Al - ficus B. repotting

rina_June 7, 2012


You kindly offered help with repotting/root pruning/pruning my ficus Benjamina which is approx. 8feet tall.

I hope you are not too busy with your repotting yet.

I am getting ready to take care of it. I asked lots of questions in the thread below:

on Feb. 9/12 & am looking for further advice.

Am I correct that I should do the following:

1. take out of pot, wash all soil off the roots

2. perform "surgery" to the root ball...

3. pot in 511

4. secure the tree for more stability

5. water, don't fertilize for at least 2 weeks

6. keep in shaded area, protect from wind


a) since I don't have any experience with root pruning, would it help to wash them/take photo & send to you before pruning any roots or would that be stressing tree too much? (I remember you telling me that 'total/complete' root pruning may take few (2-3)repottings).

b) when to prune some branches off - if roots reduced, is it necessary to reduce the canopy immediately? - don't want to stress the tree beyond what it can take

c) the trunk is leaning to one side - in your opinion, is it better to plant straight or leave the same angle?

d) use same size pot or smaller/larger? (existing is 18" diameter).

I follow all threads with your advice and try to remember your tips to others too. But doing it first time is scary...

I will wait until overnight temperatures are more stable, just wanted to 'catch' you before you get too busy.

BTW, I looked at the photo of your tools - what do you use to keep them clean (oil?) and do you sterilize them before each use?

Your answers are greatly appreciated.

Thank you.


Here is link to album with the photos:

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Normally, I would suggest that you start by sawing off the bottom half of the root mass, but from the picture, I can tell this tree has a LOT of problem roots. For the first repot, lets concentrate on removing some of those very large roots that are circling and growing every which way under the trunk. So I would suggest that you saw a couple of inches off the very bottom of the root mass & then get to work bare-rooting. If you're going to do it this weekend, I'll be home. You can email me pictures and we can talk on the phone, or we can converse here if you like. It looks like I'll be starting tropical repots this weekend, so I'll be around. It won't hurt your plant if it soaks in a tub or pail for awhile while we decide what to do.

Because you won't be cutting off the bottom half of the roots, this repot will be by far the most time consuming. As soon as you identify a root as a 'problem' root, remove it. It will make things easier. I'd like to see you correct as much of the mess of roots under the trunk as possible at this repotting, so be sure to have a pair of sharp bypass pruners & a sharp pruning saw.

Your 1-6 list looks good.

I don't think you'll need to reduce the canopy. Generally, we try to avoid that whole 'balancing roots to shoots' thing in favor of retaining as much photosynthesizing mass as possible. If the root pruning is seriously hard, you might need to do some tip pruning, but I don't think any branch removal is in the picture.

We can decide the best planting angle after I see some additional photos, but it looks like the tree wants to come out of the soil at an angle so the canopy can be centered directly above the container.

I think the same pot or slightly smaller will be good.

I never have to clean my tools. I work so fast nothing sticks to them. ;-)

I have an ultrasonic hot bath cleaner (like a ring cleaner only much larger). It has a basket similar to a fry basket. I just turn it on to heat the cleaning solution, immerse the tools in the basket, turn it on for 10 minutes, then wipe them dry and oil with camellia oil with a drop of clove oil in it. Camellia oil is the traditional oil used to protect Samurai swords .... and bonsai tools. ;-) I've never sterilized them before use or between trees. I might if I had a diseased tree, but so far I've been lucky in that regard & nothing noxious has reared its head.


    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 2:32PM
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Thank your for answering.
I could do what you suggested this weekend but it may have to be Sunday (may have to work on Sat). The weather forecast also calls for rain on Sat, both days hot & humid (humidex approx. 32) - would that be a problem?
I can e-mail you photos directly & call (could use Skype) - whatever is better for you.
I have same pruning saw as yours in the photo, and probably buy new bypass pruners.
I should know by Fri pm if free on Sat & will let you know.

Many thanks, Rina

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 3:17PM
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I have to work on Sat, maybe be home by noon (not sure). If so, I'll get the tree out of pot & wash the soil off, take photos of the roots & mail them to you. Can I use your personal mail? After that you can contact me at your convenience. If I have to work late, I will try Sunday (unless we have rain as promised - I don't have any other place to work but outside).

Have the soil mix ready (got the slow release MG 19-6-12), tools ready.

Thank you again for taking time, I feel bit guilty knowing that this is such a busy time for you.


    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 9:02PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'll be around home pretty much all day tomo, unless it rains & I head over to finish some work on a lady friend's bonsai trees. Rosie just turned 90 and is a founding member of the local bonsai club. I think the world of her - she's a classy lady. I'm sure my wife will want to go to dinner early in the evening too, so I'll be MIA for an hr or 2 then as well, but I won't be hard to find. Don't worry that you're intruding. I'm always on the phone with someone about something to do with plants, and if I didn't enjoy helping, I wouldn't be here. ;-)

It's ok to use my mail. Have the addy? If not - send a message through GW and I'll reply - then you'll have it. I'll be sure to provide a phone # if you do.



    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 9:29PM
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copy of message from last night:

(the new pot I am thinking of using )... it is 1"smaller diameter (16" vs 17"ficus is in now), but it is also shorter(just 12" vs 15")-is it going to be deep enough?

The bark is what passed 1/2"screen, mixed 4.1.1 with DE & s.peat as you advised (bark for soil mixes thread). I have 2cu ft of mix - need to add 1cup dolomite(right?); also have slow release MG 19-6-12=how much MG to that amount of mix?

Your help is always greatly appreciated.

Pls. answer this mail at your convenience...

Regards, Rina

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 3:01PM
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These roots are a mess - even I can tell it's a big problem.
They grow down few inches, then sideways, then criss-cross with other roots, then up again.
To me it looks like impossible situation; don't even know how to take photos to show how bad they really are:

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 4:20PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Concentrate on trying to remove the worst offenders immediately under the trunk. You won't be able to do it all in one session, but try to work toward a root system that grows out from the trunk instead of circling and growing back toward the center or downward. Do you think your dad/husband/brother/friend has a pair of end cutters like the stainless steel tool second from right?

It can be used to gnaw or nibble away at roots in tight places. Once you cut a few of the worst roots free that obviously need to go, it gets easier. Let me know if you'd like to call - I'll email my phone #.


    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 6:39PM
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I don't have the cutters, nor know anyone that has, but I'll buy a pair.
Being Sunday, it won't be until tomorrow. Could tree wait until than?
If so, what would i keep it in - bucket of water?

I could call you if that's convenient to you.

Thank you.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 7:10PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The tree will be ok in a bucket of water in the shade.

I just got done with a long day in the heat, so I'm in need of a shower & a bite to eat. I'll mail you my # & I'll be free after 8 your time.


    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 7:27PM
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I got the knob pruners (beautiful tool!) & got to work. I sent you a message with 3 photos to your private mail.
Would you be so kind & look at them & let me know if it looks like enough for the first time.
Posting here since I am not sure which message you'll see first.

Thank you.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 6:08PM
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