Need advice on my Ficus Benjamina.

KarasNTMarch 16, 2014

After finally getting the plant to grow (using artificial lighting now) after two months in which the plant nearly shed all it leaves, now I'm faced with the problem that the plant might grow in an undesired shape. I cut off the tip of the plant after it started growing new leaves to encourage lateral growth (I wanted the plant to become bushy). But since last week a new branch shot out next to the cut I made and it's rapidly growing in height, but crooked (see picture). Is the any way I could encourage the plant to grow straight at that part?

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KarasNT

Photo from another angle.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 8:10AM
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tropicbreezent

Without enough light it will grow tall and spindly, and lean towards the strongest light source. They normally grow in full sun.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 12:41PM
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KarasNT

Thanks for the reply. The plant is being provided around 15,000 lux of light 10 hours a day. Shouldn't that be enough as to stimulate healthy growth?

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 12:59PM
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jujujojo_gw(6b 7a)

I have much better luck with small pot and soil of high water retention and nutrients.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 9:08PM
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tropicbreezent

I googled to find out sunlight strength and came up with the following:

120,000 lux Brightest sunlight
110,000 lux Bright sunlight
20,000 lux Shade illuminated by entire clear blue sky, midday
1,000 - 2,000 lux Typical overcast day, midday

Yours is close enough to shade on a clear day. The plant will be trying to reach a high point where it would likely to get the better sunlight. It'll be less likely to produce side shoots while it's trying to gain height.

With F. benjamina, when the plants start out they'll usually be under canopy and get less light. So low light isn't an issue for actual growth, that's why they do well indoors. But resultant spindly growth can be an issue if you don't want that.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 3:52AM
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KarasNT

Thanks to everyone in this thread for the help. I guess I should be happy that the plant is healthy at last and that it's finally growing, after a few weeks in which it was miserable and nearly died.

I'll keep handling the plant like I did till now, as the plant seems to be happy with the present conditions.

There's still the option of pruning it a little after too wild growth.

I might come back with new pictures in a few weeks if anyone is interested in an update.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 2:48PM
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ariel7576(7b)

I'm curious to see your update, so please post. I have a somewhat grumpy ficus.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 6:01PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You can take a pipe cleaner and wrap it at about a 45* around the stem or branches whose line you wish to alter. After the wrapping is complete, simply bend the branch or stem into whatever position you would like it to take a set in. After a period of growth, the branch will be more or less permanently set in the position you chose.

If you want to maximize ramification (bushiness), cut the main stem back so it only has 2 branches, then cut each of those branches back to 2 healthy leaves. That leaves you 4 leaves on the entire plant. From each of the axils (crotches) of those 4 leaves, a new branch will grow. When those branches get 4 leaves, cut them back to 2 leaves.

Chlorophyll is a green pigment, and it acts like a sunscreren for plants, protecting them from sunburn (photo-oxidation). The light parts of the variegated leaves contain less chlorophyll, so they are not as well protected from intense sun as plants w/o variegation, so be cautious about siting your variegated benjaminas in full sun. At least you should protect them from midday sun.

High light levels are still important if you want your plant as full as possible, because more light means shorter internodes and smaller leaves, so do give it as much light as it will tolerate.

You'll find more about growing Ficus b in containers if you click the embedded link.

What are you using for fertilizer?

Al

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 9:38PM
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KarasNT

Thanks, tapla. The fertilizer I've been using is a 6-5-5 (NPK), which I apply every two weeks at half strength.

About the cutting: I've posted a picture in which I painted red lines where I imagined the cutting would be according to your instructions. Should this be correct? Under the picture you'll find a link to a high-res one for more clarity.

To answer a few more questions and to give additional info:

The plant sits on a windowsill facing north, which means it gets just a little light and no direct sun whatsoever. The plant only started growing after I gave it artificial lighting. The amount of natural and artificial light in total equals around 15,000 lux, maybe a bit more.

For humidity I stray the clay stones in the pot several times a day--enough to get them wet, not but so much as to wet the soil underneath.

After a few weeks experimenting, it seems that watering the soil thoroughly once a week with distilled water keeps the plant happy. The clay stones keep the soil from drying out too quickly.

The soil I used is âÂÂCompo Sana for Green Plants and PalmsâÂÂ
Producer description: Special potting soil for all types of green plants and palms. The root activator AGROSILî and the PERLITE volcanic stones assure a healthy plant growth. Slow release fertilizer with all main and micro nutrients provides regular plant nutrition over 4 - 6 weeks.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 2:11PM
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KarasNT

I took some new pictures today for anyone interested in an update: www.imgur.com/a/PukRj

It's a comparison between the first picture I've posted two days ago and a picture taken today.

Also a comparison from another angle:
www.imgur.com/a/gmHdx

You can clearly see the difference in growth in some parts of the plant.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 4:22PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Where you added the red slashes is exactly correct.

I grow several cultivars of all green benjamina in full sun. I was given a declining grove planting of variegated benjamina last fall to turn around (in severe decline). My plan is to site it on a south facing deck that will be shaded after about 2 pm until around 8 pm in mid summer. It won't take the full sun w/o damage, that I already know. If you can, get your plant sited outdoors. The brighter light reaching the plant's interior and air movement will help keep it full by reducing leaf loss close to the main stem(s).

When you water, water to beyond the point of total saturation - so at least 15-20% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain, carrying excess salts with it. It's sort of like being able to hit the fertility 'reset' button. If you can't water that way w/o having to worry about root rot or impaired root function due to soggy conditions and lack of air in the root zone, you should think about another soil, because you'll be fighting soils you can't water correctly for the life of the planting.

After your plant puts on some growth and starts to favor growth of certain branches as opposed to others, I'll teach you how to balance energy in the plant by reducing the amount of energy that can be used by the vigorous branches so the weaker branches get their fair share. That also prevents loss of foliage and shedding of weaker branches.

Knowing how to manipulate your plants adds another dimension to growing, and allows you to take it to a level somewhere above the one in which you just water, feed, and watch them grow.

Btw - you could probably start the top as a cutting, if you like. Build yourself a mini greenhouse and you prolly won't lose the foliage. Let me know if you want to learn how to increase your chances of cuttings striking (making roots).



Al

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 4:39PM
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KarasNT

I thought about cutting the plant the way you described and really appreciate your input, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I actually like the way the plant is currently developing, as is already has some branches shooting out since I last cut the tip off.

I bought the plant three months ago from a superstore for around 2 dollars, but in bad condition. The pot contained actually three separate plants. I re-potted the plants (the soil the plants came in was crap) separately. After one week, two of them died and the third, the one I currently have, nearly died as well after shedding almost all its leaves. It's actually the first plant I've ever cared for, so I had no idea what I was doing at the time. I made it a mission to get the plant back on its feet, so I started reading about plant care and about caring for this species in particular and discovered a new passion. The plant came in the following weeks slowly and painfully back to life and now I'm pretty proud of the result. That's why I can't get myself to cut it.

I think I'll let the plant grow for another couple of weeks, to see how its shape develops and then take it from there. Thanks for the tip about using pipe cleaners to shape the plant!

About the watering: I apply water exactly the way you describe, once a week, which seems to be about right for the soil I'm using.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 5:48PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

OK - best luck in all your growing endeavors. If you ever think I might be able to help you, don't hesitate ....

I hope you found the thread about tending Ficus in containers worth the time to read it.

Take care.

Al

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 6:00PM
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KarasNT

The plant has changed quite a lot since my last update. Here's a new picture for anyone interested.

Here is a link that might be useful: High-res comparison between March 16th and 27th.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 2:05PM
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KarasNT

And the same from another angle.

Here is a link that might be useful: High-res comparison between March 16th and 27th (another angle).

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 2:09PM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

Big improvement, this little fella looks happy :)
I have a similar one, just repotted. Can't wait signs of growth! They are so tiny still awesome.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 5:23PM
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KarasNT

That's for the appreciation, MsGreenFinger. I'm happy that its stem is getting thicker, which was my main concern. It's growing pretty fast, so in a week or two I'll have to shorten some of the branches again. I don't know if well it can be noticed in the pictures, but I cut off the tip since my last note, which seems to have resulted in faster growth in some other branches. The only issue is that the plant seems to favor certain branches in terms of growth rate, especially the upper ones.

Tapla, you said you could give me some advice regarding this matter? You mentioned that you could teach me âÂÂhow to balance energy in the plant by reducing the amount of energy that can be used by the vigorous branches so the weaker branches get their fair shareâÂÂ. I'd really appreciate it.

MsGreenFinger, care to share some pictures of your plant? I'm pretty curious.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 1:16PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Your plant will always strongly favor the upper 1/3 of the tree and growth that favors extension of primary branches. It isn't the tree's habit to be compact and bushy, but that can easily be accomplished with only some occasional but regular pinching and balancing of how the plant distributes energy.

Usually, worrying about where the energy goes isn't part of managing trees that are ALL dynamic mass - like yours. It's employed when the tree gets to the point where it's showing signs some of the older (and usually lower or otherwise shaded) branches are in jeopardy of being shed.

What you CAN do is, once your tree gains a little height, you can let the branches on the bottom third of the plant extend to 5 leaves before you pinch back to four. Allow branches in the middle third of the plant to extend to 4 leaves before cutting back to 3, and the top 1/3 of the plant should be allowed to extent to 3 leaves before cutting back to 2. Even then, you might find you'll need to additionally restrain the top by partially defoliating some branches or cutting some leaves in half against venation.

Growth for the sake of growth doesn't require much in the way of thought or planning. Having a plan in place that will allow YOU to maintain control over how your trees grow and how they look can add another significant dimension to your growing experience and increase the potential for the satisfaction that comes with seeing the positive results born of the skill and efforts you've applied.

If you stick around as your tree matures, there will be lots of opportunities to discuss what to do and when to do it. Pretty soon you'll be thinking like a tree and be able to transition back and forth from people time to tree time. That transition can add a whole new dimension to the meaning of patience ..... and it's not something you have to purposely work at. It just comes along part and parcel with working with organisms that are going to do things at their own pace, no matter how hard we wish it otherwise.

Al

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 5:11PM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

Here is mine. It's basically 3 plants. Repotted from soil to semi-hydro. Maybe I should have separated them, but they were so small, just a couple of leaves on each. Yours seems to do well alone so maybe I give them a chance.

Question to Al:
Should I keep them together, this close to each other or how can I make it a nice tree? I have an older one as well, and that's basically 4 plants with their roots grown into each other.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 7:55PM
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KarasNT

Thanks for the picture. The plant looks neat and healthy.
Regarding your question: If you like to separate them, go for it. Mine came with three separate plants in one pot as well. The plant will look a little meek on its own, but with proper care it'll grow pretty quickly. Mine had only six leaves at the time it got its own pot.

I'll pot some new pictures soon, as I'm planning to put the plant in a beautiful new pot I got as a gift. I also cut back a few branches since my last update. I'm waiting to see if some new growth appears at certain nodes.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 4:31PM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

I separated the little ficuses. I was happy to see some root growth on all three. They obviously need to be cut back to develop more branches. I leave them for a week or two to strengthen the root system.
So here they are, the Tree Musketeers :)

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 2:14PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Very nice...good pun, too ;-)

josh

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 2:54PM
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KarasNT

Hey, MsGreenFinger. Thanks for the updates and congrats on the repotting. I hope they'll grow nicely! They certainly look pretty healthy.

I repotted mine as well and also cut back some more branches and some roots while repotting, which, all in all, might have been pretty stressful for the plant, but it seems to be doing well. The growth certainly hasn't stopped.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 1:41PM
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KarasNT

Here are two macro shots of some new branches shooting out:


    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 2:00PM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

That new pot is really nice!
Your ficus looks like a real tree now :)
I'm just comparing your first and last pics and I have to ask: did you cut off the lowest branch or the stem elongated by itself?

Until now I let plants grow as they wished and never made serious prunings, but now I think I could make some interesting experiments and maybe form something unusual. Still they are living creatures and don't want to turn their lives into a joke.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 3:32PM
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KarasNT

Thanks for the compliments, MsGreenFinger.
Regarding your question: Yes, I cut off the lowest branch, as it grew pretty big and made the whole form of the tree look âÂÂoffâÂÂ. I made quite a few prunings since this thread started in order to shape the plant. It doesn't seem to be bad for the ficus since each time it shoots out new branches after a short period.

Today quite a few buds on the tree popped open and I'm pretty exited to see that the growth is still in full swing after repotting and pruning.

I've decided to post an update once every few days. I think it'll be interesting to see how the tree develops and to be able to compare its growth stage between different dates.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 6:06PM
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KarasNT

Here's an update:

This post was edited by KarasNT on Tue, Apr 8, 14 at 16:34

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 3:32PM
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KarasNT

An interesting comparison between two macro shots, one taken on April 4th and the other on April 8th. It shows the forming of a new branch.

(Click on the pictures to enlarge.)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 3:56PM
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KarasNT

Here's an update:

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 5:47AM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

Wow! nice!
Well, mine are still busy growing roots :)

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 8:19AM
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KarasNT

Here's another update:

    Bookmark   May 18, 2014 at 11:56AM
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KarasNT

And the window sil it sits on, with artificial lighting. Next to it a small phalaenopsis I got as a present and which bloomed since.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2014 at 12:06PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I wouldn't prune the leader, but I would prune all branches on the upper third of the tree back to 2 leaves. That will help force the plant to direct more resources to the lower leaves. Don't worry, the plant won't let you slow the top down too much - that's where it naturally directs it's efforts. 2/3 of the resources will go into the top 1/3 of the tree if you don't help with the balance. That means the lower branches will quickly (in tree time - not within the next 10 minutes) decline and be shed.

Al

    Bookmark   May 18, 2014 at 1:04PM
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KarasNT

Thanks again for your input, tapla. I followed your advice and cut the branches as you told to.

And, of course, I'll keep the readers updated the weeks to come. It'll be interesting to see how the tree develops from here.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2014 at 3:47PM
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KarasNT

Little Update:

Since I cut the plant, I kept two branches and put them in water, curious to see whether they would develop roots. And Voila!

I read about hydroculture and would like to grow the stems in clay aggregate, which I still have plenty of. My question: how much longer should I let the stems sit in the current water container? I don't know if the roots are already developed or strong enough to be planted in clay balls (like the ones I use to cover the soil of the mother plant). Any advice from someone with knowledge in that matter?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 2:27PM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

You can plant them now, the clay balls are only to keep the plants upright and retain some water. The roots developed in water are ready to feed the plantlets. You will need special fertilizer for hydroponics as this media contains no "food" for plants. Good luck with them!

Here are some pics of mine, they get fertilizer/shower every 2 weeks.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 5:08PM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

It was time for some pruning finally.

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How are your little plantlets doing?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 6:18PM
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KarasNT

Sorry for not doing an update for a while!
The plants (now plural) are doing fine.

Here's he little bugger:

And Big Momma:

The big plant has grown nicely since its last cutting. I think I'll do the next pruning in another two weeks.

@MsGreenFinger: Thanks for the update! Wow, the plants developed really nicely and look really healthy.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 6:15PM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

Thanks! :)

Your rooted cuttings make a lovely little tree but I'm not sure it's gonna be happy in that glass for long. My plantlets haven't grown much for a good while, only they filled their pots with roots. Not sure if the same's gonna happen to yours but if they grow, there won't be enough space. And to flush the medium you need holes at the bottom. All my semi-hydro plants are in normal pots with holes and saucer/cache pot underneath. The ones in non-draining glasses are bromeliads and they only get sprayed with water every now and then.

I just wondered, how come your mother plant has plain green and variegated leaves at the same time?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 4:44PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's not at all unusual (very common) for variegated plants to revert in part or in whole to the more vigorous all green version of the same species. Very often, the more vigorous green portion will overtake the plant so eventually there are no variegated parts left. In most cases, the solution is to remove the all green branches or parts as soon as they reveal their true pigmentation or simply allow Mother Nature to have her way.

Al

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 5:51PM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

Update time!
After the last pruning leaves popped everywhere. Some of them with such long internodes... strange as the last weeks were extremely sunny compared to an average weather here.
Also they are almost lime green all over, nicely variegated, that means they got ample light though.

How is your cutting tree doing?


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    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 6:01PM
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