Dividing Two Ficus Lyrata in Grown in Same Pot?

lizzie_nhJanuary 17, 2014

So, I guess I have jumped on the Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus Lyrata) bandwagon. In my defense, I didn't know there was a bandwagon! Guess I'm out of the loop. I saw one of these plants, liked it, looked it up, and realized it's the darling of designers and design bloggers. I've seen conflicting information about it, from claims of it being very fickle, to claims that it's the perfect impossible-to-kill houseplant for those with "black thumbs." The black thumbs comment keeps popping up on designer-wannabe blogs and I suspect that one blogger's claim spread like wildfire across the "blogosphere," as tends to happen. I'm not convinced it's an accurate claim, and need to know just how careful I need to be in caring for and dividing the plant.

I purchased one of the $12.99 IKEA pots, which includes a roughly 24" specimen. It seems pretty clear that this is actually two plants. I didn't do particularly invasive probing, but I felt around the soil a bit, and it seems fairly loose - I'm sure the two root systems are intertwined, but perhaps not terribly so. It's definitely not pot-bound.

I would like to divide these and repot them so that I have two single stemmed plants in separate pots. Aside from aesthetic considerations, it seems like the large leaves on the side of each stem closest to the other stem are getting in each other's way and probably blocking light. The stems are only 3"-4" apart from each other right now.
Is there anything special I need to consider? If need be, can I cut the plants apart with a knife, or will that be the death of them? Is there any special soil mixture I should use? (I currently already own regular old potting soil, and peat moss.) I've had them for about a week and so far they seem fine, with a new leaf unfurling and another one beginning to emerge. They're in a room which gets pretty good light all day.

This post was edited by lizzie_nh on Fri, Jan 17, 14 at 9:12

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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

When you remove the old soil, the 2 root balls should fall apart from each other more easily than you think. If not, cutting a few won't hurt at all. When repotting a woody entity, roots should be trimmed anyway, often to remove a solid pancake of worthless roots at the bottom of the pot, but to also remove any unnecessarily long ones, anything not perfectly healthy looking. The CW is that this is best done later in the year.

There's a ton of discussions about potted Ficus on this forum. If you want more reading material, that's what I'd look for, probably starting with this one. Blogs are only as good as the person writing them, which is usually unknown, and often lack the ability to ask questions, though usually have some great pics!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 11:53AM
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lizzie_nh

Thank you!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 12:43PM
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Hrose(6 A)

please there is no need to start cutting roots and to have a wilted plant or even worse one that starts to shed leaves

put the root ball in water wiggle it around until they come apart

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 3:35PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Hrose, please read the info in the link.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 3:51PM
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Hrose(6 A)

root pruning is unnecessary and taking risk of ruining the plant especially newly bought from store which doesn't have an established root system

root pruning is not all that healthy and good for a plant as its made out to seem there is NO such thing as root pruning in nature its what people do to potted plants when they become rootbound

root pruning is only recommended when a plant is root bound

This post was edited by Hrose on Fri, Jan 17, 14 at 18:42

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 6:23PM
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asleep_in_the_garden

The following was copied and pasted from wikipedia:

In Astrology, Fixed Signs are associated with stabilization, determination, depth and persistence. They are powerful and willful in all they do, often achieving much more than the other two qualities. On the other hand, they are also inflexible, rigid, stubborn, opinionated and single-minded. These traits are often paired with the need to be considered "right": they will ruthlessly fight on behalf of their beliefs, regardless of any contrary beliefs. Only during moments of importance or necessity would they consider changing an opinion.
The four fixed signs of the Zodiac are:Taurus,Leo(For those who haven't figured it out yet,..Hrose is a Leo.),Scorpio,and Aquarius.

Mind you I don't live my life or set my watch by it,but it's neat seeing it in action. :)

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 9:54PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Some things are defined by rigid rules, some things are not. The more you know, the better able (the collective) you are to separate one from the other and to qualify those aspects of growing that are less well-defined. For instance, it's entirely true that root pruning a F lyrata is unnecessary, but in much the same way that changing your auto's oil is unnecessary. Is it advisable to ignore a root system's degree of congestion? Definitely not, but if you prefer the consequences to the effort, by all means - do as you please and hope for miracles. The fact of the matter is, root congestion starts to impact growth rates and vitality in a negative way at about the time that the root/soil mass can be lifted from the soil intact. The extent to which the plant is negatively affected is directly related to the severity of the root congestion.

Root pruning even brand new woody arrivals that don't yet have congested and problematic root systems may not be necessary from a physiological perspective (to relieve congestion), but it can be a valuable first step in developing a root system that is free of common problems and distortions certain to grow progressively worse, and in ridding the center of the original root mass of poor soils that needed only to serve long enough for the plant to find its way to a buyer.

".... root pruning is not all that healthy and good for a plant as its made out to seem there is NO such thing as root pruning in nature its what people do to potted plants when they become rootbound" [sic] To put things in perspective: When you choose to let your ficus and other woody or somewhat woody plants become root bound, or you choose to only pot up instead of repotting, you ensure your plant will always be limited in its growth and vitality. If, however, you choose to repot and root prune at the appropriate intervals, you are seeing that your plant has the possibility of growing to its full genetic potential, within the limiting effects of other cultural conditions with the potential to limit your plant's growth/ health.

Of course there surely is root pruning in nature. Roots cyclically die back and regenerate because of cultural influences, not to mention the plant self prunes the root mass to maintain a state of balance between the root volume and foliage volume. Temp extremes, to much/ too little water, lack of or excess of either o/a fertility or specific nutrients, compaction, herbicide injury, and various other factors regularly kill roots.

Even if it was true that there is .... "NO such thing as root pruning in nature ....) it is equally true that in nature wee never find root masses confined to tidy little cylindrical or rectangular spaces immediately below the bole. Neither do we find plants naturally occurring inside of heated and air conditioned dwellings. It wouldn't then be so far fetched to think that the "unnatural" act of mechanically removing collapsing soil and correcting root problems before they get too severe might be just the medicine required to salve the plant from the already obviously unnatural conditions we've decided to subject the plant to ..... as long as we're talking about nature, that is.

Now having convinced you that root pruning and full repots are good and necessary for the long term health of Lizzies ficus, that in itself is no indication that today is a good day to actually DO the repot and root pruning. Growing plants well is a holistic adventure, like maintaining the human body. For example, swimming a mile a day might be a basically sound approach to keeping our bodies fit, but here in MI it might take a week to chop a hole in the ice large enough to allow you to swim a mile. IOW, there is a bracketed interval in the annual growth cycle when repotting will be the least stressful to the plant - usually mid-Jun through mid-late-Jul, which is when I would encourage Lizzie to divide, root-prune, and repot her plants individually, if that is a future objective. Fortune smiles on the timing because that gives her 6 months or so to learn about soils and root work, and to decide what she'll do for a soil when the time comes.

Al

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 11:22PM
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greentoe357

> root pruning is unnecessary and taking risk of ruining the plant especially newly bought from store which doesn't have an established root system

90% of the time when I bought a plant it certainly has an "established" root system alright - so established that roots circle the sides and/or bottom.

If stores sold plants without established root systems, they'd die much more, including even before they are sold, and would lead to unsatisfied customers and store managers themselves.

> there is NO such thing as root pruning in nature

There are no potted plants in nature either. Prune your roots!

This post was edited by greentoe357 on Sat, Jan 18, 14 at 2:09

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 1:14AM
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Hrose(6 A)

very well prune away

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 12:29PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

FWIW >

From this:

Part way there:

To this:

Or this, which has already been partially root pruned:

To this:

..... all w/o a hiccup.

Al

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 2:17PM
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asleep_in_the_garden

Whoa!

That's a heckova reduction in feeders!

No hiccups...at all?!

Man this gives a sigh of relief to anyone whoever came away from the task feeling they might have overdone it a bit!

Pretty shocking stuff! :)

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 3:09PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Another:

I don't want to leave anyone with the idea they could or should cut off 90% of a plant's roots w/o consequence. I've been working on roots for years, and have repotted many thousands of plants. I know the plants and I know the ropes. I also know how to mitigate or prevent entirely unwanted reactions to severe root work.

Most of you should concentrate on removing 1/3-1/2 of the roots of a healthy plant during your first effort. I often suggest you cut off the bottom 1/3 of the roots before you start the rest of the pruning, then remove up to 1/2 of the remaining root mass, concentrating on the problem roots and the largest secondary roots, which would actually be a 2/3 reduction and maybe a little too aggressive for your first time. It's not too aggressive because the plant won't easily tolerate the removal of that much root mas; rather, it's more about how many additional roots might be damaged by desiccation during and after the process.

I usually work with a constant high pressure spray of water and a root pick, or a tub of water and a root pic; and I can finish the repot quickly into dry soil and then water almost immediately. I also water (the gritty mix) daily after repotting to ensure the newly forming roots are always moist. I can't remember the last plant I lost as a result of a repotting, and whatever it was, it was most likely a conifer - and not a tropical or temperate deciduous tree - they're the easiest.

You can cut back temperate deciduous trees (like maples & hornbeams & stuff) because you do it while they are still quiescent (after dormancy but before spring growth has started), and they will only activate the volume of buds the root system is able to support - sort of a built-in check/balance system. The roots of tropical trees can only be cut back severely if you also prune the top in conjunction with the hard pruning. One way or another, the tree will do its best to reasonably balance the volume of roots to shoots. Cut off a lot of foliage - the plant will shed about that fraction of root mass. Cut back roots too severely - some of the leaves and branches will be seemingly indiscriminately shed, so if you root-prune really hard, it's better if YOU decide which branches should be pruned, instead of the tree making that decision based on what its chemical messengers tell it.

In the end, there is very little (almost no) chance a tree will succumb as a result of root-pruning and repotting if it's done correctly. The key is getting your hands into the root mass and learning what it feels like to work there. Once you see how you can keep your tree in a rejuvenated state indefinitely, you'll be a root-pruning convert. Root pruning and repotting (as opposed to potting up) are the reason old bonsai trees can be happy/healthy living in tiny pots for hundreds of years, while most of us have trouble keeping our houseplants in good health for even a 5 year duration.

Al

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 4:03PM
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flowergirl70ks

As I said in another forum, I did much better with my house plants before I knew all the rules. When my fiddle leaf fig gets leggy, I just whack off the top, put some rootone on it and shove into new soil, cover with a plastic bag until I see a new leaf.
As a rule, when I see these figs for sale there are usually more than 1 cutting in a pot,the reason being at least 1 will root.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 12:35PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If I thought I wasn't faring as well as I was before I learned all the rules, I would consider questioning the validity of what I learned. Green thumbs and proficiency come primarily as a result of how much you know about the plant sciences; so, if the more you learn the more you backslide - you're not learning the right stuff. For instance, chopping off the top of a plant might be useful as a remedy for certain problems or to achieve an intended result, but fixing 'leggy' isn't one of them. When 'leggy' is the topic, look to light levels and usually the nitrogen supply (too much or the wrong kind) for the fix.

Al

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 1:29PM
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jujujojo_gw(6b 7a)

Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on Sat, Jan 18, 14 at 14:17

Can you do root pruning with any plant? I thought Gardenia would die if you do this.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 9:32PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It will suffer if you don't.

Any nurseryman will tell you that if you plant a root bound plant in the landscape, its own roots will limit the growth and health of the plant. It has little chance of ever growing to its potential. That fact applies even more to plants in pots because they are continually subjected to growth within a tiny space. Roots that wrap around each other or the trunk, can gradually cut off the flow of water and nutrients. Potting up doesn't solve the root bound condition at the center of the root mass, it only offers a little more space for roots to venture into before they contribute to the growing tangle.

If you have a severely root bound plant, and you pot up, you think you see a growth spurt, but you don't. What you see is SOME of the limiting effects of the tight roots being partially relieved, temporarily, so the plant only regains a small % of its potential. Repotting, and the root pruning and change of soil that goes along with it, fully restores the plant's potential - within the effects of other cultural issues that might limit growth or vitality.

As growers, we're defined by our ability to recognize and eliminate limiting factors to the greatest degree possible. Root congestion is definitely a limiting factor, so even if you could perfectly maintain every other factor that has the potential to limit growth and vitality, your plant will still only be able to grow within the limits proscribed by the root congestion.

I'm not saying that you absolutely must root prune your plants, or even that you absolutely should; but I can say that there is always a price to be paid for root congestion, and you can relieve it for a very high % of plants. I think I would rate root maintenance as the near equal to the ability to build or recognize healthy soils. Both are essential to the good health of your plants over the long term.

Al

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 10:05PM
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