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Ficus Trees in Containers

Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
Tue, Oct 19, 10 at 22:59

The previous thread about ficus culture has reached the limit of 150 posts twice. The last thread was hurriedly put together, and addressed issues as they arose. Hopefully, this will cover most of the areas where questions arise regarding how to best maintain Ficus in containers.

The information I am supplying comes from knowledge gleaned from diligent pursuit of the physiology of woody plants, and in many cases from the pursuit of information specific to various Ficus species. In order that I might be proficient at maintaining trees in containers over the very long term, I have also spent a considerable amount of time and effort gaining a command of other plant sciences, with soil science, soil/water relationships, and nutrition getting special attention. My habit is to share information, particularly information I have verified via my own practical experience and observations, my experience running to more than 20 years of maintaining healthy Ficus specimens in containers. I�m also called upon frequently to share in the surrounding communities, teaching other gardeners and bonsai practitioners how to maintain healthy containerized trees; and in general, how to get more from their container gardening experience.

From the family: Moracea (relative of mulberry)

Native: India, other tropical - subtropical regions

The Ficus genus
with more than 800 known species, is undoubtedly an extremely popular choice as a containerized tree. It tolerates the "dryer than desert" conditions actually found in many or most centrally heated homes reasonably well, and is endowed with a natural genetic vigor that makes it easy to grow. There is however, much myth and misconception regarding the care of this plant and the reasons it reacts as it does to certain cultural conditions. I would like to talk a little about the plant and then offer some specific information regarding its culture. I will primarily address Ficus benjamina - the 'weeping fig', but the commonly grown Ficus elastica - rubber tree, has the same cultural preferences. In fact, we can virtually lump all the Ficus species commonly grown as houseplants into a single group in all areas except light preferences. We need to make allowances for some of the fig species that won't tolerate direct sun as well as benjamina and elastica, and we may as well expand that exception to the variegated cultivars of benjamina and elastica as well.

Ficus benjamina
is one of the species of Ficus commonly referred to as a strangler fig. It often begins its life in duff, in the crotch of a tree, or high on a branch as a seed deposited in the droppings of a bird or other tree-dwelling animal. After the seed germinates and as it grows, it produces thin aerial roots that often dangle in the moist air or attach themselves to the host trunk, while gaining nutrients and moisture from the air, leaf litter, and the bark of the supporting tree. It does not actually parasitize the plant it grows on, it only uses it as support. This relationship is termed epiphytic, or the tree an epiphyte. Those familiar with the culture of orchids and bromeliads will recognize this term.

After the aerial roots have formed and extended, and when they finally reach the ground, the tree begins a tremendous growth spurt, sending out more roots and developing a dense canopy that eventually shades out the supporting tree at the same time the roots are competing for nutrients in the soil and compressing the trunk and branches of the support tree to the point of stopping sap flow. Eventually the supporting tree dies and all that is left where it once stood, is a hollow cavity in the dangling Ficus roots that have now thickened and self-grafted to become the trunk. It is easy to see how many of the trees in the Ficus genus have come to be called by the name 'strangler figs'.

Roots and soil
The roots of some Ficus species are so powerful they can destroy concrete buildings or buckle roads, and can be measured in miles as they extend underground in search of water. When we consider the young tree and its ability to obtain sufficient moisture from just the surrounding air and bark surface of the support tree by way of aerial roots, we can draw an important conclusion: All species of Ficus prefer well-aerated and fast draining soils. In this regard, they are actually no different than any other tree you would endeavor to grow in a container, so try always to use a soil that guarantees an ample volume of air in the soil and excellent drainage for the intended interval between repots. This can be accomplished by using a soil whose primary fraction is comprised of large particles (like pine bark) combined with ample volumes of perlite or other inorganic ingredients like Turface, pumice, Haydite, crushed granite, or others. I grow all my Ficus in a soil mix consisting of equal parts of pine or fir bark, Turface (a calcined clay product), and Gran-I-Grit (crushed and screened granite). To be fair, I will add a qualifier here: the cost of the potential for superior growth and added vitality when using these fast (draining) well-aerated soils comes in the form of you needing to be prepared to water more frequently as the soil particle size increases. Roots are the heart of the plant, and the rest of the plant can do nothing without the roots� OK - the top just THINKS it's in control. Take care of the roots, and if your other cultural conditions are favorable, your plants will thrive.

Before I go on
I would like to say there is a very important relationship between your choice of soil, your watering habits, and a very common and serious problem that too often goes completely undiagnosed. That problem is a high level of soluble salts in the soil. When we choose soils that hold water for extended periods, we put our trees at risk for the fungal infections that cause root rot. Reasoning tells us that to avoid the root rot issue, we should not water to the point of soil saturation; rather, we often feel that watering in sips to avoid the specter of root rot is the wise alternative. This strategy though, puts us squarely on the horns of a dilemma. If we don't/can't water copiously on a regular basis, the soluble salts, i.e.,all the dissolved solids in our tap water and fertilizer solution accumulate in the soil. As the level of salts in the soil increases, the plant finds it increasingly difficult to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in water. If the salt level gets too high, it can actually 'pull' water OUT of cells in exactly the same fashion that curing salt 'pulls' moisture from ham or bacon. This 'reverse osmosis' causes plasma to be torn from the walls of cells as they collapse, killing cells and tissue. The technical term for this is plasmolysis, but we more commonly refer to it as fertilizer burn. Fertilizer burn can occur whether or not we use fertilizer. The salts in our tap water alone, can/will eventually build to the point where water uptake is impossible, unless we actively take precautions.

Watering
Ficus b. will tolerate dry soil quite well. Allowing the soil to completely dry; however, will result in undue drought stress and accompanying leaf loss, an expensive affair, considering the plant will call heavily upon energy reserves to replace lost foliage - reserves that might better have been directed to other functions and growth. If you wait just until the soil feels dry to the touch at the drain hole before watering, your tree will be free from the effects of drought stress. Soils feel dry to the touch when their moisture content is somewhere between 40-45%, but Ficus can still extract water from soils until moisture content drops to about 25-30%, giving you a 10-15% cush AFTER the soil feels dry. Use a finger or a sharpened wooden dowel stuck deep into the soil to check for moisture content. A wooden skewer or chopstick used in similar fashion is also a useful tool, and feeling the soil at the drain hole and withholding water until it feels dry there, is also a good way to judge. Water meters are rather ineffective, They actually measure EC (electrical conductivity). To illustrate: Insert a clean probe into a cup of distilled water. It will read 'DRY'. Add a little table salt of fertilizer, it will read 'WET'.

I try never to water my Ficus with cold water, opting for room water or ambient temperature water. The best way to water your Ficus it to apply water slowly until you estimate the soil is almost wet enough that water is about to appear at the drain hole. Wait a few minutes and water again so at least 10-15% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain. The first watering dissolves accumulated salts in the soil and allows them to go into solution. The second watering carries them out of the container. We already illustrated the importance of using a soil that allows us to water in such a manner without having to worry abut root rot. If you feel you cannot water in this manner without risking lengthy soil saturation and the possibility of root rot, your soil is probably inappropriate for the plant. Lest anyone complain at that observation, I would point out there is a difference between the growth and vitality of plants that are only tolerating a soil vs. the same traits in plants that appreciate (thrive in) a medium with superior properties.

More about soils as questions arise ....

Light
Although many Ficus begin life as an understory tree and are generally quite shade tolerant, most actually spend their life struggling through the shaded understory until they eventually reach the forest canopy, where they finally find full sun and can begin to come into their own. We should give Ficus all the sun they will tolerate. I grow all varieties of Ficus b. in full sun, and they tolerate it well - even some of the newer cultivars that are supposed to be extremely shade-tolerant.

I have often read anecdotal assertions that Ficus b defoliates at the slightest change in light levels (or temperature). I have found this to be only partly true. Any trees I have moved from a location with a lower light level to a brighter location have not suffered leaf loss (abscission). Instead, they have rewarded me with more robust growth and back-budding. If the change is reversed, so the tree is moved from high irradiance levels to a dimmer location, leaf loss is probable, but even then it depends on both the suddenness of the change and the difference between the two light levels. It might be interesting to note that trees that are being grown out, or allowed to grow unpruned, are most likely to suffer loss of interior leaves when light levels are reduced. Trees in bonsai culture, or properly pruned trees where thinning has occurred to allow more light to the trees interior are less affected.

Indoor supplemental lighting is a broad subject, but if you have the ability to provide it, your trees will definitely show their appreciation. Brighter light = smaller leaf size, shorter internodes, and superior ramification (finer branching), not to mention a marked increase in overall mass.

Temperature
Expect the most robust growth characteristics when the plant is kept in a temperature range between 60-80* F. Actual root temperatures above 90-95* should be avoided because they impair root function/metabolism and slow or stop growth. Temperatures below 55* should also be avoided for several reasons. They slow photosynthesis to the degree that the plant will necessarily call on stored energy reserves to power metabolism and keep its systems orderly. This essentially puts the tree on 'battery power' - running on its energy reserves. After exposure to chill and subsequent return to more favorable temperatures, the plant does not quickly recover the ability to carry on normal photosynthesis. The time needed for the plant to recover its normal photosynthesizing ability is more appropriately measured in days, than hours. Leaf loss can also occur as a result of exposure to chill, particularly sudden chill.

It is prudent to select a location free from cold breezes for your tree. Even short exposure to very cold draughts can cause leaves to abscise (fall/shed). The cool temperatures slow or halt the flow of auxin (a growth regulator - hormone) across the abscission zone at the base of each leaf petiole (stem) which allows an abscission layer to form and causes leaves to fall. Chill also stimulates an increase in abscissic acid (also a growth regulator - hormone) which is also a player in leaf loss.

Benjamina can tolerate temperatures as low as the mid-30s for brief periods if the exposure to chill is gradual, but it should be noted that even though there may not be any readily visible impact on the tree, the tree will always be in decline at temperatures below about 55* because of the impact on the tree's inability to carry on efficient photosynthesis. Sudden and large temperature drops can cause varying degrees of chill injury in the plant, caused by phenolic compounds leaking from cells, which shows up looking much like freeze damage. Severe injury could occur in plants that were growing at 80-85* and were subjected to sudden chilling to temperatures as high as 45-50*

Humidity
Benjamina's thick, leathery leaves with waxy cuticles help to limit moisture loss, making the plant suitable to a wide range of indoor humidity levels, even though it prefers humidity levels above 50%. When humidity levels are blamed for leaf loss or necrotic leaf tips and margins, it is likely the blame has been misplaced. Those pesky high salt levels in soils, most common in late winter, can make it difficult and in extreme cases impossible for the plant to absorb water to replace that being lost to the air through transpiration. The fast soils that allow copious watering, which flushes the soil of salts regularly are actually much more important/beneficial than maintaining ultra high humidity levels. Misting is very effective ..... For about 30 seconds. Forget the misting please, it is ineffective. For small plants, a humidity tray may marginally effective.

Fertilizer
I prefer any 3:1:2 ratio soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro 24-8-16 or 12-4-8, and I especially like Dyna-Gro's Foliage-Pro 9-3-6, because it provides all the essential nutrients in the approximate ratio the plant will use and in favorable ratios to each other. Alternately, a 1:1:1 ratio fertilizer like MG 20-20-20 is suitable. Because I use fast soils, I can fertilize at very low doses, every time I water. How YOU can/should fertilize is something we should discuss. It can change by season, and also varies based on soil choice and watering habits.

There is no question that in addition to offering greater potential for growth and vitality within the limits of other cultural factors, fast draining, well-aerated soils also get the nod for greatly increasing the grower�s margin for error in the areas of watering and fertilizing.

Defoliating
Leaf loss in Ficus is probably the cause of more conjecture than any other aspect of its culture, so even though I have mentioned it above, I will reiterate. Even though it is widely held that Ficus b. defoliates at virtually any cultural change, with changes in light and temperature most often cited, it is not so. The plant tends to defoliate when there is a fairly abrupt change in light levels - from bright to dim, or after exposure to sudden chill, but the plant does not tend to defoliate when the cultural conditions of light and temperature move from unfavorable to favorable, i.e. from dim to bright or from cool to warm/appropriate - unless the change is markedly radical.

Repotting
First, I draw a major distinction between potting-up and repotting. Potting up can be undertaken at any time. It involves moving the plant to a slightly larger pot and back-filling with fresh soil, with a minimal amount of root disturbance. Much to be preferred to potting-up, is repotting. Repotting, which has a substantial rejuvenating effect, includes removing all or almost all of the old (spent) soil and selective root-pruning. It is by far the preferred method and probably the most important step in insuring your trees always grow at as close to their potential genetic vigor as possible. Repotting as opposed to potting-up is the primary reason bonsai trees are able to live in small containers for hundreds of years while the vast majority of trees grown as houseplants are lucky to survive more than 5 years without root work

It is pretty much universally accepted among nurserymen, that you should pot up at or before the time where the condition of the roots/soil mass is such that the roots and soil can be lifted from the container intact. Much testing has been done to show that trees left to languish beyond this point will have growth and vitality permanently affected. Even when planted out, growth and longevity of trees allowed to progress beyond this point is shown to be reduced.

The ideal time to repot a Ficus, is when the plant has good vitality and in the month prior to its most robust growth. June and July are prime months for most of the US. HOW to properly repot is beyond the scope of the initial post, but I am sure the subject will be covered in detail as questions arise.

Remember - potting up a root bound plant is a stopgap fix, and ensures the plant has no opportunity to grow to its genetic potential within the limits of other cultural factors; while fully repotting, which includes a change of soil and root pruning, ensures the plant WILL have the opportunity within the limits of other cultural factors. Strong words, but to repeat the illustration: the bonsai tree is capable of living in a tiny pot, perfectly happy for hundreds of years, while we struggle to squeeze 5 years of good vitality from a root bound plant - root work being the difference.

Pests
Ficus trees suffer from some pests. Most common are scale, followed closely by mites and mealies. I have always had good luck with neem oil as a preventative and fixative. We can discuss infestations and treatment as it arises, but so it gets included in the original post, I use only pure, cold-pressed neem oil, such as that packaged by Dyna-Gro in the black and white container. The beneficial active ingredient in neem is azadirachtin, the effectiveness of which is greatly reduced by steam and alcohol extraction methods, which brings us full circle to why I use the cold-pressed product.

Oedema can sometimes be an issue as well;. Suspect it if you see corky patches on the leaves, usually preceded by wet, bumpy patches that usually go unnoticed.

This is a long post, and took a long time to compose. I hope it answers most of your questions, but somehow, I cannot help but hope there are a few lingering that you would like to ask or points you would like to have clarified. It is great fun visiting and helping people who are devoted about improving their abilities to provide for their trees.

Best luck.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Link to the previous thread


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Excellent, comprehensive post Al! Summarizing a lot of content from other threads into one.

To answer your question from the previous thread: I did not put a wick when I potted up because I saw your post after I did so. I did read your suggestions on how to check soil dryness, but I asked again, because a) wondering whether it's different in my case because I have 2 soil types in one pot.

b) the dowel/skewer method seems like it might take some time to get used to (a piece of wood would probably take some time to get damp, no?), and

c) with a large pot it's not practical to lift it up to see if the soil at the holes are damp

Going back to the wick, since you said it shouldn't touch the effluent, it seems like the easiest way to do that would be to drill a hole on the side of the pot (close to the base).

IOW, If the wick is attached to a hole that's on the underside of the pot, how would you prevent it from touching the effluent?

deburn


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Oct 19, 10 at 23:53

Thanks for the kind words, Deburn! I appreciate the compliment.

It's not the best arrangement to have the dissimilar soils in the same pot, but you'll be able to make do. The porous soil will dry before the inner root ball, but fortunately, water will diffuse through the new pretty quickly in vapor form. You'll just need to play it by ear.

The wood only takes seconds to get damp/ You'll be able to tell by the color of the tip and how dirty it looks, if the soil is wet or not.

The most effective spot for the wick is in a hole on the bottom near the edge, so the hole can be at the lowest point of the container when it's tipped at a 45* angle. Setting it on blocks so it's suspended, or watering the pot over the sink will solve the dangling wick issue. If you can't manage that, I guess you'll need to improvise & do the best you can - or skip the wick and see how things go.

Al



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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Wed, Oct 20, 10 at 7:28

Excellent post, Al. It answers any questions I might have had on why past experiences with Ficus plants were, for the most part, unsuccessful. I don't currently grow any Ficus, but I have killed my share in the past, I'm sorry to say. A lot of the information, however, can be utilized in growing other plants, and in that vein, it's a most useful writing to me.

I'm continually amazed at the time and effort you put in to explaining plant growth in such a way as to make it all very easy to understand. And once again, I thank you for your translation of plant science into simplified factual information that can be utilized by the home grower, and for liberally sharing that information. It is much appreciated.

Perhaps it exists and I missed it, but I'd really like to see a play by play repotting, complete with root work. That, I think, would be most valuable to myself and others.

In the past, before I became aware, I'd just pull a plant out of its current container and plunk it into another container one size larger, add a little soil to fill in the space, and call it a day. I know now that this is not the best way to proceed, of course, and removing the old soil to replace with fresh medium is the way to go. The difficulties begin when the roots are too tightly packed to adequately remove all or most of the spent soil, and I think a lot of people may be intimidated by the prospect of disturbing the rootball to make a repot truly successful.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, a few pictures would be invaluable toward this effort. If such a thread exists, perhaps someone could point the way. Otherwise, I think a thread on the general repotting of a plant with overcrowded roots, complete with accompanying photographs, would be an excellent addition as a future endeavor. No pressure, of course! ;-)

Carry on... and thank you, once again. Happy gardening to all!


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Wow, nice info Al...thanks for taking the time. I also have always be a pot up person, not knowing any better. I feel bad for my plants I have mistreated all these years! I simply did not know I could do that kind of "damage" to their roots and that is what I felt even if I accidentally broke off a root....but I do mainly miniature mounted orchids so root pruning is not something they would like much I don't think. So from your info on soils it sounds as if the "soil" should be more like an orchid mix type of medium...??....would you say that is true?

Tammy


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Oct 20, 10 at 9:45

Thanks, Tammy - glad to see you made the trip to the new thread. ;o)

Choosing a soil has a lot of facets that most people don't consider. If you interviewed 100 houseplant growers and asked what their soil options were, they would start the list with any of dozens of commonly found, commercially prepared, peat-based soils.

A short history of how I came to settle on 2 basic soil recipes: 20-odd years ago, I decided I was going to be a bonsai whizzz. I got trees and set out on the journey ...... and very quickly failed, because I couldn't keep the trees alive. To be fair, I was digging trees from the landscape and potting therm out of season ..... usually in garden soil, so the results were, at that point, predetermined.

I realized I needed to do some homework, so I started studying - hard. I learned about soil science, physiology, and a lists of other areas of science that pertain to husbandry. I soon discovered that soil was the most important part of the composition. That the better the soil was, the easier it was to raise healthy plants, willing to grow well in containers.

It's probably a good idea to look at what makes a soil 'better' than others. Aeration is key; so much so that you can nearly say "The more, the better". There is a drawback to aeration, however. The more highly aerated a soil is, the lower its water retention, which translates into you having to water more often. For many chronic over-waterers, this is a disguised blessing, but lets proceed as though it's just plain more work. No one is willing to work for free, so we need to look at what we get for our extra effort.

We automatically get greater potential for better health and growth. The soils many of us use have their larges fraction comprised of larger particles. Pine or fir bark, Turface, perlite, crushed granite ..... are all ingredients large enough that they ensure the large air spaces between particles we refer to as macro-pores. This provides an extremely healthy environment for roots, and you absolutely MUST have happy roots to have a happy, vibrant plant. There cannot ever be an exception to that rule ..... unless there are rootless plants. The reason we grow orchids in special mediums is to make their roots happy. It seems perfectly reasonable to believe that if we can make the roots of plants from other genera happier, we can achieve butter growth/vitality as well.

That was the theoretical side. The practical side is that it works just like I said it does. So you can see I'm not just talking the talk, you can see a good number of pictures of some of my containerized plants if you click this embedded link. You can also find the pages of GW full of testimony by others, who note the marked improvement in their abilities to maintain their plantings after including well-aerated and durable soils into their routine. I'm not talking about a handful, there are literally thousands of growers happy for having learned there are options other than 'from-the-bag soils'.

I'm not saying you can't make heavier (more water-retentive) soils work well, but I am saying you can increase your potential for best growth and vitality, and increase your margin for error in the watering, and fertilizing program, as well as reduce (usually entirely eliminate) the likelihood of soluble salts accumulating in the soil; this, by virtu of the fact that with plants in these fast-draining soils, you can water freely with virtually no concern for root rot issues (within reason - you still need to use common sense).

I'll leave a link (below) to something I wrote that that highlights the soil/water retention relationship. So many people have mentioned the equivalent of an 'AHA! moment' over the years that I feel comfortable suggesting that almost everyone will benefit from having a grasp of what I'm saying in the thread. Even if it didn't come from something I wrote, I would still say unequivocally that understanding what it says, is an important piece of the puzzle for all container gardeners. The thread and it's continuations is closing in on 2,000 posts, which is enough in itself to illustrate that others have found it of value, as I hope you will.

This is the soil I grow ALL my trees in:
Photobucket

It is a mix of equal parts of screened pine or fir bark, screened Turface, and crushed granite. Many can't imagine how you could grow in such a mix, but in container culture, soils are about structure - the GROWER is responsible for nutrition - not the soil. The soil needs only to supply anchorage and the best ratio of air:water you can build into it. Oh - it's also a considerable benefit if you can make the soil durable. The soils I use and suggest are all built around these important soil requirements. But ...... I'm still not selling a particular soil. I do show recipes designed to give you a well-reasoned starting point, but it is the concept of that aeration:water retention relationship that is so important to root health, and thus plant health.

So 'YES', Tammy. What you said is true. We might not want our soils to be as coarse as some of the orchid mixes, but your definitely on the right track.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: About soil/water relationships


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RE: Ficus in Containers - a 'How To'

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Oct 20, 10 at 9:47

Sorry, Jodi. I didn't see your post. I've been here too long already, but I'll be back after work. ;o)

THANK YOU, though. I always appreciate your kind words.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Jodi~Tammy~
Me too.. Guilty of just ploping the plants into the new container, then eventually kill/toss it.

This has been a great season for me, and am looking forward to many more, and learning new things! I think pics are a great idea Jodi.

Al~
I would like to try a Ficus B. in my Aviary. Off hand do you know if they are toxic?

JJ


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Hi Al,

Hmmm, in reading your info on "soils" it almost seems as if they could be grown hydroponically and in seeing the photo of your "soil" it even looks rather hydroponic-ish. I did try orchids that way but could not keep humidity high enough for it to be successful for certain species of orchids. But back to my ficus. Here are the photos I took last night and I am wondering if you have any further thoughts....I should prune off dead, do a simple root prune and pot up for the time being?

http://photos.gardenweb.com/garden/galleries/2010/10/tree2.html?cat=container_gardening

http://photos.gardenweb.com/garden/galleries/2010/10/tree1.html?cat=container_gardening

http://photos.gardenweb.com/garden/galleries/2010/10/rootstree1.html?cat=container_gardening


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers...photo

Hmm, not getting the photo posting done correctly

Here is a link that might be useful: tree


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Hi Al, I just flushed two plants for the first time (after just figuring out I could pop off their plastic bases :-)

My question is, should I fertilize them right after flushing or do I need to wait and fertilize the next time I water?

Thanks!
deburn


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Hi Morgan,
To have a photo show up in the post, you need to copy and paste the html code.

When you look at the preview it will show your photo, if not, something is wrong.

hope that helps.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Oct 20, 10 at 16:39

Jodi first - ;o) Thanks again for the compliment and kind observations. They are much appreciated, as your kind words always are.

I've posted pictures that detail a repotting, but when I catch my breath and balance, I'll post them again. It seems pretty appropriate on this thread and should be helpful. ..... and you're right. Most people feel that the rootball is the 'untouchable' part of the plant, that if you disturb the roots, death is assured. That many be something of a minor exaggeration, but given hobby growers as a group - it's very close to being an accurate general consensus. Rootwork, or continually potting up w/o missing the appropriate timing, is essential to ensuring the potential for peak growth and vitality. Since continually potting before it's too late isn't really as doable as it sounds, learning to perform root pruning is in the tree's best interest if you intend to tend the tree over the long haul.

I should also mention, that anything that reduces the tree's vitality, also makes the tree more susceptible to disease and insect infestation. A trees natural defense is a byproduct of it's metabolism, and reduced metabolic rates mean lower defenses. Keeping the roots happy, with room to roam ensures best growth and is the best defense against predation and disease. It's interesting to see how something as simple as soil, watering practices, light levels, even root pruning, can have such far-reaching affect.

JJ - I do know that the sap causes contact dermatitis where it touches my skin. I found this link about trees in aviaries. You might find it helpful.

Tammy - You're right. On a scale of 1-10, with growing in gardens and beds being a 1, and full hydroponics being a 10, conventional container culture (including houseplants) is probably a 7 or 8, with the more open soils pushing things just slightly toward the upper end of the scale.

I looked at your tree. I wouldn't do any real root pruning at this point, unless it was to prune SOME of the encircling roots around the perimeter of the root mass. I would do the vertical slits, cut 2" off the bottom, flush thoroughly, do the wick, pot up, fertilize @ half strength.

When you do root prune, take note of the very large root that, in the picture, originates behind the tree then moves counterclockwise until it is coming toward the viewer and pressing on the trunk. That root should be severed such that it isn't putting pressure on the trunk. You can see the hollowed depression higher on the trunk (crosses the large root I'm talking about at close to 90*) where it probably cut off water and nutrient flow. Part of the trunk died, but then a root emerged from higher up on the trunk because photosynthate and the polar flow (downward) of the hormone auxin was also blocked. That root will be a continuing problem as it enlarges. This is a good visual as to what also goes on unseen UNDER the soil, and illustrates why root pruning and correction of problems is essential to longevity and best vitality.

Deburn - You can fertilize immediately after you're done flushing, or wait until the first time the plant needs water. It's often repeated that you shouldn't fertilize a dry plant, but fertilizing a not quite dry plant with a reduced dose won't be a problem - especially since there will be no additional accumulated salts in the soil (you just flushed them out) at the time of fertilizing, to add to EC/TDS levels.

Al



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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Al,

You are amazing....just the visual of the roots and you explaining why it looks like it does really made sense. So that root in question....should it be cut close to the trunk or just "in half" where it is crossing the trunk portion....and should I do that next year right before spring...it is so hard to know when to do things to plants living in San Diego....it pretty much is always decent weather here. I suspect once I do as you say and pot up, the trees are going to send out new growth. Also, on those big roots on the soil....I would love to be able to keep them in view in the new pot but is it best for the trees to have them covered with the potting medium? Also, I saw mentioned in another thread that LECA/Hydroton can be used in the potting mix?? I so appreciate your help with this. I sure hope I can pull them through this. I got them for $15 each so it would be an "emotional" loss for me rather than monetary.

Tammy


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Oct 20, 10 at 18:42

Thank you, Tammy.

I've spent many hundreds of hours attending workshops/lectures/demonstrations lead by bonsai masters and other horticultural professionals, learning how to manipulate trees. Having had my hands in the rootballs of thousands of trees first observing the results of various undesirable root conditions, then being able to observe the fruits of my efforts to correct them doesn't hurt anything, either. ;o)

The root should be cut so the pressure is off the trunk. It looks like there is a fairly large root radiating off to the left, just at the soil line at about 11 0'clock on the back side of that root? That would be where I would cut it back to, unless, when you start working the roots you find a larger root more toward the front you can cut back to.

This will be a pretty major cut, so it should be done in stages. The first time you root prune, cut that root back rather hard. This will force the other roots to pick up some of the slack so you have stronger reinforcements when you remove such a major root. Just curious - are most of the dead branches on the same side as the offending root? I wouldn't be surprised if it was, but with the likelihood there are multiple issues buried, it's hard to tell what else might be in play w/o a look.

You can keep the 'nebari'. That is the Japanese word for the part of the tree comprised of the trunk flare and exposed roots. You can even accentuate it a little by planting a little higher. No problem exposing more of the roots at all. If you had a mind to, you could eventually expose every root that is alive at this moment. All large roots are transport roots, moving water, nutrients, food ... about the tree. Their job is to anchor and be the pipeline. The finest roots do all the work, so you can easily expose the fat roots w/o worry, as long as you don't go too far at one time and jeopardize too many fine roots.

There is no advantage in using the Hydroton mixed into the soil. The particles are too large to be the primary fraction of the soil, and as a secondary fraction, they wouldn't play a role as anything other than being a filler. When it comes time to build a soil, something like the one pictured above would be a good one to shoot for. It is extremely kind to roots, so your tree will have to love it by default. If that doesn't suit you, there are soils you can make with pine or fir bark, peat, and perlite that work well, too. If you end up with a bagged soil with a peat base, there are tips I can offer that will help you get the most out of it, but life would be easier after you've built your own. ;o) I'm biased, but with reason.

If your enthusiasm doesn't evaporate - I see a bonsai person building.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Hi Al,

Ha, I am already a bonsai person....tried a few, killed a few....but I adore them. I really was never a plant person because my mom "tortured" me with plants when I was growing up. They were everywhere and so until I was in my 30's I did not have plants or like them much. But then I got into keeping dart frogs and with that came a neat way to keep orchids in glass boxes and they lived. So from frogs, came orchid obsession, came bonsai obsession, now I am trying some succulents :) I guess it never ends once bitten. I feel extremely up to the challenge of returning these two ficus to a thriving state so I hope I can be patient with them :) Thanks again for your help....I will keep reading and I am sure will have some more ?'s for ya soon.

Tammy


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Al~
Thanks for the link. That's a great list!
Ficus b. is on the list as suitable for aviaries. :) Guess i need to find a tree now. ;)

JJ


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Oct 21, 10 at 12:11

Tammy - so we don't stray too far off topic, and if you'd like, contact me again off forum and I'll let you know what succulents I have to share. I'll be sending plants to someone from another thread soon, so it's no trouble to send you a package as well. You might even find a little bag of soil to evaluate. ;o)

You're welcome, JJ. Best to you!!

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Thu, Oct 21, 10 at 15:39

Al said: "I've posted pictures that detail a repotting, but when I catch my breath and balance, I'll post them again."

No rush, Al... in fact, if you can locate the original link, that would be more than fine!

The plants I most deal with in containers are bulbs, most notably Hippeastrum bulbs. With these, a repot and root prune is as simple as removing any of the fleshy roots that are deceased. They are easy to tell from the live roots, which are generally white and fleshy. When dead, they look flat and brownish, and they break away from the bulb easily.

Trees and some other plant types would be quite different. Not many have fat white fleshy roots. Although, it isn't too hard to tell dead from alive. The tricky part is that these roots don't separate as easily as the bulb roots I'm used to, and some actual trimming is usually in order.

I have two pot bound Plumeria plants, a Chalice Vine that needs help, and next spring I must repot my deciduous trees that will spend winter in the garage. I'm not afraid of ripping into a root system with sharp trimmers or pruners... but I do want to know what I'm doing before I begin! I would hate to kill my Japanese Maple or my Wysteria vines.

And, yes, Morgan... once the growing bug has bitten, it's terribly difficult to live without doing at least a minimum of puttering around, digging in the soil! There are hundreds and hundreds of plant types... heck, there are hundreds and hundreds of orchids, alone! It seems when interest wanes in one category, another replaces it!

As an example, I used to grow a variety of regular, common houseplants... and then I got bitten by the bulb bug! I now have well over 100 different Hippeastrum varieties! And that's not including my orchids and other plants! I live in a studio apartment... can you imagine?! :-)


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Jodik, just wanted to thank you for the tip on Reptibark in a couple of other threads. I was having a tough time getting it and I bought it from a local PetSmart soon after seeing your post!

Your apartment sounds like it must feel quite tropical :-) I guess you really like Hippaeastrums!

Al, just wanted to let you know that I've now put wicks in almost all my plants! I started with a few and was amazed to find that a few pots (with "regular" soil) still had wet wicks 3 days after watering! That's when I went around putting wicks for the rest of my plants


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I live in North Carolina. Is it better to use plastic containers or stone pots?


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Oct 23, 10 at 13:26

I'll detail a repotting of a Ficus benjamina so you can see how it's done. It wouldn't be necessary for you to be as radical in the amount of rootage removed as I was. Having repotted and root-pruned thousands of trees, I've developed a sense of how much work an individual tree will tolerate. As a bonsai practitioner, my goals might be a little different from yours, but I'll always advise you as though your goals are to have and maintain a healthy tree that is pleasant to look at, with the understanding that some sacrifice in the appearance department may be a temporary necessity in order to get from where you are now, to a tree that can be maintained indefinitely as an attractive specimen.

Even the most gorgeous bonsai are only that gorgeous for short periods of time before they are allowed to grow robustly to regain strength for the next round of procedures. Your plants are little different than how we treat bonsai, other than the work needn't be so radical.

This is a Ficus benjamina. It is leftover material from a workshop I conducted with trees this size as the subject material. No one wanted the tree because the surface roots were ..... well .... ugly, and the branching matched the roots. I brought the tree home and, based on the pruning scars, pruned it back hard to give it some semblance of a chance at decent branch structure. I guess, because the plant was in gritty mix when I started the work I'll describe, that I repotted the tree as well.
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The pots in the picture were two possibilities I'd selected. They are by a world famous potter, Sarah Raynor, but because of the extent of the work I had to do on this tree, you'll see they weren't used.

The next 3 pictures are from a schefflera I worked on, but the rootball is probably more representative of what yours will look like, so I'll use these pictures. You'll note that I removed about 3/4 of the roots with a saw. You can be more conservative, only removing 1/3 - 1/2 of the roots. As you'll see later, healthy trees tolerate this procedure quite well. Your job then, is to keep the trees healthy. ;o)

This tree is JUST at the point where it should be potted up I say 'potted up', because the roots are just barely congested enough that I could lift the root/soil mass intact. If I don't pot up, or repot, the tree will go into a slow decline. This isn't to say that this tree still wouldn't grow well for another year - it would. One option would be to let the tree go and repot in the subsequent summer. I just chose to repot it.
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I even went a step further with this tree and removed the roots growing in a circle at the perimeter of the root mass. I've also shown pictures on this forum of the tree recovered, and told a somewhat romantic story (with pictures) of how this plant eventually ended up in either Boston or NY (I forget) as a replacement for one murdered by a lovely lady's fiance. ;o)

Now, back to the Ficus ....

Here is the root mass after it was lifted, and with a little soil removed. I didn't SAW the bottom of the roots off. I'll remove the bottom roots with a pair of scissors after the soil has been removed.
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I can see there are some ugly surface roots that will need my attention, and the work may be more extensive than I originally planned.
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The root mass after the soil has been removed
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Here is a look at the point where I would normally pot the tree. I decided to go further though, based on the high level of vitality in the tree, and the fact there was still a large root representing a significant defect to be corrected. I decided to do only half of the work required to correct the defect.
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What the tree looked like after I partially corrected the major issue I referred to. There is still some root work needed, but it will have to wait until the next repot. There ARE limits, even for very healthy trees, and I didn't want to jeopardize the viability of the plant in return for a little expediency in my attempts to bring the tree to fruition as a specimen. I wouldn't suggest to you that you should be this aggressive with your trees, and for you, there is no need to. Just because a tree WILL tolerate harsh treatment is not sufficient reason to risk subjecting a tree to it unnecessarily. I guess what you should take from the pictures showing work more radical than I would ever suggest to you, is that bare-rooting and root pruning to alleviate congestion and root defects is your friend, and is the way to keep your trees healthy indefinitely, as long as you're doing well in the other cultural requirements dept.
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Notice the roots are wet/moist in every picture.

Because of the extent of the work I did, I didn't think it was a good idea to put the tree in the confinement a bonsai pot offers. Roots need room to run and I realized a larger soil mass would speed recovery. This is a top view of a Tokonoma training pot. It is sort of like terra cotta, in that it breathes, but it is fired at extremely high temperatures and will withstand freezing temps, not that this would ever be an issue with this tree, but it would be if I was working with temperate material. Note the coiled wick that goes through the drain hole. This removes any excess water that might accumulate on the pot bottom. Soggy soils kill roots. Period. Any medium that supports a layer of saturated soil at the bottom of the container, promotes the cyclic death and regeneration of the finest roots, which are the water/nutrient gatherers. The wick ensures the soil won't be wet, only damp - ideal. The wire is shaped like a pin-stitch staple and holds the plastic mesh drainhole screen firmly in place.
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Two views of the tree after potting
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The pruning scar will heal over within 2 years
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The tree after the repot was completed
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And after the top was pruned back. Since the tree is outdoors and had little root mass to keep it anchored, I used guy lines, much like you see on tall towers.
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A word about pruning the top as it relates to root work. It used to be commonly thought that a commensurate volume of canopy should be removed to 'balance roots to shoots'. That thinking is now passe. The canopy should be left intact in most cases because the leaves make the food that fuels root growth. Removing leaves reduces root growth and extends recovery time. Do try to keep the tree out of full sun for a few days and sheltered from wind after repotting though, so the roots are better able to keep up with the canopy's transpirational needs.

The reason I reduced the top was the extent of the work I did on the roots. If the roots cannot keep up with the canopy in terms of water needs, the tree will begin to shed some of the branches. The tree knows what branches are best kept and best shed. The problem with THAT scenario is the branches the tree wants to shed are probably branches important to my plan for the tree's future. Instead of me leaving the choice to the tree ..... I made the choice, leaving the branches important to MY vision, thereby bending the tree to my will. These are decisions based on an understanding of how to best manage a tree's energy. It's not likely that your trees would require treatment or decisions like that.

You're probably thinking the tree looked better BEFORE the pruning. ;o) It might have, but it had lots of branch defects. Plus, the perspective offered by the camera isn't very flattering. The tree looks much better in real life than in the picture. I'm mentioning this seeming paradox to reiterate that sometimes we need to bite a short term bullet to get to the long term rewards. Sometimes we need to resign ourselves to the idea that it's often necessary to do something radical, that will leave my tree looking less than perfect in order that I might eventually have something beautiful.

I cringe when I hear someone offer the advice "It needs to be staked", or "It needs to be tied up". Usually, what the plant needs is a little more light, better soil, and some attention to pruning, both above and below the soil.

BTW - that repot was undertaken in Jul '10. It's Oct now, and the tree is recovered and growing nicely in the basement under lights.

My hope is that this narrative convinces you that repotting, which includes bare-rooting and root pruning, is essential to the long-term growth and vitality of your woody houseplants (and many if not most others), and that it is not taboo, as so many believe, to get your hands into your plants' roots and work with them.

Take care.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Oct 23, 10 at 14:03

Deburn - Yes, the wick can be a valuable tool when dealing with the effects of heavy soils. I employ them regularly, though not in all plantings.

Catus - unless the pot material is gas permeable, that is to say unless it lets air in and noxious gasses out, there is no difference between plastic, glass, glazed ceramic, or others with no gas exchange through the walls. Terra cotta and other gas permeable containers get a big nod of approval because they improve aeration and gas exchange. They allow better escape of the excess CO2, methane, and sulfurous gasses that build up in soils, particularly in heavy soils that have saturated soil supporting anaerobic bacteria.

This question is often argued against from the perspectives of grower convenience because it takes a little more effort to water plants in permeable containers more frequently, as would be required, or from the perspective of not liking the appearance; but from the perspective of plant health/vitality/growth, it's difficult to argue against the added potential for superior plants in permeable pots.

I should add the caveat that COLOR of the container can be a significant factor. Roots function best somewhere in that 60-75* temperature range. Dark colored pots in direct sun can often cause media/root temperatures to rise as much as 40-50* higher than lighter (white) containers. I REGULARLY see root damage, often severe, on the sunny side of plants growing in unshaded black nursery containers as well as other dark containers. Gas permeable containers offer significant evaporative cooling as temperatures rise, which of course is also a benefit.

Al


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Great Explanation of Pruning

Al, thanks a ton - this is a nice, detailed explanation of the bare-rooting and root pruning process. I wish it was warmer already so I could start working on my own :-) (please see * below)

A couple of questions on the process: how do you make the whole drain thing at the bottom of the pot and what do you do it with? I don't know what a pin-stitch staple is. Also, do you drape the lower half of the wick over the water tray? So that it doesn't touch the effluent, I mean. A pic would be very helpful (when you get a chance).

* I bare rooted a plant this evening! I know it's not the right time, but it was in a pot that didn't have drainage, so I figured I'd take the chance. I also managed to finally get Turface and was eager to try it out! I posted it as a separate thread (link below) since it's not a ficus and I didn't want to hijack your thread - thanks!!!
deburn

Here is a link that might be useful: Massangeana Cane repot/prune


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 24, 10 at 11:05

I've been involved in arguments concerning plastic vs. unglazed clay in the past, and I'm a big advocate for using unglazed clay pots. I believe them to be healthier for plant roots. They also are a good gauge for noticing the buildup of salts... they tend to get that whitish crust around the top and outside when salts accumulate, which lets us know to flush or leach with clear water, and to watch our water source, perhaps changing it.

There's nothing wrong with using plastic or other materials... I simply happen to prefer the benefits of unglazed clay. Roots like to breathe, and you can't expect a plant stuffed in silty soil in an impermeable container to have much of a chance at getting oxygen to the root area.

Ok... I've said my peace on pot material... carry on! :-)


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 24, 10 at 12:49

I agree, Jodi. I very often use the comment that what is best for the plant and what is best for the grower are often mutually exclusive. I won't go as far as saying there is no free lunch when it comes to growing, because I can think of a few things that probably qualify, but I can make the point convincingly that often, a little extra effort can yield considerable reward. You can't go wrong by paying close attention to making the rhizosphere (root zone) a hospitable place, and it's difficult to mount a convincing argument that pots made from permeable materials don't do a superlative job of doing that very thing. They might be ugly, and you might have to water more, and they might be heavy, and ......, but those are points pressed from the perspective of what is easiest or prettiest, or lightest - not from the plant's perspective. There is nothing wrong, at all, with choosing containers that aren't made from permeable materials; the Lord knows that I have hundreds of plants in glass, ceramic, and other containers that aren't permeable (You can see some pictures of my gardens and containerized plants here if there is an interest), and they all seem to do quite well, but I can definitely see better root health and growth in the plants potted in materials like unglazed ceramic (like the pot I chose for the recovery of the Ficus repotted above) or terra cotta.

Deburn asked: "A couple of questions on the process: how do you make the whole drain thing at the bottom of the pot and what do you do it with? I don't know what a pin-stitch staple is. Also, do you drape the lower half of the wick over the water tray? So that it doesn't touch the effluent."

A pin stitch staple is is a staple that has the ends of the staple pointed out instead of in. The wire holding the mesh in place goes through the mesh and is immediately bent under the pot, toward the outside rim of the pot. It's easy to visualize and it keeps the mesh securely over the drain hole.

The wick material is a strand from a 100% rayon mop head. Use rayon, not cotton; and a $5 mop-head will last a really long time. There are hundreds of strands on the heads, and they come in different weights. I've found then at Ace Hdwes and a friend gets hers at Wallmart. You can see I tied a knot to keep the wick from slipping? That's baloney - no knot needed. I did it to impress you; the soil will hold it in place. ;o) To work well, the wick needs to dangle below the pot after you water. The wick 'fools' the water into 'thinking' the pot is deeper than it actually is. This is the reverse of the principle that self-watering containers are based on, but I won't get into that. The water moves down the wick, 'looking' for the bottom of the container. When it reaches the bottom of the wick, imagine its surprise when the water coming down behind it pushes it off.

Wicks are a VERY effective tool for dealing with water-retentive soils. They can actually make the difference in whether or not you can water appropriately. That is to say, whether or not you can water copiously enough that at least 10-15% of the total volume of water you applied exits the drain hole and/or drips off the wick. It doesn't help aeration beyond the point that it removes much of the water in the PWT, but it goes a long way toward helping you keep soluble salts to a minimum and preventing unintentional over-watering.

To be most effective, the wick needs to be dangling below the pot after you water. It will be most effective when used in a drain hole through the bottom, near the edge of the pot. Tipping the pot at a 45* angle after watering, until the pot stops draining, even w/o a wick, helps to remove a SIGNIFICANT amount of excess water from heavy soils. When using a wick, tip the pot so the wick is down.

Keep the wick from contacting the effluent in any collection saucers. Salts in solution reach a state of isotonicity very quickly. This means that the level of salts in the saucer will quickly equalize with the level of salts in the soil solution, partially negating the beneficial affects of flushing the soil. Try to keep this in mind, because it also applies to pots just sitting in collection saucers. The effluent should never have a pathway back into the pot. The soil should always be higher than the effluent with no pathway for the effluent to find its way back into the soil.

That's about it for wicks.

Take care. I'll look at your other thread soon. I meant to comment on it, but I've had a busy weekend so far. ;o)

Al


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All about wicks!

Al, thanks for that 'wicked' explanation! I was using a ripped up old cotton tshirt, but I will get the rayon mop.

I did a couple of repots earlier today (a croton that I've had for a few months and a severely root bound sanseviera that I got 2 days ago, on sale at Lowe's). Anyway, I didn't have the fancy grill :-) that you use, but I cut a piece from the mesh bags that fruit come in. No pin stitch staple either :-) but I figured the weight of the soil would keep it in place.

Just to be clear: how long is the wick on the outside? or does it not make a diff?

Thanks for your input on my yucca repotting thread.
~ deburn


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 24, 10 at 21:57

You can use anything that will wick water more than a few inches upward. If you can find something synthetic that will do it, it's fine. No need to rush out for a mop - that's just what I use.

I like the wick to hang 2-3" below the pot bottom.

I was posting again to the yucca thread when your post to this thread rang in, so I came here to see what you had to say. I hope what I say there makes sense to you. ;o)

Thanks for the very kind email, BTW.

Al


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Another question on the wick...

You're welcome, Al, I meant everything I said in that email.

Just to clarify about the wick... :-) if it hangs 2-3" below the pot bottom, is it touching the pot saucer or are the blocks you use high enough that the wick doesn't touch the saucer? Sorry, I feel like I'm beating a dead horse, but I'm just trying to get it clear in my mind!

I did go looking for the mop today :-) I found something that was microfiber made of rayon and it was blue and white, so I didn't buy it.

going to the yucca thread now...


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Oct 25, 10 at 21:01

Thanks, Bern.

You can use temporary blocking, or carry the plant to the sink, or use whatever methodology you come up with that will keep the effluent from getting back into the container. The effluent should run/drip off the end of the wick, so the wick will never contact the effluent again after the effluent drips off. It's about the soluble salts you're flushing from the pot when you water. The idea is to get them out of the pot and keep them out.

The man-made, 100% rayon chamois also work well as wicks, BTW.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I think it is important to point out that the photos used as examples, are of bonsi size plants. Anyone who grows large container plants knows how much easier it is to deal with small plants than large container trees.

I have both sizes and you can't compare them. My 1 ft Ficus is easy. My 13ft Ficus is another story.

I root prune my 'big guy' every two years and cut back the branches at the same time. It requires 3 people to move it in and out of the house for work. It is difficult to fit through doorways. Frankly, it is a major job and not easy to do.

It is a beautiful tree and grows rapidly - as wide as tall. It has been potted in a plastic, 20" pot for at least 10 years. The tree is approx. 20 yrs old and was moved gradually to this size pot, where it will not be allowed to outgrow. Root and branch pruning keeps it manageable. Root pruning is difficult work because of its size. I also use a bagged mix with some bark which works well indoors and doesn't dry out too fast. The pot sits on a large saucer which sits on top of a wood dolly so it can be moved and turned easily.

My 'little guy' (1 ft) gets root pruned every year and is in a shallow, ceramic bonsai pot. It gets watered in the sink and pinched back frequently to shape it.

I don't like clay pots because they dry out around outer surface of the pot, while the interior remains damp (although I use clay for many of my orchids). This is especially troublesome with the dry, indoor air during winter. Clay dries out as do the roots which grow along the sides and stick to the clay. Plus, clay is very heavy and would be impossible with a large plant.

The reality is that Bonsai and 100lb+ trees can't be treated the same way indoors. I can't flush the big trees over winter, I can't use a loose media or my floors would be flooded on a regular basis. A large pot requires a lot of water, where is it going to go? The saucer would overflow. Unless the saucer holds as much water as the pot, I can't see how wicks help. Maybe with smaller plants, but I don't see how it is possible with large container plants. If watering is controlled, plants will do well in a bagged mix with a few amendments.

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Jane


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Oct 26, 10 at 9:39

"Anyone who grows large container plants knows how much easier it is to deal with small plants than large container trees."

I'm, going to approach this from a slightly different perspective: Living in a large house or maintaining a large garden is simply more work than maintaining the smaller versions. We still need to perform the same perfunctory chores - cleaning, repairs, weeding, mulching ........ there is just more of it. If you want to grow large plants, you need to be prepared to take care of large plants, or accept the consequences of neglect.

Is it really MORE work? In a way, it is. It requires more effort to move the plants about and to perform the root work required, but you go through the same maintenance procedures at the same intervals - watering, fertilizing, root-pruning, so in that regard, the work is the same. Tending large trees is pretty much exactly the same as small trees. Keep in mind too, that I often use trees that are very large (6" trunks not uncommon) and have been growing on in containers to reduce to bonsai size. The height of the tree isn't significant in determining 'size'. The size of the trunk and root mass is much more critical in that regard. I work on a large number of very large trees, both my own and others'. Little tree or big tree, the work is the same (procedure), but there are 'things' that go along with owning a large tree that can't be avoided. They're just there.

Even if we admit that root work on large trees is more difficult (cumbersome is probably a better word, in my view), or that adopting a soil and watering habits that allow you to flush the soil presents obstacles that we need to deal with ....... where do we go from there? It would seem that there are choices to be made. Those choices are: Don't grow large trees. I know that seems simplistic, but if we find them that difficult - why punish ourselves? You can do the root work, or stop/ignore doing the root work and full repots, choosing either to only pot up or leave the tree to its own devices. We can be absolutely certain though, that this treatment inhibits growth and vitality. It cannot be denied that tight roots inhibit growth and vitality. You can water so that salts are being flushed from the soil, knowing it will be necessary to deal with the effluent, or you can water in sips and deal with the accumulation of salts, which, by the way, is also going to require a regular flushing of the soil.

I just laid out how to deal with the problems that are associated with ALL trees in containers, regardless of size. Whether my advice is taken or not, doesn't matter to me. What does matter is that anyone reading what I said understands there are options, ways to head these issues I addressed off at the pass. I fully understand that these procedures might be too difficult for some individuals, or some individuals will not want to be bothered with them, choosing to allow nature to take its course with little intervention, but that doesn't change the fact that maintaining the best growth and health requires our regular intervention.

The forum pages are full of problems associated with neglected plants. I have ALWAYS found that the more 'hands-on' I am when it comes to husbandry, the better my plants fare. I just try to help folks understand how to BE more hands-on if they want to. If they don't, that's fine as well.

There are problems and inconveniences associated with everything. The previous poster has defined some problems and raised issues that may or may not be something we feel like dealing with. In the end, we'll weigh the perceived benefits against any inconvenience or difficulties perceived, and decide if the effort is worth the reward. Options are a good thing. My job is that you understand the options so you can decide. ;o)

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I agree with you on most points. However, small trees have a way of becoming big trees unless work is done to keep them small. Large trees are more complicated to grow well in a home. Light requirements are critical. Harder to provide a large window which can be given over to one plant. Easier to place multiple small plants in a window.

Large plants = large root mass = larger pot. Unless you have a good way to collect water run-off, you may have to water in smaller amounts, less your floors suffer. That is a reality. This is where a more water-retentive soil works well. Flushing can wait until spring when the tree can go outside or indoors to a shower...although I was never able to manage that.

Addressing options would be helpful to prevent growers from becoming frustrated and feeling burdened. Large plants have different challenges. I have found with good light, indoor trees grow very well and easily. They are a beautiful addition to any room in the house.

It would be interesting to hear from growers of large plants in the home, the methods they use which work well for them and their plants.

Maybe a new thread would be interesting and informative.

Jane


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Oct 26, 10 at 14:46

If you have problems with large trees you feel are not addressed in my offering, then starting new thread is a very good idea. I'll watch for it, and if I have something positive or helpful to add, I'll comment. The methodology associated with tending large trees is the same as that attached to tending tall trees. Trees are trees, and trees of the same species, large or small, have the same cultural needs.

All the things you mentioned as 'problems' associated with your large tree are unavoidable. They get larger, they get heavier, they get more cumbersome ........ that's just how it is. Put bluntly, that's life. If you really, honestly need help with a problem, all you need to do is ask.

Light is addressed in my offering, but window size/orientation is purposely beyond its scope; and there is no way I can prevent anyone from feeling burdened by the fact they have large trees to tend, especially if they aren't comfortable with my advice. I'm absolutely sure that many don't feel large trees are a burden at all. There are probably far more people that would consider working with large trees a joy or a blessing, even a challenge, possibly a chore, but most who consider it burdensome are normally wont to divest themselves of the burden. We all have different perspectives and expectations of what our growing experience should be.

You can't say unequivocally that a more water retentive soil is better or works well if you're only considering a single aspect of its properties. Yes, a water retentive soil works well to soak up all the water you apply so you don't have to worry about the effluent, but that doesn't make it a good choice. Here again, it's convenient for the grower because the grower may not have to worry about what to do with the effluent, and might not have to water for weeks on end, but we KNOW the downside to water retentive soils is a greater likelihood of root rot issues, soluble salt build-up and a much narrower margin for grower error with regard to watering/fertilizing. We also KNOW that saturated soils kill roots. The flip side is we KNOW we'll need to water more frequently if we use a fast draining soil, and we KNOW we'll need to deal with the effluent. What's to discuss? We either want to make the extra effort or we don't.

The only way to keep trees small is to regularly prune the roots and cut back the top on a continuing basis. I offered detailed instructions on root-pruning and repotting. I've root-pruned and repotted thousands of trees of all sizes, and the same instructions apply to large trees as small, honest. I root prune lots of very large trees for others, as well as my own, and I use exactly the same procedure I described above. If you have a better way, then start another thread and detail it, or offer it here on this thread and I'll offer my thoughts, but continually criticizing my offerings because they don't address what you feel are worthy issues and I don't feel are worthy issues, isn't fair to me. You might have noticed no one else is complaining about my effort(s).

I'm not obligated to address anything in particular because someone says I should or because they think I should have gone into greater detail - it's half a book already.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Tue, Oct 26, 10 at 18:57

I am quite satisfied with the information Al laid down... a tree is a tree is a tree. The only thing that holds anyone back is the amount of sweat equity they feel inclined to put in, and what they hope to get out of growing a tree.

As they say, Al... just the facts! ;-)


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

"Just the facts". ;) Yep! :)

My plants and tree's are like my pets. They get what they need to be healthy and happy.. I chose to have them, and now it's up to me to provide what they need. No short cuts! Inside or out.

Jodi~ like you, i'm always satisfied with the info Al provides. I've come along way this year, and have braved plants I never would have before. Like my 3 figs ;)

This is a great thread, and is stored for future ref. like many others.
JoJo


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Wed, Oct 27, 10 at 16:10

JoJo, I actually keep a lot of information by copying and pasting into text files, which are then kept in a file on my desktop for easy reference. I've got soil recipes, technical information, and anything I think is important enough to remember.

I, too, am growing a few different items that I wouldn't have tried a few years ago. They'd have died for certain in a soggy, airless mess.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Jodi~
You sound more organized than me! LOL!

I save and print. Someday I will get it organized in a binder. I hate having to sit and read at the computer and forget where I save things. lol!

There's alot in this thread I find useful in more ways than one, so it's a keeper. ;)

JoJo


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Thu, Oct 28, 10 at 18:56

Well, JoJo... if I kept everything I wanted in printed form, it would just be more to gather dust... and I hate dusting! (You should see the leaves on my Plumeria!) ;-)

But seriously... I keep a huge file on the desktop with my name on it... and inside that file are lots of other files, each named with the subject of the information they contain. One file is called Al's Soil Recipes, another refers to pictures taken of various garden beds before and after, another is garden projects I want to try someday, annual container arrangements, etc... each file is named with the hobby or subject, and inside are photos, text files, video clips, and anything else I want to save. Keeps it nice and neat.

Periodically, I have my husband copy them all to a disk for safekeeping.

However... I do have several magazine stacks that I need to go through, so I can pull out the articles and photos I want to keep. Those, I will have to paste into a binder. I keep telling myself not to throw away the magazines... to get busy cutting out the parts I want to save... but it's one of those projects that keeps getting moved to the bottom of the to-do list!

Me, organized? Not hardly! ;-)

Well... maybe a little...


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I too, and my friends here at work and home are very satisfied with Al's offerings provided here, and elsewhere....It is more than "half a book".

I would of had to pay over 100 bucks in a Bonsai class recently, a one day event mind you, that I had to pass up, to learn what I learned here in this one thread, plus more, for free as often as I want.....

My trees look terrific, and if I choose to go bigger, than that it is my resposibilty to get the correct and accurate information, learn the science behind soil mixes and how roots respond to containers..It is also my resposibility because I value my trees like my own kids, to learn from one whom has good credentials in this field ..

I understands there are options, and I choose not to allow nature to take its course with little intervention.
I prefer to maintain the best growth and health required with regular intervention with the support of an experienced and knowledgable man like Al.

Just the facts, YUP,and I too have saved these threads...Thank God for them..


Mike


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Hey, Mike.
Did you happen to save the post I made earlier....?
I am left wondering why my post - full of sound information - had to be deleted?
Insulting, and a real let-down, to be honest. A perfectly good ruin to an otherwise educational Thread.
Back to square one.


Josh


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

For anyone who would like professional instructions written in plain English on how to care for Ficus benjamina not restricted to small Bonsai type containers, send me an email request. My article has clearly written, uncomplicated, practical advice on Ficus benjamina care.

Will Creed


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Oct 29, 10 at 20:41

I would like to read the article.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Will Creed! How are you?!
I sent you pics of the second Pachira that I successfully rooted from leaf. I never heard back....
I hope you're well!


Josh


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Oct 30, 10 at 10:44

Actually, this thread is a perfect format to discuss why Will thinks that the instructions I offered for repotting or tending trees in containers only apply to bonsai, or plants in small containers. I don't think he can support the contention, but I'm more than willing to openly discuss the issue, and I look forward to the opportunity. I'll stick to the facts & my knowledge of how to tend trees of all sizes in containers, and promise not to use my experience or credentials in an attempt to give myself an advantage. What I would ask of Will would be: that he would be very specific in defining what he disagrees with, and that he would stick to one or two areas to begin with to avoid the confusion often associated with disagreements across multiple fronts. Also, I would appreciate it if he would refrain from the insinuation that I don't know what I'm talking about. If we get those issues resolved, he is still invited to disagree in any other areas he chooses. It should be an enlightening discussion, giving the forum an opportunity to see things discussed and debated from what appears to be two different perspectives.

The pictures of the Ficus AND the schefflera (upthread) show trees growing in what most would consider normal size containers, and both were returned to containers that are normal size. The fact is, I have far more trees growing on in 'normal' size containers than I do in bonsai pots.

FWIW - it is far more difficult to maintain trees in small containers than large, and it takes a great deal more skill and knowledge, as anyone who has attempted to even maintain purchased bonsai in containers can attest, to keep them healthy and happy. I not only maintain trees of all sizes in prime health, but I build them from the bottom up. I'm not talking about the imported bonsai that come into this country by the millions, that people buy and often discard a few months later, I'm talking about starting with trees often 10-12 feet tall, some collected from the wild, or stumps of tropical trees that were at one time much taller, and making beautiful trees, often less than a foot tall from them. Then tending them in superb health indefinitely.

If indeed Will is implying that somehow, because I am accomplished at bonsai, the information and advice I offered about how to tend larger trees in containers doesn't apply, or that you can't use it to your (and your trees') advantage, he is off the mark.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Thankfully, a copy of my previous post survived the heavy-handed edits to this Thread.

Large containers are difficult to deal with, regardless of the selected potting mix (in my opinion).
I agree that it adds another element to consider when planning for a glum winter inside the house.
For containers that are too large for me to constantly move to water outside, I must use drip-trays.

One benefit of a soil-less mix is that you don't have dark, tannic stains from overflow. With a properly
built soil-mix, there's no color to the effluent at all.

One other thing often mentioned is the breakdown of bark. Bark breaks down more slowly than almost any
organic soil ingredient available. Bark, Pine bark in particular, is incredibly resistant to decay -
far more resistant than Peat Moss, Coconut derivatives, leaves, or other compost/mulch. Even very small
pieces of Bark retain considerable integrity, as opposed to the pre-collapsed peat moss particles.

Al, as always, you offer us tight, clear, and concise advice. Muchas gracias!


Josh


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 31, 10 at 11:13

I agree, Al... I, too, would be interested in learning what another form of plain English looks like, not to mention what constitutes differences in maintaining trees of both large and small containers... aside from the obvious, which would include medium amounts and sizes of pots and trees, and weights.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 31, 10 at 14:02

Nicely said, Jodi and Josh. Thank you, as always, for your considered and considerate responses.

Just general observations, then hopefully we'll be back on track:

I don't think we should mind if the information/suggestions/advice we supply are challenged. I know I don't mind if I am challenged directly, I even welcome it. I always figure that if the information I supply can't withstand a challenge, I probably should not have included it in my post. I also look at direct challenges as a way to illustrate to what depth I understand the topic. As noted though, I would like to be challenged directly, so I can reply directly, and so people get the opportunity to decide who sounds like they are providing the most judicious and astute information. The forum can learn a LOT by head-on debate, but insinuations and throwing stones from the sidelines are never fair to posters, or to people who look to the forums for information. Nuff said.

Al


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I would like to hear more too.
Espicially considering I am interested in growing/working on Bonsai's soon.
Josh,
I'm getting the pepper fattend up.;)
JJ


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 1, 10 at 7:54

Actually, it's the direct challenges and the ensuing explanations that give us the most information with which to form educated opinions, and the nuances of which help us to learn and understand more. So, when a poster does not want to share information publicly, it makes me very wary of what that information might contain...


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

"when a poster does not want to share information publicly, it makes me very wary of what that information might contain..."

That is the first thing that came to mind for me..

Mike


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Dear Folks:
I have a ficus tree about 4.5 feet tall with good shape but thin leaves. It is about 20 yrs. old. It has been in a sunny room as decor in a gallery. It has been tended but not fussed with.
Now I have been given this ficus and I would like to repot it
but I am not sure what to do with the roots. They are large and twirling around in loops outside the pot on top of the (soil?) I would like for it to maintain it's natural shape. Where should I begin?
Thank you very much..
Loretta


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jul 12, 11 at 20:36

You should bite the bullet & do a full repot, which will restore the tree's presently impaired ability to grow anywhere near it's genetic potential. The repot will include removing up to 2/3 of the roots and bare-rooting the plant to correct the root issues that have developed over time. Late Jun through Jul is the best time to undertake this work. The first time you tackle it, it may seem at first daunting, but it's not as difficult as it might seem.

The repot & root-work will restore the tree to a much better state of vigor, promote back-budding and a fuller tree, not to mention one that will be easier to maintain in an eye-appealing shape due to a marked increase in growing points. Let me know if you're up to the task & I'll help guide you through it - as I have guided many others before you through the process. ;-)

Al


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Dear Al..
Thank you so much!! I did not hope to get such a fast reply. What a help you are!! I will do as you say, i will need to find a good pot for it. Do you have a suggestion for the type of pot to get.
What type of a cutting instrument would work best on the roots.
Loretta


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jul 13, 11 at 21:22

Initially, a pruning saw to remove the bottom half of the root mass; then, after bare-rooting, a pair of sharp by-pass pruners to remove the largest roots. I use tools specially designed for root work

(the stainless steel tool on the far right)
Photobucket

but the bypass pruners will be fine.

The healthiest pot would be something that 'breathes' - like terra cotta, wood, or mesh of some sort, but if you use a soil that offers good gas exchange, the pot material plays a slightly less significant role in its contribution to the potential for increased vitality.

Good luck!!

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Can you advise me on a repot? I know it's Aug not July, but hoping it will be OK in SoCal where our hottest months are usually Sept and Oct.

Saturday I bought a huge Allii at Lowes. Some leaves burned through the car window before I got it home. It is about 8 feet tall, 3 separate trunks, hugely top heavy and leaning. In fact it fell over last night. I'm sifting some gritty ingredients, and I have a 20" terra-cotta pot. That is probably too big considering it's in a 14" now, but it's all I've got.

It has dropped a lot of leaves in the 5 days it's been here. :(

Based on what I've read here, I plan to cut off the bottom of the roots, circling roots, etc. Plant in grittyish mix in the TC pot. I think I should prune some of the canopy too, but I have no idea what you mean by "branch defects." To my eye there are too many tiny branches going all the way down the trunk. Well-groomed ficus trees in garden centers don't have little twigs and leaves all the way down the trunks. This Allii has a lush, out of control look (at least one of the trunks does) that I kind of like, but it's so top heavy it can't stand up.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Aug 11, 11 at 22:40

The plant is very vigorous by nature (genetically), so in your area it should (still) tolerate an immense amount of indignity if you're prepared to offer what it likes (culturally speaking) after the work.

By all means, put together a gritty soil of particulates large enough that you're sure the soil will hold little perched water. If you need help with the soil, or need more info on how heavy soils and the inherent perched water they support affects growth/vitality, please follow the link I left below.

I think it's a great idea to start with a perfectly healthy tree with plenty of energy reserves and get things right from the beginning. That is, get the root issues that are undoubtedly many at this point straightened out and get the plant into a soil you won't be continually fighting for the life of the planting. If you're willing to put forth the effort to do those things initially, it will be SIMPLE for you to grow this plant very well.

Can you post or email a picture? Just let me know when you're ready to move forward & I'll help by answering your questions. It's not that difficult, but the first time IS the most difficult time. I'm guessing you'll need to devote about 2 hrs to the project once you have the soil made, and I applaud your choice of pots! ;-)

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Aug 11, 11 at 23:12

So sorry - I completely forgot about the link to the soil discussion.

I also thought you might like to review a thread about tending trees in containers for the long term.

Let me know if there's anything else .....

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Thanks, Al, you probably dont remember because you help so many people, but I asked some questions last summer testing the gritty mix for my area. I will put this ficus into a grittyish with pumice, perlite, fir bark, and a little marble chips. I do have turface too, but I think I like the pumice after all the mixes I tested last year. This ficus is now in my bathroom under a skylight. I wanted it in the living room but apparently it didn't like the east facing window there.

I sifted all the gritty ingredients today so they are ready to mix, the pot is ready, and I bought a pruner.

The Italian terra-cotta pots were an incredible buy about 8 years ago at Costco, 14 bucks each. I've seen them for well over a hundred at other places. They are ridiculously heavy but that will help support this monster.

I'll see if I can post pics...harder than usual because my laptop is broken.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

photo

August 2011

Here is a link that might be useful: 3 photos in this album


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 12, 11 at 14:09

It's really hard for me to keep track of everyone. It's not unusual for me to find 10 different emails on any given day from people asking plant questions, so things easily get blurred, but I bet if I had our correspondence in front of me I'd remember it well. ;-)

In order to retain the lower branching, you'll need to restrain the top. The tree is very apically dominant and will want to concentrate about 70% of it's energy into the very top of the tree, and another 20% into growth at the tips of branches. Unless you restrain growth in these areas and provide very bright light, the plant will shed lower branches.

The most natural way for you to approach an attractive composition would be to utilize all 3 trunks, with the heaviest trunk the tallest and the thinnest the shortest - an approximate 3:2:1 height ratio between the trunks would look best.

So - I would try to establish some ht difference between the trunks. Even if you don't want to retain any of the lower branching, I would still thin the top by removing about half the branching in the upper 1/3 of the canopy and then reducing all the remaining branches to 2 leaves. The tree will recover quickly & put out a LOT of new growth. A shady spot outdoors until the weather changes would be best if you can manage it.

It sounds like you have the soil choice under control, but you might want to consider eliminating the marble chips. They are primarily CaCO3 (calcium carbonate) and are likely to drive pH upward and (important) interfere with Mg uptake (search Ca:Mg antagonism or Ca/Mg antagonistic deficiencies) because of a skewed Ca:Mg ratio.

Good luck - I'll be watching the thread in case you have other ?s or need guidance on the pruning or root work.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Good point about the marble chips! Or, I don't know what they are exactly because the bag doesn't say, but they are white and have a CA address on the bag so are almost certainly calcium-based something or other. I will skip them. pH is an issue because right now, our water pH is at least 8.0 or higher.

That is a great idea about the height ratio of the trunks. I will try to do something like that. The shorter, thinner trunks are languishing already, with mostly shriveled leaves. I don't think I need to retain the lower branches (i.e., twigs) because I would like to have a tall tree in spots in my home with high ceilings. But I don't want it to get that look where there are only leaves at the tips of branches. So I will try to remove half the branching in the top as you suggest and all but 2 leaves elsewhere. I'm a little nervous about the cutting, but it sure would be nice to see a potted ficus growing rather than declining.

I don't know if the pic captured it, but the biggest trunk has a triangle at the bottom.

Thanks so much for the advice!


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I am curious why you recommend a shady spot outdoors. Are you looking for something dimmer than this bathroom? Outdoors for more breezes/air circulation?

I live in a second-floor condo so have very limited outdoors - basically a deck and a stairway by the front door. Both can get hot in the afternoon sun this time of year, even when the air/ocean breezes are cool. Neither spot is shady all day. The shadiest spot I could manage is right by the house wall/window on the deck, but it will get morning sun, strong afternoon ocean breezes (VERY strong lately), and the stucco floor of the entire deck can get very hot in the afternoon.

I was hoping to plant at/near it will live indoors, because once I get this thing in this monster terra-cotta pot full of damp gritty mix, I will not want to move it, especially not up or down the stairs.

So if it's less light I'm after, I could move it into a dim corner of the bedroom next door. It would also be cooler there, with light airflow but not nearly as breezy as the rest of the house or the deck.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 12, 11 at 22:00

I think you misunderstood about the pruning of the upper part of the tree (my fault). That part will always grow strongest, and I wasn't very clear about the 'cutting back to 2 leaves' part. I meant to remove half the branching in the upper 1/3 of the canopy, then reduce the remaining branching (in the upper 1/3 of the canopy) to 2 leaves per branch. The rest of the branches should be left as is unless there are very strong branches in the middle third, in which case you should reduce only those branches & leave the weaker branches untouched for now. If you want to remove lower branches after the tree recovers - feel free. BTW - when pruning containerized trees (as opposed to current practice for trees in the landscape), flush cuts are ok, and sealing them with waterproof wood glue or even Vaseline to keep the cambium from dying back and increasing the wound size speeds healing of major pruning cuts markedly. Also - your cuts will tend to bleed latex, but a quick spritz at the cut site with tap water half a minute after pruning will stop the oozing.

This is a quick tutorial on how we balance the energy in our bonsai trees to keep the entire tree strong, and to keep the upper branches of strongly apically dominant trees like Ficus from sucking up all the energy, causing the tree to shed lower branching and (important consideration) interior foliage. It also helps you to keep the tree looking natural because the older, lower branches can be kept fatter than the upper branches - just like in nature.

I recommended a shady spot outdoors because the tree may not be acclimated to brighter light (full sun), and it will really appreciate the brighter light and air circulation it will get outdoors. I would bring the tree indoors when/if night temps start regularly dipping below 55*; but, if where you intend to site it indoors gets an abundance of bright light, it should be fine there.

You're comfortable with the root work?

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I lacked the guts to prune very much till hearing more from you, and I'm glad I waited. I did get the bright idea, though, to put the inadequate plastic pot inside the terracotta pot so it won't lean or fall over. Much better.

I put some more pics of the now-non-leaning tree up on the Picasa album. One of the whole tree, then the bottom third, middle third, and top third or so.

I am not sure why the tree dropped so many leaves in less than a week, whether it's the lower light, the cool breezes and cool night air, or maybe it was too dry. The pot was very light. I gave it a little water today. At Lowes, it was outside under a clear canopy, like a frosted glass or plastic. My living room east window was dimmer than that, and also my window is not as tall as the tree. Although it was outside at Lowes, it would have been warmer and not as breezy as my living room (Lowes is several miles inland where it can be 10 degrees warmer). So I thought it might like my bathroom which is a lot warmer and less breezy than the living room, and a lot lighter. The leaf drop has drastically slowed after a day or two in the bathroom.

Let me see if I understand now. I am very ignorant and inexperienced about pruning. When you say remove half the branching in the upper third...I identify the central trunk more or less from bottom to the top. Do you mean to cut branches off right at the base of the branch where it meets the trunk, half of the branches in the upper third? I assume trying to be random, some off the left, some off the right. So cut off an entire left branch, then skip a couple, then an entire right branch? Then, of the branches remaining, cut them shorter so they have only 2 leaves? All this in the upper third.

Then, cut back (but not off) any strong branches in the middle third (if any). Leave bottom third alone for now.

I confess it is going to be hard to do this just because I love big, lush specimen trees inside the house, yet they are so expensive I rarely buy them, and here I get one and then cut it down and cut off many of the lush leaves.

(By the way, big ficus trees are really expensive here. Some nice braided trunk Allii barely 5 feet tall at Roger's Gardens were $300. At less fancy garden centers, benjis around 5 feet tall are $180 - 249. The lady at the garden center said they aren't able to get many ficus lately.)

For the composition part of varying trunk heights, I'm not sure once I look at it. If the smallest trunk was 1/3 the height of the thickest, I would have to cut about half of it off, and there isn't much there after that. I think it would look like a stump with a few thin twigs. ?

For the root work, I wouldn't say I am COMFORTABLE (LOL), but I think I can do it. The upper pruning is more nerve-wracking because my goal is to have a big, lush, beautiful tree, and by pruning I fear I might make it look ugly. However, I recognize the truth in what you say about decline because several neighbors have ficus in pots for years without pruning or repotting (or even potting up), and they end up with little clusters of leaves at the end of long branches. And they definitely decline. And I can recognize the value in doing something while the tree is healthy and growing instead of waiting till it's in terrible shape and then stressing it further. This one I bought HAS to be transplanted; it can't even stand up. So I'm going to take the plunge tomorrow (last chance before 2 week vacation).

Here is a link that might be useful: more pics of top-heavy Allii


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Aug 13, 11 at 14:18

Ficus responds to marked decreases in light levels or duration by shedding leaves, but in order for this to occur, a corky abscission layer has to form at the base of leaf petioles (stems). This is caused by the decrease in auxin flow across the abscission zone (at the base of the leaf) and doesn't happen overnight - it takes about 2-3 weeks for this to occur. Exposure to sudden chill, temperatures under 50 % and sudden 20*+ drops, shuts down the photosynthetic machinery, which slows/stops the flow of auxin, and causes leaf abscission by the same mechanism, but I doubt that sudden chill or a stiff breeze was in play here. It was probably a light issue or related to a drought response, by what you're describing.

The good news is these trees regularly go through full or partial situational dormancies brought on by drought. They shed their leaves as a survival mechanism (to stop/slow transpiration), but as soon as moisture returns to the soil, they put on a new flush of leaves, which is why I'm not too concerned about the leaf loss at this point. If the tree was healthy and growing well when the leaf loss occurred, it should bounce right back. Actually, when the tree is in a state of partial dormancy, you don't really have a lot to be concerned about when you prune & root prune.

Ok - for the top of the tree. You want to look at it and consider first removing the branches that are crossing or growing back toward the center of the tree, Those branches have no future anyway - they will either die out or spoil the look of the plant. Then, concentrate on removing inordinately heavy (thick) branches. They'll look out of place at the top of the tree. If you think removing a heavy branch will spoil the trees shape, leave it and just cut it back hard to slow its growth. Basically, you want to treat the top of the tree like the roots. Remove the thickest branches where you can, but don't wreck the look of the tree. You DO need to be forward looking though. Today, you're establishing a framework that the rest of the tree will be built on, so retain branches in the right places and remove those.

Maybe this will help:

Here's a Ficus benjamina that I took the roots from this:
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To this:
Photobucket

w/o any problems. So you can see how I cut out the large roots and left primarily small feeder roots.

The canopy looked like this before I pruned it:
Photobucket

but looked like this AFTER I pruned it. I was only concerned with the basic framework of the tree:
Photobucket

I just ran out and took this pic a few minutes ago:
Photobucket

This is about a year later, and I already pruned this tree early in the season. It's very ready for another good pruning & would be very attractive after I pruned it. This tree is ready to be moved from it's training pot into a shallow (and smaller) bonsai pot.

I should probably say something about bonsai practitioners because there are a few people who think that bonsai and houseplants are two different kinds of culture. They are not. All accomplished bonsai practitioners have learned to maintain trees and other plants in superb health while making major manipulations in their form and growth habits, and additionally limiting themselves to doing this while keeping the root systems and vegetative growth within the boundaries of their vision for the plant. This adds a considerable amount of difficulty to the ability to keep plants healthy and attractive. Houseplants, in their comparatively larger volumes of soil and usually more relaxed need for conformity to any one's vision for the plant, are simple in comparison.

If you get it right from the beginning - a good soil, good watering habits, a good nutritional supplementation program, good light ...... a beginner can in most cases produce plants superior to those of growers who have been at it for a looong time.

Getting back to your trunk decision - there is nothing carved in stone that says the trunk heights need to be 1/3 & 2/3 the ht of the tallest trunk. Just so the thinnest is the shortest for now. After the tree back-buds, you'll be able to choose another branch on the shorter trunks to train as the new leader & cut the tree back further.

If your vision for the tree is to have it much taller than it is now, you may not need to cut the trunks back at all. If you eventually want the whole composition much taller, you can restrain growth in ht by pruning. If you're worried about cutting off the canopy - don't cut it off - you can just thin it and remove the heavy branching in the top 1/3 of the tree & call it a day, then go at it with a harder look next June.

I understand that our visions are different. I have more than 200 trees in containers. At any given time, at least 25 of them are very attractive and the rest are in some stage of development and moving toward a vision I have established for the tree that might not be reachable in a 5 year span. I can afford to wait because of the number of trees I have, but when you're talking about one tree you just paid good money for - it's hard to bite the bullet and take what is assuredly a leap of faith for you. ;-)

I really don't mind what direction you take - I'll help you get the most out of your tree no matter what course you plot for yourself. I'll tell you what you CAN do, but what you ultimately decide should be something you're comfortable with.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Whew! This was a lot of work! (IMO) Pics are up on the album.

Al, thank you so much for the time you've given advising me. I hope you won't be too disappointed I might not have pruned as aggressively as I should...I don't know. I wouldn't mind for the tree to get a few feet taller. I like plants to look lush and full. (Hence I hate the leaf drop!). However, I decided to prune less now rather than more, since I can always cut more tonight or tomorrow.

Actually now that I've pruned this much, the final shape after dealing with the roots and repotting surprised me. The stems and leaves firmed up after a brief soak and time in damp gritty mix. (Yes, the old soil was nearly dry even after the half gallon I dumped in yesterday. So now I'm fairly sure the leaves dropped because of the dryness. However, that same dryness made it easier to get the soil freed from the roots.) After sucking up some water, stems and branches stick up more than they did, altering the shape I saw while pruning.

Now that I review your previous post and consider my pruning workmanship, I think I start to see why you would cut bigger branches further up, and I might do a bit more cutting tonight or tomorrow. You have some thick, major branches starting about halfway up, whereas my tree has a bunch of roughly equal, thin branches all over the place.

As far as cost, I took the plunge with this tree because after seeing nicely groomed 4-5 footers at the garden centers for $180-350, this one at $80 didn't sound so bad. But I asked for a discount because it was leaning unattractively, and they gave it to me for $40, and reminded me I can return it within a year if it doesn't perform well for me. Yea for Lowes.

I'm so excited to see how this one will grow now.

Once again, the final shape after leaves and stems perked up wasn't quite what I was expecting, so I might trim some more tonight or tomorrow night.

From August 2011

Here is a link that might be useful: my Allii after some pruning


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 15, 11 at 21:18

I answered your post yesterday, twice, & both times what I wrote got stranded somewhere on the way to GW, so I gave up in frustration. ;-)

It looks good. Nice work.

I'm not disappointed at all. You're exactly correct - you can always take more off ..... but not so easy to put it back on after it's off.

I have a concern and a small suggestion, in case you haven't already considered it. The concern is the light level if the room's only source of light is the skylight. It's difficult to tell, but it may not be enough light for the plant to grow to your expectations. Also, don't be too surprised if the tree continues to drop leaves until after it starts to put on a new flush of foliage. If that happens, don't panic - just be patient and monitor water needs carefully, as a reduced foliage volume means a commensurately reduced water use rate.

It's best to isolate the pot the plant is in from any effluent that drains into the collection saucer by raising the pot above the level of any collected effluent. If the pot sits in the effluent, a state of isotonicity (equalization of the salt level in the soil solution:salt level in the effluent in the saucer) will quickly be reached and your efforts at flushing salts from the soil will be thwarted.

Good luck - take care.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Thanks Al. So I was away for a couple weeks, hoping my husband wouldn't kill my newly-repotted ficus with too much/not enough water. He said some more leaves dropped, and I don't see any new ones yet. But the tree looks OK. I think the mix is probably a little too wet. I know what you say about the pot standing in water in the saucer. I poured way too much water in after repotting and had to suck it out with a bulb baster and towels. I have a little wiggle room with the raised ridges in the saucer, but I can also set the pot up on some feet which I already have. (I have abandoned the saucers and feet for the pots on the deck.) With the weight of this pot, I cannot be lifting it to empty the saucer in the sink!

The skylight is the brightest spot in my house, so if it doesn't like it there, I don't think it will like it anywhere...Decoratively, I would like it in my living room by northeast windows, but that seems dimmer and is certainly draftier with the breezes.

What happens if I cut back more aggressively the thicker branches at the top of the trees? Do the lower ones grow thicker then?


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Hi There Al,

A year after it suffered total soil collapse & lost all leaves, I think this Ficus elastica tree may be ready for pruning. Pics at Picasa, via link below.

As you can see, it is growing in a very awkward manner due to years of neglect at this house share. I don't know how old it is, but it was here 10 years ago when I moved in the first time, and was sizable then.

It had a re-pot - well, a pot-down - about 8 weeks ago & I wasn't impressed with the root structure, but it's still putting on leaves. You may notice that it has a radically different potting medium than it had before, so hopefully this time next year the roots will be looking great! It has also been living outside in the sunshine for a few months, ever since it was over 50* at night.

How hard can I cut this back? (The plan is to attempt to root all leafed cuttings.) If it will bounce back, I'd be willing to take it right down to the main trunk...

As for the limbs I'll be removing, I'd like to root them while maintaining some of the size/branching (I indicated such a branch with an arrow). Any special considerations for rooting these larger pieces? In general, I know I have to take off the small limbs very close to the last pruned area - there are a number of these.

Thanks much for your advice & always appreciative,
Gravyboots

Here is a link that might be useful: 9 Lives F. elastica


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Sep 10, 11 at 11:43

Andersons asks What happens if I cut back more aggressively the thicker branches at the top of the trees? Do the lower ones grow thicker then?

Most Ficus, except for the viney pumila and perhaps other species I'm not familiar with, are strongly apically dominant, focusing energy expenditures primarily at the top of the tree and at branch ends. If you prune the branches growing strongly near the top of the tree, the loss of balance between the growth regulator/hormone auxin, which is manufactured primarily in apical regions (branch tips), will allow another growth hormone originating in roots (cytokinin) to become dominant. The result is a varying degree of back-budding in other parts of the tree, with parts closest to the pruning cuts being more likely to produce new branching. The further from the pruning cuts the more the effects are reduced, but the harder you cut the tree back, the greater the effects o/a.

Since pruning strong branches forces energy allocation and the subsequent increase in foliage mass to occur in areas formerly less vigorous, indirectly pruning the top will increase the thickness of lower branches in a direct relationship with the increase in foliage mass of those branches.

GB - I looked at your pics in slideshow mode for quite a while to get a good sense of what the tree looks like in 3D - glad for the varied perspectives, btw. The first thing that jumps out at me is the tree has 2 heads & they compete with each other for your eye. You follow the trunk line upward & then you stop - "where is the top of the tree?" There is no flow to the trunk line.

Let me start by saying that I find straight trunks and standards sort of boring. There is nothing saying your tree needs to emerge from the soil perfectly perpendicular to the horizon. My impression is your tree would look much better if you cut the heavy top off back to the first branch off the trunk, then changed the planting angle and used mechanical means (like staking or tying the branch off to another branch stub that you'd leave on temporarily after pruning) to make sure the branch that will become the new leader is pleasing to the eye. It doesn't necessarily have to be vertical, either. You might be able to plan it far enough ahead so the branch that will become the new temporary leader is actually at an angle, but another secondary branch coming off of it will later become the new leader (next year) and be almost vertical, giving your tree roughly an 'S' shape. I can draw a sketch if you're confused.

I wouldn't do this on the heals of a repot, especially if you weren't impressed with the roots. Let the tree grow, unpruned, until at least mid-June. By then, you should be able to do some serious work, and you should have more pruning opportunities by then as the tree should bulk up after the repot. Normally, the tree would be at it's peak insofar as energy reserves are concerned during late summer/early fall, and it would be a good time to take cuttings, but I'd hesitate so close to a repot.

If you decide to go ahead anyway, let me know & we'll figure out the best way to proceed w/o jeopardizing the plant too much.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Thanks for the advice Al! Yes, I would like to see a sketch, if it's not too much trouble... I do like the idea of changing the planting angle at some point. I had the two largest branches tied for about a year, to get them growing more vertical & it did help. The truncated trunk (I didn't realize until just now that maybe I've always wanted to use those two words next to one another!) is about 14" tall.

I'm not in any hurry to whack this Ficus, although I did remove some small branches that were growing too close to the ends of some pruned tips. I added a couple more pics & indicated the removed branches with yellow arrows. There is one last small branch I'd like to remove (indicated with red). I really don't want to encourage that middle branch with the forked top; I just don't see much potential there & would rather the plant direct it's effort elsewhere.

The pic with multiple arrows is from the "back," with branches growing toward the camera. The other pic is from below & probably not all that helpful.

About the cuttings: I read someplace (probably this forum) that someone cuts the leaves of their elastica cuttings horizontally - I read this as cutting off the top half of the leaf - to "reduce transpiration" & give the cutting a better chance at rooting. This seems counter-intuitive to me because 1) more leaf = more food & the cutting needs food to make roots, 2) the way elastica weep, I imagine quite a bit of sap would be lost, which the cutting could ill afford. I also read someplace (PATSP?) that one should remove all but the last leaf of the cutting. This makes a little more sense, since an infant root structure probably can't support 4 or 5 large leaves. Mine are currently intact, in a gritty w/ coir mix, in a dim part of the kitchen next to some Scheff & D. marginata tops.
Your thoughts?

GB


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Sep 10, 11 at 16:31

The sketch will take some maneuvering because I have trouble moving images from scanner to photos at home, and I won't be back to work until Tues (going on a road trip to a great nursery in the southern part of the state), but I'll get on it after I get caught up at work.

I guess I don't know what branch you're referring to as the middle branch with the forked top - it's soo hard to get a good perspective from 2D images.

Here are some images I took a few minutes ago. I had a garden visit from a local herb society this AM, and the rough cutting you see in this first picture is Ruellia brittoniana (Mexican petunia) and was looking very nice in containers today; 'WAS' being a key word because everyone wanted a piece & it's not as nice now as it was after being diced for cuttings.
Photobucket

Here is what the prepared cuttings looked like ..... bottom severed just below a node, and foliage removed cleanly from 4 nodes or 2 opposite node sites. Note in the next pic how I reduced the foliage mass substantially to reduce transpiration:
Photobucket

Those that got cuttings were instructed to bury the 2 stripped nodes and leave only a little space between the soil and the first node with foliage. I told them that pinching the apical meristem as soon as it begins growing will leave them with a 4-stemmed plant.

Here's what happens if you don't balance transpirational surface area with the plants greatly reduced ability to move water: Large and numerous leaves all compete as energy sinks for their share of water. In most cases, when too much foliage is left on the cuttings, the leaves can't get enough water for normal photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is required for auxin production, and a steady supply of auxin across the abscission zone is required to prevent leaf abscission (shedding). When the auxin supply is reduced, the plant recognizes it as drought related and initiates the shedding process to conserve moisture, so any photosynthate that might have been produced finds the proximal pathway blocked at the abscission zone.

Reducing the size of leaves by cutting across veination, or reducing the number of leaves to eliminate the drought response keeps the pathway open - better some photosynthate than none.

Of course, cultural conditions play a major role in determining the best way to proceed. If you have a greenhouse or other environment where R/H is pushing 100%, leaf surface area isn't nearly as significant. Basically, you should let your experience dictate what's prudent; or lacking experience, err on the safe side.

Lost sap isn't much of an issue for cuttings. Sap loss stops as soon as the plant turgidity drops a little, then, the drop in internal pressure makes it easier for the cutting to take up water against the soil water pressure gradient and turgidity quickly equalizes.

Removing all but the last (terminal/distal) leaf is an ok plan if you want a standard or single trunked tree, though there is no guarantee other branches won't occur on the trunk proximal to (below) that leaf. If you want a bushy plant with multiple stems, it's better to leave more leaves on and reduce their size if you think reducing them is prudent. ..... don't know what 'PATSP' is - sorry. ;-)

Your cuttings sound ok, but they'd prolly sound better if they were in bright light and MAYBE on a propagation mat. Ideal rooting temps are around 70* with air temps about 10* cooler than root temps. Remove heat as soon as cuttings strike.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Thank You Al for explaining - this "crazy notion" makes more sense now! I did reduce the size of the leaves & there was little sap.

I very much appreciate your offer to make a sketch, but no hurry since this is a long-term project. I did add a few more pictures to the photo album if that helps... the "forked branch in the middle" is the one that is bare - it's very evident in the new pictures.

GB


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Now that I've figured out how to embed pictures in my post (whee!!) here's what I've got to work with now:

From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

I won't do any more pruning this year... that last branch I took off was half-croaked anyhow.

Here's what the plant looked like last Sept, after a few months of recovering from its near-death experience:

From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

GB


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Sep 19, 11 at 18:38

I'll try to remember the sketch. I've been super busy at work lately & have actually bumped into myself twice coming around corners in the last few days.

It looks like the best plan would be to get the plant outside in the spring, as soon as temps allow, pinch it, and fertilize frequently. It looks like you have the plant in a very gritty mix, which will prove to be a very healthy medium that will stimulate lots of growth .... above AND below the soil line. The improved vitality & heavy w/o being excessive fertilizing will force lots of back-budding. Once the plant is strong and has good energy reserves, you can cut it back very hard and hope that something breaks near the main trunk that you can eventually use as a new leader; otherwise, you'll be forced to use one of the two tertiary branches that are closest to the secondary branches off the main trunk as leaders. You CAN do that if you change the planting angle & perhaps do some imaginative staking.

The things I'm explaining are some of the foundation blocks of bonsai, but they can be applied to virtually ALL plants, giving you control over what they become, instead of simply following the plant's need. In an unnatural environment (indoors), few woody plants will grow true to the growth habit to which they're genetically predisposed. That's where the grower enters the picture. Hopefully some of the pictures and comments have provided you with some direction that will help you get your plant looking good and in continually fine fettle.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I am thrilled to report that my ficus allii is pushing out lots of new leaves! Yea!!


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Hi Al (& everyone else!)

I was thinking about a new planting angle for the ficus in my care & tried sketching, but it didn't work out very well for me, so I found a work-around with the camera.

Is this kind of what you were imagining?

From 9 Lives Ficus elastica
From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

The part of the plant covered with tulle is not part of the final vision... hopefully it will become its own, new tree ;)

GB


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 9, 11 at 20:59

That's exactly what I meant. After the tree gains strength next summer, you can either pinch for a fuller plant, or cut it back hard to force back-budding proximal to (closer to the roots than) existing growth. Many suffer under the illusion that a straight trunk is a requirement for your tree to be attractive, but I find straight trunks somewhat boring, & trunks like the one your tree has much more pleasing to the eye. Good job!

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

What a great thread. I am amazed that it ran so long. Good job! Now I must post my questions...I have many.
Sharon


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 29, 11 at 14:48

Thanks for the kind words, Sharon. If you're surprised that this thread has hung around for a while, you'll be even more surprised at the one I'll link to below (spring of '05). It's actually a thread that you might find very interesting. It offers an understanding of how water behaves in container soils, and how to tell a good soil from a poor one; both are important pieces of the whole container gardening puzzle.

I'll watch the forum for your questions.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: About soils, a key issue


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Crown Gall?

Thank you all for sharing this informative facts! I am some what new at this, but I have been growing my beautiful ficus tree for about 2 years now. It was big when I started it but after trimming it, it is at the point that it actually looks great.
When I first got it I noticed 2 weird lumps in the roots. I didn't know what it was and figured it was a defect and just cut them off. after a few months I decided to change the soil and I noticed 2 lumps again... I cut them off and began to do some research... From what I gathered it could be Crawn Gall!!!
Can anybody advice me on this? I have read but I am not sure... some places say you can just cut it off, others say you can treat it with copper spray? others say that the lumps don't necessary kill the plant or affect it.
My question is this. If it is Crown Gall does it mean that my plant is going to grow lumps all over or were I might have infected it if I used the same tool I used to cut them off? I didn't know I could infect a plant. like I said I am just learning. I don't want to destroy my tree, I have spent a lot of time in it and really like it, or should I just start over with a new plant? Thank You everyone! Your advice is much appreciated! If I get a response I will share a pic of my progress in my reply! :-)


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jan 22, 12 at 11:45

Crown gall on Ficus, and particularly the weeping fig (F. benjamina) is a fairly common problem that can be linked to either bacterial of fungal pathogens. In commercial settings the usual control is immediate removal and destruction of all infected plants, and sterilization of any tools used on them, as well as their pots if you plan to reuse.

The disease is usually caused by poor cultural conditions. In houseplants, over-watering and soil compaction are almost always a part of the equation, and when I'm done commenting I want to talk about that for a second.

If you do decide to treat the plant instead of destroying it, copper sulphate (Bordeaux mix - 1%) as a soil drench or dip might yield some success. Be sure to read and follow instructions carefully.

Since this disease is often closely linked to things cultural, it provides the perfect opportunity for me to reinforce how important it is to focus on the ounce of prevention instead of the pound of cure. I'm not saying that to beat up on Miguel, at all. Hopefully, any who might be following the thread have by now been ingrained with the idea that acting prophylactically and maintaining a plant in continual good health, and in particular focusing on a healthy root system, can eliminate a very high % of the problems requiring remedial attention.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

A1,
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I like your point of view and your well explained advice. I guess as for me I would take more pride knowing that out of a mistake/carelessness I learned something new. I think to have a healthy happy tree growing with the right soil mix (thanks to you) makes more sense than to try to save the one. It has been a learning experience for me. I started with a simple idea to trim a bushy plant so it would look more appealing to customers (I'm a florist) and I ended up with a new hobby!
Thank you once again.
-Miguel


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Question for Al-

after reading this & prevoius thread, I would like to ask couple of questions:

1. what would you do with a (obviously) very neglected, at least 18yrs old Benjamina? 8'tall (bottom of pot to top)

2. have a smaller one (no name, will try to see if can find a tag) with small, more elongated leaves that will benefit from any changes you suggest (I have no bonsai knowledge, but think this may be a candidate). I have it for about 3.5yrs, at one time almost "expired" (was away for 2 mo-helper did not water. All leaves were dry & most of branches too). It is 20.5" from top of soil to top (approx. 28" incl. pot). Planted in typical store-bought potting soil, potted-up once. No root pruning, just cutting off any dead branches. Has one ("close-up 4" on left) partially dead trunk (leftover from the drying-out 1.5yr.ago) - from tip approx.4" to first live leaf. In front of south window, low humidity, water as needed (after reading many of your posts now I know it's not correct), fertilized occasionally with relatively diluted fert. Hope link to pics works. Any suggestions? I am willing to try, and water more often. Thank you.

Rina

http://s1168.photobucket.com/albums/r488/Rina_TO/Benjamina Feb12/


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 8, 12 at 14:28

Miguel - In case you're still following ..... you're very welcome. I've always enjoyed being around people who are enthusiastic, want to learn, and don't mind going the extra mile when it comes to their want (or in some cases 'need') to nurture plants. I count myself as lucky to be able to interact with growers like you on a daily basis. It's fun for me, and very rewarding, so thank YOU, too.

I don't think you were necessarily careless - it's just that you were missing some pieces of the puzzle that most other hobby growers are also missing. I always hope that what I say makes enough sense to others that they'll trust the info, and in doing that they'll save themselves from having to learn any more than necessary from mistakes. Getting regularly bit on the butt by our mistakes makes growing a lot more painful than it needs to be. ;-)

Rina - It looks like the tree in the picture might be Ficus b. 'Too Little', but there are several diminutive benjaminas with short internodes & small leaves that it could be.

You asked me what I would do. I think my reply would be pretty consistent with practically every plant that I acquire, and is pretty much what I do every time I help someone else with a struggling plant, or just a plant they want to get the most out of ....... I would start preparing now, to repot it into a good, durable, free-draining and well-aerated soil at the earliest appropriate opportunity.

It's almost a certainty that if you've had a plant for more than a year, and haven't repotted (as opposed to potting up), the plant is being held back by root congestion. Even if the plant had recently been potted up, the core root mass would still be congested and acting as a negative influence on growth and vitality. Repotting and root pruning is literally like setting the plant free, allowing it the chance to realize the potential it couldn't have with tight roots.

I'll take the liberty of doing some guessing here, so we can have some sort of a starting point; then, if you're interested we can get specific about how to implement the suggestions. If you haven't been watering so you're flushing the soil each time you water, I would do a thorough flushing of the soil mass asap. If the plants have congested roots, I would depot, cut some vertical slits in the root mass and an 'X' on the bottom, and pot up so there is an inch or two of fresh soil surrounding the old root mass. I would then give the plants all the light you can and they will tolerate, and try to keep them warm until you can move them outdoors into full sun in late May or early June. Around Father's day or a little later, I would repot into a good soil that has conifer bark as its largest fraction (at least 75-85%), or a soil like the gritty mix, which is what all my benjaminas are in.

Those are the basics. If you're up to implementing those suggestions, we can talk more about specifics. Don't be put off by the repotting/root pruning - it's not that difficult. You also might want to consider shortening the smaller tree(s) quite a bit for a more natural look that includes a flatter crown - like you would see in nature.

I've talked enough for now - time to hear what you have to say. ;-)

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Back with an update and question!

Since repotting last August (as seen above), the ficus put out some new leaves through October or so. I am very happy with how it's done in the gritty mix, since it hasn't dropped leaves, gotten infested with spider mites, or any of the other problems I had with my benjamina years ago in this house. I believe it could have grown more vigorously through the winter if I had watered and fed it much more frequently. I am a lazy waterer, plus I'm accustomed to letting peat mixes dry on the top (which can take a long time), plus this winter I was very sick and neglected lots of other things as well.

So, now though, it looks gangly. I've seen pics of similar trees in home interiors, like a Michael Taylor interior design for example, and they look good with a ball-shaped or umbrella-shaped leaf canopy dense and full with leaves. Also, now I am not so concerned with growing a tall tree. So now I am mentally ready to prune it more aggressively.

Can I prune it back some more now? Prune hard or just pinching? Actually, is there any time of year I should NOT prune the canopy? Also, there are many bare twigs on lower parts of one of the trunks, so I am thinking I should prune off the bare branches and twigs?

My sister has a little benjamina, 2 feet high or so, with a nice compact, full canopy, and she says she's "always" pruning off the tips of branches.

Here's my tree now:

From Plants & Garden

It looks better from some angles than others:

From Plants & Garden

I'm thinking I don't want that lowest branch.
Hard to see in the pic, but one trunk in particular has a lot of bare twigs and branches:

From Plants & Garden


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 8, 12 at 15:24

Hey - it's coming along quite nicely! I'm really glad to see you're at the point where you're wanting to start working to bend the plant to YOUR will, instead of simply accepting whatever the plant offers. That means that you're growing in skill and vision.

The plant is quite apically dominant, which means it is genetically programmed to concentrate growth at the ends of branches and particularly in the more vertical branches; so you can expect it to naturally shed the sparse lower branches if you don't take a firm hand in restraining the top and open it up to let more air movement and light into the middle of the plant.

I probably wouldn't do any pruning at all just yet. My plan for the plant would be to wait until summer to shorten the top by 12-18", then thin the top of the plant by removing about 1/3 of the branches in the top 1/3 of the plant, then cutting all the remaining branches in the top 1/3 of the tree back to only 2 leaves. In the middle 1/3 of the plant, I wouldn't thin the number of branches, but I would cut each branch back to 4-5 leaves. I would allow the bottom 1/3 of the canopy to grow unchecked.

If possible, I'd get the plant outdoors as soon as I could in May - as soon as temps remain reliably above 55*. It will make a huge difference in how fast the plant gains energy and in the strength of back-budding, both before & after the pruning.

If you're flushing the soil when you water, I'd also be fertilizing regularly now - bi-weekly, weekly, or every time you water with low doses of a 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer - preferably Foliage-Pro 9-3-6.

Questions/comments? You're doing great!

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Al,

Thank you for taking time to read my post. I am very keen to follow your advice.

I have taken plant out of pot - it slipped out easily. Here are the pics of the root ball. I see on two sides there are pretty thick roots. I also see that landscape fabric I put on the bottom to prevent soil from falling out is being "grown-over" by the roots. The soil is quite moist (it was watered abt.36hrs ago). It actually seems too wet to me now. Btw, you may see that there is some gravel mixed in-since my son dissasembled his 360gal fish tank, I took all the gravel & use it to top-dress my pots.
Questions:
*1: Seeing the root ball and the moist soil, should I then flush it now? (put it back in the same container & let clear water run thru/flushing?)
*2: How soon after should I then cut x on the bottom/vertical slits/pot up? I guess at that point similar soil should be used to fill any voids? (understand about no point in mixing two different types, and this is just temporary potting up, not repotting).
*3: Should I try to get that landscape fabric out now or wait until time to root prune? I understand that root pruning/repotting into good mix will be done around Fathers day & am patient (have to gather all the ingredients anyway).
*4: Do I leave any/all dry/dead branches until repotting?
*5: In the meantime, how about the watering/fertilizing?

Thank you for your patience Al.
Rina

http://s1168.photobucket.com/albums/r488/Rina_TO/Benjamina Feb12/Benjamina - roots/


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 8, 12 at 17:15

You know ..... the roots aren't really all that congested, so I don't think you even need to pot up. As long as the roots toward the bottom aren't smelly or rotten, I'd just return the plant to its pot (no need to score the root ball either, and the landscape fabric isn't hurting anything for now) and wait until the next time it needs water to flush the soil THOROUGHLY. Pour a volume of room temperature water equal to the volume of the container it's in through the soil at least 5-10 times. This is actually a 'just in case' measure, something to be done prophylactically to ensure that you're avoiding any potential salt build-up. If it's not too great a bother, adding a wick when you return the plant to it's pot, and using it properly to help you drain excess water from the heavy after every watering would be very helpful.

Just put the wick through a drain hole through the bottom near the sidewall. After watering and flushing the soil (so 10-20% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain hole), tilt the pot & let the wick hang/dangle down below the bottom of the pot until it stops draining. This will remove almost ALL the perched water from the soil, and allow you to water properly w/o too much worry about root rot.

If the branches are obviously dead - no harm in pruning them off.

Monitor watering carefully & only water when necessary. If/when you get the plants into a soil based on larger particles so it is well-aerated and drains very well, watering will be much less critical, with over-watering risk becoming almost a nonissue.

Immediately after flushing, you can fertilize with a full strength recommended dose, or wait until the first time the plant needs watering, and apply a full recommended dose (the one recommended for houseplants) of a 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer like Foliage-Pro 9-3-6, or Miracle-Gro 24-8-16 (box) or 12-4-8 (yellow jug). You'll need to look closely at the info on the box/jug to find the NPK %s.

Got all that? ;-)

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Al;
will follow your instructions.
Questions:
1: wick - is something like a "fat" shoe lace ok or?
2: dead/dry branches - approx. 4", also tips of the bigger trunk that is split in 2 (they are both approx.1.5" long)
3: will have to get proper fertilizer (have on hand some 20-20-20; also MG 7-7-7; DNF Gold 1-2-1 and DNF Black 1-1-2...not the ratios you are recommending).

This Benjamina is my project #1!

"Old" Benjamina mentioned in my first post is now 8' tall and quite large, that one is definitely potbound, has huge/thick roots visible. I thought I repotted it times before-now realized I was actually only potting up!!! On couple of occasions I have chopped off some roots, but reading your posts about root pruning-not even close to it. Trunks circumference is 9.5" at the bottom (where roots start) and just about 6" where it Y-splits - that is 33" higher. Definitely misshapen & pruned badly (mostly by me, just cutting off branches that were "in the way"). It is actually getting too big for a house plant, if it could be slowly pruned-improved/shortened?, that would be great. Soil-just regular potting soil...I keep it outside when warm enough. I welcome any ideas you may have, but do not want to take too much of your time.
Thank you.

Rina


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers - wicks

Al;

never mind question about wicks - I was re-reading material above & reminded you already suggested (rayon mop...)
All the photos of root pruning do look like it's done on my big Benjamina and i read all of this topic & will re-read many more times. Looking for your encouragement(?) I guess, - is it possible to save such a tree? To make it healthy, better looking, smaller to be able to keep it in house...Thnx
Rina


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 8, 12 at 19:15

Oh sure you can save it. That's no problem ..... as long as you don't think it's circling the drain at this time? Can we get a look at it?

I'm a little confused as to what tree we're discussing where, and if #2 and 3 above are questions. ;-)

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Thanks Al. I don't know that my skill is growing, but my vision is somewhat. :) I just found & read your thread about pruning, but I seem to be kind of dense in this area. I do understand the apical dominance. The branches have grown much longer than when I cut them back in August, and it's a narrow bathroom, so it's soon going to be hard to walk by.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Al;

sorry to confuse.
All previous questions & photos were regarding the small Benjamina, possible 'Too Little'. You gave me advice what to do with it now, and later. I understand & will do what you advised. This is my Project #1.

Than I asked about the "big one" - 8feet tall, and in my last post described it, did not post any photos. I'll take photos of it tomorrow (too dark now), see if I can get it out of pot - it's huge & heavy - to see & photograph the roots. Can't tell how bad they are. That would be my Project #2.

I also mentioned fertilizer that i have on hand; if they could be of use pls. comment - that was my question #3.
Thnx.

Rina


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers - 8 foot Benjamina

Al;

I tried to take the big 8' Benjamina out of pot to see the roots, but could not manage-too heavy for me, so have to wait for someone to help me. After reading your posts on this thread (&many others) I am afraid that the roots are totally filling the huge pot-18" diameter. Tried to feel thru draining holes on bottom (at sides) of container & it fell like roots everywhere, no soil...So my ? is: is it possible to save so severly potbound tree? I am willing to try anything as you suggest, the tree probably would die without help soon. I have taken some close-up photos of trunk & visible roots, not sure if enough for you to comment. Will take photo of whole tree when have help to move it. (I did see photos of you root-pruning the Benjamina and the roots look very thick to me, so I have tiny bit of hope for my tree, but wondering if it could recover enough to be candidate for such a surgery...btw, how tall is the tree in photos now?)

In the meantime I have done what you suggested to small Benjamina -'Too Little'(?). Put it back to same pot, wick in side/bottom drainage hole. The soil was quite moist, so I will wait another day or two to flush, & water/fertilize as suggested. I will check the wick constantly to make sure it doesn't get water-logged. Since it is in same store-bought soil during this "waiting period", am I to fertilize half-strenght with every watering? It will spend summer outside (same as last year).

I would like to thank you again for being so available to anyone. I don't know how you find enough time to answer so many questions, and so thoroughly. You don't seem to mind to answer same questions again & again. If I was to do that, 48-hour day would not be enough for me...And you always support your answer with the reasons "why". For me, without any botanical (?) knowledge, it makes it bit easier to understand. Even if it's getting harder to remember (getting older, lol), but there is all of it available to re-read. And reading I will be, over and over again, until more of it sinks in.

Rina

http://s1168.photobucket.com/albums/r488/Rina_TO/Benjamina 8feet tall 2012/


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Feb 9, 12 at 21:52

First, your larger Ficus is no where near beyond reclamation. I can see that you won't get where you need to go in a single repotting/root pruning session, but if you repot every other tear, by the third repot you should be able to have the roots entirely under control and will probably have built a pretty spectacular tree.

The tree I used in the photos upthread is about 14" tall, measured from the soil line, and the trunk is about 2.5" in diameter at the base. The roots still need refining a little, but it's almost ready to go in a bonsai pot. I have no idea why there seems to be a picture missing from the root pruning sequence, but if you go back upthread and review the "before" pictures of the root mass, and compare them to this "after" picture, you'll have a pretty good feel for the kind of root pruning a healthy tree will tolerate.
Photobucket

I would pot the big tree up now. Move it outdoors as soon as temps are reliably above 55* all day long, and shoot for a late June repot and a mid-July pruning session.

Sounds like a plan for the small tree. Be careful not to over-water & wait for a Father's Day repot. Keep it warm & in the best light you can until then. You're going to see a remarkable turn-around in your trees once you get the roots under control. Most growers have no idea how much influence a plant's being root bound has on their ability to keep it strong & growing well. Root work and an appropriate soil is the only reason bonsai can be passed down through many generations, while most of us have a considerable degree of difficulty keeping the same trees healthy for more than a few years.

I wouldn't fertilize at 1/2 strength at every watering when using a heavy soil, even if you DO flush it each time. I use 1/4 tsp of 9-3-6 per gallon in the winter, every time I water, and I use a fast soil. I don't think we decided what you'll be using yet? Maybe that will help determine what's most appropriate. Whatever we decide on now, that will prolly change as the light gets better & the tree starts to grow in earnest.

I don't mind repeating myself. It's too bad we can't get you all together at the same time so the repetition wouldn't be necessary, but it's ok - I find that if I gain your trust in what I say by taking the time to make sure everything all makes sense, it does wonders for your confidence and fuels your enthusiasm; and that's what I get enthusiastic over. I often think about that menswear commercial ..... "Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; TEACH a man to fish, ......... and he'll sit in a boat and drink beer all day". OK, so that's not how it goes, but the idea is, I'd rather TEACH you why it's better to do something than TELL you it's better. I always hope the knowledge will be seen as more valuable than the directive. ;-)

Take good care. I'll be around if you think I can help more.

Al



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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers-8ft. Benjamina

Al;

thank you for your comments. I dare to take more of your time - I was able to take some photos of the roots & "whitish" spots: these are at each drainage opening & few also on the bottom (anywhere i used landscape cloth) - I am assuming these are salts deposits. I never ever flushed, so I understand why the accumulation. Did fertilize, but not excessively. Root ball is not as bad as I thought will be - looking at surface roots I expected real disaster. But, obviously I can't see what lurks inside the soil...did not want to poke the soil out until you suggest next steps. Tree is big & heavy, but with help I can get it into basement shower for thorough flushing if necessary.
Took some photos of top that is really lopsided. Caused mostly by me, I used to cut off branches to fit "flatter" in front of window...Will get more photos once the tree is outside & recuperates before anything else will be done, right?

I am surprised that Benjamina in you demo photos is only 14" tall - looks taller. If my "giant" could be of similar shape (obviously taller) in next 10-15years, I'll be very happy!!!

You asked about fertilizer I am using - right now I have only 20-20-20, 7-7-7 & DNF Gold and DNF Black on hand & none of these have ratios you are recommending. So Saturday is "shop-for-fertilizer day" - I'll let you know what I found.

Thank you.
Rina

http://s1168.photobucket.com/albums/r488/Rina_TO/Benjamina 8feet tall 2012/Benjamina roots Fe 2012/


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Al, you said (to rina) to put it outside when daytime temps are reliably above 55*...that's true where I live (Orange County, CA), pretty much any day of the year. Nighttime lows now around probably low 50's, with daytime temps between 65 and 80. So I'd like to put it outside as soon as possible if it will speed up the growth and get it to an attractive state sooner.

Sorry for my impatience, which I hope is merely amusing rather than annoying to a patient, industrious grower like yourself. I would love to have this tree looking great by mid-July when I will have family from the East Coast visiting (who rarely visit) and when I hope to have my living room renovated and re-decorated.

Since I realized a couple weeks ago that the tree in gritty mix needs much more frequent water & fertilizer, it has started putting out a lot of new leaves, but they are very concentrated at the tips of branches.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 11, 12 at 0:06

Rina - So do you have a larger pot so you can pot up? I'd cut the bottom couple of inches off the root mass & score the root ball vertically with a utility knife, and move the plant to a slightly larger pot until summer. The white spots ARE mineral deposits left behind when water evaporated from the soil where it was exposed to air at the drain cut-outs.

As far as appearances go, a lopsided tree can look very natural and attractive. Most styles of bonsai trees are not based on perfect symmetry, but on triangular shapes and movement in the trunk-line. One of the things you'll need to concentrate on is cleanly removing all but 2 branches from pruned areas that give rise to 2 clusters of 2 or more branches, but there is plenty of time to think about that come summer.

FP 9-3-6 is a great fertilizer, but Miracle-Gro in 12-4-8 liquid (yellow plastic jug), or any of the several brands of 24-8-16 granular soluble are also good choices. I'd get the liquid, just because it's so easy to use. It should be less than $6/qt.

Thanks! Saying my tree looks taller is a compliment you prolly didn't even know you were giving. Even though it's not good enough to put in a bonsai pot yet, the idea of bonsai is to great a tree that replicates it's counterparts found in nature. They're supposed to evoke the image of an older, full size tree. It's getting there & should be a very nice tree once I get the roots straightened out. The tree in the pictures above is in the 'broom' style, which just happens to be one of the few bonsai styles based on symmetry.

Andersons - When I said, "Move it outdoors as soon as temps are reliably above 55* all day long", I meant a 24 hour day. I should have been clearer I think. Night temps need to be reliably above 55* as well. Ficus other than F. carica, the hardy fig, are sensitive to chill. Their photosynthesizing machinery shuts down as temps start dropping below 55-60*, and is very slow to return to normal, so the plant is essentially running on energy reserves during and after exposure to such chill - best to keep them warm, no matter what tales you hear about them surviving temps in the 30s. Sure, they survive, but are declining unnecessarily because they cant carry on photosynthesis.

Oh, I understand impatience very well. It just means you don't have enough plants. ;-) I remember when I had only a few bonsai - I was always fussing & snipping at them, and they weren't necessarily improved by all the attention. That's not to say you should ignore them either, but plants need to regain energy after you do anything drastic. One of the main killers of bonsai trees, other than watering issues, is pruning too much, and especially pruning out of season. A plant will tolerate a LOT when it's healthy and the timing is right; but poor timing, or hard work on a stressed & weak plant can easily kill it. That's why I so often stress that winter & early spring are poor times to repot or do any hard pruning.

Plant time & people time are different. Where you might think in terms of days or weeks, if a plant could think, it would be in terms of seasons. Having more plants allows you to obsess less over the few because your attention is divide among the many. I might look at a tree & know exactly what branches need to be removed, but I also understand that it might not be prudent to push the tree by removing them today. If I need to wait a year or two, or three to achieve a goal without jeopardizing the well being of the plant, I'm perfectly fine with that. I'm never in a rush - the plant will always tell me when it's ready to be worked on. Once you start manipulating your plants to bend them to your will, you'll come to learn exactly what I'm saying. Sometimes it takes a few casualties for the message that it's best to put yourself on 'plant time' to be fully appreciated. Hopefully the heads-up I'm sharing will make learning from that particular experience minimally necessary. Keep it in the back of your mind?

Yes, your trees will start to wake up soon, and start to grow with considerably more verve, once we get past the vernal equinox so there's more daylight than dark.

Take care, guys.

Al



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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Al;

thank you again. I will try to find a bigger pot for my tree. I understand what to do now. Just one ?: should I flush after potting up? (you always advise to do that, I just want to make sure since the soil will take long time to dry out; don't want to drown it now!)
thnx.

Rina


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 11, 12 at 11:09

I would flush thoroughly first, set the plant on newspapers to dry down a little (overnight) then do the sawing & repot the next day.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

thanx Al, will do that.

Rina


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Hi, you suggested I come here to anser my questions. Here is a copy and paste crom the figs forum: I started off with 5 now I am down to two. Please tell me how to save my plant. I have had it for maybe 5 years. It is on the stringy side with a few areas of leaves. Some shoots die and new ones come. Too many are dying and not enough new ones are coming. I think I am using the wrong soil, where can I get the right soil and what is it exactly? Is there a place to buy new ficus b. that don't cost an arm and a leg? I would like to replenish the ones I lost. The plants I have are no more than a foot and a half. Thanx for any advice!

I'm not 100% certain if it is a ficus benjamina but its the closest thing I could find that looks like my plant. If you notice in my picture I have the roots sticking out a bit, They are bulbous compared to the rest of the plant, not sure if this means anything.

I havent really fertilized but I try to repot often and the soil always says good for 3 months I also try to water with my fish tanks old water which supposedly helps with maybe 30% of fertilization. I did have regular garden worms in the old pot, not sure if this helped any. I have very high ph well water, it is also very hard.

The problem starts with a branch or at worse all the leaves almost at once wilting, then I notice the bark close to the wilting starting to shrivel. Eventually all the bark starts to shrivel and the plant is dead.

Here is a link that might be useful: my ficus


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

By repotting often I mean once or twice a year, also, I have ferrets that like to dig up plants, its inevitable but every so often out of necessity I have to add an inch or two of soil which I figure takes care of fertilization.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 20, 12 at 7:54

I'm headed to work now, but I'd like to know what room the plant is in, how cold the room gets, and what direction the window faces.

I'm guessing that if you read the opening post carefully, you found most of what you need to know to change things around in that offering, but we can quite easily figure out what you're doing that is causing the troubled plants.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers - Thank you Al for help

Al;

I have followed all your instructions re: ficus benjamina (small & 8feet tall one).
Thank you again for taking time to answer all my questions, I'll be "bugging" you again close to June - unless I have some problems before.

Rina


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers - to Smurfishy

Hi;
I have a suggestion about protecting your plants from ferrets digging. My daughter used to have ferrets, cats (and more). I had to protect my plants - I cut out a circle out of 1/2"mesh (could use a chicke wire) with opening large enough for trunk, & put it on top of soil. You could use decorative stones/rocks too. I am still doing this sometimes to protect plants outside from squirrels...just an idea.
Rina


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 20, 12 at 13:43

Rina - let's hope that collectively the suggestions you put into practice help get everything back on track! I'm betting you're going to see SIGNIFICANT improvement by the end of the summer. I'll look forward to hearing from you in Jun, or before if you think there's anything else I can help you with.

Best luck!

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I used to have it next to my kitchen sink which faces the same room but after reading from some people that they prefer lots of light I moved it to the window area in the last few weeks. My house is round 65-72 degrees most always. It gets much hotter in the summer and Connecticut is usually very humid year round. The window might have a small draft. The aquarium next to it is my snakes and it always has a heat lamp on it at all times except hot summer days.

I do not understand the fertilizer lingo but I plan on taking the recommendation to my local homedepot and get them to figure it out for me.

Is there a potting mix I can get as I only have this ficus and a bunch of pony tail palms and one coffee plant, not sure if the separate soil ingredients will help all plants and seems like it is a lot to buy for one small plant.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Oh, and according to google maps it faces a south westerly direction.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 20, 12 at 22:33

I think you would benefit significantly by sticking around the forum for a while and learning all you can about soils if you want to make the most significant advance in your ability to bring along healthy plants that you can make at one time. It's most likely that it's your inability to work with whatever you're using for a soil now that's limiting your success, but there are some fairly easy things you can do without adopting a different soil that can help make life easier for your plants AND you - especially since you only have a few plants.

You can read about the cultural preferences (light, temps, etc) of your plant in the opening post, but what you need to do is get your watering habits under control. Your goal when you water is to make the soil damp, not wet, and to prevent soluble salts from accumulating in the soil. Here's what you can do to make that possible:

A) Check for insect infestations - particularly scale & mites. If you're not sure how to do that or what to look for, just ask.

B) Flush the soil thoroughly & repeatedly with room temperature water & allow the pot to drain

C) Push a wick up into the drain hole, leaving a tag end that hangs 2-3" below the pot. The wick will 'fool' the water into 'thinking' the pot is deeper than it actually is. The water will move down the wick, 'looking' for the bottom of the pot. When water reaches the end of the wick, it will be pushed off the wick by more water moving downward along the wick.

D) After you're done watering, hold the pot at eye level over the sink. Move the pot downward quickly until it is just above the sink, then reverse the pot's direction sharply upward. Newton's first law (of motion) states that an object in motion (the excess water in your pot) will not change its velocity unless an unbalanced force acts upon it. When you reverse the direction of the pot (upward) the water will tend to continue downward and out the drain hole until the unbalanced forces 'catch up'.

This, in combination with the wick, will allow you to water properly to prevent salt accumulation in the soil. It can't offer you the benefit of increased aeration that soils based on larger particles offer, but it will help you control your watering.

E) Be judicious about how and when you water. Use a chopstick, pencil, or wooden skewer as a 'tell' to determine how wet/dry the soil is deep in the pot. If the tell comes out damp, dirty, or cool, don't water until it comes out clean & dry.

For your fertilizer, I'd suggest you get some Miracle-Gro 12-4-8 liquid (in a yellow quart jug) and use that every 2-3 weeks at half strength until May, then at full recommended strength (for houseplants) every 2-3 weeks from Jun - Sep.

I'll leave a link to info about soils below. If you're interested in learning more about fertilizing containerized plants, let me know & I'll provide a link.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: More about soils if you click me!


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Ok, I'll chew on that info a while and buy myself a pot with a drain hole! I just transferred it a few weeks back from one that had a drain hole. I usually used the rule of sticking your finger in an inch to tell if it needs water but I guess I will look for nearly bone dry from now on. Do you think this is def ficus B. I was also wondering were I can buy more for when I figure out everything.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Feb 21, 12 at 13:53

The plant's leaves and growth habit are typical of the very common Ficus b., so it's highly probable that's what it is.

You should definitely remove the plant from the pot w/o a drain hole. The problem with that is, the plant is already in very bad shape & the additional stress of repotting will add additional hardship that could spell the end. I should have asked if the pot had a drain hole, but it looked like it was in as bonsai pot, so I took for granted it did. My bad.

You can buy more of the same plant at almost all stores that have much of an inventory of houseplants. It's not difficult to get the information that can make a significant difference in your ability to grow healthy plants - you just need to decide if you're willing to implement. The investment would be minimal. A bag of pine bark fines, some perlite, a little lime, and some peat or potting soil is all you need. Under $20 should do it.

If you haven't read the link below, I'm sure you will find a lot of helpful information in it.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: More here ......


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

You should definitely remove the plant from the pot w/o a drain hole. The problem with that is, the plant is already in very bad shape & the additional stress of repotting will add additional hardship that could spell the end.

I'm confused, you say to remove it but by doing so I might kill it? oy... I think I will go out and buy the stuff for the soil if its only a $20 investment. I hope I can find what I need at home depot.


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RE:re: Ficus Trees in Containers

Oh and they don't sell ficus b. anywhere in my area!! I'm kinda rural. I looked on ebay and the least expensive one was maybe $60! Unless I buy the seeds, which I might be interested in trying, but how long do they take to grow?


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Feb 23, 12 at 23:52

I think you kind of painted yourself into a corner when you potted into the unholy pot, and now you find yourself on the horns of a dilemma. The feeling I get from the whole situation you've described is that although neither option (leaving the plant in the unholy pot or repotting into a holy pot) is a good one, the lesser of the evils is the repot.

My advice about adopting the new soil is don't obsess over it. It's worth getting right & not compromising on the ingredients, so if you can't find what you need, work with what you have until you can get what's appropriate ..... and don't be reluctant to ask for guidance if you think you might need it.

The seeds should germinate quickly if you can keep moisture levels where they should be and the soil around 70* until they do germinate. It really might be better to keep scouting the next time you get to the city. As I mentioned, Ficus b is one of the most common houseplants sold.

It might help if we knew where you live. Maybe you could open your member page and add your zone and state or a large city near you so it shows up in your posts (like my tapla z5b-6a mid-MI)

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I don't mind saying that I live in Lisbon, CT. I might live closer to Hartford but I would prefer to go to Providence if any city.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 25, 12 at 20:10

How close are Wethersfield and Hamden? You should be able to get Turface there, if interested. Let me know if either are close enough.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

So, a couple weeks after my last update...I left my tree in the bathroom (which is very warm). I am amazed at how much it has grown just in the last 2 weeks! The branches are about 18-24 inches longer now, and there are tons of new leaves. Pretty soon it will be hard to walk by to get to the shower or toilet. I experimented with watering frequency, and every 2-3 days seems about right. I am giving it a little bit of FP each watering, and sucking up with a towel the bit that drains into the saucer.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 27, 12 at 14:21

Wow - that's great! I went back upthread to refresh my memory .... you said you had a lot of growth concentrated near apices (branch tips). Is that changing now - getting a lot of back-budding?

Also - I can't remember if we discussed getting the tree outside to really put it into overdrive? ;-) I'm really glad for you. I don't know if you're excited about the progress ...... but I am! ;-)

Be careful about the fertilizer. More isn't always better - especially if you're not flushing the soil so at least 15-20% of the total volume of water applied exits the pot. AND, I would check with a skewer to see if the plant really does need watering that often. If it doesn't, it's best to wait.

Good job - strong work! Keep us updated, please?

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

There are now some new leaves appearing further down the tree, not just at the tips (that's back-budding, right)? It is too cold to put outside now. We're getting another cold spell. In fact, last night is among the coldest I have ever felt living here.

Some water definitely exits the pot each watering. I really cannot afford to water liberally, even with the saucer, because the bathroom is carpeted. So, I water carefully, wait a bit, and water more until some water exits, then stuff a towel in to soak it up.

I'm using between 1/4-1/2 tsp of FP every 2-3 days for this tree which is now over 8 feet tall. The room is about 75*. Does that seem like too much? not enough? It seems to be doing well with all the new growth, and I'm not seeing any browning leaf tips.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 29, 12 at 7:27

Yes, much too much. You'll have problems very soon. If you're not flushing the soil well when you water, you should probably cut back to 1/2 tsp/gallon every 2 weeks, & make it a point to figure out a way to flush the soil thoroughly every 2-3 months. Remember, you're not 'feeding' your plant, just supplying the building blocks the plant needs to make its own food and keep its systems orderly. More isn't always better. ;o)

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Hi Al-I am desperate for your help. My husband and I may divorce over our fiddleleaf fig. We both love the tree desperately but my husband can be a busy body and he thinks he may have over watered the tree because his moisture meter was broken. The meter is now in the trash and I am trying to help the tree recover. We are in Nashville, TN. Our room temperature ranges from 63-70. The tree receives morning sun in the corner next to double doors. It is dropping leaves like crazy. Most of them have yellowed and curled up. But others have not. We went probably 3 weeks without watering it at all. 2 weeks ago I put it outside and flushed it with water. I have brought it back in and water it once a week about 3-4 cups. Can it be saved? Should I prune the bare branches? What can I do??? You should be able to follow the link below to see a few pictures. Thank you for your help, in advance.
Ginny

Here is a link that might be useful: Fiddleleaf Fig


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 9, 12 at 14:06

Hi, Ginny - I was trying to think of something clever to say, but nothing came to mind immediately, so let's work on your fig. ;-)

It looks pretty sick - sick enough that I think you need to depot so you can inspect the roots and let the plant dry down. If you have mushy/rotted/acrid smelling or otherwise stinky roots that don't smell 'earthy', you'll probably need to do an emergency repot. If the roots look ok, leave the plant sit on newspaper or an old towel until the soil dries down to a 'damp' state.

It sounds like you're assuming that the problem is resultant of over-watering, but if you fertilized recently, you should consider it might have been an issue related to a high concentration of salts in the soil. What about that? The flushing would have rendered that issue a reduced threat though, hopefully.

Why don't you let me know what the roots are like before we go any further?

I'm not saying this as chastisement or any reason other than to make a straightforward observation, which is, it's very unlikely you would be having this issue if the plant was in a fast-draining, well-aerated soil. They make it soo much easier to avoid problems related to over-watering and saturated soil conditions or accumulations of salts. That was offered as much for the benefit of anyone following the thread as it was for you. There are ways you can better deal with a water-retentive soil, if yours deserves that appellation, and we can talk more about that as we work on getting your friend back on track if you like.

Al



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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I ended up getting sick and not getting out when I said I would. Just finally got everything although neither lowes or home depot had pine bark fines. I was going to call my local florists tomorrow about it. Should I repot with out it? How much of each thing should I put in the mix? Can i just throw it all together in a bin? I also got the miracle grow 12-4-8 Should I use there instructions or would you have another suggestion?

BTW, my ferrets dug up my ficus. wasn't sure what to do, I put some of the dirt back in it but didn't want to do a thorough repotting until after I got all the supplies. i am thinking of using that one persons advice of fitting chicken wire on top of it and, I don't know, using a glue gun to glue it to the top of the pot maybe. I was hoping to keep them in their spot because its the only place with a large enough ledge next to a window.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by rina_ 6a Ont (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 15, 12 at 17:05

Hi;

I use the chicken wire as I mentioned before; I usually staple it to the pot (I use plastic pots-obviously it can't be glass/terracota). I still use it outside to protect some bulbs and even hellebore (!) from darn squirrels...I read long time ago that after you plant bulbs in your garden beds (and I guess could be other plants) it is good idea to lay a piece of chicken wire less than 1" under top of the soil to prevet digging. I did that too, it saved bulbs from being dug out, but the fresh leaves and buds were still chewed off...


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Well, my ceramic pots I would have to glue it, which is like all of them, LOL, although I just bought some large magestic palms that I was planning on using plastic for. I wonder though, I would need to cut into it to get it around the plant, I'm thinking this would likely ruin the structural integrity and I would have to find a way to close it back up or the ferrets would exploit it. I'm thinking maybe I can get a plastic material instead to do the same trick. Good idea in the garden, but I wonder, if it would rust and if the rust or metal is ok for the soil?

Also, non ficus related, but now that I bought this big bag of lime, if I have extra, would this help my garden?


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by rina_ 6a Ont (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 15, 12 at 19:49

I don't think chicken wire rusts (never noticed & I use it all the time - for tomatoes, for clematis - to climb on etc. I think it is galvanized.) And tiny bit of iron probably wouldn' hurt? - read somewhere to put old nails around certain plants to supply extra iron - BUT I don't know if that is only folklore, how much iron would there be from a nail?
To put it around plant you would have to cut out large circle to fit inside of pot, than small one to accomodate trunk & cut across to be able to "slip it on". You can kind of sew that seam together with wire...I know, maybe too much fuss. Maybe ferrets are too smart anyway to figure out how to undo it?! I am not sure about plastic, plants may not be able to breathe. How about sprinkling of something (not sure what would deter ferrets - maybe cinnamon?) on top of the soil. Some folks use chilli pepper powder, but that could be pretty bad if it gets into their eyes...I like animals enough not to do that.

You can get plastic screen mesh material (for screens on doors/windows), that would be much easier to work with. I would cut large square so it hangs over the edge of pot, and attach something heavyier (like rocks) around perimeter & the corners of it to keep it down...I am getting too crafty here!
Rina


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Im looking for advice for my ficus elastica which is about 6 years old now. Originally bought him when i lived in an apartment and after I brought him home he almost immediately dropped all his lower leaves. As the years passed he struggled on, getting taller and taller, but remained leafless except for some leaves at the top of his branches. I now have a front porch that receives daylight all day long and a back patio that receives full sun in the mornings and early afternoons and is shaded the rest of the day. Id like to move my plant outdoors. Which option do you think is best. And could anyone advise on how to get him to stop growing taller and maybe encourage some lower leave growth? All suggestions are appreciated. Going to try to include some pictures now...hopefully this works!

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 15, 12 at 13:43

First observation is the pot looks large for the plant mass you have, which will probably make watering properly difficult.

You don't say where you live, but if temps are reliably above 55*, I'd keep the plant outdoors, but I wouldn't immediately expose it to direct sun. This will cause sunburn (photo-oxidation).

If I was going to write a plan for you, it would go like this:

Now - flush the soil thoroughly to get rid of accumulating salts. Use a wick or at least tilt the pot at a steep angle until drainage stops - to help drain additional water (it works - check it out). Fertilize with the recommended dose of any soluble fertilizer with a 3:1:2 ratio (different from NPK %s - ask if you don't understand my meaning. The easiest to find would be Miracle-Gro 12-4-8, but I prefer Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 [better, but not easy to find]). At the same time, tip prune all the stems by removing the top leaf and the growing tip of the stem. This truncates the stem and terminates its ability to grow. It also forces back-budding because it forces the tree to spend it's energy on activating latent buds in the leaf axils (crotches). Eventually, we'll be able to have branches growing from just above the soil line if you'd like.

Then - wait until the tree builds up some energy reserves. I'd repot it between Father's Day & Independence Day. Between now & then, if you have interest in houseplants and want to understand some of the influences things like soil choice, fertility levels, watering habits, light, ..... have on your plant, I'll offer a couple of links to some things I think will really help you. If not - if you'd just rather follow directions (or not), that's ok too. I have no doubt the planting could be showing off its new look and vitality by summer's end.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Thanks so much for getting back to me. I'm in zone 6 and we're having some odd weather right now. I plan on keeping him outside, but I will move him closer to the house where it is shaded all day long to let him acclimate to being outside and I'll just bring him inside when the temps drop below 55 at night. I had recently mixed some plant food into the soil. It's the hard round pellet stuff called Scott's Osmocote for houseplants where you only do it every 3 months. Should I still fertizlize with the soluble fertilizer or wait until I repot him and get rid of the other stuff?

Honestly, I'm much better at following directions! I've read most of your earlier posts and knew you were the guy to listen to. One question, you talk about energy reserves a lot...how can you tell if the plant has built engergy reserves? Just curious.


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 16, 12 at 15:41

Good questions ....

How recently did you mix in the CRF (Osmocote)? How much CRF used; and how much soil would you estimate there to be in the container?

What you can see above ground in trees with low energy levels will include the tendency to shed lower & interior foliage & concentrate growth very near apices (the growing tips of branches & stems). Growth is often stalled or thin/weak, and there will be nearly no lateral breaks (side-branching or back-budding).

Low energy reserves can be attributed to something as simple as where the plant is in its growth cycle (time of year) or the plant operation or having recently been operating under stress/strain (at or below the limits it was genetically programmed to tolerate). Usually the later is a result of poor cultural conditions.

I'll keep an eye on the thread in case you need more help.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

I put in the CRF (learning the terms as I go!) Easter weekend...same time as I when I moved him outdoors. I just sprinkled it on and mixed in with the top 3 inches of soil as the instructions directed, but if I had to guess, I would say about 3 to 4 teaspoons went in. The bottom 1/3 of the pot has a drainage layer (which I now know is ineffective after reading your article on container soils), so I would say there is still a good 9 inches of potting soil in there. Do you think I should hold off on the soluble fertilizer or maybe begin fertilizing at only half strength?

I already did do the flush and tip pruned the growing stem based on what I had read in your previous posts. I will go back and remove the top leaf as well. Would removing more of the top leaves assist in the back-budding? I'm so worried that the back-budding won't happen at all that I would be willing to remove more leaves if this will benefit the plant in the long run. Between "now" and "then" I am going to work on assembling the different materials for the soil mix you recommend: pine bark, turface, and crushed granite.

I'd also like to get your thoughts on a new pot. You say the one I have looks large..are we talking width or depth? For some perspective, the plant in the pictures is just over 3 feet tall from soil line to top leaf. The pot is about 15 inches deep and just as wide at the top. My long-term goal for this plant is to not have it grow any taller but wider would be fine with me.

I must say after reading about your fertilization techniques and soil mixes, the thing I like most about your advice, is that the information is applicable to all plants in containers. As a beginner, it makes me feel more confident when the things I'm learning or trying for the first time can be applied to more than just one species. So, if I see a new plant and want to bring it home, I won't have to worry so much about whether I'll be able to keep it alive or not. And knowing that makes all the difference!


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 17, 12 at 14:27

I think I'd hold off on the soluble fertilizer now until after you repot - it sounds like you have enough to keep the plant's needs met with the CRF you incorporated.

Tip pruning gets the back-budding process started. It's a hormonal thing. Removing the tip removes the source of a growth regulator (auxin) that suppresses the growth of dormant buds. When auxin no longer flows toward roots in a volume sufficient to suppress another growth regulator (cytokinin), the other growth regulator becomes dominant & stimulates back-budding.

The leaves are where the plant makes its food. Keep in mind that fertilizer is not plant food - it provides the building blocks plants use to make their own food (sugar) and keep their systems orderly. So, cutting off more leaves will put the plant at a disadvantage because it would be making less food and storing less energy. We want to build up energy reserves so when you DO repot and prune, the plant can respond in a robust manner, instead of languishing while it decides if it wants to live or die. As a grower, you can control the way the plant responds with good timing, to a large degree.

Once the plant has a lot of vitality, you'll first root prune, then cut the plant back hard a few weeks later, after the roots have recovered. This will promote profuse back-budding & get the stems to break low on the stem - just what you're after.

How large the pot can/should be depends on your soil choice. The more water retentive your soil is, the more critical pot size is. When you choose a soil that is well-aerated and holds little or no perched water, you can plant a single seed in a 55 gallon drum of soil and expect rampant growth with no worry about root issues. It's the perched water that causes all the problems - do away with it and you've relieved yourself of a lot of potential problems that keep us busy on the forums giving advice. I can tell you how to fix things, but I know that in the end you'll appreciate it a lot more if I tell you how to prevent problems so you don't have anything TO fix. So, the pot size will be fine if you choose a fast soil, or you'll be able to go smaller if you'd like - your call.

Most growers think that most of the plants they grow require different treatment. Well, to some degree, that's true. Some like more or less light, and cacti like to go dry at certain times of the year; but surprisingly, almost all the plants we commonly grow, including succulents, like the same thing. Give them a soil that's damp & not wet, the right ratio and level of fertilizer in the soil, room for their roots to run, and temps in the 60s-upper 80s, and you've got it knocked.

Take care.

Al



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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

While this may be unrelated to this thread, I had to tell SOMEONE. I made up some gritty mix in anticipation of repotting my ficus e. You all know that after sifting and rinsing I had tons of smaller particles leftover. I couldn't bring myself to just throw it all away and then this weekend I decided to perform an experiment. I sowed half my annuals in the standard coir pellets and half in the gritty mix leftover fines. It's been two days and I have sprouts! I'm speechless. Not a sign yet of the seeds in the coir. I'm sure they'll sprout eventually, but what is it about the gritty mix that would encourage faster germination?


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, May 15, 12 at 19:05

Aeration.

Good job!

Photobucket Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by anne_g 5-middle Indiana (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 3, 12 at 19:41

Hello Al and All,

Al, wonderful information you are providing. I'm making a database!

I've got a situation similar to Julia_c--mine has four main trunks/stems that are way too spindly with only growth at the top. Two trunks/spindles have short growth off of them, from below the soil level. I want to shorten these tall, langley creatures into a thick bush-like tree. I have followed your advice and have pruned the top-most leaves/growth. I will wait until late June/early July to dismantle it and take a look at the roots.

I'm using a home-made soil--parts Succulent Miracle-Gro mix, perlite, and "Hydro-Balls", an expanded clay matter.

I started last year, and watered when the soil was dry at the pot hole. Life got crazy, and watering intervals became long in-between. Some of my plants have suffered--my jade are fine but my Ficus are hurting.

Any suggestions you have will be appreciated. I'll keep tabs on this for your responses to Julia_C, as my plants look like hers right now!


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 3, 12 at 20:25

Thanks for the kind words, Anne.

If a Ficus E won't support its own weight, it's not getting enough light. That's something that can be dealt with through selective pruning w/o staking, but more light would be better.

Too little light, lack of air movement, and N deficiencies, can all contribute to growth that is concentrated very near to apices (the growing tips of branches), but the most common cause is root congestion. This can occur even if you're potting up regularly. It's the congestion at the center of the root mass that is responsible for poor root function and the impediment of the polar flow of water and nutrients as well as photosynthate (food - from the foliage). Tight roots can dramatically slow growth, reduce vitality, decrease internode length, and cause a significant reduction in leaf size, as well as inhibit lateral breaks (back-budding). Usually, I can tell if a tree is root-bound at a glance by looking for the 'poodle/pom pom look', or by observing internode length or the distance between leaf bundle scars.

So, you've tip-pruned so far and are just in a holding pattern, waiting to repot? My suggestion would be to keep your eyes peeled for a pine bark product you can use to make a soil that drains well and allows you to water with no fear of root issues resulting from the soil remaining soggy for extended periods. Then, when it comes time to repot you'll be able to move your plant to a root-healthy medium, which should make a significant difference.

If the hydro-balls you are using are approximately the size of marbles, their inclusion in the mix probably has no significant impact on its performance. If anything, they might slightly reduce water retention, but their impact on drainage (flo-thru rates), aeration, and the ht of the PWT are probably of no significance. I think you'll benefit from a soil BASED on larger particles like pine bark, instead of a finely textured soil you're attempting to amend with a small fraction of large particles.

Hopefully, Julia will be back soon with a report. It's getting close to the ideal time for repotting houseplants & tropical trees.

Al



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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by anne_g 5-middle Indiana (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 4, 12 at 16:41

Okay, thanks, Al.

I'll be on the look-out for pine bark--is this something I could find at my local nursery?


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 4, 12 at 18:12

Pine bark is where you find it .... and I'm not trying to be smart or evasive. It's packaged under a wide variety of names, like pine bark mulch, soil conditioner, clay soil conditioner, premium landscape mulch ...... and so on. What's important isn't what it says on the bag, as long as it's pine bark and the size is appropriate. There in's the rub. It's usually easy to find pine bark, but not always easy to find it in a size that's appropriate.

I have no problem getting the right size any time I need it from one of at least a half dozen fairly reliable and nearby sources, but I've had a lot of years of scouting to make note of where it's available. May I ask what city you live in, or what large city you live near? Do you ever get to Chicago?

Ideally, you would like a bark product with pieces from dust size to about 1/2", with most of the pieces concentrated in the 1/8-3/8" size range.
Photobucket
What you see @ 6:00 above is about ideal to make the soil you see in the middle. If you're lucky enough to have a Fafard distributor near you, they make several soils that would be appropriate for potting trees. What I consider 'appropriate', is a soil you can water freely. One that you can completely saturate and then flush accumulating salts from the soil without concern that the soil will remain soggy so long that root function is significantly impaired, or worse - root rot sets in.

It won't help you now, but if you wanted to plan around it, I'll be traveling through northern IN as I skirt the big lake on my way to Chicago in Aug. I'd be happy to bring a few bags of bark, or even make the soil for you if you have a way to get it or somewhere I can drop it that doesn't take me too far off my route. Lol - references furnished on request. ;-)

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

OK Al,

I'm thinking it's that time. Not only has my ficus stopped dropping leaves since I've put him outside. But there are new leaves just breaking through all up and down the bare woody stems! This is pretty exciting since it has never happened before.

So I'll probably do the root prune this weekend and into the gritty mix he'll go unless you think there is any reason to wait longer.

One thing I still haven`t quite figured out is how I`m going to stabilize the four trunks post surgery. I haven`t been able to find any pot clips like you had in the picture. Plus I don`t have any horizontal branches to tie the string to like you did. The skinny trunks move a lot in the wind now, so I think it`s going to be important to secure them. I'm thinking plant stakes...what do you think?


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jun 6, 12 at 13:25

Lol - it's easy to get pumped when you discover a new skill or different approach to things, isn't it? ;-)

There seems to be ongoing disagreement regarding the value of repotting/root pruning as opposed to simply potting up, I'd appreciate it if you would offer an assessment about the growth rate and o/a vitality of your tree at something like a regular interval after you do the work. Fall & next spring (or whenever you think of it) would be great.

You should be able to repot any time now, but I would take a look at the long range forecast and make sure your day temps are going to be in the upper 70s or higher, and that the night lows aren't expected to drop much below 60*.

I would normally be gearing up to start on the tropical repots, but our day temps have been upper 60s/low 70s and our nights often see mid - upper 40s, and that's too cool, so I'm in a holding pattern.

I don't think stakes are the answer. If your pot is tapered, you can tie a rope or wire around it half way up the side of the pot or just under the rim, if it has one, then tie your guide lines (3-4) to that.
Photobucket

You could also make a hook on a length of coat hanger & hook it in a drain hole and bend it up toward the container rim. If you bend a hook/loop in the upper end, you can tie to it. Trees that are secured to the container reestablish firm footing MUCH faster than those left to sway in the breeze. It doesn't matter HOW you secure the plant, but it's to your advantage to secure it - you surely don't want it to topple from the pot.

You can use a strip of cloth tied in a loop & then looped around the trunk to tie the lines to, or just tie the rope to the trunk - that will be fine, as long as you don't forget about them.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Hiya Al!

In anticipation of root pruning this F. elastica whose planting angle will be dramatically changed (see this thread, Oct 9, 2011) I am seeking your advice.

This is a picture of the roots last year:

From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

I am at a loss about how to prune it... #5 will be in the acute portion of the new angle and therefore pointing into the pot, not becoming more exposed. One one hand, it might be in the way; on the other, it might provide some additional support for a top-heavy and about-to-be-very-awkward tree.

The awkwardness won't last, because I'm going to prune nearly everything off and create a new apical shoot:

From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

The root portion labeled as #6 is analogous to a tap root in size and shape. What percentage of the root mass should I remove? There are a few more leaves now, but the lower pic is a pretty good representation of how the tree is doing at this point in time.

I very much appreciate your help,
GB


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jun 7, 12 at 7:51

You don't need to be in a rush to accomplish it, but you should shoot for a fairly flat root system that radiates horizontally from the trunk,
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with no roots growing on an upward plane and nothing growing straight down. It's much easier to maintain a root system like this.

I would be thinking about shortening the #6 root some. Sever it just below a cluster of larger roots. None of the roots on the plant now is necessary (individually), but collectively you need to leave enough fine rootage to provide water/nutrients to the canopy, so you're going to have to make a judgment call. The largest and highest root (#5) would be on my hit list & probably removed flush to the trunk at this or the next repotting. You can remove more roots if you remove the large branch you're considering removing, but make sure you don't jeopardize the tree by over-committing. Over the years, I've developed a good sense of how far I can go, and in some cases it's extreme, but I'd tend to be more cautious with a highly valued tree or your tree. If your tree in in good health and you do remove the large branch when you repot, you could easily remove 50% of the fine roots.

As you observe the present condition of the roots, remove any problem roots first. Envision the plant as it will be oriented in the pot, and first remove roots growing back toward the center of the root mass & any roots growing on an upward plane, above horizontal. After that, if you think you're still safe removing more, look for areas where the roots are congested, and remove the largest root(s) from the congested area.

If you want more roots to form, drill some shallow holes into the cambium where you wish them.
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and use IBA rooting hormone in the holes.

That's about it. Work the soil into any pockets in the roots with a chopstick or similar, and keep the roots moistened at all times while working on them. Work in the shade & out of the wind. Secure the tree to the pot so it can't move, and wait about 2 weeks to fertilize after you repot. For gritty mix: If all of your roots end up being in the upper 1.3 of the pot, water often, even if the soil deeper in the pot is still moist. That's all I can think of right off the top. Obviously you've been through it before, so it should be easier this time.

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

Thank You for the advice!

I will reduce/remove roots 5 & 6 as you advise; should 1-4 be trimmed back some?

Just to make sure we are on the same page:

From 9 Lives Ficus elastica

The branch I'm planning to keep to reshape the tree has 9 leaves + 1 coming on; the 3 small shoots above it have 6, 7 & 9 leaves on them, respectively. Should I reduce leaves by cutting in half or just leave them alone? (I don't want to remove the growth tips).

I want those 3 cuttings to strike, so I'm fine if they stay attached until the end of summer so the roots bounce back...

Nice pics, by the way Al! I will take pics & post in a couple weeks. I think after this, that tree will get left alone for a couple years :)

GB


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 8, 12 at 4:56

You don't know what you're going to find when you look at the roots. The picture of the root mass above isn't representative of a badly congested root system; rather, it shows a root system that had been previously limited, most probably by the soil/watering habits. If you have a large volume of fine roots, you can probably remove up to half of the large roots w/o much concern, but it's difficult to say with certainty which roots would best be removed/shortened w/o seeing their current condition.

I talk to a LOT of people about their trees, so please forgive me for not remembering, but didn't you recently repot? If so, what is the motivation for doing it again so soon?

Al


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 8, 12 at 5:45

I was hoping I would catch this thread when it topped out so I could leave a link to the continuation. Thanks for participating and contributing. Your continued questions & contributions helps to get the info passed around!

Photobucket Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Follow me to the new thread .........


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New thread

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 8, 12 at 5:52

I was hoping I would catch this thread when it topped out so I could leave a link to the continuation. Thanks for participating and contributing. Your continued questions & contributions helps to get the info passed around!

Photobucket Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Follow me to the new thread .........


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RE: Ficus Trees in Containers

This calls for a really futile and stupid gesture... (- Animal House)

testing


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Fiddle Leaf Fig Ficus Fungus or root rot signs???

Help! I got this 14" pot tree from a nursery and have been really excited with my first indoor tree. I got it 3 weeks ago and the soil looked really dry. So I watered it once it got home with a whole pitcher of water. The saucer that we got was a little too small for the ceramic decorative potter, except we used it anyways so that water did not spill onto the floor. After seeing the black edges on the leaves, I think I may have created an airtight environment for mold or fungus?

Then, it has these black edges on about half of the leaves. It's in a 14 pot and I'm not sure if it's from overwatering or from when I wiped down the leaves with a cloth when it first came home. I really want to save this as it's a gorgeous 5' beauty.

I recently moved it to the patio so it can get more indirect sunshine and plus it's summer here.

Please help! Any suggestions would be helpful, thank you.


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