Pruning ficus b. after July 9 Repotting. Pic Heavy!

Randy_(6)August 1, 2012

Hello to all and a big thanks for all the things written and discussed here, members writing about their problems and successes along the way, the collective experience of the fora, and particularly to Al who's generous spirit really lights up this forum in a special way.

So, true story - I moved to a 3rd fl apt July '11 shortly after which I picked up an orphaned 8' Ficus Benjamina which was being discarded on the sidewalk during a neighbor's move. It's shape suggests it was against a wall for some period, rather bushy on one side while flat on the other.

Being a novice, I brought 'Gladys' home in the back of a trusty Corolla and drug her up 3 flights of stairs to the new place and put her in a South window. After a period of extended protest, I finally found a watering schedule that suited the plant and the hard soil it was in (every 5 days). This forum was instrumental in clueing me in on the watering issue. So all is good till late winter / early spring '12 when I notice how sticky the floors and couches are. About this time I also notice the tiny spider mites jumping about every time I water. I bide my time.

Trips in May and June disrupt the watering schedule and the plant reacts with a small, but distinct drought response. I bring Gladys outside in Mid June, repotted July 9. Although I did cut off a good 2 inches of root from the bottom and cleaned out as much old soil as I could, I did not do a lot of major corrective root pruning (next year perhaps). Got supplies for Al's Gritty Mix, applied Bonide systematic Houseplant Insect Control to deal with spider mites, and got repotting done. This was July 9, 2012. Applied Neem oil at same time and again July 26. (50% H2O, 50% Alcohol, 1 tsp Neem Oil, a couple drops Dawn = quart).

Ficus looks pretty good as of July 31, 2012 - still a few leaves with major sticky - What Is This? Thought it was scales and Neem would take care of it. Otherwise most leaves feel pretty clean to touch. Watering every other day w/ addition of Dyna-Gro Foliage-Pro.

Which brings me to the big issue of top pruning. I've tried to read a lot on the concept behind pruning and the idea of energy reserves and although I think I'm getting close, I'm still a little dim when trying to put it all together. It's getting late in the season, I did not go into repotting with full energy, and the plant is a weird shape!

Here we are Aug 1, plant looks pretty good to my untrained eye. Do I wait for next year to do hard branch pruning or do I say meh, and grab shears pronto while summer is still about? I don't have a clear idea of what this Ficus wants or what I should do. I know Al says one can be pretty aggressive when pruning it's just I'm concerned about timing.

My pics are on a shallow 3rd fl balcony ( apologies) so the best I can do is offer close shots at various angles, while turning the plant. The ficus is 8' tall while apartment ceilings are 9' in height. I am in Boston, the ficus is currently on outside balcony facing East, Northeast (direct light till noon) and south facing living room during winter.

First pic of ficus after repotting about 3 weeks back, then a series of pics taken yesterday showing current state of affairs. Plant rotated counter clockwise to hopefully give an idea of shape and the like. Knife blade on top of pot hopefully gives a sense of orientation - 4PM, 1PM, 10 AM, 7AM. Many thanks again! Sorry for so many pics:-)

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'm going to go look at what's in the Bonide and see why it didn't knock out the severe scale infestation on your tree. In the meantime, maybe you can tell me what goal you intend the pruning to serve?

You can never have too many pictures when you're asking for pruning advice. Good job in that regard!


    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 4:29PM
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Hi Al and thanks for the quick reply. I'm new to this and as such my untrained eye doesn't readily see the possibilities and or limitations.

I would like to work towards better overall balance especially with regard the tree's lopsidedness. Height needs to be reduced as it will be at the ceiling before too long. Hopefully this will encourage growth lower down the tree.

It seems there is a lot of work to do to clean things up - lot of branches just going here and there. I'm not sure how to approach this, frankly. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 5:13PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I had a long reply written out when I stopped to watch the Olympics for a few. When I returned my attention to your thread, I deleted the whole darned thing! I hate it when I do something stupid like that! ;-)

OK - priority #1 is make the plant rid of the scale infestation. I've used granular applications of imidicloprid (similar to your Bonide) in the form of Dragon and Marathon without much luck on the insects, and some notable (negative) impact on root health. I almost lost a few plants a few years ago because of the Marathon (ficus & schefflera being treated for scale). The alcohol and neem mix will be effective on the crawlers, but progress on the adults will be minimal at first. The neem works slowly to cause feeding problems and stop the adults from reproducing, but if you are diligent about applying it at 2 week intervals, it WILL eventually work. There are better choices if you're looking for a fast knockdown. I can't email you with suggestions because the 'contact me' feature isn't activated on your user page, so send me any old quick note & I'll reply, if you have interest.

Pruning: Is there a mass of foliage on the plant now that you could envision as being the top of the tree if other foliage that you think spoils the look of the plant was removed? It's really hard to get a perspective on what we're dealing with in 2D photos, so perhaps that's a good starting point.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 10:08PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Yikes, that is one terrible infestation of scale insects! Good luck with that.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 10:17PM
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Ficuses like being pruned - official advice is that you should only prune in a certain amount and certain way, but in 14 years of doing it commercially I've _never_ known pruning hurt one. We even cut a lollipop Ficus off at the trunk once to see what happened and it bounced right back.

My only tip would be to cut a mix of little tips to shape it and big branches to rejuvenate it each time you prune.

I'd be far more worried about the scale infestation!

    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 3:35AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Pruning a tree isn't like getting a haircut. Of course pruning a tree 'hurts' it - it has to; after all, you're removing a portion of its ability to make food, which is why consideration should be given to timing and the state of the tree's health, two factors that determine how fast a tree bounces back, and in some ill-considered cases, whether or not the tree can even tolerate the stress.

Bonsai artists regularly chop large trees off only inches above the soil line as a matter of course. Not all trees and not all species of ficus can be counted on to 'bounce back' from that treatment. Healthy specimens of benjamina in the southernmost states or the tropics are likely candidates for the treatment, but recently repotted trees sited in Boston aren't, and likely would not survive the treatment. More information on getting benjamina to break back on old wood (essentially what's required for survival of the plant after chopping its head off) can be found in Rina's recent thread about how to get leaves to grow on larger branches.


    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 8:00AM
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I have very similar tree, even lopsided like yours. The tree was getting too tall to keep inside, but luckily was not infested. I was looking for info how to prune it & that is how I found this forum.

I have followed Al's recommendations to a letter (and I have never even read about root pruning/proper repotting):
1. 'inspection' of roots/flushing thoroughly/proper watering & fertilizing - all few months ahead of proper repotting;
2. then at proper time (July), root pruning (the root ball was a mess)-repotting into brand new soil mix (5-1-1);
3. continue proper watering/fertilizing as recommended
4. pruning branches approx. month later

I am very satisfied with results, the tree looks much better and has lots of new leaves growing. An it is few inches shorter (more pruning next year).

It took some effort, but if you really want your plant to grow well, it is worth it. I am following similar routine with all my potted plants - it will take some time since I have 'few', but by same time next year all of them will be in new soil mix, root pruned/repotted/branches pruned and I am sure growing much healtier.

The info you'll find on this forum is very helpful. Al has many extremely informative threads, and I have save them for reference. Much easier for me to get infor-he does all the hard work of writing it all...
Many other members have very good posts and photos too - sorry I can't think of all the names right now.
Good luck with your tree.


    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 8:57AM
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