Pruning/shaping ficus lyrata

michael_amesAugust 5, 2014

I recently separated my multi-stemmed ficus lyrata and repotted into gritty mix. The taller of the two, shown in the photo, pouted a pit post-repot but now seems to have perked up. It stands (a bit crookedly!) about 45" above the soil line.

Ultimately I'd like to create a sturdy trunk with branching and a full-ish crown, but I'm not sure how to get there from here. As you can see in the photo, it's currently just one tall stem, and a rather flimsy one at that.

I know this is a common post topic, and I've read elsewhere
(this thread: that I should:

a)tip-prune when the plant is about 2/3 of the eventual maximum height I'm hoping for


b)prune any branch with 4 or more leaves back to 2 leaves

...but before I break out the shears I wanted to confirm - do I need to create actual branches (through notching?) before I attempt any pruning/shaping?

I'm also wondering if I should be worried about the current internodal distance - is it unrealistic for me to imagine I could have a more robust and branched tree?



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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The soil looks more like something along the lines of a 5:1:1 mix, but from what I can see, you should be very happy with it. It IS still possible to over-water, so make sure you use a wood dowel to test for how often you really DO need to water.

If you tip prune robust trees in late summer, they will back-bud in the axils (crotches) of several leaves proximal to the pruning cut (aka a pinch). Weaker trees might only back bud in the immediate 1-2 axils immediately proximal to the cut. You can get some SIGNIFICANT back-budding on this tree after it puts on some branches if you keep it outdoors for the first half of the summer and then cut it back hard.

Things that stimulate back-budding are, pruning, lots of very bright light, lots of air movement, luxury levels of fertility - especially N, and lots of room for roots to grow.

Things that decrease internode length and leaf size are, low fertility, bright light, root congestion, poor root health in general, maximizing ramification (the more branches & leaves you create via pruning/pinching, the shorter internodes and smaller leaves will be.

Notching needs to be deep enough and wide enough to divert the polar flow of auxin from the leaf axil. Auxin flows downward, so you need to notch THROUGH the vascular cambium into the xylem for at least the width of the leaf, so the auxin doesn't travel around the notch and into the leaf axil. Strangely, photosynthate and auxin travels downward to a point just under the leaf and then moves upward in the nutrient stream through the branch bark ridge and into the leaf or latent buds in leaf axils. You can see why notching works best on trees with more caliper (fatter trunks) than yours. Try it if you like, though.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 9:11PM
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Al -

Thank you for your very detailed response. To promote back-budding, I can certainly provide air movement, luxury nutrients levels (I'm a FoliagePro user), and room for root growth. (The soil is indeed a gritty-mix type, though it may look a bit different as I used Napa Oil-Dri and perlite instead of turface/granite.)

Bright light will be the challenge but I'm working on finding a solution.

In the immediate/short-term, would you recommend I:
a)tip-prune any new growth this summer
b)cut back hard now
c)wait until I've been able to get it outside for at least a few sunny months and only then consider any sort of pruning/cutting back?

If it doesn't even make sense to talk of pruning/shaping until after I can guarantee some strong, outdoor growing seasons - then I can wait. Just hoping I can avoid an 8ft tall wobbly monster that requires traction to keep upright...

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 9:56PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

To me, any tree that can't support itself and needs rigging to keep it upright is not pretty to look at. Fortunately, I don't get fixated on a perfectly straight trunk, so I regularly prune fast growing plants or those that naturally flop over to stiffen them up. A 6" stick of a given diameter is much more difficult to bend than a 16" stick of = thickness. Tree trunks are no different, so if you shorten yours it automatically becomes more rigid. After you prune, you can train a newly emerging branch to the vertical, or prune an existing branch back to a bud facing up for a fresh leader.

The rewards we get from growing can be expanded via the application of what we learn. For instance, buying a plant and watching it grow can be rewarding. Watching it die because of root congestion or a high level of salts accumulated in the soil isn't; so learning how to eliminate those conditions that induce decline is a reward over and above just watching a plant grow. Taking control over how a plant is to look, at least for me, also adds another level of reward. The more I learn and apply, the more rewarding growing gets.

Because I recognize how much more reward there is to be had from learning how to manipulate your plants and physically create something pleasing to the eye while keeping them healthy over the long term, I can get excited about sharing with you the things that have helped me increase what I am able to take from the growing experience ...... which is why I'm here instead of parked in front of the TV. THIS is rewarding - TV isn't. ;-)

If the tree has recovered from the repot, you could cut it back if you like to stiffen and hopefully force some branching. I think if you remove the top 4 leaves, it will leave you with a nice cluster of leaves with short internodes. Typically and for tropical/sub-tropical trees in general, you want to do your hardest pruning in late spring (Mem Day or so, for you). This allows you to remove all the lanky growth that comes over winter, and to keep the nice growth with short internodes that occurs during high light periods after Mem Day.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 11:00PM
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