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Repotting a Ficus

Posted by macthayer z4 WI (My Page) on
Sun, Mar 9, 08 at 17:56

I was given a Ficus - not sure of it's botanical name but after going through a book on Bonsai, I'm quite sure it's a ficus. Anyway, it must LOVE what I was doing because it grew and grew and grew. I kept it trimmed, of course, but eventually the leaves starting getting paler in color, and I thought "Aha! Time for repotting this baby!" (I'd had it about 2 years). So I bought the potting soil and new decorative stones for the top. Then I tried to get it out of the pot. It was so pot bound that I am astonished I didn't break the pot getting it out. Needless to say, I had to trim the roots to get it back in, something I'd never done before. I was sure I would kill the plant. I also cut the top back considerably. After all that, I couldn't get it back in the pot no matter how hard I tried! The diameter of the woody roots made it impossible. So I bought a somewhat bigger, deeper pot. Now I'm looking at the "soil" that was in the pot. It was basically tiny stones and potting soil. Obviously I need to mimic that. The "Bonsai potting soil" that I received is entirely inorganic, like the stones, so I will need to come up with a mix for repotting this Baby. And by the way, I really did think I'd killed it, so I've had it in an aluminum pan for the past three months, waiting for it to die, and it's done nothing but grow like crazy! So it deserves to be repotted. Does anyone have a "recipe" for a mix they could share with me? Also, how do you get those stones to stick together on the top without forming a barrier that water can't get through? I need to hold in the "dirt", but I still need to water it. Sorry for the long question, and thanks for any help you can offer. MacThayer


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Repotting a Ficus

Hi, wish you could put up a picture of your tree as it would help a lot, but for now, forget sticking the stones on top - very bad idea, even though you see them sold like that all over, our first lesson is always GET RID of the glued on stones! They keep the soil from drying properly, they keep you from judging wetness, they grow bugs underneath, etc. etc. and you so don't need them. Or moss - inappropriate for ficus anyhow. Did you make a drainage hole in the pan? Without it, your tree's roots will rot very quickly. You need to get to a garden centre and speak to someone knowledgable, (not necessarily the young clerk at the cash) and ask for a coarse soil that will let 02 into the mix and drain quickly instead of staying sodden in the peaty mix potting soil is made of. Don't get too much though, because you're going to use it as 1/3 of a mix who's 2/3 will be grit - like aquarium gravel plus some perlite for lightness. Now if you 'accidentally' water too often, it won't be so terrible as it'll go through the mix fast. Also never sit the pot in drain water, put it up on stones in the tray instead. If you're concerned about holding the tree in the pot til it's established, get some relatively hefty aluminum or annealed cooper wire (in other words, not thin and sharp). I'm assuming now you have a proper pot with (preferably) two good size holes, covered with plastic canvas (any craft store will have some) through which you thread (in a U shape from the outside) the wire into the pot (before repotting!). Then add an inch or so of the mix, plonk the tree in, and carefully use the wire (not too tight) through the roots up to the larger ones, which you'll anchor with the wires (you can always remove/replace the wire next spring). Continue filling in all gaps around the roots with the mix til you're done. Water and wait for it to recover (it would have been less stressful to have waited a few weeks or so to do the upper pruning - it's only a myth that you need to balance roots with foliage/branch development, within reason. Give it the most light you can all day and fertilize carefully (a little often is better than lots at one time). If you can't find a 2-hole pot use a short stick to help anchor the wire at the bottom.


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

Thanks Lucy! Yes, I have drainage in my aluminum pan - in fact, the bottom is filled with stones in addition to my added drainage holes, so no concern about drainage, which is why I think its continued to do so well. And I'm very careful about not watering it too much. I learned early that it didn't like wet roots. And yes, I have a proper pot with two good sized holes and mesh to cover them. The potting soil I got will serve well for the 2/3 grit, I think. It's partly hard (like rubber) and airy (like perlite). It was the rest of the mix that I was confused about. I know some people even use osmocote in their mixes, but I assume you don't recommend that? And the reason I trimmed the top back so much is that the leaves were so pale -- really washed out. I wanted to start growing healthy leaves again. They had been a really deep green, so it didn't make any sense to keep the pale ones. (e.g. not pale as in new growth, but pale after fully developed). So do you just leave the top of your Bonsai uncovered, no stones? How do you keep the mixture from washing away when you water? Or does that mean I have too much mixture? Thanks! I'm on my way to check out the wire and a potting mix! I do have fertilizer for Bonsai plants, but have been holding off since taking it out of the pot. Right now I have it under the ligihts, but normally it sits in a spot that gets indirect southern exposure and it seems to thrive there. MacThayer


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

Ok.. no stones or shards on the bottom... just the mix. Also, it's how often you water, not how much you give it, which is why the proper fast draining mix is important. Not giving it enough could dry out the roots at the bottom, especially in bad soil, whereas in a fast draining mix, you can water more often without worrying about it staying wet. How you keep the soil from washing out is by getting a watering can (small is better for house plants) with a flat pad at the spout's end, full of tiny holes, which waters the tree like rain, lets it sink in without washing away (and when you get the peat out of your mix, the problem will be gone anyhow - peat is very hard to 'wet', but once wet (as below surface soil) it never dries!


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

Hi Lucy, and anyone else who has been following this post. I have repotted my ficus. I did not use a wire because I used a slightly deeper pot which eliminated the "mounding/water run off" problem I'd been having. I have also purchased a tiny "bonsai watering pot" off eBay, so that will further reduce any erosion problems without the stones in place. I was very pleased that the new leaves are coming in a very deep green, so obviously I'd been right in assuming the plant needed to be repotted. Now it only needs a bit of shaping. After I very gently knocked off the soil I'd added previously, I added the new mix: 2 parts grit to I part potting soil plus additional perlite and a touch of fertilizer. I potted it all up, and when I watered it, the water came through the bottom holes almost like rain, so it looks like I've got the drainage right. Thanks Lucy for your help! Sherrill (MacThayer)


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

My first post in this forum, last fall I bought three bonsai ficus plants. I had lots of questions, most of which have been answered by macthayer. Thanks for the enlightening. My main concern now is how do I get the glued-on stones off without damaging the plants? The darn stuff is firmly adhered to the pots.

annelida


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

Use a butter knife, small pliers, anything you have and pry up the edge at the opening a little, then you can just peel off, in chunks, with your fingers. But as you've left them on so long, it might be harder to do as the glue's probably dried out more. You can drizzle warm water around the edges to loosen those parts - but wait for a day when you plan to water anyway so if a little gets into the soil it won't be 'too much'.


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

lucy, you have my undying gratitude! I've been concerned that I might damage the bulging root systems of these banyan-type ficus removing the junk, then that NOT removing the junk would strangle them. This is my project for next week. I'll probably have to destroy the plastic pots, since the stones are solidly glued to them. Meanwhile, find replacement pots. Thanks so much for all the useful information from a bonsai newbie......

annelida


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

You're complicating this way too much - it's a 3 minute job that people do every day. The warm water will allow the edge glue to loosen (though the vast majority of the stones will break right away when you pull/peel them up - usually only in a few pieces, and any bits stuck to the pot will eventually disappear. Don't break your pots or take a chance damaging the tree. I know it seems 'fused' at the edges, but it's not if you do what I recommend.


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

I have a fairly large ficus that I would like to bonsai. I am fairly new to this but have taken an introductory course to this art. I am not a novice to plants, however. The question I have is that it is one of those commercial ficus with a braided trunk base, and am wondering if this would be a good candidate for bonsai? Also, how far back can I cut it down without harming it? Should I leave some branches with leaves, or can it be cut further back than that? Spring is almost here and I'm thinking this would be the time to take this step if I am going to at all.


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

Hi, braided anything is considered tacky in bonsai, as are contrived curves and lollipop topiary styling, but depending on how high up the braid begins, if there is a 'clean' trunk of any height and hopefully with some movement at all in it (vs straight up and down) you might have a candidate. What shape are the surface roots in - relatively well balanced around the trunk, any one or more lumped up on one side, etc.? I suggest you take a look at www.bonsaihunk.us/cultural.html (1/2 way down page) for a real expert's take on ficus and a lot more.


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

Lucy, you were correct in that I was agonizing too much about getting the glued stones off my Ficus Microcarpa. I had the stuff off in just a few minutes. The soil appeared to be regular potting soil, and way too wet. None of the anchoring aids I've read about had been used. Plants are being aired out in their existing pots, and will replant. Checked out bonsaihunk.us and will be a regular visitor to that site.

Thanks to both you and Macthayer...


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

njpinebaron,

If you let that braid grow, those mini-trunks will eventually fuse, creating a single, thicker trunk. This is a common short cut used on ficus.

Matt


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

Lucy...thank you for the reply. Makes sense about the contrived/braided tacky aspect. If I am going to do anything with it it may be for my own interest and experimentation. The last thing I want to do however is kill it! It is about 6-7 ft now and I don't know how an extreme pruning back will affect it. I may take a pic and post it for further feed back.


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

You can chop ficus big time with no problem - you should get plenty of new buds.


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RE: Repotting a Ficus

njpinebaron,

Lucy is right. I cut my Ficus back to just a few leaves -- was sure I'd killed it -- and it is now filling out beautifully, with dense, heathy leaves and branches.
MacThayer


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