If a plant can be said to feel incredulous outrage, that is what my big ficus tree is feeling right now.
The decision was made to bonsai this tree. Reasons:
- It was way too big for the patio, at nearly 6 feet.
- I have three other small trees now should a hummingbird again want to nest.
- It was getting really gangly and untidy-looking because of the thinning I have done to accommodate hummingbirds. And the hummingbirds have (temporarily I hope) abandoned me, so the tree is fair game.
In short, the tree was bound for either re-homing, or a radical reconfiguration. In the spirit of "what's the worst that can happen" (to which the answer is, the tree spitefully dies), I have embarked on a modified bonsai process.
In real bonsai, a potted tree is kept intentionally and radically dwarfed through near-constant pruning and re-shaping of the above-ground parts, and repeated pruning and re-potting (generally into the same size container) of the below-ground parts. A real bonsai is typically less than 10% the size of the same plant in its natural state, and sometimes as little as 1% the size. Some bonsai, of long-lived species like cedar, are handed down through families as part of the estate, or passed on to fellow keepers through clubs.
My tree, already around twenty years old and having been allowed to reach a non-dwarf height (if it were planted in the ground, I am confident it would immediately seize hold of extra space and explode into growth), cannot now be truly dwarfed without killing it.
A side note on the ficus: Beverly Hills used the same species of tree to line Olympic Boulevard a long time ago. The city is now in the process of replacing these with magnolias. Magnolias are distant cousins of the ficus, but instead of a surface root structure (which the city has discovered results in heaved sidewalks and broken sprinkler systems) magnolias have a deep root structure. They also have big, showy, fragrant flowers. It will take a while for the road not to look scalped, but ten years on, it will be lovely.
Through my past manipulations of the ficus, a medium-density canopy surmounted a mostly-open branching network, below which a small leafy sub-canopy surmounted the braided trunks. I am taking the entire upper canopy and branch structure off, a bit at a time. When I am finished "topping" the tree, its sure-to-be compacted root ball will be first soaked in a manure bog, then pruned, soaked some more, and finally re-potted into a smaller container.
The braided trunks reach a little under three feet in height. As the mid-canopy re-grows atop this braid, I intend to try a modified growth-direction process so that the canopy will grow out more than it grows up.
A three-foot tree is a lot more manageable than a six-foot tree when we are talking about a 150-square-foot patio garden. And the really great thing about all this is, if the tree survives (which I expect it will - these things are seriously hardy), I can eventually take it with us to our "forever home" and plant it in the ground. It will definitely have earned its retirement!