Article 58 – ‘Wiring a Ficus’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai, in this post we look at an alternative way to wiring a Ficus retusa.

Introduction – This small Ficus ginseng (Ficus retusa) in the Komono class (15cm to 26cm) native to Asia has been pruned many times over the years and the cuttings were preserved by placing them in a glass jar filled with tap water. After a few weeks, the cuttings developed root systems and were planted out in plastic pots and when stable (good evidence of growth) were given to students to practise their bonsai styling skills.

Ficus ginseng

Question – We get questions on styling to which we respond, but we are of a conviction that ‘one learns by doing’ nevertheless, here is a question we received from one of our followers on this very subject. “I wired my Ficus into its intended shape, but when I went to check it weeks later the wires had caused deep grooves in the bark, my question is will these grooves pop back out?

Answer – In short the answer is no, because attention to wiring detail has not been paid, hence the plant is disfigured with bark damage and disruption to the phloem and cambium rendering the plant useless as a potential bonsai; Ficus like many other species of the genus have soft bark and phloem and cambium are easily damaged.

Course of action – Much depends on where these indentations are located be they on the trunk or branch and how long they extend, the unaffected areas can be used for new cuttings, hence your Ficus becomes a donor plant. We realise that this is a set back and not what you want to hear, but in reality there is no option you cannot undo the damage that has been done. However, do not discard the rest of the tree, remove the damaged section/s and let the plant recover; there is a possibility that it may produce new shoots as this species is quite resilient.

A different approach to wiring a ficus – Although native to Asia the genus Ficus is found all over the globe usually as house plants or decorative attractions in shopping malls for example Ficus benjamina and many are used in bonsai. However, they do not take kindly to wiring, because (a) of the soft bark easily damaged (b) they have no dormancy period unlike deciduous species from Europe and North America and (c) they are not hardy. Therefore, one needs to adopt a different approach and that is by using guy wires apposed to actually attaching the wire to the tree. The image below depicts a Pine Pinus sylvestris that has been wired using the guy wire method.

By looking at the image you can see that wire 1. is the anchor holding the tree in it’s container it also counter balances the force as wire 2. is pulling the upper mid section of the trunk down, the same process is repeated for wires 3. and 4. This balance of action and reaction stabilises the tree when a branch or trunk is severely bent, because the inside of the bend is now in compression and the outer radius is now in tension; because for every action there is a reaction. You will also notice there are black rings where wires 1. 2. 3. and 4 are attached, this material is thick felt which, prevents the wires from damaging the bark, phloem and cambium.

Of course this operation was conducted on a sturdy pine that can take this kind of treatment, whereas a ficus cannot nonetheless, it can be done although the amount of tension has to be less severe and the shaping or bending process has to be done gradually. One can shape a ficus quite easily using the guy wire method as it will conform to its given shape in a short space of time depending on the thickness of the trunk or branch; unlike a conifer which takes years.

After a short time period (2 to 3 weeks) loosen the wire to ascertain if the branch is holding it’s new shape, if the operation is a success you can proceed with your next plan of action, if not re-attach the wire and wait a little longer. In addition, ensure you use felt, leather, rubber or some other cushioning material to prevent the wire from damaging the plant. However, if you wish to wire the trunk or branch in the conventional way you can, but use a thicker wire and loosely wire the proposed section into shape, but check it on a weekly basis otherwise you will recreate the same problem.

Another point to consider is the type of style one is aiming for, the following are classic styles: Formal upright (Chokkan), Informal upright (Moyogi), Twin trunk (Sokan) and Slanted (Shakan) are possibilities for this species, but Literati (Bunjin-gi), Semi cascade (Han-kengai), Cascade (Kengai) and Broom (Hokidachi) should be avoided as ficus is not in reality adaptable to these styles; alternatively you can make your own design there is nothing in the rule book which states you cannot as we have done with our specimen depicted above. Until next time, BW, Nik.

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