Typical cuttings about 6-8" long and with 4-6 leaves.  Plastic drinking cups with many drain holes added.
After being well watered cups are sealed into a baggie.  New leaves and a root growing through the bottom
of the cup indicate a successful rooted cutting.


By Jerry Meislik, Journal Contributing Editor (Whitefish, Montana)  www.bonsaihunk.us

             Many bonsai species can be propagated from seed, cuttings, grafting, and layers. The easiest way to grow many plants is from simple cuttings. Using a cutting shortens the years of time to develop a finished bonsai as contrasted to growing from seeds. See my article on seed growing posted at www.fukubonsai.com/1a9a14.html  


            Cuttings must be taken from vigorous and healthy pieces of a plant from the actively growing ends and not taken from interior or weak branches that have been grown in low light. Branches from undergrowth and interior growth will likely root very poorly or not at all. Healthy cuttings of vigorous materials should root at 80% or higher rate for figs and many other species.


             Cuttings will also be most vigorous and successful if taken at the middle of the growth period of the tree. That means if your tree grows most during the months of June September, cuttings taken after the first growth in June have hardened off, likely about 6-8 weeks, will be very healthy and strong. Rooting with healthy, vigorous stems that have lots of stored nutrition will keep the branch alive until it roots. Cuttings taken at other times may be much less likely to root.


             In my hands cuttings for figs ideally should have a hardwood base. That is a normal hard outer bark. Softwoods, cuttings, with green stems without hardened outer bark, can root as well but often rot. Some other species of plants will take only from softwood/green cuttings while others seem to work best with hardwood cuttings. So you may need to experiment with your materials to see what works best.

I take the cuttings, sometimes even very thick ones - 4"or more in diameter in the case of figs and they will root. I take off an appropriate number of leaves from the cuttings - as too many leaves won't be supported by the rootless cutting.


             A typical cutting is 1/4-1/2" caliper and maybe 6-8" long and should have perhaps 4-6 leaves remaining. I always remove new, immature and floppy growth as this type of growth is quickly discarded by the cutting. If you have too many leaves the excess leaves will fall off in a matter of days.  Leaves that fall off must not be allowed to remain in the growing chamber as they can promote fungal problems.


             Immediately put the base of the cutting into water or stick the end of the cutting into newspaper or a towel soaked in water. Pot as soon as possible but keep cuttings stored this way until potted. Keep out of wind, heat and direct sun until placed into the growing container.


              I almost never use hormonal or rooting agents as they don't seem to be necessary for figs; there are exceptions and I do use hormonal treatment for hard to root materials. Most common bonsai materials like figs root easily without any special chemical treatment.


              I quickly put the cuttings into coarse soil with little or no organic material. Perhaps 1- 2 inches of stem is inserted in the soil. Moisten the soil well after inserting the cutting into the soil. I use inexpensive plastic cups or plastic pots with many drain holes in the bottom of the container. Enclose the whole thing in a plastic baggie and seal the top. Pot, plant, foliage are enclosed in the baggie.


              Make sure the baggie does not have water sitting in the bottom. Plants will rot with pot bottoms sitting in water. Keep the baggie in very bright light and never in direct sun.  


              The most likely cause for failure to root is rotting of the cutting or allowing it to dry out. Open the bag every few days to check for moisture. Add water as needed to keep the soil moist but never let the pot sit in water.


              Some growers root all their cuttings in water. I find that roots that grow in water are very soft and likely to break when potting is attempted. Rooting in water also often results in one sided and partial root systems.


               After 2-6 weeks the cutting will sprout new leaves and roots may emerge from the pots drain holes and grow out into the baggie. At this stage the baggie is opened an hour daily and then resealed. Each day the baggie open time is increased. After a week of increasing out of baggie time the baggie can be taken off completely and the cutting is now on its own.



Large cutting of a fig 10" or more in thickness.  Ficus rubiginosa on the right and rooted cutting on the left.  Sprout style created by selecting the proper multi-stemmed cutting



Root cutting showing sprouting off the cut end.  Root cutting with one sprout left to become the new terminal



Cutting that rotted out in water.  One sided rooting on cutting rooted in water.


Ficus microcarpa from small cutting.  Same tree about 2 years later



Ficus microcarpa large cutting. Same plant a few years later.



Ficus microcarpa large cutting.  Same plant a few years later.



Small microcarpa from cutting.  Close up of base showing nice lower trunk.



Large root cutting of Willow Leaf fig.  Same root cutting  planted over a rock - a few years later 



Another Willow Leaf root cutting. Same cutting placed over rock.



Hibiscus from stem cutting. Water jasmine, Wrightia religiosa, root cuttings


            Some species of plant will take from thick root cuttings. These may be taken during repotting of a bonsai. Root cuttings are nearly always more interesting and shapely than typical branch cuttings.  Roots are placed into the same granular mix leaving perhaps 1-2 of the root exposed above the soil. Remember to keep the hair roots in the soil and not plant the cutting inverted.


           Keep moist, in bright light and in a baggie system as for a normal stem cutting. After 2-6 months the end of the root will show many sprouts. Allow all of these to grow for several months and gradually remove most of them leaving only one or two to become the new terminal and main branch of the bonsai tree.

On the next repotting the root can be lifted out of the soil leaving only the fine hair roots in the soil. Most of the length of the root will become the trunk of the new bonsai.


          Gradually introduce rooted cuttings into full light, water as needed and begin your normal fertilization protocol.   If you follow these directions you can succeed in propagating more plants than you will ever need.


          - - - Jerry; The bonsai hunk  (Jerry@bonsaihunk.us)


            SOME THOUGHTS BY DAVID:  Aloha and mahalo Jerry for a great article!   I'm sure many of the readers of the Journal are impressed that you can get such great results in Montana!  For those of us who happen to have ideal year around outdoor climate,  I've always marveled not only how well Jerry's trees are growing, but by the large number of trees in his plant room and the meticulous notes and photographs that he's taken over the years.  It really is impressive to see your "before and after" photos that show development in just a few years! 

             But in addition to creating an optimum growing environment,  Jerry has developed an ideal potting media that works with his automatic watering system.  He's got his system worked out so he is very much involved in all aspects within a limited area (by the standards of those who grow bonsai outdoors) but a really great area (by those who grow bonsai indoors).  And there are some who grow outdoors when night temperatures are above 55F.

             Jerry and I both love Figs because they are really tough plants that develop well.  But with my focus on Dwarf Schefflera to supply those who don't have supplemental lighting,  it's great that it too is a really tough plant. So the more light the better and we're getting more reports of growing Dwarf Schefflera outdoors.  But whichever way you grow,  know that there are a whole bunch of ways to get faster development and Jerry including a lot of them in this article.  If you like the idea of enlarging your bonsai hobby,  try to learn these short-cuts so your trees will develop more quickly and bring higher satisfaction! 

             With the transformation of slow-growing traditional temperate climate Japanese outdoor bonsai to faster growing tropical bonsai including Ficus and Dwarf Schefflera,  it is now possible to grow high quality bonsai in far fewer years then previously.  Information is no longer the limiting factor and we invite everyone to join us in a satisfying lifelong hobby!  ~~~David 


***  Return to the December 2013 issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
Jerry Meislik, Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013