Tapla...my poor Ficus 'Alii' + my hubby = :-(

hort_lvr_4lifeMarch 27, 2009

So we recently moved in the FREEZING COLD. I warned my husband I'd move my plants on my own because I don't trust that anyone would know how to protect them from the elements as I do. So he saw Mr. Ficus 'Alii' looking cold in the living room and put him in the moving truck, transported him to and move him into the new home unprotected from the elements. :-(

In just a few minutes the leaves were drooping...hours, drying. Next day I trimmed him down to twig status.

Now, three weeks later, he's not doing anything so I trimmed him better yesterday, getting rid of more dead, but also found the main trunk is not dead - the vascular bundle is wet. Roots are good (except the peat concrete). I took the pot outside and worked all the soil I could off the roots. Last night, I put the root ball in a plastic bag and tied it at the trunk for moisture retention. Today, I am buying the ingredients for the "Al's Famous Soil Mix" and will put Mr. Ficus 'Alii' in it.

Now, if it were ANY other plant (other than my Hoya carnosa from my late uncle) I'd never make a fuss; I'd throw it out. However, I air layered this in college and it has great sentimental value.

So, what now? I asked the tree forum, but was basically told, "Good luck," with no more info.

Obviously, I will be watering. The root ball will have to be beat a bit more to knock some more peat loose. Do I fertilize? (I have been). Do I cut any of the roots? Do I trim the trunk further (though, it's sad-looking enough)?

I really don't want to post a pic; it's sad and makes me even sadder. So, here's more info: the trunk is about 18" tall and not quite the diameter of a dime. It has 14 nodes. No branches or limbs. The root system is fantastic.

Any tips? Anyone else happen to know what to do?

Thank you so much!

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You're probably not going to like what I have to say. I wish we could have talked sooner.

Since you live where it's "FREEZING COLD", it's a pretty good bet that your tree is just about at the point in its growth cycle when it's energy reserves are at their lowest. Most of the energy it has left, will be stored in roots (and to a lesser degree, cambial tissues). Normally, when a tree is repotted, I remove all the soil and prune off at least 1/2 - 2/3 of the roots. The thinking is that I will keep the tree in the shade & the canopy will keep producing food and the plant will use it to produce new rootage. There's a fly in the ointment though, when it comes to your tree. No leaves = no food = no roots other than what the tree can make using it's stored energy, which is very low.

So .... don't prune the roots. I actually wouldn't have disturbed them at this point by removing soil. I would have kept the tree in a warm, bright spot, watered sparingly, and waited for it to recover.

You are going to be calling on the tree to replace roots damaged in the repot (tons of hair roots & any that might have dried out), AND foliage lost. Hopefully, the tree was growing with some considerable vitality when misfortune came calling, which would mean that a fair amount of energy reserves was a likelihood.

If you replace all the soil, it's ok to fertilize with a weak dose. Something in a 3:1:2 ratio (like MG 24-8-16 or 12-4-8) is a very good choice. I would hold off on all additional pruning, unless you're absolutely sure the tissues you'll remove are not viable.

I really hope all ends up well & the tree recovers nicely. Good luck, HL4L. ;o)


    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 4:43PM
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Here's what I did with my Ficus 'Alii':

Took out of pot and shook off all the old soil I could. Stuck it all in a plastic shopping bag and tied it mostly closed around the trunk.

I thought about throwing it away several times, but just could not bare the thought so I kept hanging onto it.

Today I decided it might need a little moisture so it's out in the rain. When I was removing it from the plastic bag, I noticed new growth at the base of the trunk! Yay!

I am so happy to not have to say, "Goodbye," to my Ficus 'Alii' because I air layered it @ UNL while in the Horticulture program and it's so near and dear to my heart.

I'll post pics soon, but right now it's getting a good drink.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 6:06PM
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I recently moved to a new office and inherited several plants, one of which is a Ficus Alii. The plant is just over two feet tall, but the foliage is not very full. The leaves are a dull, pale green, and I suspect that it has been over-watered for some time. When I first saw the plant, I noticed that a root had actually curled outside the pot, so I took it home to re-pot. When I stretched the root out, it was over five feet long. I was leary of cutting too much off the root, so I just cut a couple feet off, separated the roots, added fresh soil, and re-potted in a slightly larger pot. There seems to be new growth (there was when I first got the plant), but the plant in general just doesn't look very healthy. My office gets great, bright light, and my windows are NE facing. I was considering re-potting in a larger pot. Is this a good idea? Should I cut the roots back further? What about the leaves? How can I get the leaves looking healthier? Thanks so much for any help you can provide. This has, by far, been the most helpful forum I've found on this plant!

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 9:26PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I just mentioned on another forum that most hobby growers give all glory to the top of the plant, while it's the roots that serve as the plant's heart and do all the heavy lifting. As long as you don't have an insect infestation, we can prolly get your plant straightened out quickly, though it will take some guts on your part. Can you hang? ;o)

If you're willing to do a full repot, which includes sawing off the bottom 1/3 of the roots, bare rooting, and then cutting off even more roots, concentrating on the largest, then adding all fresh soil, you can put your plant back on track. If that frightens you, or if for some reason you don't want to do that, the prognosis is a continued steady decline. Once plants become rootbound, it permanently and negatively affects growth, unless you take the initiative and correct the condition.

Copy/pasted from one of my other posts:

We know for certain that growth is negatively affected at about the time the soil/root mass can be lifted from the container intact. We also know that once the tree has reached this state of root congestion, growth is affected permanently, unless the root congestion is corrected. We know these things because tree growers have a vested interest in seeing that their trees put on caliper as quickly as possible. Dr Carl Whitcomb goes into some considerable detail about what the impact of being root bound has on growth. Practically speaking, after spending thousands of hours digging around in as many root balls, I can assure you his observations are accurate.

You cannot expect a tree growing under root-bound conditions to grow to its genetic potential within the limits of other cultural factors, and it will not/cannot. When you regularly tend to root pruning and and replacement of collapsed soils, you offer your tree the opportunity to grow at as close to it's genetic potential as other cultural factors allow, but when you simply put a tree in a container & do nothing in the way of root maintenance, you deny that plant that same potential.

On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being a dead tree and 10 being perfect vitality/growth, trees in containers are capable of somewhere around an 8. A scenario re the range of vitality: Trees that are repotted (includes soil change and root work) will vary over a 3 year period (between repots) and at some point soon after repotting will be capable of growing at a level of 8. They will decline to maybe a 5 as they become root bound. When you repot, they go right back to 8 again, so the trees can be maintained indefinitely at good vitality levels.

Let's consider the tree that is NOT repotted. Some may feel that because they see a growth "spurt" after they pot up or scratch some fresh soil into the top few inches that all is well, but lets talk about that growth "spurt" It's not a spurt at all. It's simply a very stressed tree temporarily growing a little closer to it's potential, which has been misinterpreted as a spurt.

*A tree starts at a vitality level of 8 and declines to a 5 over 3 years.
* It's potted up and some of the vitality returns, but not all, so it's only growing at a level of 7.
*Over 3 years, it declines to a 4; when potted up again, it can only muster a vitality level of 6.
* It declines to a 3 and is potted up to a 5
* It declines to a 2, and is potted up to a 4
* It declines to a 1, and is potted up to a 3
* dead tree

"What about the leaves? How can I get the leaves looking healthier?"

The leaves only THINK they are in charge. Get the roots right & the leaves will follow. ;o)


    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 9:59PM
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Thanks very much for sharing your wisdom on this! I am willing to risk it but just didn't know how far I needed to go with trimming back the roots, as I am only really at the advanced beginner stage of container gardening. Do you go into more detail about bare rooting in another post? I'm not familiar with that process. Are there other things I should know before I start hacking away? THANK YOU!

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 10:44PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

How about if you read through this thread, and then come back with all your questions. Your treatment of the roots needn't be as radical as shown in the thread I linked to, though the plant would tolerate it well.

It would be great if you could find a bag of pine bark fines & some perlite so you can mix a soil more appropriate than most commercially prepared soils from a bag, but I'll leave that decision up to you.

BTW, Late June/early July is repot time for all of MY ficus, scheffs, other tropicals, and I'll be finishing the last of about 50-60 repots this weekend.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2010 at 3:06PM
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