
I have a large number which I have started from cuttings. I am always surprised that people here do not realize that both of these varieties make excellent bonsai.
With regard to my figs, in the summer I move them outside. The days are longer here and it is more humid than in Pretoria. Most of my figs are either ficus natalensis or ficus burt-davyi. Both are indigenous to South Africa - the former to the area around Durban and the latter to the region farther south around Port Elizabeth and are classed as low veldt figs. Pretoria is on the high veldt with a semi arid climate and is colder in the winter with large diurnal swings in temperature.
Although I had a small green house in Pretoria it was not heated and although both species survived they did not prosper in the short winter months. Here I suspect that even though they spend much more time in the green house they do better because of the heating. In any case the growth rate this year was extraordinary.
The temperature in my green house never gets below 50 deg. F with relative humidty around 50-60%. Presently I water about every 4-5 days and will water less later in the winter.
The trees are a bit fuller than I prefer. I usually let them grow out a bit for the winter in the green house. Most photos were taken on a stand which is roughly 9 inches in length.
I have quite a number of roughly the same size - Ficus natalensis grafts.
Also, I have some larger natalensis as well as some really nice shohins and root-over-rocks.
Also, if any one is interested, my brother and I have been making stands like the one in the photos. They are made of solid steamed walnut. We make them in all different sizes and in principle they can be made from any hard wood.
I use the following soil mix by volume:
3 parts gravel
1 part turface
1-1.5 mature pine bark
1/2 part Canadian peat moss
Although I feed continuously through my drip system I usually add some iron chelate, lime and some trace elements into the mix as well as some slow release fertilizer. In South Africa I made my own compost and used it as the organic component in the mix. I did not use Turface as it was not available. I have found that the above works reasonably well but I have been cutting down on the Turface. I added it because I could not get the kind of gravel I used in South Africa.
I have no experience with mixes which contain no organic materials. I do find that both in Africa and here my shohins need to be potted in larger containers for a year or so every 5-6 years and allowed to grow out a bit. I suspect this may be due to the amount of leaf pruning I do.