Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

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Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

Post  bonsaisr on Thu Sep 02, 2010 1:46 am

I am posting this in the Questions forum because this is no masterpiece, and I welcome suggestions.
This is my oldest attempt at a tropical fig tree. I agree Ficus benjamina is not the greatest bonsai material, but it is widely available. I acquired my first Ficus 'TooLittle' around 1993 and it was stolen in 1995. I bought this one from Bill Valavanis in 1997 for $5 plus tax.
Ficus 'TooLittle' was a mutation spur off a standard F. benjamina and was first discovered in Florida in 1988. It was patented in 1994. It was first sold in the North by mail-order by Brussel's as far as I know. It was touted as a breakthrough for indoor bonsai growers and eventually was widely marketed. Back in the 90s, willow leaf fig may have been sold in the North, but I don't recall seeing it. The only tiger bark figs available then were trained imported specimens costing hundreds of dollars. So if I wanted an inexpensive tropical fig bonsai, I got 'TooLittle.' The correct name as patented is one word, with the capital L in the middle. It has not been known to bear any fruit. Other dwarf cultivars of F. benjamina followed, here & in Europe.

The predominance of F. benjamina cultivars for indoor bonsai changed abruptly a few years ago partly for the following reason:



Crown gall.
F. benjamina dwarfs would be purchased for bonsai, and a few months later developed these ugly bumps. If they are cut off, they only keep coming back, until the tree is covered with them. The source is sloppy sanitation among the nurseries in Florida. I have not seen it in other Ficus species. Meanwhile other Ficus more suitable for bonsai have become widely available, but F. 'TooLittle' is still sold.
I contacted several resources to find out the present status of this disease. A Florida state nursery inspector told me the problem has been all but eliminated, but it still exists. If you buy F. 'TooLittle' or one of the other cultivars, get it from a very reliable nursery or make sure you can get a refund if the tree is infected.
Iris

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Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

Post  bonsaisr on Thu Sep 02, 2010 1:52 am

Here is my 'TooLittle' in 1999. I don't know why it is in slanting style, except that probably is what the tree wanted to be. I know it is not really styled like a tropical Ficus. I am too imprinted with northern trees.



Here it is in 2002.



Iris

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Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

Post  bonsaisr on Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:03 am

This is what it looks like today, right after a pre-show haircut. It fluctuates between 14" and 17" tall (35.5 to 43 cm). The pot is 11.5 inches long, 29 cm. The lady with the water jar is by a local artist.
I have never had 'TooLittle' defoliate from repotting, being brought indoors in the fall, or taken outdoors in the spring. However, it needs to go outdoors in the shade and be acclimated gradually to the sun, to avoid sunburn. By midsummer, it is in full sun. Bright light is necessary to keep down the leaf size and promote dense ramification.
It usually spends the winter under fluorescent lights, but if the light garden is too crowded, it will winter satisfactorily in a sunny window. You just have to adjust watering & feeding.
The nebari needs improvement. Like its parent F. benjamina, 'TooLittle' produces copious storage roots. As it ages, that tendency is subsiding. Every so often, some of the branches need rewiring. The upper one on the right needs a guy wire & a turnbuckle. With a young tree, you have to watch the wires very closely. Some of the wire scars from the youth of my tree only healed in the last year or two.



There was a Ficus 'TooLittle' forest at the international convention in Washington in 2005. I tracked down the owner, but he never answered my request to use the picture I took, so here is the URL off my desktop.

http://i36.servimg.com/u/f36/13/96/52/01/toolit13.jpg

Rob Kempinski brought a F. 'TooLittle' bonsai from Florida to the Second National Show in Rochester. He asked me what I thought of it. Well, of course it was more stylish than mine and had a better base & nebari. As far as I could tell, horticulturally they were identical! The density, leaf size, ramification, and general health were just as good on the northern specimen as the one from Florida.
If you live in the North and are green with zone envy, start with 'TooLittle.'
Sorry the right hand part of the picture is cut off. I don't know what causes that
Iris

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Re: Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

Post  sulrich on Thu Sep 02, 2010 9:40 am

Hi Iris,

thanks a lot for the interesting background info on this cultivar! The increase in trunk thickness is quite quite impressive on your tree.

Many people still start doing bonsai with these since they are widely available (often sold in supermarkets, with multiple trunks planted together, which makes it easy to do forest plantings. FWIW here's an interesting forest planting from a German forum which looks more like a northern spruce forest:
http://www.bonsai-fachforum.de/download/file.php?id=43877
http://www.bonsai-fachforum.de/download/file.php?id=43876)

What buggers me most about using benjamina and their cultivars for bonsai is that they are quite reluctant to bud back, and will instead give up branches when being cut back too aggressively (without leaving a few leaves or shoots on the branch).

Best regards,
Stefan

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Re: Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

Post  Billy M. Rhodes on Thu Sep 02, 2010 10:38 am

Another problem I have found with these is that they will revert to the larger leaves.
I have a tree that has totally reverted.

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Re: Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

Post  Guest on Thu Sep 02, 2010 1:31 pm

Iris,

Hi.
if it were my tree, il cut the upper portion of the tree, just below the apex to shorten the tree a little bit. then il let it go wild for sometime to develop more branches to cover some portion of the trunk. by doing so, it will create a more tropical looks that your ficus deserves.
my objective will be -a shorter tree, more compact foliage (to cheat on the individual appearance of big leaf), and wider canopy and i will avoid the pine tree (christmas tree) appearance. this is just my humble opinion.

regards,
jun I love you I love you I love you

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Re: Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

Post  pootsie on Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:12 pm

sulrich wrote:
What buggers me most about using benjamina and their cultivars for bonsai is that they are quite reluctant to bud back, and will instead give up branches when being cut back too aggressively (without leaving a few leaves or shoots on the branch).

I have found that they are quite easy to graft, though. I have a couple projects with fusing multiple cuttings as well, and they take to that quite readily.

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Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

Post  bonsaisr on Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:29 pm

sulrich wrote:
What buggers me most about using benjamina and their cultivars for bonsai is that they are quite reluctant to bud back, and will instead give up branches when being cut back too aggressively (without leaving a few leaves or shoots on the branch).
Best regards,
Stefan

I have not seen this as a problem with my 'TooLittle.' It has leaves & branches about where I want them. I have a standard variegated F. benjamina that is a houseplant, and that one is very stubborn. It has a tall naked trunk no matter how much I prune it.
Get this: of all our Ficus, the one that responds best to pinching is my granddaughter's red rubber plant (Ficus elastica 'Rubra'). It back-budded all up and down the trunk & is a lovely full specimen. A bonsai for the Jolly Green Giant?
Iris

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Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

Post  bonsaisr on Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:33 pm

Billy M. Rhodes wrote:Another problem I have found with these is that they will revert to the larger leaves.
I have a tree that has totally reverted.
How odd. Must be related to climate factors or culture. I have never seen it up here. In general, mutations do revert. You have to watch variegated cultivars all the time.
Iris

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Ficus 'TooLittle' in the North

Post  bonsaisr on Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:36 pm

jun wrote:Iris,

Hi.
if it were my tree, il cut the upper portion of the tree, just below the apex to shorten the tree a little bit. then il let it go wild for sometime to develop more branches to cover some portion of the trunk. by doing so, it will create a more tropical looks that your ficus deserves.
my objective will be -a shorter tree, more compact foliage (to cheat on the individual appearance of big leaf), and wider canopy and i will avoid the pine tree (christmas tree) appearance. this is just my humble opinion.

regards,
jun I love you I love you I love you
Thanks, I will consider it. I tend to get carried away when I give haircuts. It does need a broader canopy. I showed it some pictures of Taiwanese Ficus (sigh).
Iris

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