Pruning of Ficus Tree

fullrunOctober 4, 2009

Would appreciate input regarding pruning of an indoor ficus benjamina tree.

The tree is in extremely healthy condition. And I have successfully pruned it's canopy several times. But,I am in question of what to do about the thin tiny branches which are sometimes 10" to 12" long that have growth only at their tips - three or four leaves. Is it possible to encourage growth further back?... or should I simply prune it back to the limb from which it is an off-shoot? These branches are more often near the bottom of the tree or within it's center where there is less light. Recommendations and suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

This doesn't begin as an evaluation of the original poster's pruning skills - just as a general musing.

Proper pruning of any tree doesn't just mean snipping it into a select topiary shape and calling it good. Pruning involves thinning the branches to allow light an air movement into the canopy interior, which in turn promotes growth from the interior that allows you to shorten branches and keep the tree compact. Those branches that grow with greater vigor than other branches are cut back hard, and those branches that are weak are allowed or encouraged to grow stronger (by not pruning or not pruning as hard).

The basics of why and how to prune, along with the basic physiology involved with the act itself, can be taught in only a few minutes, but still very few have even basic understanding of how pruning can/should be employed to help keep plants healthy and attractive. BTW - pruning does not apply only to trees. Most plants can be helped toward better health and appearance if their owners would take the time to learn about pruning and then apply the knowledge.

"... what to do about the thin tiny branches which are sometimes 10" to 12" long that have growth only at their tips - three or four leaves. Is it possible to encourage growth further back?... or should I simply prune it back to the limb from which it is an off-shoot?"

If you follow some basic rules, these branches will become a valuable part of the o/a composition. They need air and light to survive. The starting point is to remove all the material on the tree that spoils it's appearance. This includes hard pruning very vigorous branches that have grown thick and look incongruous, removing all branches that grow downward or nearly downward, removing all branches in the bottom 2/3 of the canopy that grow upward, removing all branching that either grows back toward the center of the tree and selecting for removal one of every pair of branches that cross. If you do this, you'll be amazed at how much better your tree looks, and at how much more light and air reaches the center of the tree.

The fact that the tree's interior will see much greater amounts of light and air movement, combined with your having removed a considerable number of apical meristems (growing tips of branches) will go a loooong way toward stimulating back-budding over the entire tree. You can actually cause rampant back-budding in trees growing with good vitality by tip-pruning all branches with 3 or more leaves and reducing all branches with 5 or more leaves to 2 leaves. This also has the effect of strengthening the thin and weak branches you referred to because of the additional light they will get and because the forced back-budding will force more leaves to grow on these weakened branches. More leaves means more food means more woody tissue being manufactured means fatter and stronger branches.

Al

    Bookmark   October 4, 2009 at 1:54PM
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meesh14

I have a ficus that has a huge strong offshoot that should have been pruned years ago before it got so large. The stem is at least 3/4 of an inch thick. Can I cut this offshoot off without killing it and the rest of the tree and try and re-pot it? Or am I destined to have a tree with two distinct foliage balls.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 11:43AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Need more info - like what kind of tree it is (species), state of health, what % of the plant's photosynthesizing machinery is on that branch .....

Undoubtedly, you'll be able to prune it off, but deciding when the best time would be to do it, or when it can be done w/o significantly setting the plant back is the real question.

3/4" is a very large cutting for most of the species of ficus under most conditions - but not so large for others ..... and where you live will have some bearing on the whole deal. ;-) Air layering is always a viable option.

Al

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 1:50PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Oh yeah - how about a picture?

Al

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 1:51PM
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