Ficus Elastica soil, watering, separating question

zneilson(9)June 27, 2011

Hi I have never owned a plant, and I just bought 3 Ficus Elastica in a 10" diameter pot that are about 11" tall from Home Depot. I have never owned a plant or tree before and have been researching how to take care of it for the last 2 days. So much more is involved than I thought! It's kind of addicting reading all the posts, but fun. I have a few questions. I'm in area 9 (85028)

First I bought it as a plant to go in my room. While researching I realized this was three trees in one small pot. I think once they get bigger it would be nice to plant them outside in the yard. Will waiting before separating them cause problems? I think I read in a post that it wouldn't be too much of a problem to cut the roots as long as they have a lot of vitality? A follow up question would be if they should be separated sooner rather than later, should I give it a little time to acclimate to their new home before separating them?

Second I asked at Home Depot when I bought it how to take care of it and they taught me how to put it into a pot and put new soil in it. Unfortunately they told me to put a drainage layer in it. So I put about 1/2" of gravel at the bottom of the pot and the soil is, "MiracleGro Moisture Control potting mix". The ingredients are sphagnum peat moss, forest products compost, coir pith fiber, perlite, a wetting agent, and a fertilizer. I got this because they said it would help me to maintain the correct amount of moisture since I am new to taking care of plants. After research, I see the benefits of making your own soil so that it can drain quickly. So the question is can/should I wait until it is time to repot it to change to a faster draining soil, or do I do it now?

The third question is about drooping leaves. I put it in the new pot and soil on the 25th (two days ago). I had it to the side of my west facing window. I read how Ficus Elastica love sun so last night I moved it directly in front of the window. I noticed that the leaves are drooping now. The soil is still somewhat moist, but I'm not really sure what the cutoff between moist and dry soil is either. Do you have any insight to why they are drooping and how to fix them?

That last question gave me a fourth question. Please correct my understanding if it is wrong. I am supposed to saturate and then also put extra water to flush the soil everytime I water? And I am only supposed to do this after the soil is dry so that the roots get air?

Thanks in advance for your answers.

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First, never listen to HD

One question to you..Why did you repot in a container, if you intended to plant outside in-ground?

If you plan on planting in-ground, the sooner the better. As long as your Ficus roots are established, like any other plant/tree, it should be done immediately.

To separate..Remove from pot, and carefully 'if possible,' untangle roots. Sometimes, soaking roots w/a hose is easier than pulling apart. Working with roots will have some drawbacks, but after time, they'll acclimate. IMO, Ficus Elastica isn't as fussy as F. Beji.

I personally do NOT like MG Moisture Control. However, since you already purchased this stuff, the soil should have been amended with other agents..For instance, additional Perlite and extra coarse sand.

(Does the pot have drainage?) I hope so. Even if you placed stones on the bottom, the water needs an escape route. Soil needs to dry between waterings. If there's no drainage holes, the soil will stay too wet for prolonged periods.
If you plan on keeping your Ficus in container/s any length of time, I'd repot ASAP. Then again, when are you thinking of planting in-ground? I'm a tad confused with your plans...

What type of light was your Ficus in at HD? Was it outside or in the gh? Or elsewhere?
Never put a new plant in direct sun..Start off in semi-shade, then work its way into brighter light.
Yes, it's true Ficus dote on sun, but not in the beginning. Too much light can be the reason your Ficus is drooping...I hope its soil isn't saturated...
If it's wet, don't add more..and please don't fertilizer.

Ficus don't like change, 'especially F. benji's,' so some drooping is normal. But, I have a feeling relocating isn't the only problem. Some plants go in shock when repotted, and if your Ficus doesn't like its new environment, 'soil' leaves will show distress.
BTW, is you Ficus in or outside?

Remove your Ficus from full sun ASAP. Place in medium light.

What, to question 4? lol. No, you are not supposed to saturate then put extra water to flush..Especially every time you water..Neil, if you follow these instructions, you'll have one/three dead Ficus.

It's true, after repotting the rootball should be watered thoroughly. But no additional watering/leaching is necessary, 'especially after each watering.'

Leaching is done mainly to drain salts that have accumulated in soil, from chemcial fertilizers. Twice a year is sufficent. It's best done outdoors, with a hose. Run water through the soil, until it seeps out of drainage holes.
It's a good idea to leach, but if done too often, there's no sense in adding'd run right through.

BTW, what type of fertilizer are you planning on using?

Do not keep soil constantly will cause rot. Ficus are not bog plants.

Hope I was of some help, Neil. Toni

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 12:46PM
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I guess I hadn't really decided what I wanted to do. As I'm learning more, what I want to do is changing. I've decided to keep it indoors. (The main reason I was going to put it outside was that I found out it was a tree and assumed it needed to be outdoors and it would grow much to big to be inside. I later found this doesn't have to be the case).

Yes the pot has a drainage hole thankfully :)

The Ficus was indoors at HD and it was fine when I had it to the side of the window, when I moved it in front of the window the leaves started drooped during the day but perked back up at night. Now they are starting to get some damage to them though (see pictures below)I assume this is sunburn (just learned plants get sunburn).

I haven't watered or fertilized since I put it in the pot. The soil is just now starting to dry out (I think). If I can find it I plan on using Dyna-Gro Foilage Pro 9-3-6.

Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 5:29PM
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Neil, yes, F. 'Rubber Trees/plants' grow large outdoors.

I've got an idea. Since you considered dividing anyway, why not plant one outdoors, and keep the other two in a container???
I've seen pics of Rubber Trees in-ground..they're beautiful.
Even in a pot, with the right care, this Ficus will grow ceiling high plus.

I've never seen a sunburned Rubber plant..other sunburned plants either turned very red or bleached. Sorry. Maybe someone else will chime in.

Good luck, Neil..Toni

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 10:55AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Pls. don't add fertilizer until the plant is better, it doesn't help when the plant is ailing, sorry. Also, I thought you said the mix you used has fertilizer, so pls. don't add anymore.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 11:48AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Plants don't turn red when affected by photo-oxidation (sunburn). They first turn whitish or silver/grey as a result of high light intensity levels that cause chlorophyll molecules to rise to a more excited state than normal, then eventually turn brown or sometimes black in plants with particularly succulent/herbaceous parts. If light levels are intense enough, the energy that is released as electrons in molecules return to their normal energy state form radicals from O2. These are the same O2- radicals found in H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) and are extremely reactive particles that readily destroy chlorophyll and other pigment molecules.

It's a near certainty the loss of turgidity (wilting) isn't directly related to light levels. Wilting occurs when the roots can't keep up with the water needs of the top of the plant. In a very large % of plants, the plants natural rhythm (see circadian and endogenous rhythms if you're interested)governs the closing of stomata during the dark period, which slows transpiration markedly. This allows the plant to 'catch up' on its water deficit (wilting).

It appears that at some point in the not too distant past, or possibly even at the present, the plant has been over-watered ..... or the soil is excessively water-retentive, which has probably affected root health and surely would have affected root function. One of the primary benefits that delineates well-aerated and free-draining soils from heavy, water-retentive soils is that with the benefit of the added aeration, you also realize the significant advantage of being able to water thoroughly each time you water, so that at least 10-15% of the water applied exits the drain. This practice not only continually flushes accumulating salts from your soil; it also helps to ensure that the ratio of nutrients in the soil remains essentially constant. This helps to keep the TDS/EC (roughly the 'salt') levels in the soil solution at their lowest - facilitating uptake of both water and nutrients, helping to insure against the possibility of nutritional antagonisms, and helping to prevent spoiled foliage by keeping the level of dissolved solids at their lowest o/a concentration possible w/o inducing nutritional deficiencies - another significant advantage.


    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 11:14PM
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Thanks everyone for your help.

Pirate_girl - No I haven't started fertilizing yet. Was planning on waiting a month or so for the fertilizer in the soil to deplete first.

Al - I mixed some 5-1-1, I think I read I could substitute old soil for the sphagnum peat, because it is mostly for water retention anyway, so I did that so that I wouldn't waste the soil I already had. I think I also read that I need to wait a couple weeks for the lime to react with the 5-1-1 mix before putting the plant in it, so I am waiting on that. While I am waiting on that I removed the drainage layer I had put in and also added a wick. This has improved the water-flow considerably. Please let me know if I misinterpreted anything or if there are errors I'm missing. Remember I'm completely new to this. I am waiting for the wick to dry at the base of the pot before watering again.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 12:14AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You're definitely on the right track. A very good way of looking at soil porosity is like this: Within reason, the more open your soil is, that is to say the faster it drains and the larger the particles it's made of, the easier it will be for you to keep foliage nice and avoid problems. That needs to be counterbalanced with your 'convenience' in that you'll need to water more often. Again, from the plant's perspective that's a GOOD thing because frequent watering not only flushes accumulating salts from the soil, it also forces out unwanted soil gasses that are more prevalent in container media, which are comprised almost entirely of organic matter (OM) and produce more methane, CO2, and sulfurous gasses than mineral soils which are usually less than 3-4% OM. The bottom line is, by taking on the burden of having to water a little more frequently, you gain the potential for much healthier root systems, which makes for happier plants much easier to care for; and you're much more unlikely to make mistakes, either in the immediate or accumulative (consistent over-watering - gasses in the soil - salt accumulation).

Peat is cheap, so I tend to use my old soils in the compost pile or by adding it to raised beds, but you can use it in the 5:1:1 mix, though I would forgo its use if the plant in the soil previously had died. This, to discourage transference of any disease or insect populations that might be harbored in the old soil.

The 'wait 2 weeks' guideline is pretty much aimed at fruiting plants that are more sensitive to interruptions of the Ca supply in the nutrient stream. This is to help prevent BER (blossom end rot) in fruiting plants like tomatoes, melons, cucurbits ..... I don't pay any attention to it where my mixed container plantings are concerned, and if I used the 5:1:1 for houseplants, I wouldn't think twice about mixing the soil and using it immediately.

I think that you are new will work in your favor. You don't have a lot of ingrained misconceptions that are better unlearned. ;-) There is a LOT of dogma associated with indoor husbandry that continues to circulate in spite of the fact it's been rejected as inaccurate in other forms of container culture or unfavorable in comparison to more contemporary info.


    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 11:21AM
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