I've had a ficus(benj.)for about three years now. It's doing well. I have it in a 10 inch pot. I now see roots at the top of the soil. Should I repot or simply add more soil?
Thanks for your help.
I would repot (as opposed to potting-up) in mid-late July.
The presence of roots at the soil surface should not be a cause for concern or a signal to take action. Have you ever seen trees growing outdoors that had some of their roots exposed due to erosion? The same thing happens with potted plants. As roots become exposed to the air they develop a callus that protects them. If these callused roots are later covered with wet soil, they may rot. So adding soil to the surface is not a good idea.
Does your Ficus tree need a larger pot? Most people will tell you, yes. I am telling you not necessarily. As long as a plant has sufficient soil to keep the roots moist for about 3 days following a thorough watering, then it does not need a larger pot.
Did you know that unnecessary repotting is the single most common cause of plant failure? In addition, contrary to conventional wisdom, plants grow most vigorously when they are quite potbound.
If your Ficus is health and growing well and the soil,is not drying out too frequently, then leave it in its 10' pot.
Let me know if this is unclear or if you have further questions.
Will Creed, boy are you telling the truth. I agree with you 100%. I have found the more plants like it crowded in the pot its in, vs repotting. I killed my pony tail plant, because my BIL said it needed it. Ha! Where were you and this post when I needed you?
The new one is doing great, and I have no intention of repotting. I'll tell him Will Creed told me not to. The fiscus my friend has had for years, has never been replanted, and she just lets the soil as it is, and it does great. I'll tell her Will Creed said she is doing the right things. Ya know they are going to look at me and ask who in the heck is Will Creed?
If the roots are actually growing back up to the surface vs just being exposed on their way down, the plant needs repotting!
I have questions: Isn't it true that in this particular tree, adding soil would not be a problem? Bonsai enthusiasts will often ground-layer this tree by adding a soil-filled container on top of the original. The plant enthusiastically re-differentiates cambial tissues, roots readily form, and the old root mass is eventually removed w/o a second thought, which effectively shortens the trunk. I've done this several times and witnessed the nonincidental results of growers adding soil over the initial rootage to help stabilize the plant in containers when potting-up.
With regard to whether the tree needs a larger pot or not: Doesn't that depend on your objectives? If you wish a more compact plant with reduced internodal length and an o/a reduction in photosynthesizing surface (smaller & fewer leaves) then keep roots restricted. If you wish to maximize growth, it is to your advantage to grow in the largest container possible w/o subjecting the plant to risk of root rot. Isn't it widely known that restricted roots will cause the plant to exhibit an o/a reduction in bio-mass production?
I also wonder about the contention that unnecessary repotting is the primary cause for the demise of containerized plants. I was pretty sure that honor went to irrigation habits, over-irrigation in particular?
I would also make note that the average hobby grower will not be able to ascertain how well their Ficus is growing - only that they are satisfied or unsatisfied with its performance. That a tree is showing new growth emerging and that leaves are not abscising is not indication that trees are growing at maximum vitality (differs from vigor). There are several other more subtle indicators that indicate vitality is waning and repotting is in order.
Al, I did not suggest that repotting is never appropriate. When I make recommendations, I keep in mind who the questioner is. Based on the information provided there is no indication that repotting is necessary. This question was not posed by a professional grower nor is it about a Bonsai.
For non-professionals, moving plants into pots that are too large is the most common cause of plant failure. Yes, the ultimate cause of death will be root rot. But the reason root rot gets established is that in a large pot it takes too long for the soil to dry out in between waterings, thereby creating an anaerobic condition for the roots. A tightly potted plant is very difficult to overwater and rarely suffers from root rot.
There is a common belief that plants grow faster if they are in very large pots. That is analogous to saying that my six year old will grower faster if I put him in size 10 shoes. Give plants more room when they need it, but don't overdo it.
Will Creed, Indoor landscaper
Will - how a question is answered may vary in terms of how it is worded, but the information should always be sound, even if the grower is a hobbyist like me. That I mentioned "bonsai" seemed to be a sticking point, but anyone, bonsai practitioner or no, could easily ground-layer or stool this tree with impunity.
Trees do grow faster in containers where their roots have room to run. If you doubt it, pot-up any tightly grown tree and observe the increase in rate of internode extension, leaf size, and o/a mass. There is no denying this - it's readily visible on any tree. You can even tell on many trees how long ago a tree was repotted by closely observing the increased distance between leaf bundle scars after repotting.
I agree that a tightly grown plant is less likely to be over-watered, but we need to be clear that tight roots are a form of stress on a plant. I'm not saying that you cannot manipulate plants & use this fact to your advantage to keep them compact, but it is not what you want when you're trying to encourage o/a growth. If you keep a plant growing under stress to reduce the likelihood of root rot issues, it will at the expense of vitality even if the decline is not readily noticeable to a casual observer. Stress always turns to strain and decline if uncorrected, and strain will cause systems failure and death in the organism.
The analogy of larger shoes causing a child to grow is more a red herring or appeal to ridicule than it is a part of a constructive discussion, but I do agree with your closing assessment. You can however, grow very small plants in very large pots as long as the soil is appropriate. This makes pot size less important than soil choice in deciding what "over-doing" it is, but since most readers grow in some form of commercially bagged mix, it is wise to choose pot size carefully so that extended periods of anaerobic (lacking air) conditions are not occurring in the lower reaches of the container.
Al - a side question occurred to me while you were explaining the increase in internode extension. We have a small dogwood tree in the ground outdoors, and after about 3 years it put on a huge growth spurt (we're talking about 8 to 12 inches in new branch length on a 5 or 6 foot tree). But the new growth all had at least double the length between nodes compared the all the previous growth. It looks quite strange. I did fertilize a couple of times, but I don't think it was much more than the other years. Any clue why it did this?
I thank you all for your input.
There are great many roots at soil level now. I don't want to cause any stress or damage to the tree by repotting yet I don't want to prohibit it from putting out all the new growth it possibly can.
I have a question for you Al. What is o/a growth?
Thanks again to you all.
Watergal - Well, fertilizer timing can have a profound effect on trees that are in the ground. Also, you've heard the axiom "First year they sleep. Second year they creep. Third year they leap." It could easily go back to part of what is being discussed here too. The newly planted plants had to depend on roots confined to the space of a nursery container initially. Over time, and through an expanded (expanding?) root system, roots gain greater access to the building blocks (nutrients & water) they need to manufacture their food. As this occurs, the branches extend more & they show an increase in the size & number of leaves. I'll suggest that this is likely the natural habit of this tree and you should expect it to continue as long as cultural conditions remain favorable. You can reduce this tendency by timing your fertilizer applications (if you know they are necessary - they're probably not) so that they are applied after the tree goes into its first rest after the spring flush of growth. Leaves will have matured by then, and branch extension will have slowed considerably, so fertilizing with N will have less impact on the tree form or growth habit. The tree will also be changing its focus from tapping its energy reserves to build leaves & branches, to saving some of that energy by forming layers of cells and storing photosyntyhate in the roots and cambial tissues (fattening up for its winter rest). We're a little off subject here, but not too bad. I hope Grice forgives us. ;o)
Grice - "o/a" growth = "overall" growth. When I mention it, I'm thinking about the energy the tree is able to produce with what it can extract from the soil (and air). This growth potential is always inhibited by tight roots. You can see evidence of it in any container grown Ficus carica (hardy fig). The leaf bundle scars will be increasingly shorter as the tree becomes more crowded in the container, and when it's repotted, potted-up, or planted out, the distance between scars will dramatically increase. It is not so apparent on tropical or sub-tropical trees, but if I pointed it out to you, you'd see it readily.
Al, I did stray off topic but I thank you for your input. Now if I could only get some flowers going on this dang tree. I have heard the sleep/creep/leap axiom and though I believe it, I am not a patient person!
How old (big) is it? Most plants need to reach a certain ontogenetic age (based on number of cell replications rather than the calendar) before they are mature enough to flower/fruit. Some landscape plants (I'm thinking of Crataegus now - hawthorn) can go 30 or more years before they are mature enough to flower. I'm certain your dogwood daren't be so impetuous though. ;o)
Nope, my plants don't dare be impetuous. If they aren't blooming by the time I deem them good and ready, I give them a stern talking to, explain that they better get with the program or they can be yanked out and replaced. It almost always works - I'm serious - no scientific basis for it. It's a trick I learned from my mother.
Actually, threatening my plants is a lot more effective than threatening my teenager!