Ficus Trees in Containers IV

tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)June 8, 2012

Previous threads about how to approach long term care of Ficus in containers have reached the limit of 150 posts 3 times. I have been tending to more than 30 of my own Ficus trees covering at least 8 species in containers for more than 20 years, and teaching others in the community how to manage their containerized trees for the long term for 12-15 years. I'm also called on regularly to repot/rejuvenate large trees owned by others, so my experience with the genus is extensive, even to the inclusion of Ficus carica - the hardy fig.

The information I am supplying comes from knowledge gleaned from diligent pursuit of the physiology of woody plants, and in many cases from the pursuit of information specific to various Ficus species. In order that I might be proficient at maintaining trees in containers over the very long term, I have also spent a considerable amount of time and effort gaining a command of other plant sciences, with soil science, soil/water relationships, and nutrition getting special attention. My habit is to share information, particularly information I have verified via my own practical experience and observations, which run to more than 20 years of maintaining healthy Ficus specimens in containers, as previously mentioned.

In short, I'm not here to reinforce what you don't have to do; rather, I'm here to help you get more from your container gardening experience by helping you learn how to give your trees the best shot at growing to their potential by helping you reduce or eliminate factors that are limiting to growth and vitality.

From the family: Moracea (relative of mulberry)

Native: India, other tropical - subtropical regions

The Ficus genus

with more than 800 known species, is undoubtedly an extremely popular choice as a containerized tree. It tolerates the "dryer than desert" conditions actually found in many or most centrally heated homes reasonably well, and is endowed with a natural genetic vigor that makes it easy to grow. There is however, much myth and misconception regarding the care of this plant and the reasons it reacts as it does to certain cultural conditions. I would like to talk a little about the plant and then offer some specific information regarding its culture. I will primarily address Ficus benjamina - the 'weeping fig', but the commonly grown Ficus elastica - rubber tree, has the same cultural preferences. In fact, we can virtually lump all the Ficus species commonly grown as houseplants into a single group in all areas except light preferences. We need to make allowances for some of the fig species that won't tolerate direct sun as well as benjamina and elastica, and we may as well expand that exception to the variegated cultivars of benjamina and elastica as well.

Ficus benjamina

is one of the species of Ficus commonly referred to as a strangler fig. It often begins its life in duff, in the crotch of a tree, or high on a branch as a seed deposited in the droppings of a bird or other tree-dwelling animal. After the seed germinates and as it grows, it produces thin aerial roots that often dangle in the moist air or attach themselves to the host trunk, while gaining nutrients and moisture from the air, leaf litter, and the bark of the supporting tree. It does not actually parasitize the plant it grows on, it only uses it as support. This relationship is termed epiphytic, or the tree an epiphyte. Those familiar with the culture of orchids and bromeliads will recognize this term.

After the aerial roots have formed and extended, and when they finally reach the ground, the tree begins a tremendous growth spurt, sending out more roots and developing a dense canopy that eventually shades out the supporting tree at the same time the roots are competing for nutrients in the soil and compressing the trunk and branches of the support tree to the point of stopping sap flow. Eventually the supporting tree dies and all that is left where it once stood, is a hollow cavity in the dangling Ficus roots that have now thickened and self-grafted to become the trunk. It is easy to see how many of the trees in the Ficus genus have come to be called by the name 'strangler figs'.

Roots and soil

The roots of some Ficus species are so powerful they can destroy concrete buildings or buckle roads, and can be measured in miles as they extend underground in search of water. When we consider the young tree and its ability to obtain sufficient moisture from just the surrounding air and bark surface of the support tree by way of aerial roots, we can draw an important conclusion: All species of Ficus prefer well-aerated and fast draining soils. In this regard, they are actually no different than any other tree you would endeavor to grow in a container, so try always to use a soil that guarantees an ample volume of air in the soil and excellent drainage for the intended interval between repots. This can be accomplished by using a soil whose primary fraction is comprised of large particles (like pine bark) combined with ample volumes of perlite or other inorganic ingredients like Turface, pumice, Haydite, crushed granite, or others. I grow all my Ficus in a soil mix consisting of equal parts of pine or fir bark, Turface (a calcined clay product), and Gran-I-Grit (crushed and screened granite). To be fair, I will add a qualifier here: the cost of the potential for superior growth and added vitality when using these fast (draining) well-aerated soils comes in the form of you needing to be prepared to water more frequently as the soil particle size increases. Roots are the heart of the plant, and the rest of the plant can do nothing without the roots' OK - the top just THINKS it's in control. Take care of the roots, and if your other cultural conditions are favorable, your plants will thrive.

Before I go on

I would like to say there is a very important relationship between your choice of soil, your watering habits, and a very common and serious problem that too often goes completely undiagnosed. That problem is a high level of soluble salts in the soil. When we choose soils that hold water for extended periods, we put our trees at risk for the fungal infections that cause root rot. Reasoning tells us that to avoid the root rot issue, we should not water to the point of soil saturation; rather, we often feel that watering in sips to avoid the specter of root rot is the wise alternative. This strategy though, puts us squarely on the horns of a dilemma. If we don't/can't water copiously on a regular basis, the soluble salts, i.e.,all the dissolved solids in our tap water and fertilizer solution accumulate in the soil. As the level of salts in the soil increases, the plant finds it increasingly difficult to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in water. If the salt level gets too high, it can actually 'pull' water OUT of cells in exactly the same fashion that curing salt 'pulls' moisture from ham or bacon. This 'reverse osmosis' causes plasma to be torn from the walls of cells as they collapse, killing cells and tissue. The technical term for this is plasmolysis, but we more commonly refer to it as fertilizer burn. Fertilizer burn can occur whether or not we use fertilizer. The salts in our tap water alone, can/will eventually build to the point where water uptake is impossible, unless we actively take precautions.

Your soil is the foundation of every conventional container planting, and your choice of soils probably has a greater impact on your effort:reward quotient than any other single factor. Please take a moment to learn more about soils. My experience has shown that understanding how soils work and how to tell the difference between a good and a not so good soil is probably the single largest step forward a container gardener can take at any one time. Find more about soils here.


Ficus b. will tolerate dry soil quite well. Allowing the soil to completely dry; however, will result in undue drought stress and accompanying leaf loss, an expensive affair, considering the plant will call heavily upon energy reserves to replace lost foliage - reserves that might better have been directed to other functions and growth. If you wait just until the soil feels dry to the touch at the drain hole before watering, your tree will be free from the effects of drought stress. Soils feel dry to the touch when their moisture content is somewhere between 40-45%, but Ficus can still extract water from soils until moisture content drops to about 25-30%, giving you a 10-15% cush AFTER the soil feels dry. Use a finger or a sharpened wooden dowel stuck deep into the soil to check for moisture content. A wooden skewer or chopstick used in similar fashion is also a useful tool, and feeling the soil at the drain hole and withholding water until it feels dry there, is also a good way to judge. Water meters are rather ineffective, They actually measure EC (electrical conductivity). To illustrate: Insert a clean probe into a cup of distilled water. It will read 'DRY'. Add a little table salt of fertilizer, it will read 'WET'.

Though I try never to water my Ficus with cold water, I have never been able to verify that cold water has any negative impact on our houseplants ..... and I've asked a good number of horticulture's upper crust about any potentially negative effects, always receiving a shrug. The best way to water your Ficus it to apply water slowly until you estimate the soil is almost wet enough that water is about to appear at the drain hole. Wait a few minutes and water again so at least 10-15% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain. The first watering dissolves accumulated salts in the soil and allows them to go into solution. The second watering carries them out of the container. We already illustrated the importance of using a soil that allows us to water in such a manner without having to worry abut root rot. If you feel you cannot water in this manner without risking lengthy soil saturation and the possibility of root rot, your soil is probably inappropriate for the plant. Lest anyone complain at that observation, I would point out there is a difference between the growth and vitality of plants that are only tolerating a soil vs. the same traits in plants that appreciate (thrive in) a medium with superior properties.

More about soils as questions arise .... please ask!


Although many Ficus begin life as an understory tree and are generally quite shade tolerant, most actually spend their life struggling through the shaded understory until they eventually reach the forest canopy, where they finally find full sun and can begin to come into their own. We should give Ficus all the sun they will tolerate. I grow all varieties of Ficus b. in full sun, and they tolerate it well - even some of the newer cultivars that are supposed to be extremely shade-tolerant.

I have often read anecdotal assertions that Ficus b defoliates at the slightest change in light levels (or temperature). I have found this to be only partly true. Any trees I have moved from a location with a lower light level to a brighter location have not suffered leaf loss (abscission). Instead, they have rewarded me with more robust growth and back-budding. If the change is reversed, so the tree is moved from high irradiance levels to a dimmer location, leaf loss is probable, but even then it depends on both the suddenness of the change and the difference between the two light levels. It might be interesting to note that trees that are being grown out, or allowed to grow unpruned, are most likely to suffer loss of interior leaves when light levels are reduced. Trees in bonsai culture, or properly pruned trees where thinning has occurred to allow more light to the trees interior are less affected.

Indoor supplemental lighting is a broad subject, but if you have the ability to provide it, your trees will definitely show their appreciation. Brighter light = smaller leaf size, shorter internodes, and superior ramification (finer branching), not to mention a marked increase in overall mass.


Expect the most robust growth characteristics when the plant is kept in a temperature range between 60-80* F. Actual root temperatures above 90-95* should be avoided because they impair root function/metabolism and slow or stop growth. Temperatures below 55* should also be avoided for several reasons. They slow photosynthesis to the degree that the plant will necessarily call on stored energy reserves to power metabolism and keep its systems orderly. This essentially puts the tree on 'battery power' - running on its energy reserves. After exposure to chill and subsequent return to more favorable temperatures, the plant does not quickly recover the ability to carry on normal photosynthesis. The time needed for the plant to recover its normal photosynthesizing ability is more appropriately measured in days, than hours. Leaf loss can also occur as a result of exposure to chill, particularly sudden chill.

It is prudent to select a location free from cold breezes for your tree. Even short exposure to very cold draughts can cause leaves to abscise (fall/shed). The cool temperatures slow or halt the flow of auxin (a growth regulator - hormone) across the abscission zone at the base of each leaf petiole (stem) which allows an abscission layer to form and causes leaves to fall. Chill also stimulates an increase in abscissic acid (also a growth regulator - hormone) which is also a player in leaf loss.

Benjamina can tolerate temperatures as low as the mid-30s for brief periods if the exposure to chill is gradual, but it should be noted that even though there may not be any readily visible impact on the tree, the tree will always be in decline at temperatures below about 55* because of the impact on the tree's inability to carry on efficient photosynthesis. Sudden and large temperature drops can cause varying degrees of chill injury in the plant, caused by phenolic compounds leaking from cells, which shows up looking much like freeze damage. Severe injury could occur in plants that were growing at 80-85* and were subjected to sudden chilling to temperatures as high as 45-50*


Benjamina's thick, leathery leaves with waxy cuticles help to limit moisture loss, making the plant suitable to a wide range of indoor humidity levels, even though it prefers humidity levels above 50%. When humidity levels are blamed for leaf loss or necrotic leaf tips and margins, it is likely the blame has been misplaced. Those pesky high salt levels in soils, most common in late winter, can make it difficult and in extreme cases impossible for the plant to absorb water to replace that being lost to the air through transpiration. The fast soils that allow copious watering, which flushes the soil of salts regularly are actually much more important/beneficial than maintaining ultra high humidity levels. Misting is very effective ..... For about 30 seconds. Forget the misting please, it is ineffective. For small plants, a humidity tray may marginally effective.


I prefer any 3:1:2 ratio soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro 24-8-16 or 12-4-8, and I especially like Dyna-Gro's Foliage-Pro 9-3-6, because it provides all the essential nutrients in the approximate ratio the plant will use and in favorable ratios to each other. Alternately, a 1:1:1 ratio fertilizer like MG 20-20-20 is suitable. Because I use fast soils, I can fertilize at very low doses, every time I water. How YOU can/should fertilize is something we should discuss. It can change by season, and also varies based on soil choice and watering habits.

There is no question that in addition to offering greater potential for growth and vitality within the limits of other cultural factors, fast draining, well-aerated soils also get the nod for greatly increasing the grower´┐Żs margin for error in the areas of watering and fertilizing.


Leaf loss in Ficus is probably the cause of more conjecture than any other aspect of its culture, so even though I have mentioned it above, I will reiterate. Even though it is widely held that Ficus b. defoliates at virtually any cultural change, with changes in light and temperature most often cited, it is not so. The plant tends to defoliate when there is a fairly abrupt change in light levels - from bright to dim, or after exposure to sudden chill, but the plant does not tend to defoliate when the cultural conditions of light and temperature move from unfavorable to favorable, i.e. from dim to bright or from cool to warm/appropriate - unless the change is markedly radical.


First, I draw a major distinction between potting-up and repotting. Potting up can be undertaken at any time. It involves moving the plant to a slightly larger pot and back-filling with fresh soil, with a minimal amount of root disturbance. Much to be preferred to potting-up, is repotting. Repotting, which has a substantial rejuvenating effect, includes removing all or almost all of the old (spent) soil and selective root-pruning. It is by far the preferred method and probably the most important step in insuring your trees always grow at as close to their potential genetic vigor as possible. Repotting as opposed to potting-up is the primary reason bonsai trees are able to live in small containers for hundreds of years while the vast majority of trees grown as houseplants are lucky to survive more than 5 years without root work

It is pretty much universally accepted among nurserymen, that you should pot up at or before the time where the condition of the roots/soil mass is such that the roots and soil can be lifted from the container intact. Much testing has been done to show that trees left to languish beyond this point will have growth and vitality permanently affected. Even when planted out, growth and longevity of trees allowed to progress beyond this point is shown to be reduced.

The ideal time to repot a Ficus, is when the plant has good vitality and in the month prior to its most robust growth. June and July are prime months for most of the US. HOW to properly repot is beyond the scope of the initial post, but I am sure the subject will be covered in detail as questions arise.

Remember - potting up a root bound plant is a stopgap fix, and ensures the plant has no opportunity to grow to its genetic potential within the limits of other cultural factors; while fully repotting, which includes a change of soil and root pruning, ensures the plant WILL have the opportunity within the limits of other cultural factors. Strong words, but to repeat the illustration: the bonsai tree is capable of living in a tiny pot, perfectly happy for hundreds of years, while we struggle to squeeze 5 years of good vitality from a root bound plant - root work being the difference.


Ficus trees suffer from some pests. Most common are scale, followed closely by mites and mealies. I have always had good luck with neem oil as a preventative and fixative. We can discuss infestations and treatment as it arises, but so it gets included in the original post, I use only pure, cold-pressed neem oil, such as that packaged by Dyna-Gro in the black and white container. The beneficial active ingredient in neem is azadirachtin, the effectiveness of which is greatly reduced by steam and alcohol extraction methods, which brings us full circle to why I use the cold-pressed product.

Oedema can sometimes be an issue as well;. Suspect it if you see corky patches on the leaves, usually preceded by wet, bumpy patches that usually go unnoticed.

This is a long post, and took a long time to compose. I hope it answers most of your questions, but somehow, I cannot help but hope there are a few lingering that you would like to ask or points you would like to have clarified. It is great fun visiting and helping people who are devoted about improving their abilities to provide for their trees.

Best luck.


Here is a link to the previous thread, which is packed with good information.

Additionally, you can find more detailed information about tending trees in containers for the long term here.

I'll leave the link to more information about container soils again - because it's soo important.

I truly hope you have found some value in this offering. Thanks for reading to the end.


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OK, this is going to be a long post, since folks just joining may want some info (or, maybe not & I'm just deluding myself!). We topped out the previous thread on the topic of a Ficus elastica belonging to Gladys Gravyboots.

The tree is over 10 years old, and when I, GG, moved back into a particular house share in 2008 the tree was still here (I'd moved out in 1999) and looking very poorly. It then suffered a total soil collapse and subsequently lost all of its leaves. When I repotted, it had virtually no roots - I am not exaggerating! - below the soil line, it looked like a stick, with a few small roots sticking out.

Here is a photo taken after that repot and some recovery time : From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

I gave it another year (or maybe 2?) lots of light and some time outdoors: From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

Then I repotted it, because it was waaaay over-potted & I had put a few other plants (Schefflera, Dracaena) into 5.1.1. mix a year previous & was very happy with the results, as were my plants. I found it actually had grown some roots: From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

I did a light root prune, then a few months later I pruned the top pretty hard: From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

That was last year. Since the root mass still wasn't much, but the tree needed a good-size pot since it was so top heavy, I put large rocks in the bottom of the pot.

This year I plan to repot and remove the rocks, do some root pruning & change the planting angle of the tree to get it going in a more upright direction. The spread of the branches is now about 4' which is just too much - the tree looks like it wants to hug you.

I plan for it to eventually look something like this: From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

Al gave me some root pruning advice on the previous thread and suggested that the large limb be removed at once, so the reduced roots could support the tree.

Just for reference, this is the limb that will become the new leader on the re-oriented tree: From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

Al was asking at the end of the last thread (I'm paraphrasing) "Weren't you just messing about with this tree?" and I am posting to say Yes, I was fussing with it last summer, but I need to get it to a more manageable size, and get the rocks out of the pot...

Well, thanks for reading my windy post!
There is lots of great advice about Ficus on the previous threads, and there is sure to be much more on this thread - Thanks Al!


    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 2:26PM
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ChemGardner(10a SWFL)

Hello All,
I have spent my gardening time almost exclusively in the succulent forum until now. Partly because they are the plants that sparked my plant interest, and partly because I killed nearly every houseplant I tried besides airplants.

But after a ton of reading about Al's gritty mix (for my succulents), I simultaneously happened to see a fiddle leaf fig in restaurant and became obsessed. I broke down and bought one, a 3 gallon for $29 (decent price?), and potted it in the gritty mix last weekend.

It lives in a 7 gallon pot right near a floor-to-ceiling window that gets maybe 90minutes of direct late evening sun, and tons of bright indirect. Previously, in the nursery, it was in the warm, humid, shade-clothed greenhouse.

When potting, I hosed off the entirety of the old soil and trimmed maybe 3-4 of the 12 inches of roots before adding it to the gritty mix.

Since then, I have watered it twice, the second time was very thorough and contained a weak solution of Foilage Pro. (too early?)

Two of the three trunks/stems seems to be doing quite well, with shiny leaves and they look healthy. The third has leaves that are on the dull side, and the leaves are not 'standing upright', if that makes sense. One of the bottom most leaves just fell off with a light bump, and the surrounding ones seem ready to do the same.

Here are some pictures:

Here are the two best looking trunk/stems, left and right in this photo:

Slightly different view, with the worrisome trunk on the far right. Also, my mini Aussie, and a good shot of the gritty mix :)

Moving in the same direction, with the worrisome branch now in the center of the photo. Also, the new leaf of the otherwise fairly healthy left branch is floppy, is that normal? I am completely new to these plants.:

Top view of floppy leaf:

Dull saggy leaves on worrisome branch:

Any help or answers to my (embedded) questions would be greatly appreciated, as I am brand new to growing trees indoors, and do not know if this is normal, worrisome, or somewhere in between.


    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 7:11PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You're welcome, Gladys!

CG - There isn't much you can do about it if your cultural conditions are already appropriate. I usually fertilize about 2-3 weeks post repotting - don't know how that squares with your timing, but it can't be too far off. It's not unusual for new leaves to appear misshapen at first - often sort of like an emerging butterfly's wings.

It is best to try to avoid 2 distinctly different soils in the same container - it can create problems watering effectively. It sounds like you didn't bare-root the plant, and you have the old root mass with the old soil in the middle of the gritty mix?

It's hard to say what might have caused the leaf loss. It may well be related to something cultural that affected the plant before you even got it. I'd just be patient & wait it out. Be sure that if the roots are all near the top of the soil that you water often in the beginning. If they're situated deep into the soil, then be careful not to over-water. It sounds like everything should be ok, except for that dissimilar soil thing that might be a concern.


    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 9:16PM
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ChemGardner(10a SWFL)

Hi Al,

First of all, thank you for all of your posts. I have been pouring over them recently and have learned so much. It's so rare to have someone so knowledgeable be as kind and generous as you are, without a hint of arrogance or elitism.

With the gritty mix, I am excited that I will be able to have some cool houseplants without worrying about their survival, nor bringing in bugs that thrive in the standard MG soil I was using. It's kind of ironic how much the bugs like it, but the plants kind of hate it..

But I digress...

I wasn't clear enough in my rambling, original post :) I DID bare-root the tree, using a hose and my hands to do so.

It may just be a sense of 'new plant anxiety' on my part, and maybe a little on the plants'! This is a new soil for me, new plant genre, and a more aggressive root 'baring' and root trimming than I am used to, so I will give it some time to acclimate.

Two more semi-related questions for you if you don't mind:

1) Is it normal for the 'cover' (for lack of a better term that I do not know) that a new leaf emerges from to be dark, almost black and almost crunchy feeling?

2) I would like it eventually to have a typical tree shape, with maybe 3ft of bare trunk, and then a nice, roundish top. After waiting for new growth after my recent repot, where would I go about pruning? If you have already discussed this, and I just missed it in my recent searches of your posts, please just link me to save yourself some time :)

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 9:46PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

What a nice compliment - thank you, CG.

1) Common to plants in the family Moraceae, which includes Morus (mulberry) as well as Ficus, is a stipular cap that covers emerging buds. I guess we can assume that it's function would be to protect the new bud in some way, though I'm not exactly sure if that's the whole story, or if it's even accurate. I've never looked into the 'what does it do' part. As the petiole (leaf stem) elongates, the stipular cap is separated from the stem, and quickly dries up and abscises; so 'brown/black/crispy' are no cause for concern ...... but brown/black/crispy terminal buds are an indication of a serious cultural issue.

Most houseplant growers don't have a vision for their plants. They go where the plant takes them instead of leading. I don't say that in a critical way, it's just that they haven't acquired the vision needed to imagine what the plant might look like in years to come. To be fair, our perspectives are divergent. Grower A might be more interested in having a plant fill a space and accessorize a room. As long as it looks good, that grower is happy, but may or may not want to put much effort into maintaining the plant. Grower B gets the most satisfaction from the nurturing part. I think this type of grower is the one who would be most interested in planning for a plants future, and willing to forgo the constant need for the plant to be at it's best, given what there currently is to work with - a tendency probably seen more often in grower A.

I tend to always consider the health and well-being of the plant first, with my own convenience of little consideration. Also, bonsai has given me the sort of vision that allows me to think about what affect what we do today will have on the plants future, immediate and distant. So, I understand the grower that doesn't want to have a tree made ugly today so it can be beautiful in a year, as well as the grower who has the patience and vision to work toward a future goal.

Crossed perspectives are the source of a lot of disagreement. The gritty mix is a prime example. You and I recognize the added potential for a healthy root system, which means a healthier plant, while another grower might be dead against it because you have to go through the effort to make the soil and water a little more frequently ..... Root pruning is another. One grower thinks the decline associated with tight roots should be accepted as an inherent part of maintaining plants over the long term, where that doesn't fit well with a grower who wishes to offer their plants the best opportunity to grow to their potential. It's easy to accept either perspective, but a perspective doesn't change how plants react to root congestion. You either live with the problem until the plant needs to be tossed, or you fix it and go forward indefinitely.

OK - back to your tree shape .... A typical tree shape commonly has some movement in the trunk, sometimes a lot of movement. Don't be in a hurry to prune everything off the lower trunk and start building your tree today. Everything you leave on the lower trunk for the time being will thicken it and strengthen it. Select one branch as your leader. That leader should be centered over where the trunk goes into the soil at a point that is 2/3 of the ht you want the tree to be maintained at. The top 1/3 of the ht will be your branching. It's fine, if you let the main leader grow much taller than you want the tree to be in the end. You can chop it later, like Rina is going to do today or tomo. If you want 3 ft of bare trunk, proportionately, your tree will look best in the 4.5 - 5" ht range.

Any other questions?


    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 1:17PM
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ChemGardner(10a SWFL)


In reference to your post from last night, I checked the tree and the roots are close to the top, with one small one (4-5inches and thin) actually not fully under the soil line, and therefore dried up. I would hypothesize that this could be a contributing factor to losing a couple leaves and others not being quite as springy. With this in mind, I will make it a point to water more often in the beginning.

As for the shape, and your description of two growers, I like to think I am closer to grower B, as long as the pruning doesn't leave it so unsightly that my wife hates it :) She tolerates my plant hobby/addiction in part because most things are pretty and attractive so I have to keep that in mind.

As for now though, it seems like I just want to let the tree acclimate and grow full and strong before I do any pruning.

In reference to your comment about selecting a 'leader', you said to choose a branch. Do you mean one of the three 'trunks' that make up my tree? (Which I am guessing was started by sticking three cuttings into one pot and letting it grow and get the roots intertwined, which you had a term for in another post, but I cannot recall right now.) I just want to make sure that I am using the correct terminology here.

Thank you again!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 9:17PM
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anne_g(5-middle Indiana)

Al and all,

Al, I truly appreciate your knowledge that you are sharing with me/us. I have stalked these forums for a couple years now, and take your posts to be the most useful and informative.

I will head out tomorrow on the hunt for the gritty mix ingredients. I'm in the Greater Lafayette, Indiana, area, so my selections are few. I checked out my local nursery/greenhouse today, and what they have is extremely limited. (Although, I think I picked-up a silver dollar jade in need of TLC!)

Al, yes, I can make it to the Chicago area--I've got a sister-in-law in Andersonville, so I can either make it there, or ask her to accept things on my behalf. She's a crazy home--apartment--gardener, too, with a Ficus e. that I'd kill for! Otherwise, if the Andersonville area is too out-of-the-way, and you will be in the Chicago area come August, just let me know where/when, and I can make it. I don't start work until the 27th, so I'm free before that.

I've got some options as far as companies around here go--but I'm thinking pine/fir bark may be had at pet stores, and the crushed granite at my local farm store. (Otherwise, we've got brick/stone suppliers around here--maybe they'd have it??) Turface? Well, I think I can order via Amazon, or at worst, go to our local NAPA store for Floor-Dry.

I've already ordered the Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 and some Neem via Amazon, as my outdoor plants have some bugs on them. Not sure if they are pests, or just hanging out; but I'd like to start preventative measures all the same. No webs or bulges, calluses, etc.

So, tomorrow, I will be looking for the following:

--Uncomposted Pine or Fir bark (1/8"-1/4") OR Reptile Bark at my local pet shop
--Screened Turface (OR NAPA Floor-Dry)
--Crushed granite (Gran-I-Grit, OR Manna Pro Poultry Grit)
--Spring clamps, to help hold up my weaker jades/Ficus

Should this do me? I saw in another forum post you (Al) recommended pruning after Father's day, which is coming up, this Sunday.

Should I repot--not pot-up--but repot in the gritty mix and let be? Or should I repot into the gritty mix and also root-prune and cut-back?

Thank you so much for y'all's help--I can't imagine doing this without it.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 10:46PM
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ChemGardner(10a SWFL)


It took me about 10 phone calls until I smartened up and used, entered in 'Timberline Pine Mulch' (make sure it's the purple bag, not the nuggets), and found a store about 15 minutes away that carried it. From all the research I've done, it seems that once screened its very suitable (and more importantly, Al approved!) for the gritty mix.

After picking up two huge bags for $5.68 total, I felt kind of silly for paying $20 for half of that amount of reptibark for my first gritty mix try two weeks ago. This will drastically cut down the total price of the mix and I'll no longer have to decide which of my plants are 'worth it' :)

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 8:13AM
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anne_g(5-middle Indiana)


Thanks for the tip! I'll check it out.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 12:07PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

CG - sorry I missed your post of 6/9. In some trees, it's very close to 1 root feeding 1 branch, and if the root dies it puts the branch in jeopardy. Thuja (arborvitae) is so much like this that the center of the trunk often rots away and you have nothing left but separate roots feeding one side of the tree. In other trees, water and nutrients can move laterally/diagonally as well as vertically. Ficus is somewhere in the middle, so it's not out of line thinking that the death of a root would affect specific parts of the plant.

Sorry about the description I offered for a single-trunked tree. For the most natural look, work toward your tree having the thickest trunk as the tallest. The other 2 trees, in order of trunk thickness, should be about 2/3 and 1/3-1/2 the ht of the tallest trunk - unless you have another vision for the plant ......

Anne - thanks for the kind compliment. ;-)

I've been super busy the last few days, but I'll see what I can come up with later tonight, insofar as seeing that you get the ingredients you need. I may not be able to Andersonville while I'm in CHI because of commitments while there, but if you could meet me somewhere S of CHI, I could bring what you need if you don't find it - we'll work on that.

I just found out that Oak-Hill Gardens (Dundee) is moving to Madison. ;-( Which is going to be a real pain for me. I'll prolly have to start looking for another source of bark closer to home. TTYL


    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 12:47PM
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anne_g(5-middle Indiana)

I had success finding the chicken grit at my local Rural King. I have screened it and it is awaiting the other ingredients. I did buy a bag of pine bark, as ChemGardner recommended. It is way too big without screening it--and I certainly don't have a screen or screens to do it.(See attached a photo.)Can anyone recommend how to go about this? Seeing as the bag was under $4, I'm not opposed to picking up the ReptiBark instead if it is the right size out of the bag.

Looking at the size of the granite grit, the expanded clay balls I have may be too big as well. So, I'll pick up a bag of the floor dry stuff and just wear a medical mask while dealing with it! (It scares me.)

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 7:55PM
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anne_g(5-middle Indiana)

Well, geeze. Hopefully the photo will upload now.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 7:57PM
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ChemGardner(10a SWFL)

Was this the timberline brand, purple bag with 'Pine Mulch' in big letters? The bag I just bought looks wayyy different. It's much smaller, more uniform, and doesn't have any long shards.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 10:37PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Sorry, Anne. The bark in the picture isn't appropriate for soils. It's much too large and the high % of sapwood will present its own set of difficulties. ;-(

I'm late for work, or I'd look up a Turface distributor near you. Try the locator at the link below. Also, check your phone book for John Deere Landscapes dealers near you. They should have it.


Here is a link that might be useful: Find Turface - click me

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 7:46AM
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anne_g(5-middle Indiana)

@ChemGardner, yes, this was the purple bag. No worries; I've got friends who can take it for their yard!

I found what I believe to be acceptable-sized fir bark and, I was able to find a floor dry product (the nearest John Deer is down in Indy).

Here's a picture of the mix, equal parts Fir bark, granite, Turface-like product. I also received my order of cold-pressed Neem oil and the recommended fertilizer, Foliage Pro 9-3-6.

Think I can repot?

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 12:28PM
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anne_g(5-middle Indiana)

Having dealt with the Turface-like product,i'll definitely have to screen it. I will go to my local hardware store and see what i can combine in order to sift out the little bits. I know this will be worth it, otherwise I'd give up! Fortunately I'm a teacher, and have the summer off!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 9:08PM
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grrr4200(z3 MI)

Al, Have you ever came across or have this ficus in your collection?

a better picture of the variegation

Ficus binnendijkii amstel gold

I tried posted links to better pictures but it flagged it for spam... Anyhow; do you have this plant in your collection?

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 2:49AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The size (length) of the leaf makes it suitable only for large bonsai. While I have several rather large temperate trees, my space for over-wintering tropical trees is limited, so I have only 4 large (3 ft +) tropical specimens, all well over 30 yrs old and at least 10-15 years in my care.

Ficus nerifolia/salicifolia have the lanceolate (long & thin, like the head of a lance) leaf like binnendijkii/alii and are well represented in my collection, but their leaf is naturally much smaller - that's about as close as I come to the tree you're asking after. I actually did a semi-silent (no lecture) demonstration last night at an art studio fundraiser using a very large F nerifolia, the 'theme' for the fundraiser being Japanese art. I'm usually called on by groups that are garden/plant oriented, so some of the questions the patrons asked about what I was doing were really amusing. One lady asked if I was putting leaves on the tree (I have defoliated the tree entirely the evening before to facilitate the wiring & other work I was doing).

The cultural wants of binnendijkii/alii are the same as benjamina, but it tolerates lower light slightly better than benjamina.

I've worked on this tree a few times for others, seen it in home settings (I'm in peoples homes daily because of my work), as well as in a number of conservatories. It's a handsome tree. Do you have questions about care - or just curious?


    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 8:05AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I was asked to do a bonsai demonstration for an art studio's annual fund raiser last Tuesday evening. Since their theme was 'Japanese art' the demo meshed nicely with the evening's festivities. The tree I chose to work on was a Ficus salicifolia (willow leaf fig). The evening before the demo, I defoliated the tree completely - probably removed at least 4-500 leaves. I did that to facilitate the wiring and heavy branch manipulation it needed. Here's the tree a week later,

already coming back into leaf. It's too bad you can't see perspective in a 2D photo. Where it looks like the branches are congested, it's really not congested at all. The branches are going in different angles so the foliage pads don't shade the foliage below it. I also cut the top back severely to account for the fact this plant is so apically dominate, and changed it's direction from moving left to moving right - so the mother tree is leaning over and 'protecting' the smaller daughter tree. If you DON'T cut the top back hard, the top will rob all the energy from the lower branches & they will weaken & die. You can see a weak and thin lower branch on the left that didn't get wired. The branch received too little light over the winter & suffered for it. I'll need to let that branch grow wild for a year so it regains strength before I wire it. It needs to eventually be the thickest branch on the tree (because it's the lowest/oldest) if I keep it. I haven't decided if I want to keep that as the first branch or not - but there's plenty of time to decide.

Here's a before/after picture of a scheff, root-over-rock style I started from a cutting and have been working on for a number of years:

Someone had asked for an updated picture not too long ago, but I never got around to taking one until today. You can see I'm not too bashful about defoliating a scheff, either. Defoliating a HEALTHY plant after a repot forces it to use its energy to push a new flush of leaves. This weakens the tree, so the leaves come in much smaller than if the tree was bursting with energy. It also causes lots of back-budding, which increases ramification (number of branches) which is also desirable. More branches means more leaves, too; which means less energy per leaf which means smaller leaves. One of the primary influences we use to decrease leaf size is by increasing the number of leaves on the plant.

Here's the top of the larger (Ficus) tree pictured above. You can't see it, but I used a trunk splitter to split the trunk in half, then wedged a stone in the split to make the trunk flare so it tapers more.

After it roots, I'll raise it higher in the pot to expose the flare. It hasn't lost any leaves in a week, so I'm sure it's going to make it, and be a little clump-style bonsai some day. No doubt it will end up in a friend's collection. I can't seem to stop myself from propagating plants. Fortunately, there's always someone who wants them .... or I'd be in trouble.


    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 4:20PM
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Al, I'm going to build on your post, although my tree is not as shapely (yet!): here is an update on the tree at the top of this thread.

I pruned before repotting, to make the new planting angle easier to achieve. Here's what remained after removing the top branch. I think I will take the rest off in the fall: From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

This tree's roots after a year in Al's mix - this is out of a 12.5" bulb pot! From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

The new planting angle: From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

Trying to get an idea of the future tree: From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

Thanks for your guidance Al - this tree has come a long way!

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 9:01PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Looking great - nice & healthy! Strong work!

I think I'd start pinching it now (tip pruning). Removing the apices (growing branch tips) will force back-budding and additional fullness.

Would you say the trees vitality level and growth potential have been improved to a degree that's notable?


    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 10:13PM
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From no leaves to a pot full of roots and the vigor to withstand a 50% reduction of branches/foliage? I would say that this tree's vitality level and growth potential have been improved to a notable degree!!

I'm not sure I want to pinch the tips, since I'd like to start new trees from the 3 tips on the top branch... and I kind of feel like I'm keeping my options open by letting the top-to-be extend a little further. Will the tree devote more resources to replacing roots if I don't encourage back-budding?


    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 10:55PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Remember that if you take internodal cuttings (w/o meristems/growing tips) you'll automatically get a multi-stemmed plant from the cutting, where a tip cutting generally produces a single trunk. I know you have a good handle on things, you understand how the timing affects the outcome, and your plant is healthy, so you can pretty much follow your vision for the plant and do whatever you think moves you closer to that vision. I really get excited when I see growers waking to the idea that they have the ability to take control of their plant's destiny. You did a great job!

Will the tree devote more resources to replacing roots if I don't encourage back-budding?

Your tree utilizes chemical messengers to keep the top informed about what the roots are doing and vice versa. If you remove 75% of the top in a hard pruning, the root system will die back accordingly until the top and roots are in balance. After a hard root pruning, the top may shed some branches or partially die back if the remaining roots are unable to move enough water to keep everything hydrated (usually not a significant issue with Ficus, as you can see by some of the extremely hard root prunings I've posted pictures of). Sometimes though, it's a good idea to remove some of the top after a hard root pruning to avoid the plant's random shedding of branches that might be important to your vision for the plant.

The plant won't grow canopy the roots can't support; and conversely, the plant won't grow roots it doesn't need. Root growth always precedes canopy growth. We can see evidence of that in the fact that the first plant part to emerge from a seed isn't the top, its the root radicle (tap root).

I didn't understand the question fully, but hopefully you found your answer in the offering?

I think many of us use our plants' growth as the measure of our ability, but growing is what plants do. All we need to do is get out of their way by altering our habits that limit growth. To my way of thinking, we really begin to come into our own when we let growth take care of itself and instead consider plant health as our priority, followed by how our plants look, more specifically how they CAN look with a little friendly manipulation where that's possible. I think THEN, we've got it right and are looking at the big picture. Who wants an out of control plant - right?

Again - good job!


    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 11:26AM
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I don't want to hijack your thread, but have some questions about reducing canopy of my Benjamina that I did a 'radical' (and scary for me!) root pruning to.

I worried that I pruned off too many fine roots, but the tree is alive, very few leaves yellowed and even fewer dropped. I can see lots of new growth that I tried to take photos of, not sure if clear enough. 3rd photo is of whole canopy.
I am keeping it outside in very dappled sunlight, trying to protect it from winds too.
Watering as necessary with MG 12-4-8 as you suggested.

Would it be beneficial to do any canopy pruning?
I did prune off 2 small branches that got dry. Every other branch have leaves & new growth.

There is a thicker branch growing on one side that I thought of getting rid off by air layering. Following photos are showing this branch, it grows in akward way, doesn't look like it belongs there...
If I was to do that, is it stressfull for the recently root-pruned tree?
(I could just cut it off whenever time comes, but wouldn't mind trying to root it that way. It is approx. 3.5inch in circumference where attached to the tree, splitting again.)

Thank you.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 12:50PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Lol - this isn't my thread, it's your thread. I posted it so I could offer specific help/advice for those who wanted to improve the lot of their containerized Ficus - that would be you.

I have to say I was very impressed with your determination to get the roots of your tree straightened out. They were a nightmare & there was little doubt they were limiting your plant. I know your tree was a PARTICULAR chore, but you'll be glad for the work you did, and I promise next time (2 years?) it will be much easier. ;-)

Plenty of new growth is indicative of the fact you have enough root mass to support the current volume of foliage, which means you can now prune the top at will w/o concern that the plant will tolerate it.

It's unclear which branch you want to layer off, but there is no problem getting started on that now, If that's what you want to do.

If you decide to air layer a branch, don't remove any foliage from the branch you're layering. For the rest of the tree, I would first go through it and remove any branches growing straight up, straight down, or back toward the center of the tree. Then, I would remove any branches you feel detract from the appearance of the tree. If you want to see how the tree will look w/o the branch, just cover it with a cloth & see how things look with the branch "gone". It's an effective tool for visualization. Then, I would prune EVERY branch in the top 1/3 of the canopy back to 2 healthy leaves. The middle 1/3 of the tree gets pruned back to 3-4 leaves, depending on how thick the branches are (thicker branches get pruned harder & thinner branches not so hard. The bottom third doesn't get pruned, other than to keep the tree in bounds. Finally, I would reexamine the top and remove the heavier branches to further thin it out. Don't worry about the top - that's where the tree WANTS to allocate the most energy - your job is to discourage that so the lower branches don't weaken. That's partially how you manage the tree's energy to keep it looking good/natural. Figuring all this stuff out and applying it to fulfill your vision for the tree is extremely satisfying to me. It's not hard to imagine that others, having gained the information they need to manipulate their plants in similar fashion, would get the same sense of satisfaction from taking 'just growing plants' to another level. When I see enthusiasm and excitement and a sense of accomplishment in others, as in the last few posts, I just feel blessed to have been able to be a part of it.

You deserve the same praise for a job well done as the previous posted (GB). You both really impressed me.


    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 1:33PM
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Thank you for taking time to read & answer.

I never knew that pruning the roots to such extend is beneficial to a tree. I just used to prune off dead and damaged roots. Since joining the GW forum, I found tremendous amount of info.
Thank you for all your posts, I read them over & reffer to them all the times.
I read posts/questions by others & try to apply answers & tips to my own questions.

I hope that this ficus will survive & thrive, I'll be very happy if my first attemp will be success.

Last 2 photos in my previous post are showing that akward branch, it grows almost like it wanted to 'wrap around' the other branch. That's why I think it really doesn't belong there.
The 'Y' visible in 2nd photo is main trunk splitting in 2.

I'll try to visualize eventual look of this tree, I really want to shorten it over all (so I can keep it in the house) & have more even/balanced canopy. It will take me some time, hopefully will be able to figure it out.

I have one more question today: there is 'ugly' spot on main trunk where thicker branch was removed leaving a stub from branch (photo attached). How to clean it up? (using my beautiful new knob cutters?) and when?

Thank you again,

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 7:14PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's too difficult to envision what you're saying with only a 2D perspective. If you think the branch doesn't contribute to the composition or detracts from it, then just remove it. Anywhere you have 3 or more branches that join at the same point or very near to the same point, all but two of the branches should be removed. Use your knob cutters to cut the deadwood out so there is a concave hollow where the old branch is now. This minimizes scarring as the cambium rolls over the wound. If you remove a live branch, use your knob cutter to gouge out a slight hollow where the branch was. After the latex has stopped leaking from the wound, you can coat it with waterproof wood glue. This seals in the moisture and prevents the cambium from dying back from the wound. I use a twig to 'paint' the glue on the wound, but I'm careful not to get it on the undamaged bark. Make sure the wound is completely sealed, but don't overlap glue onto the undamaged bark because the cambium will have to grow around it.

In case anyone gets antsy about this practice flying in the face of what is considered sound pruning practices for trees in the landscape, I realize that and don't follow this procedure with trees in the ground; but these are houseplants, about which we have no need to be concerned with mechanical failure due to high wind, snow load, or other forces of nature, and the practice I just outlined significantly reduces scarring on containerized trees. Just thought I'd toss that in, in case any wondered.

I just finished all my tropical repots but one today. The only one left is the tree I defoliated for the demo I mentioned upthread. I'll repot that one on the 4th after the reflush is a little further along. I sort of took a chance and included 3 rosemary plants I usually repot in early May. I'd repotted one about a week ago & it handled it just fine, so .... I think I did the last 5 Ficus + the rosemaries today. It's a relief to be almost done - now I can get back to concentrating on the garden.


    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 8:58PM
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Thanks for the tips, again.
I remembered that you mentioned to keep just 2 branches emerging from the same spot.

I ment to comment and compliment on the last few photos you posted upthread, it's amazing what you can do with those trees. (They look great to me already!)
You mentioned rosemary - is it almost too late to repot those?
How about other trees, what would be latest to do

Our long weekend is almost over (Canada Day - and for me 43rd anniversary of arriving in Canada-yay!) - enjoy your 4th...


    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 10:25PM
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I have been reading your posts, Tapia, for several months now. I have tried to remedy the situaion with my Fiddle leaf Fig and now a different problem exists. When I had surgery in 2008, my husband gave me a large Fiddle leaf Fig. It has a braided trunk. It was not putting on any new leaves and several of the leaves were dark brown around the edges. I ended up taking it outside when it warmed up and repotted it. I did have to trim some of the roots. At first I had it in the full sun, but the new leaves that came out got burned so I moved it to partial shade and actually cut all the branches with the thought that I was probably killing it. It has begun putting on leaves all over and I am thrilled. Now I have a different problem. Most all of the leaves have a browny orange pattern on them and some have irregular shapes with the browny orange around the perimeter. I am thinking it is a fungus of some kind. I don't see any insects. I have bought some Organic type spray and sprayed with no help. I was pinching off the leaves that were the worst, but now they all have it. I don't want to just put a bunch of chemicals on it without knowing what I am treating. Can you help or provide suggestions?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 3:06PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Many Moraceous plants are affected by a disease called fig mosaic virus. Symptoms vary widely from species to species, with aficionados of the hardy fig (F carica) usually being intimately acquainted with it. It sounds like what you might be observing. You live where?

When you say "some have irregular shapes" are you referring to the leaves or the brownish/orange pattern? Would you say the brownish orange in the pattern could be described as the color rust? Would you say that there are leaves that have died or are in danger of dying, or does it appear that it might end up being what you would describe as primarily a cosmetic issue? If you have a lot of branching and leaves are malformed, are all leaves on some branches affected while only some leaves are affected on others? Are any leaves notably smaller than others? Is there any consistency to the spots in their location relative to leaf veins?

I'm sure it's a big disappointment to get by one issue only to have to face another.


    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 4:39PM
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Hi Al,
I have joined GW long time ago. My unsuccesses with houseplants brought me here and i've been reading every kind of advise given. Tried most of them and decided I LOVE gritty mix best. Everything was explained to perfection and my ficuses, cacti and succulents are really good looking. Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to do that for us.
So, I took care of the roots, and that's important. I can't seem to do the pruning right as far as how the plant branches after that. I'll post my ficus photo when I'm ready to prune and see what I'm doing wrong.
It's coming out very strong after repot. How long do I have to do some heavy pruning?
Thanks a lot

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 8:19PM
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I live in Alabama. I have looked up pictures of the Fig Mosaic Virus you mentioned and don't think that is the problem. The spots are rusty colored. I will go take pictures and see if I can figure out how to upload them. Thank you so much for responding.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 8:57PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Mecrn - I'll wait on your picture. In case I can't see clearly enough, please let me know if there is a conspicuous halo around the spots, or if they just gradually change color from the center outward.

If you can save your photos to your computer, when you select the 'browse' button above the text box in your next reply it should take you to your libraries. Find the photo you want to load, right click on it, and select the 'select' option.

.... and you're welcome. Sorry I neglected to thank YOU for the kind words, too. Glad to be of help.

Niada - It's always rewarding to learn that our efforts have made a difference. How little incentive there would be for spending time here if not for the ability to think it makes a difference. Thank YOU for taking the time to share your thoughts.

... really glad to hear the tree is rebounding smartly! How heavy is 'heavy pruning' - and what ficus are we talking about? I'm sure we can come up with a pruning plan when you share your pic(s).

BTW - you guys both get high marks for tackling the repots/root work.


    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 10:10PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

This is a wonderful post, and any tree with the label ficus, whether benjamina, carica, or anything following Ficus, does have roots that can lift a building and topple it like an earthquake. Trust me, we just paid for a structural engineer to tell us to rip up an entire slab due to root invasion and cracks. This was NOT a cheap fix. We did it on an inherited property, and it was necessary to sell the property. The sale is done, but we lost a lot of profit due to somebody planting a ficus too close to a house!

Containerizing is the best unless you have a couple acres to plant ficus anything trees away from your house.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 1:10PM
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Trying to figure out how to post the pics. Here goes a try. My tree looks even worse today. I sure don't want to lose it. Thank you for helping me.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 5:58PM
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I can't figure out how to do it all on one post. Sorry.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 6:01PM
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This is a larger view. It has a braided trunk.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 6:09PM
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Like I said before, I have been spraying it with a spray I got at Lowe's. I know it has Neem Oil in it. I haven't sprayed with any other systemic fungicide. I am thinking it is a fungus and don't know what to do to it. Of significance is the fact that it has been inside for the past 4 years and this is the first time I have taken it outside. I took it out to repot and trim and tried to follow directions you had posted to others. After I took it out, it was over 100 degrees for days. I kept it watered well and have been thrilled to see all the new spots where leaves are forming. Over the past couple of weeks it has been quite humid and actually has rained a lot so I haven't had to water it. I wonder if the amount of rain has contributed to the problem? What do you suggest? Thank you again for your help!

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 6:17PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's not FMV.

It sounds like you repotted; then possibly, over-watering, high heat, a high level of salts (did you fertilize?), or any combination working in concert, caused some spoilage of the foliage's appearance, which you took for disease instead of a cultural complication. You sprayed, and the tree had a seriously negative reaction to the spray for some reason as yet unknown, but probably spraying in high heat. Does this sound chronologically accurate/possible, or am I missing something? Sorry to ask, but can you describe the symptoms that made you think you needed to spray? Was it leaf margins/tips dying?

The bark doesn't look right. It looks like it's dying in areas. I'm not sure what it is, but the plant is in serious trouble. If You have a bed where you can bury the pot & all in the shade for a couple of months, that's what I would do, and stop spraying. Water regularly and hope for the best.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 10:04PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

We use neem all the time on our plants, BUT we never spray in the heat of the day. Mostly just before sundown, so the sun doesn't burn the leaves. We do neem on a regular schedule. My husband keeps the records, but I think it's monthly. It's not too often.

I think burying the container in the shade is a great idea. I had a ficus carica in a container in full sun. They love sun! But what they don't love is when their roots get baked in the container. I found out the hard way, soaked my ficus good, then hit it with a good dose of Miracle Grow, put it in the shade, and now it thrives! It's very hot here in summer. 110 degrees is average.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 10:51AM
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silentsurfer(6A OH)

ficus, f. 'golden gate' (meehans) indoor grown,
~semi-decent~ taper, NO branch ramification,

...about 5~days ago i removed the upper-middle leaves (beyond where there's any branching) in anticipation of removing the top (6 inches or so) of the tree via air-layer, or simple 'cutting'.

would luv some input on how. when, where (specifically),, and/or Any other general remarks/advice for the tree if anyones interested.

i'd initially thought to simply take the top as an cutting, making an diagonal cut immediately above, and roughly parrallel to the top-most branch.
..although about an inch directly above that spot is a nice little ~bulged~? spot (where it was likely cut once before my ownership?) which would seem another likely candidate (spot).

the 'trunk' at that location is about 3/16 inch thick,,

air (or likely "Pot" layering?) could likely be (slightly) impeeded by the uppermost branch,, though i suppose i could go higher up, or accept the best angle it allows,,,,

my spagnum moss is several yrs old (yellowed) is that bad?
while ive had reasonable succcess with ficus (retusa) cuttings, this subject is relatively small (diameter) for 'layering', perhaps a simple cutting would prove best?

regarding the branches, should i pinch out the growing tips to encourage ramification?
All of them at once? lower ones only??
can/should i take the cutting AND pinch the tips all at one time? (the plant seems reasonably healthy, is actively growing)

if layered, need i actually remove the bark + cambium, or could i simply 'girdle' a perimeter with wire??

if layered, should the moss cover the removed (bark) area? how far above and/or below that area should be moss-covered?

and finally (i hope/think?) what happens to any 'trunk' area (eventually) severed below where roots actually form? does it die-off? callus? remain intact untill (perhaps?) roots may later form? I guess im basically asking where can i anticipate to severe in relation to the removal of bark or girdling (if applicable)? ... as i might not be able to see precisely where the roots've formed without damaging them early on...

appreciate any comments/criticisms :)

ps: couldnt figure how to upload multiple images to show overall specimen :x

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 7:19PM
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silentsurfer(6A OH)

edit: pic

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 7:22PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You can post multiple images by first uploading your photos to a web-based storage site (like Photobucket), then copy/pasting the HTML code from below the photo into the text box.

How about posting a couple of larger pictures so we can see what's going on - size of the tree, branch arrangement, etc. I'm sure we can form a plan. Your tree comes pretty easily from cuttings - I think I have 4 F microcarpa cuttings rooted right now as give-aways.

You saw the branch I prepared as a cutting this afternoon

Here's another that is already rooted and will be interesting in a year or so - F salicifolia

and this one (also salicifolia) I packed up and sent to a budding bonsai artist friend in VA because she thought it was cute. ;-)

.... but you can also layer if you want. It's not that difficult. The moss you have should be fine, even if it's old & yellow - as long as it's sphagnum moss - yes?

You can use a double wrap of wire to girdle, or a zip tie or two, or ring the bark completely for a distance = to 1.5x the diameter of the branch. When you air layer a branch, after you sever the layer, the branch usually dies back to the next living branch - is that your question? You can use moss in a plastic wrapping or soil in a modified pot to layer. The moss should extend about an inch above and below the girdle. If you use soil, the upper part of the layer should always be above any perched water your soil would support (hopefully none)/ There are a number of ways of attaching a pot so it's stable, if your tree is large enough to allow using a pot.


    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 9:03PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Great looking trees AL!!

The little cuttings to start as potential Bonsai are precious!!

Thanks for posting those pics.

Great information here on this thread...

That little ficus is looking great!! : )

Good luck to everyone posting with their trees!!!

Take Care,


    Bookmark   August 27, 2012 at 9:52PM
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silentsurfer(6A OH)

hey Al,
Thanks mista, forgot i even (had) a PB account,
..turns out im 'Banned for violating TOS' wtf?? ..maybe it sat idle for too long?

i just spent over 2 hrs summarizing my post reply too lol
im soo disgusted right now....
i'll try back when ive more time to fool with it,,
Thanks for the reply tho, appreciate it. :)

    Bookmark   August 27, 2012 at 10:02PM
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silentsurfer(6A OH)

hey guys, Al,,
srry bout the delay/confusion,, i had some issues w/PBucket, general navigational-floundering, and then got way sidetracked w/work (overnight trips to s. Mich.) and such,,

Al, yes i saw your cuttings, and the split-trunk salicifolia, im always amazed at what your able to root!

Ive had semi-reasonable success rate w/(smaller) f. retusa, and here recently Im trying about 35 cuttings of various sized (f. microcarpa?) garnered from pruned clippings performed on a walk-in visitors plant at our recent fall Bonsai show at the Krohn (conservatory, here in Cinti.) [yea, like im too proud to sweep up after em hehe]

I saw Rinas (then) recently posted success w/layering her f. benjamina,
[Al - ficus Benjamina air layer]
and got kinda anxious (about 3 weeks ago now?) and took the plunge.

At your suggestion i used the moss (i had/have), stripped the bark at about 1.5x, and used the 'pot' method,, began waiting w/fingies crossed and eyedropper at-the-ready...
As i was summating this reply i thought to check on the plant (which ive been keeping just slightly dryer) and upon inspecting the layer, sure enough there is definite signs of rooting!

The roots appear to be trying to circle the bottom of the pot, and growing towards the taped 'slit',, kinda hard to photograph (especially after all the java ive had lol)
but i'll try again later,, kinda excited!
Thanks soo much! :)
ss SilentFicusCrazySurfer

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 12:22PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Good job - that should work just fine, even though the part you're layering should have come easily as a cutting. You only need the rooting aid on the exposed cambium at the top of the wound. Make sure you post a picture of the plant as viable after separating the layer! Once you get that propagating bone, it's hard to resist sticking at least half of what you cut off & trying to turn it into another plant.

I've talked about my old (soon to be 100) friend Fred very often. His kids tried sooo hard to get him to 'wind down' as a plantsman, and as hard as he tried, even while he was living in an assisted living facility, he just couldn't stop propagating everything he could get his hands on. He had plants growing everywhere you looked - indoors and out. He's in a different kind of care facility now because of some health issues, and he can't have plants. I don't know if you've ever seen those little solar powered dancing daisies before, but I took him a couple for his windowsill. They're soo cool, and they make everyone smile. I ordered a whole case (48) of them, just to give to friends and people on whose face I want to see a smile. The colors are much brighter than they look in the video. I sure wish I was the guy that invented these things - instant millionaire - people actually stand in line to get 'em at the Dollar Store before it opens - took me 3 months to find them in stock anywhere so I could order. Anyway - Fred loved his daisies, and that's what counts.


    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 1:48PM
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silentsurfer(6A OH)

hahaa i Have seen em, theyre Everywhere! ..and completly Adorable lol

just last week an elderly gentleman was standing over his opened car hood, as i pulled up and parked alongside him, eager to get in the gym, i had to ask, 'everything alright?' he stood there, leaning up, snot about to drip from his nose, (tho it was still in the mid-60's) and i could see he was obviously trying to fill his washer fluid,, but, 'its a new, Full bottle, and i dont want to spill it all over the place', 'could use a funnel' he explained. well, (short story) his pocket knife, an empty Powerade bottle from the floor of my car, and we were in business. He said he was 97, a veteran, ...thought i was a 'genius' lol
and dont ya know, just that, made (me) feel way better than it ever could've him.
so, now, i think i know where your comin from Al when you say why you do the things you do. :)

anyhoo, hey a cpl Questions, if/when youve a min't please :)

i think im gonna be severing here soon, should i try to bare-root the layer?
i know their gonna be frail (roots) but recent experience with 'potting up' is akin to taking a wet sponge (sphagnum), and burying it into a bowl of marbles (gritty mix) guess what happens when watering?? lol next time i'll use soil/gritty in the cup/pot. :)

also, on another thread, RE: Plastic Wrap on Fused Ficus
you mentioned what i'll call 'a prelude to taking a cutting' technique, where we would choose a cutting from the South side of the plant, girdle it, and wrap w/reversed electrical tape,,,

how long would you leave it girdled and wrapped for, before taking the cutting?

(regarding this layer) is there anything i can (should) do now to initiate a good flat root base as its starting up? their kinda growing upward and starting to encircle the pot already.... :x

im also wondering, Why the south side? Do plants recognize a sense of direction?
cuz if a plant recognizes direction, then should i rotate my houseplants in a fashion consistent /complimentary to that?

the Sun sets in the west, effectively it 'travels' east to west, because the Planet spins in an opposite direction, a counterclockwise rotation (when viewed from the top) thus a 'normal' stationary plant effectively rotates CCW (with the Earth) in relationship to its light source (the Sun)
should i try to mimic that when im rotating houseplants? ... or just face the neediest side to my window as i see fit?
....or Maybe,, the south side is just typically the strongest/most vigorous??
srry i gotta git lol Al Thanks a bunch mr! :)

btw i also have some f. microcarpa cuttings (from the Bonsai Show) rooting! a ziplock baggie! hehe good things goin on :)

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 10:57PM
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Hello, I have been reading these ficus forums for weeks and have learned an incredible amount of info about water retention, fast soils, root pruning, etc., and have finally taken the plunge!
Thank you so much for all the helpful info shared. So appreciated!
We recently bought a 5 ft tall Ficus Lyrata (fiddle leaf fig), trunk with leaves on upper 1/3 to 1/2 that was rootbound and had a couple of good size roots in
a ring on top of the soil. This ring was pretty stiff and felt like a hoop around the top!

This is my first time doing anything like this, and after reading for over a week, I bare-rooted it the other night
after cutting off the bottom 2 inches or so, but then I lost my nerve. I am concerned about how much/which roots to trim.

My goals for the plant are:

to keep or increase the size of the canopy over time
probably keep it about the same height, maybe a foot taller
keep it healthy/ increase the vitality
maintain the tree-like shape (don't want a bush-shape)

I'm planning on repotting it into a pot slightly smaller than the nursery pot it came in.
The slightly smaller size is to allow us to move the pot more easily for proper watering, etc.
It is terracotta clay with glazing on the outside.

The "hoop" ended up being two wrap around roots that are now teased out (which took a very long time!),
but I don't know if I should cut them off, or if so, where? They are super long compared to the other roots.

I really like the larger exposed roots coming from the trunk on top of the soil, and would like to keep those for visual interest.
One of the "hoop" roots comes from the longest exposed root. There are also a couple of small drinking-straw type exposed roots coming from an inch and half or so up the trunk down into the soil that I don't know what to do about.
Lastly, there is a thick root in the under mass, is this the taproot? And should it be cut?

I have my gritty mix ready to go, but for now I the plant is back in it's nursery pot, covered in the original (now much fluffier!) soil, which
I will wash off when I'm sure I'll make the right cuts.

Any guidance is appreciated! Thank you!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 9:12PM
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Tap root? I haven't been able to find much info about what to do about this type of root.. My apologies if my terminology is incorrect.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 9:14PM
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Pre- bare-rooting. (notice trunk being supported by rayon mop- ready for my wick!!)

I have a few other pics of the under mass and other views, if requested.
Thanks again!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 9:19PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I read your list of goals, and even though it seems obvious, I'll mention that ordering your priorities such that a healthy plant is at the top of the list makes achieving the rest of your goals much easier. ;-) That said, you should be applauded for putting together a plan that puts you in charge of the plant's well-being, instead of acting as a co-partner where the plant has more say in its future than you do. There is no reason your tree can't live in good health for several generations in a container if you're willing to help it.

The heavy roots need to be pruned back to a smaller root close enough to the trunk that as the root continues to mature, it is radiating away from the stem. If you like the roots that occur above the soil line, you can keep them if you like (prop roots), but they should turn and grow horizontally once they enter the soil. The object of root pruning is to first remove all roots that promise future problems. These would be roots growing straight up or straight down (especially those roots growing downward from immediately below the trunk), encircling or girdling roots, roots growing back toward the middle of the root mass, crossing roots, and any j-hooked or otherwise deformed roots. Once that pruning work is done, you want to focus on making pruning cuts that both eliminate large roots and tend to promote a root mass that radiates outward from the base of the trunk.

Good example:

This plant was almost certainly from a cutting, so doesn't have a taproot per se. It will tend to have several roots that grow almost straight down and would serve to anchor the plant if it was planted out. Those roots serve no purpose in a container, and should be removed at the earliest opportunity.

Try to keep in mind that you will need to correct the worst root problems over 2-4 repotting sessions. You shouldn't remove more than 2/3 of the plant's fine roots in one repotting session until you're experienced enough to judge how well the plant will tolerate the hard pruning, based on its state of vitality when you begin the work. I regularly remove up to 3/4 of the roots of healthy trees, or even more, at one session if I'm sure the plant will be able to tolerate the work.

Any questions?

More instructions for repotting at the link below.


Here is a link that might be useful: More about trees in containers if you click me!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 1:38PM
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Hello Al, Thank you so very much for your response. I am truly so excited to receive your sage advice about my plant. Yes, agreed, health is #1!

OK, so after reading your post, here are the cuts I'm considering (in no particular order):

1. Trim woody "ring" root back to the large exposed root, selecting a horizontal to keep. That ring root is pretty big, so this will remove a fair amount of mass.

2. Trim back softer (but longer!) 2nd ring root to an appropriate point, this will also remove a fair amount of mass as there are loads of capillary looking roots on this near its tip.

3. If I understand correctly, the woody root coming straight down from the center on the underside of the plant should be removed up to the main trunk/root. This also applies to similar roots I may find once the trimming beginning.

4. Those 3 root trims will remove a fair amount of total root mass, so will likely do just a bit of trimming of the remaining smaller roots to encourage a shape similar to your example above and in the III pictures.

5. The two small straw-like prop/air roots, seen in one of my photos above, can be removed if I choose. Is this correct?

Thanks so much for including the link to Trees in Containers III. Amazingly had not come upon that one yet (I've read hundreds of your posts by now Al! :) ) and I am so happy to see those additional photos.

I am sooo very excited about this! Learning this information and applying it has been and is so fun and stimulating! I can't wait to see where this will be in a year when I will likely take it out to check on the roots and make additional root trims.

Lastly- Plant is in zone 7b, It is currently living next to a sheer-curtain covered south facing window (bright indirect light). Should the light conditions be changed initially after root pruning and re-potting? If so, for how long? And, would the plant be happier under nursery cloth outdoors for the time being as long as nighttime temps permit?

This post was edited by EadieS on Sun, Jul 28, 13 at 16:13

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 3:21PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Yes - I agree with all you plan to do. Part of your enthusiasm is probably due to waking to the realization that you can actually take control and guide your plantings in ways that bring your visions to fruition while keeping the plant happy, instead of following the plants lead.

I would encourage you to move the plant outdoors into open or dappled shade, or to a spot where it gets morning and late afternoon sun. The additional air movement, coupled with the repot, should produce a lot of back-budding. Because F. lyrata is slow to back-bud, you might not notice it until well after you've brought the tree in for the winter or until next spring.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 6:47PM
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Thanks so much Al! You are correct on the source of my enthusiasm, and truly, I never would have known about any of this or even considered attempting if it weren't for you and your excellent, informative, extremely generous posts. Very inspiring to see a person give so much of himself to help others!

I read the Trees in containers link, too, and it has helped imbue a bit more confidence regarding this undertaking.

thanks again AL!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 6:56PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 7:32PM
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Hi Al,

OK - all cuts were made, and unfortunately there were not many small roots once those long ring roots were cut out - also, there was a 2nd set (!) of two woody ring roots a couple of inches in, and about 5 inches under the surface. Lots of woody roots. Still, when it was done, I felt like the tree might be saying "Ahhh, I can breathe again!". The remaining roots seemed to have a nice shape, even if there were fewer small roots than I had hoped.

I have been searching the forums to find info about optimal watering after barerooting and repotting, and I finally found something!

Here is the repost for any users who may be follow/read this in the future:
Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
Sun, Apr 1, 12 at 11:16

"".............. When you first transplant, you need to keep the soil moist in the part of the pot occupied by roots..........""

I'm hoping I found this info in time as the top of my plant is drooping a bit, even at the top of the canopy. Keeping my fingers crossed that keeping it moist from here will do it good. And that it might perk up again.

I guess a question might be- Is it best to keep it moist until you see the plant "normalize", or for a specific period or time, or is there a particular marker I should know about or watch for? Also, about when to begin fertilizing?

Many, many thanks!

    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 10:35PM
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Update: Has lost 6 large leaves off the bottom, and the canopy is still drooping. I think it has drooped down further over the past few days. I am keeping the gritty mix moist for the roots. Should I consider misting the canopy or misting with diluted Foliage-Pro? I understand there is an adjustment period. Just want to be sure I am following the proper procedure to give the plant the best shot at recovery. Thank you.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2013 at 2:16PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you know most of your roots are in the upper 1/3 or 1/2 of the pot, you should water daily, especially if the pot is deep. Start fertilizing 2 weeks after you repot, or as soon as you see the plant pushing new growth.

Don't mist with any sort of dissolved solids in solution. Misting doesn't help plants anyway, though raising ambient humidity would help the plant keep the top hydrated and help to reduce leaf loss as a drought response.


    Bookmark   August 4, 2013 at 7:50PM
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Thank you for responding! Very helpful info. Yes, the roots are in the top 1/2 to 1/3, so will definitely be watering at least daily. I have moved the plant to a bright (skylight) bathroom. It is in bright, indirect light, and I've been keeping the bathroom closed-up and humidity at 50-70%, so hopefully that will help. It is a pretty dry climate here, so really hoping the increased humidity will reduce the stress. Thanks again, and any comments or suggestions are most welcome. :)

    Bookmark   August 6, 2013 at 9:37PM
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One quibble:

"This 'reverse osmosis' causes plasma to be torn ..."
End quote.

That's regular osmosis, not reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis is a method of water purification, where you apply pressure to move water from the saltier side of a membrane to the less-salty side.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2013 at 10:36AM
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Hi Al,
I have read many of your posts and have been very impressed with your knowledge of fiddle leaf figs and other plants. I have a question regarding the propagation of new f. lyratas.

I currently have three FLFs, and chose to do some pruning towards the end of the summer. Using the apical meristems that I cut off from the branches off the tree, I used rooting hormone and 100% vermiculite to attempt to propagate. I also used saran wrap around each leaf cutting to make a greenhouse-like effect.

About a month later, several of the cuttings had developed roots. Feeling that they needed a better container, I moved 3 of the cuttings to a new pot (all together in the pot) and another single cutting with roots to a different pot.

I mixed some houseplant miracle grow fertilizer in with the vermiculite to attempt to give the plants some nutrients. I did not use a large amount.

My question is, have a done the right thing for transplanting the successfully rooted cuttings, and what is your suggestion for going forward? I would like to have some healthy and beautiful plants for the future, and so I wanted to see if I was on the right track. I couldn't find any information regarding my question in any previous posts, so that is why I post this in an attempt to get your expert advice! Thanks so much! :)

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 12:00PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thanks for the kind words. You couldn't have been too far off if your cuttings rooted successfully. ;-)

I might not have used vermiculite as the rooting medium, choosing coarse perlite, screened DE (floor dry from NAPA stores), BB size sand/gravel, or the soil I use for all my trees - the gritty mix. Vermiculite is very water retentive and tends to compact under any significant pressure, including the weight of water. Still, congratulations on your patience and success.

Moving forward, I would suggest that you use a suitable soil, which to me is a soil that drains well enough that you can water copiously (so a significant fraction of the water you applied exits the pot's drain hole) at will, without having to worry that the fact you did water copiously might cause root rot or inhibit root function due to lack of air (O2) in the root zone. That's probably the most important decision you'll make. If you can keep temps between 65-90*, keep the plant in very bright light, and fertilize at regular intervals with a fertilizer that has an appropriate NPK ratio (different than the NPK %s reported on the container), you should have some healthy and attractive plants into the immediate future. For long term care, some knowledge of pruning and how to manage roots will quickly (in tree time) become increasingly important. Once you get the pruning and root work established as a regular part of your maintenance schedule, there is no reason your trees shouldn't be happy healthy for as long as they're properly cared for.

Have you decided if you want your plants to be single stemmed or multi-stemmed ..... or some of each? If there is anything you didn't understand, or you need additional help on, just ask.


    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 12:00PM
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Thanks Al for your response! I will definitely change out the vermiculite soon (probably won't be able to do it until Friday) but I will use the gritty mixture when I change out the mixture. I think I would like them to be multistems, but branch at a taller place than my current FLF.

That leads me to a second question I now have. My other three FLFs that I have, which I have had for 1 year or less will need to go into the gritty mixture. My question is when should I go ahead and change them into the mixture? I haven't done root work as you discuss on the forums, and I am certainly open to doing that. However, being that it is October, I am guessing now might not be the best time to do root work. Should I transplant anyway?

My tallest and biggest FLF has brown spots, however, these spots have been minimized since watering less frequently and also allowing the water I use to sit for a day before putting it on the plant (As to allow the chlorine to evaporate out). Do you believe that using the gritty mixture will help some of the brown spots? I know I am not overwatering, however, I will still occasionally have new spots develop. Additionally, I have had gnats inside in the past, and as attempt to get rid of the gnats I put sand on top of the exposed soil (I read online that this was a solution). What are you thoughts on this? I know sand is not particularly conducive to draining well; however, I do not have many other options for getting rid of the gnats.

Last question, now that I have the expert's attention! Do light green, softer leaves indicate dry soil conditions? When I recently bought my third FLF (from the grocery store for only $10!- and good sized too!) it had softer, greener leaves, which have since become harder. Can you tell me a little bit about this?

I can post pictures if you need help answering these questions I have asked. I hope I don't seem demanding- just excited about prospects with these plants and that I have expert help. Thank you so much!!! :)

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 8:58PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

How about those pictures? If the plants are barely rooted, you can rinse off a little vermiculite & pot up into a much larger pot (if using a well-made gritty mix). With any soil that porous, there is no such thing as over-potting.

In many cases, the brown spots on leaves are indication of over-watering and/or a soil too water retentive, or over-fertilizing/a high level of salts in the soil, but not always. There is no way for me to guess at what might have caused the spots. I can say though, that once you get the plants into an appropriate soil so you can water copiously, and get the plants on a good fertilizing schedule, the likelihood of spoiled foliage goes way down. Of course, the foliage already blemished won't heal itself, but as new leaves come in and the old leaves drop, your plant should start looking better & better as time goes on.

You really shouldn't have a problem with chlorine when you water straight from the tap, and most water supplies now use a form of chlorine with a long half life, so it really doesn't gas off. There is no harm in leaving your water rest for a day or more, though, before you use it. I'd guess salt accumulation or the effects of soil saturation over-watering rather than chlorination as the source of the blemished leaves.

If you DO use the gritty mix, I doubt you'll have gnat issues. The surface dries quickly, and there is little in the way of decaying matter for them to binge on. If you do have gnats because some plants are still in a water-retentive soil, there are fixes, so please ask about that if it's a problem in your plant.

Young leaves are usually a lighter green, and in some plants they can be a completely different color. As the leaves mature, they 'harden off' and take on the appearance of leaves that are already mature. That's probably what you're seeing.

You don't seem demanding - just enthusiastic. The people I enjoy helping most are the enthusiastic and/or determined. It's hard to push someone up a ladder if they don't want to climb, so we're ALL quick to heave to and help those who do.


    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 10:10PM
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Here are the photos. First the big tree- just so you can see what you think and give advice.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 1:35PM
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photo 2 of tree 1

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 1:44PM
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Not sure I'm positive about the reason for these leaves on tree one

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 1:46PM
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tree #2. much smaller. probably about 4 feet. (tree 1 at its tallest branch is proably about 5'9'')

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 1:47PM
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Tree three. from grocery store

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 1:48PM
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cutting #1 that rooted

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 1:49PM
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4 other cuttings that rooted. They are potted in 1 pot until I figured out what to do with them.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 1:50PM
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One other question- Where can I find all the supplies for the gritty mix? Can I order all of them online? I had trouble finding the first part, the uncomposted pine portion.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 1:53PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Where do you live?


    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 9:34PM
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I made a separate post that I'm not sure if I should have included here. It's about my new fiddle leaf fig and some concerning spots on the leaves and stem.

Here's a link with lots of photos I uploaded. I would appreciate any advice!

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 11:50AM
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I have been reading a couple of threads on ficus' and have read a couple of
Posts on pruning the ficus elastica but am afraid of pruning this plant given that many of my other plants that I've pruned have always branched out to become a bushy mess. If I wanted to keep the ficus elastica to have one dominant stem like it does in the photo and create some back budding (like where the leaves were lost due to natural growth at the bottom of the plant) how can I go about doing that? I live in a tropical climate and these elasticas are going to be placed indoors. 3 weeks ago I had reported them as it came from a nursery with 5 stems in a pot do I decided to split them into two pots and I trimmed some of the roots while doing so. It has started sprouting again and I have not added any fertiliser yet apart from coffee grinds.

I really want to keep it at this height without it branching out. Could anyone explain to me the best way into going about doing this?

Also, the place I bought it from nursed the elastica indoors and prior to reporting I had a schedule of moving the elastica indoors for 5 days and taking it out to have sunlight for 2 days in the week - it seems to do well but I'm wondering if it could stay indoors for a lot longer. The area indoors receives indirect western sunlight.

Thanks in abundance![user]=99282957&filters[recent]=1&sort=1&o=1[user]=99282957&filters[recent]=1&sort=1&o=3[user]=99282957&filters[recent]=1&sort=1&o=0

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 9:55AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

EW - see your other post.

Rick - not all plants are pruned the same way, and this is especially true of plants that will sort of be under the microscope - like bonsai, and houseplants you'll really get a close look at. I'm not taking a shot at your pruning ability when I say that you need a pretty good understanding of what/how to prune a particular plant if your ministrations are to be productive.

Back-budding and your ability to entice the lower part of a rubber tree to retain foliage depends on several things, one being a pot large enough that roots are afforded room to run. Tight roots + shedding of older an d interior foliage, so leaves tends concentrate mostly around apices (growing tips of branches). The leaves you want to keep need to have good light contacting their surfaces, and back-budding is stimulated both by good light and air movement. Also, your nutritional program needs to be up to par. If it isn't, your plant will cannibalize older leaves, translocating the nutrients and other reusable bio compounds in older leaves to newly emerging leaves before shedding the former. Your coffee-grounds are, without question, going to be a limiting factor as your plant's sole source of nutrition, and the alkaloid compounds in coffee grounds are known to have allelopathic properties (to be growth inhibitors).

You can't keep a plant at a certain height w/o it branching out. If a plant isn't growing, it's dying, so SOME growth is essential to a plant's existence. When you terminate the top (the leader), it will force back-budding behind the terminating cut. That's how plants react. You can subsequently limit the LENGTH and number of leaves that occur on the new branches, but you can't stop the tree from growing.

Moving a plant back and forth from bright to relatively dim indoor conditions is probably not a good plan. When a plant grows a leaf, that leaf will be most efficient at carrying on photosynthesis under the light conditions in which it grew. Changes from that light level result in less efficient photosynthesis, and often shedding of foliage. This is especially true when the move is from bright light to dim, but it also occurs to some degree in dim to bright movement if the difference in light levels is significant.


    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 1:42PM
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Hi, I bought a Fiddle leaf fig 3 months ago. It has grown quit a few new leaves on top but has gradually started to brown in different places. I have watered it periodically but maybe not enough. No fertilizer or anything because I didn't know to do that until I read through this forum today. Today I took it outside and gave it a good watering and showered the leaves as well. Should it be bushy like this or only have leaves on top? What could be causing the browning and holes in some leaves and should it have 3 seperate trees all in one pot? It was in perfect condition coming from the greenhouse I purchased it from, so I know it's something I've done. Thank you.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 1:41AM
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I tried posting 2 images but one didn't show.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 1:45AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you can eliminate mechanical injury as the cause of the appearance problems, you should look to root health/function issues as the most likely cause for spoiled foliage. Mechanical injury might include things like bruising of foliage during transport, wind injury ..... anything that damages the plant from the outside in. Inside out problems occur most often as a result of issues that arise from problems with a triangle formed by soil choice, watering habits, and the ability to maintain nutritional conditions so they favor the plant.

When you water, you should be able to flush the soil thoroughly whenever you want or need to, without having to worry that the soil is going to remain wet so long that root function or root health is compromised. If you can't, you're going to be fighting against the soil for the life of the planting - at least from repot to repot until you get the plant in an appropriate soil that DOES allow you to water copiously at will. The top of the plant gets all the attention, but a healthy top isn't possible w/o a healthy bottom.

Get yourself a 5/16" thick wood dowel rod from a hardware and sharpen it in a pencil sharpener. Insert it deep into the pot when you think the plant might need water. If it comes out wet or with moist soil stuck to it, wait to water.

At this point, the largest step forward you can make will come from understanding how water behaves in soils according to how they are structured. Once you gain an understanding of that part of growing, the rest will fall into place quickly & easily.

I'm going to suggest that you read this overview first. When you've finished that, please take a little time to read how water behaves in soils. Please be sure to list any questions you think of as you read, and please don't be shy about asking them. The fastest way to a green thumb is by learning how to identify and eliminate the factors that are limiting your plants. The roots are the most logical place to start - what a shame so few give them the attention they deserve.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 9:17PM
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This forum is VERY helpful. Thank you all to those who have contributed.

18 months ago during Superstorm Sandy here in NYC I lost heat and power for two weeks and during that time my new acquired fiddle leaf tree went into serious shock. The tree lost almost all it's leaves and I was panicking.

I put the tree in a strict reigning with regular waters and gave it superthrive once spring rolled around. I was able to stabilize the tree and within a 9 months later new branches and growth popped.

As you can see in the picture there are still two long branches at top that are mostly bare with the exception of 3-4 leaves at the end. It's been 18 months since the storm and I feel like now is the right time to action to trim the tree or do something else to a) cure the bare spot in the middle of the tree and b) give the other new branches space to grow.

However, I'm not sure if I should just cut them at the base or take a different course. Suggestions would be very much welcomed. Thank you.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 2:27PM
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grrr4200(z3 MI)

Al, i for one would LOVE to see pictures of your ficus trees! I sent you an email through here but im unsure how to find out if you got it and or see if you wrote me back... Could you post pictures?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 1:41AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

AE - it would be nice if we could see pictures of your tree every 90* to get a better feeling for how it branches. It's too difficult to look at only one view of a picture rotated 90* and try to give any kind of meaningful advice. I can say though, that if you've never repotted, that would be a step I would take prior to any pruning. I'd probably repot around Father's Day and do the pruning around the 4th of July. That's easiest on the tree and ensures the opportunity for the fastest recovery.

Grrr - Most of the pictures I take of my bonsai aren't taken when they look their best. I usually take pictures before and/or after pruning and repotting so I can see the development of the plant, but here are a few pictures you might find interesting:

A Ficus b "Too Little" start (cutting) that has struck and is on its way to being a bonsai

Another Ficus salicifolia start. Ficus come easy from large cuttings once you get the hang of it:

Ficus salicifolia, the source of the cutting above. This tree has been partially defoliated and is ready to wire. The top was moving in the wrong direction, so I beheaded it and left the stub to tie the new leader to. The stub will be removed once the new top has taken a 'set'. The tree looks messy because it's not wired and you can't get a sense of depth from a 2D picture. I actually wired this tree at a dinner demonstration at an art studio fund raiser where the theme was Asian Art. It was lots of fun.

Ficus b "Too Little", again - before pruning

After pruning:

Same tree as above before root pruning:

.... and after:

A Ficus b - several young plants approach grafting (fusing - or as Tiffany would say ..... inosculating)

Just for fun, these are before and after pictures of a snapdragon grown indoors:

Green lacewing eggs on a benjamina leaf:

Inosculating (fusing)

A root-over-rock composition in its early stages:


    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 10:51PM
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grrr4200(z3 MI)

Very awesome Al thanks for sharing. I Have a Ficus Tree for you. Well it's a start anyways, its my favorite ficus to date. my email is if you could shoot me an email:)


    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 1:25AM
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Hi Al, thanks for agreeing to offer advice on how I can best deal with the aftermath of having a piece of ceiling collapse onto my fig tree!

Quick summary of background: colleague had a weeping fig in the office; she nearly killed it; I adopted it (around 7 years ago); it thrived (despite having a noticeable bald section lower down); it became too big for the desk and I took it home; it continued to do okay, becoming quite a large plant (approx. 1.25-1.50m tall and reasonably nice shape, although a bit bare lower down); a few weeks ago a section of water-damaged ceiling (really heavy Victorian moulding) collapsed directly onto my plant, breaking off/tearing most of the branches on the way down - a scene of [almost] complete devastation! It was a bit upsetting! I'd grown to love the plant, and admire it's resilience.

I performed emergency pruning, removing the torn/ripped/smashed branches, and cutting (sawing, actually) back to a nice clean cut, leaving the 2-3 lower branches that survived. I also took a number of cuttings, thinking the plant might be a goner. A proportion of the cuttings appear to have taken, some have not (I didn't really know what I was doing, so hedged my bets and took 10 cuttings of varying woodiness).

The plant itself is now obviously not very attractive - a main trunk and some larger branches of around 1/2 to 3/4 inch diameter, cut clean at about 40-50cm height, with 2-3 surviving branches mainly on one side. BUT it survived and is starting to shoot from all over, including direct from the trunk at and immediately below the cut.

My question is: what should I do now? I can't leave it like it is because it looks ridiculous. I just left any undamaged branches alone while it got over the shock of losing most of its greenery. I would like to cut it right back to the main stem only, maybe around 25-30cm high, in order to get a more symmetrical plant. Do you think this is likely to be successful? Should I do it now, before it puts more effort into new growth that I will probably lop-off later, or should I let it recover more first? It also seems like a sensible time to prune the roots, but maybe I should do either one or the other, not both at the same time? Might that be too much for it to deal with?

I have read a lot of your posts, which are excellent, and helpful, but I'm not 100% sure what I should do in this specific case. Based on what I've read, I would say it was quite a happy plant before the ceiling collapse, it would drop some leaves sometimes, but always fired more out, and was continuing to grow up and up. It's been re-potted probably 2-3 times in its life, but has never had its roots touched. It's in a pretty big pot (which also got smashed up a bit), and I would like to think this is also an opportunity to re-set, and revert to something smaller and more manageable. I don't think the shape (very straight single trunk) necessarily lends itself to bonsai, nor that this is the right time to experiment with something I have no experience of (perhaps save that for one or more of the cuttings), but it would be nice to end up with a smaller, more attractive plant, in a smaller, more manageable pot.

Some photos below of the current situation. The pot is 25cm diameter; soil depth is 20cm; cut to main stem is 50cm from top of soil. Note the dark patches around the circumference of the cut under the bark [bottom photo] - I'm a bit worried about this - could this be mould/infection? The slightly darker coloured core wood is just how the sap settled I think. What is the best way of protecting the plant from potential infection from open cuts like this?

Any help gratefully received!

Many thanks.


    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 8:02AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think the mechanics of restoring the tree to something uniquely attractive are going to be really easy, but you'll need to resign yourself to the fact that things are necessarily going to move along at a pace we might name tree time, instead of at the more frenetic pace we might wish for and perhaps appropriately label people time. Any control you have over how long it takes to restore the tree's eye appeal is going to hinge primarily on how healthy you're able to keep the tree, so therein lies the motivation to learn how to not trip yourself up by working within limitations you can easily avoid.

We can talk about the cultural maintenance as much as you like, but let's get the mechanics out of the way first.

At the end of this post, I included the pictures you sent as a point of reference. The broken stem will eventually need to be removed where it bifurcates (forks) with the tallest branch that will be the new leader. Keep in mind that all trees don't grow perfectly straight and upright. Movement in the trunk creates interest and offers something more than the lollipop look.

First, trim all the branches growing from the broken stub. The stub is going to be removed, but for now it will serve another purpose - as an anchor point. Experiment with the branch that will be the new leader by grasping it between 2 fingers and moving it toward potential anchor points on the stub. You're trying to visualize what the new branch will look like when it's tied off to the stub in such a way that the flow of the trunk line looks natural. It doesn't matter if the top half of the new leader resists being vertical. After the branch is secured, we can choose a small branch in an appropriate position and prune off everything distal to that branch, effectively making it (a small branch) the new leader.

Do you understand where I'm headed so far? Anything need clarification?


    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 4:57PM
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I think so. I include [or try to] an annotated picture to ensure we're talking about the same thing. The tallest branch actually suffered some damage too, with some smaller branches being stripped from it and some impact damage to the bark, but it seems to have survived. It's not what I would call flexible though - is there not a risk of it snapping if I pull it over to the main stem? It seems like quite a brittle wood.

I'm happy for it to take as long as long as it takes, just so long as it survives in one form or another. I take it you don't think cutting back to a single stem is a good idea? Is that just because of the resultant likely lollipop shape, or are there also good physiological reasons to avoid doing so?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 6:47AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

What I mentioned would have you cutting all growth off the broken main stem. It's remaining purpose is as an anchor point for a wire or cord to temporarily tie the new leader to. Somewhere near where you have "tallest branch" noted on the picture, you would fasten a line to that branch and pull it upright, using the stub as an anchor point. If that doesn't work like you want, or you see a way to engineer something that will provide a more advantageous anchor point - go for it. I'm always rigging up some sort of arrangement that allows me to bend branches into a more eye-pleasing position.

In the tree world, benjamina's branches are very flexible, so I don't anticipate bending the branch being a problem. If you're worried, allow the soil to dry down to almost completely dry. The branches of plants on the dry side are easier to bend and do so with less likelihood of breakage. If you DO break it, the main result will be for the formulation of a different plan. If you're worried about breakage, or if you think it's a better plan, you can wire one of the small branches growing from the stub and call it your new leader, which it will assuredly become, in time. The branch I focused on just makes more sense because the radical change in taper to something much smaller will draw your focus until the tree puts on some age and the new leader thickens.

Another alternate plan would be to remove the fattest half of the Y-shaped stub and use a branch coming off the subordinate half of that Y-shape as the new leader. This would soften the radical change in taper and require that you cut back hard the branch we've been discussing as the new leader.

This tree presents a lot of viable options, each have their +/- points. It's always easier to make the right decision for bonsai trees because there are loose rules in place to guide the grower. That's not so much the case here, but there isn't much doubt in my mind that the fastest route to restoring the tree's appearance is via utilizing the branch we've been discussing.

One other point. It looks like you have almost all the branches concentrated near the bottom of the main bifurcation. Eventually, you want only one branch in that area, and it should be the branch that comes closest to moving in a direction opposite the way the new leader is leaning - leader moves right, branch moves left. This will restore the tree's visual balance. As it is in the pictures, it looks about to fall over on its right side.

Questions or concerns? Discuss a different course?


    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 11:01AM
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Okay! Thank you very much for your advice. At least I have some idea what I'm doing now, if not an exact plan just yet. I need to have a good think about tapering, anchoring, bending, wiring, etc., and consider more carefully exactly what it is I'm trying to achieve here. You've given me lots to think about! Many thanks

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 1:34PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Good deal. It's good to keep in mind that your plant's well-being really isn't the issue at this point ..... more of an eye appeal thing. Good luck. I'd be kind of interested in how you progress, if you have the time to share.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 2:57PM
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I'm still undecided as to what to do about this, but in the mean time, have tied the branch you recommended to the stump; you were right, the branches are amazingly flexible (it was the way the branches broke from the collapse that persuaded me otherwise), and the new leader is now held close to vertical. How long will it take to 'remember' being in that position? How long until I can remove the supporting stump?

The tree does now look slightly better, but the fact remains that there are large expanses of bare wood lower down and what leaves there are, are all on one side (by virtue of historic growth pattern and more recent damage).

I'm strongly tempted to lop it right back and start over - from a single stem. Is the cut stem likely to produce new growth (as the other cut branches have done) or do you think this is a recipe for killing my tree??

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 7:42AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The branches position will be fixed by the files of cells laid down in the cambium. This occurs fastest when there is plenty of foliage, good light, good nutrition, and minimal limitations imposed by other cultural conditions, so the end answer insofar as how long it will take the branch to retain its position is, it depends on how fast the tree grows. As heavy as that branch is, I'd say that it should be fixed by this time next summer.

Be sure you keep an eye on where the line is attached to the living branch, the new leader. You might need to move the attachment point a few times, maybe a half inch to an inch, to prevent the attachment point from turning into a tourniquet. Trees will grow around objects that exert even minimal pressure on the bark. For instance, a tree will grow around even a loose rubber band wrapped around the trunk instead of stretching the rubber band to accommodate the additional girth.

If you're going to do any lopping, you'd better get after it while the sun still shines long and bright. There are no physiological reasons not to do that except for the fact that benjamina isn't high on the list of trees most tolerant of trunk chops unless you're within 20* of the equator - then you can hack them back with abandon. I'd say that if you have new growth popping on the main trunk, you could chop it and start fresh, if that's your want.

You could sever the main trunk above the heavy low branches, too, and wait for a small branch to pop off the highest branch, near the trunk, and press that into service as the new leader. Heck, there is probably already one there that will serve.

.... lots you can do.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 10:32PM
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I was not sure whether to add to this thread or post a new thread? I have a beautiful Variegated Ficus Benjamina that was given to me years ago. My question has to do with shaping it - one side is full and has lots of new leaves, the other side has a few new leaves but is kind of skimpy. It bears fruit regulary - I learned from reading this post (and others here) that I need to remove those so have been doing that. I've sort-of trained it but I'm thinking I need to be more bold to get a little more balance between the two sides. Here are photos from 4 sides and the top - I'd love some advice.

I potted it up about 3 years ago, but have never root-pruned so it's overdue for that and a repotting. It is an indoor plant - this photo op is the only time it's been outdoors except when we moved here to the Oregon coast 5 years ago.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2014 at 12:35PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

What needs to be done:

* Restrain the branches that exhibit the most vitality in order to force the plant to funnel a greater fraction of its energy production to those areas displaying the weakest growth. You can do this by ensuring the weaker parts of the tree get the best light, by pruning back the areas with stronger growth, and in some plants (but not Ficus) by foliar feeding of only the weaker areas of the plant that need reinvigorating. Unfortunately, now is not a good time to be removing growth in order to change the way the tree allocates its energy outlay; reason being, the tree NEEDS the extra foliage to produce its food during the low light period of winter. Fertilizers aren't plant food. Plants make their own food - sugar - and sugar is made in the leaves.

* Establish a leader. That your tree lacks one isn't a big deal, but it does need one. Stand in front of your tree & look at the trunk line. From a few feet away, trace it in the air with your index finger. When you get to the point where a main trunk line isn't apparent, draw an imaginary one with your finger. The trunkline you see in your mind's eye is the one you'll be developing as time goes on - starting next summer. Don't worry, it will be easy.

So, I would encourage you to be patient for now. Repot (a full repot - not just an up-potting) mid-June next year. When new growth resumes after the repot is when you'll cut the tree's strong branches back hard. That will force lots of back-budding all over the tree and give you a good opportunity to select a new leader that compliments the existing trunk line.

What you use for fertilizer is important. I use Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 on all my trees/ succulents/ houseplants/ veggies - essentially everything I grow. I only modify HOW I use it for 2 plants - tomatoes and hibiscus. It's a great fertilizer, and as long as you're using a medium that allows you to flush the soil at will, w/o having to worry about impaired root function or root rot due to prolonged periods of soil saturation, you should be golden. If you ARE using a soil that won't allow you to flush at will, you really should be thinking about a way to avoid that issue (by far the best strategy), or at a minimum - address it.


    Bookmark   September 13, 2014 at 2:58PM
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Thank you Al, I am so excited to get your advice! I've read alot of your posts about soil and have moved all my outdoor containers to 5-1-1. I haven't gotten a good handle on the gritty mix, but just today found a source for Sweet PDZ so by spring/summer I should be able to attend to my Ficus plants (all benjamina's), pony tail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) and some others that need repotting.

I have to tell you I read your message aloud to my hubby, and he laughed out loud when I got to the part about being patient (not my strong suit to put it mildly - but I'll wait :o). I'll save your message and probably have more questions next year when I start to work on it. Thank you!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2014 at 9:39PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thanks for the kind words, Dawn, and you're very welcome. I think that if you polled any group of growers, you'd find a varied response to the question of what they expect to get from the growing experience, but at the core is a common need or want to nurture that when acted on we find fulfilling. If you accept that as a valid perspective, it's not much of a leap to arrive at the thought that keeping the plant's natural rhythms in mind as we go about the day to day, month to month, and year to year care we provide can only enhance the interactions we enjoy with our plant friends. To put it in a short sentence - we are almost certain to feel better about our relationship with plants if we work with their natural rhythms than we would if we just forge ahead without considering how we can make things easier for them. So if you sort of adopt that mindset, think how suddenly fulfilling your patience can be. ;-)


    Bookmark   September 13, 2014 at 10:52PM
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HELP!!!!!!!!!!, Hello Al, I sent you an email on August 22, 2014 re the ficus tree I had purchased from Home Depot. I re potted per our discussion with some significant soil amendments you had recommended. I also watered only when near dry. Initially a few leaves shredded. Now 2 mos later my beautiful tree is shedding leaves like crazy almost 2/3. The top leaves that came out after I brought home & re potted are still there but lower baby leaves are falling off. I checked the mostly bare branches which do not break off & seem to still be alive, I have noticed fungus gnats hanging around the top soil layer but was hesitant to use any insecticide at this time. After all this work I am really saddened for my tree's who I named Mr Ivy current condition. I want to save this tree but I do not know what else to do, please help, Thanks very Much, Carol

    Bookmark   October 8, 2014 at 10:53AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you have fungus gnats, you probably have soggy soil conditions. Do you remember how you built the soil?


    Bookmark   October 8, 2014 at 4:29PM
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I had my fiddle leaf for two months before Superstorm Sandy hit. My apartment was without heat for two weeks and my tree went into shock (dropped most of it's leaves, etc). Fast forward to two years later and after nurturing it back to health, earlier this year after pruning a dead branch new growth was apparent which has created two new branches filled with new leaves. However, there are still two older branches that managed to retain a few sparse leaves but nothing ever grew again on those limbs.

I have consistently watered the plant a gallon of water every 8 days. I have not used any other additives in 8 months. The last two weeks as temperatures have dropped in the Northeast, the heat (which I cant regulate for my unit) has been extra high. I have tried to leave windows open to lower the temperature but its been hot and dry regardless. This week I notice the leaves on one of the two sparse branches -the one in the back by the window, where there were only five leaves at the end of the branch- started to turn speckled yellow. Two of the leaves pulled off very easily. I noticed what look like Springtails in the soil. Not hoards of them but they are a fair number,
I'm panicking this will get worse. Please let me know what you think I should (or should not) be doing?

Pictures below are as follows:
1) tree facing southern exposure. Arrows point to the two branches that survived Sandy but never grew back the leaves that fell 2 yrs ago. The arrow on the left is where I am having issues today.

Having issues attaching multiple photos so will have to post separately.
Thank you in advance for your support.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 11:48AM
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Sorry for the annoying multiple posts below but I cannot get the system to accept multiple photos in one post..

Below is: Bottom arrows points to yellow speckled leaves (two out of five came off while carefully inspecting today)

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 11:51AM
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Pic 3 Entact speckled leaves on said branch

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 11:52AM
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Last pic: one of two leafs that fell off while inspecting this morning.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 11:54AM
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teengardener1888(NY Albany 5a)

Im finally taking the plunge into Ficuses as well. This summer I received a sick ficus and trimmed its roots and stems and repotted and this is how it looks. My question al is what do you think I should do now?

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 2:23PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

AEG - There are chemical messengers that move through the plant and help it identify what part of the plant should receive the most energy. The plant parts that demand energy are called 'sinks', and they actually have a pecking order. The pecking order of energy sinks from strongest to weakest is ordered flowers - fruits - leaves - stems - roots. Within that order, there is additional variance. For instance, roots and branches don't all share equal strength as sinks. Some branches might be or become much stronger sinks than other branches, taking a larger portion of the food/energy the plant produces than other branches. Often, the amount of foliage on a branch determines its future. Trees recognize organs that aren't carrying their weight as a net deficit to the plant, and as organisms that cope with this type of deficit by shedding parts, they start reducing the amt of food/energy it allocated to that organ and possibly shedding the organ. If a bonsai practitioner considered a weak branch to be an important part of a composition (the plant's appearance), he would take steps that would hopefully reverse the trend toward shedding the valued branch. If you think that's what you'd like to do, we can talk about how to go about it, but it looks/sounds like the branches on your tree might be suffering because of over-watering - the plant might not be able to move enough water to the parts farthest from the roots to keep them viable. Also, it might be a light issue - at least in part. With the angle of the sun being downward at an angle, an d the branches being higher than the top of the window, the branches are probably weakened by a lack of light.

If it was my plant, I would make sure I have my watering under control, and not water until you're sure the plant needs it. You can use a wood dowel sharpened in a pencil sharpener as a 'tell'. The next time the plant needs water, I would flush the soil very thoroughly. Then, the next time the plant needs watering after flushing the soil, I would fertilize.

I would formulate a plan to repot the plant sometime in early to mid-Jun, and make sure I was repotting it into a soil that allows me to water correctly. That is to say, so you can flush the soil at will w/o having to worry that the soil will remain soggy so long it seriously affects root function, or worse, causes root rot.


Teen - I suggest you just enjoy your plant for now, do whatever you need to, to keep it healthy, and revisit 'what to do' in the summer. It looks nice & healthy.


    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 10:07PM
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I think I killed my Ficus Tree. I recently moved and exposed my healthy thriving Ficus to very cold temps for too many days. She still holds her shriveled leaves and I am doing all I can too warm her roots and branches but I see no improvement. I am patient and hopeful. Is there any thing I should do or try, repotting with new soil, trimming, expose to high temps for a long period?????

I could really use some expertise. Have had this tree for many years, it has survived my deployment to Iraq, a cross country trip and multiple environments and has always adapted and thrived. I feel terrible and am fearing the worst. I will not give up unless I receive feedback that confirms my fears.

If you can help, even if you have to tell me what I really don't want to hear, please do so.

Here is a link that might be useful: Froze My Ficus, AAAAHHH

    Bookmark   November 30, 2014 at 3:56PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

How cold and for how long?


    Bookmark   November 30, 2014 at 9:42PM
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teengardener1888(NY Albany 5a)

What a bad photo, sorry and thanks al...

    Bookmark   November 30, 2014 at 10:43PM
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Which ficus is it?

    Bookmark   December 1, 2014 at 10:43AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think 28* for that length of time is a hard hit. You can give it a chance by keeping the plant warm and making sure the soil is never more than moist at the bottom of the pot. If the plant is still viable - over-watering/soggy soil would be likely to present the most significant impediment to recovery.

While I have your attention, please allow me to thank you for your service to our country. I mean that with the utmost respect and sincerity.


    Bookmark   December 1, 2014 at 6:36PM
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Hope it will survive - my Benjamina froze on Jan. 6th, temps were probably around 0F. But it was exposed only for that 1day.
(That's the tree Al helped me with root pruning & repotting back in July 2012 - tree is doing very well 20 yrs after 'freezing')


    Bookmark   December 1, 2014 at 9:37PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Let's hope Tonton's tree is made of the same tuff stuff! ;-) Nice to hear your tree is faring well, Rina.


    Bookmark   December 1, 2014 at 9:44PM
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Yes Al, it is growing very well. I think summer of 2015 will be 2nd root trimming and repotting time...And I really want to reduce the hight of it - was planning on doing that this past summer but didn't have chance.


ps: hope to hear more from Tonton - can you post some photos?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2014 at 10:41AM
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