Rubber Tree, Ficus b. - Culture, Propagation, Pruning, Problems

10 years ago

A thread I was very active on just topped out at 150 posts in the middle of a conversation, so I thought I would continue the post here, for anyone that had questions or comments about Ficus benjamina (weeping fig), Ficus elastica (rubber tree), Ficus lyrata (fiddle-leaf fig), or other Ficus species commonly grown as houseplants. I currently maintain more than 30 Ficus trees covering many species, so I have a fair amount of practical and technical experience with the trees, especially in the areas of pruning, repotting, soil preferences, nutrition, and troubleshooting.

That there were 150 posts to the previous thread indicates readers ARE searching the forum for info on these trees.

Take care.


Comments (150)

  • tapla

    There are a couple of considerations re the best way to arrive at your target ht. One of them is, we want to get rid of the stake and make sure the tree is self supporting. Light is a key issue and the primary determining factor in the thickness/strength of the trunk. If your tree is self supporting, you can prune off the top at about 2/3 of your preferred ht & start building branches, allowing the canopy to provide the last 1/3 of the ht as it fills in.

    To achieve this, you allow all branches to extend to 4-5 leaves, then cut the branch back to 2 leaves. From each of those 2 leaf axils (crotches) a branch with form that you allow to grow to 4-5 leaves, then cut back to 2 leaves again. This is called secondary, then tertiary, quaternary, quinary, senary ..... branching. In numbers, it means you start with a single branch. By cutting it back, you get 2 branches. Cutting them back gives you four, then 8, then 16 branches ......, all from a single branch. Of course, you only keep the branches that enhance the composition, but within 2-3 years, you might be presented with dozens of pruning options instead of only 1-2. This technique for increasing branch ramification is what allows us to have little 12" tall bonsai trees with dozens of branches and hundreds of leaves. The technique is readily applied to almost any houseplant that branches - even if it only 'eventually' branches. I'm always pinching/pruning to keep my houseplants tidy and compact.

    This is a Ficus b that I'm hoping will eventually be a decent bonsai. Note how healthy and dense/compact the foliage (that badly needs pruning) is, and how the leaves have reduced in size because of the large number of leaves. I'm just waiting for the 5-6 trunks to fuse into a single trunk, which will add to the illusion of age. This picture is about 3 years old, so the planting has progressed quite a bit since it was taken:

    The things for you to focus on now are the soil, watering habits, a nutritional program, and siting it in the best light you can, and where the soil will remain between 65-75* How fast you progress depends on how well you're able to manage things cultural.


  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

    Hey, Tyler, I just wanted to let you know that Al won't steer you wrong.
    I don't grow Ficus (other than a volunteer fig out in the flower bed), but Al's
    advice is sound for a great range of plants.

    Last Christmas, I received my first bottle of Foliage Pro 9-3-6 liquid fertilizer,
    and I began using it in mild doses on my houseplants. I'd never fertilized in the past,
    so the improvement in plant vitality was impressive! By using a mild application of
    fertilizer and by flushing my container soils, I kept my plants green - but didn't get
    any of the leggy, stretched, etoliated growth associated with low light and heavy fertilizing.


  • jane__ny

    " By using a mild application of
    fertilizer and by flushing my container soils, I kept my plants green - but didn't get
    any of the leggy, stretched, etoliated growth associated with low light and heavy fertilizing."

    Are you stating that the fertilizer and flushing diminished the need for good light? Wow...

    Truly amazing!


  • grrr4200

    Whilst reading this forum i thought to myself 'there is a lot of good information being provided' but then again 'eek i don't agree'.
    The problem i see with Deanna's tree isn't just a water softener over salting problem.
    From the pictures i would have to say your ficus Deanna is a Ficus Benjamina Spearmint. I know this because i have many of the same. The reason i believe this over AL's suggestion is because the Spearmint tends to mutate from its mutation. What i mean from that is it has branches that can pop up from anywhere that are pure green. Back to its original cultivar line. as well as spearmint has a specific variegation that i think if you were to google image pictures you'd see it's very much like yours.

    Moving forward.

    Your Tree needs a new pot. Contrary to what many say i repot plants regardless of time of year. When a plant needs a new pot i give it one. I just watch my watering during the winter months if and when i repot in later fall/winter to ensure its not being over watered. Even using a water meeter once in a while to make sure it's doing alright. If i were you, and you were very worried about your water softener issue is to buy a couple gallons of distilled water from walmart and ask a friend who lives in town if they would mind letting you fill them a couple times a month. A tree your size doesn't need to be 'flushed' so often.

    Give it a good potting medium. I use plain Miracle Grow indoor potting soil. It's both light, not packed with fertilizer and over all can hold its own for quite some time. Due to the potting up idea i wouldnt necessarily fertilize since the potting soil you'll hopefully use will have some sort of slow release fertilizer in it.

    I know you've probably done some things that were suggested, and please don't think i'm saying they're wrong... i just have a differing opinion on what to do in some aspects.

    Also, I'm sure a question about my logic may surface and or my credibility... Or since i differ in opinion a mini faux argument may come up due that differing opinion but i digress.

    To Credit myself I own many ficus tree's as well, from small tree's to large tree's and have had many of them for MANY a years.

    I also have MANY years of experience with these tree's and thanks to me the Medical Centers and Hospitals (as well as private practices) in the City in which I live have many a Beautiful ficus trees that i have resurrected from almost dead to live many more years to come.

    These tree's range from a foot tall, to over two stories tall. I live in Upper Michigan where we receive below freezing temperatures from late august into june of the following year.

    So please although there are many differing opinions and suggestions from me. I only ask that you do what you feel is right for you. Don't just do it because you're told to. DO it because it feels right for you.

    Good Luck :)

  • jodik_gw

    Do what's right for your plant... not what's right for you. Basic plant science gives us general rules to follow, and if you know the how and the why... how a containerized plant grows and why you're doing the things you do, everything else will fall right into place, quite easily.

    "As you know, it's perfectly appropriate and effective to furnish low doses of fertilizer throughout the entire growth cycle, as long as you are using a soil that allows you to water copiously enough to prevent fertilizer and tap water salts from accumulating."

    It's the second part of the above quote from Al that is most important to remember... otherwise, salts will build up, and a consistent fertilizer program will be for naught.

    Most people tend to think of their potted plants from the top down, generally by what's above the soil surface... but if you think first about the roots and what keeps them healthy and happy, what's above the soil surface will naturally follow. Healthy roots mean healthy plants... provided, of course, that other needs are met at the same time.

    The attached link is to an article you may or may not have read, but if you haven't, it's a positively great, and important, starting point for growing very healthy plants, regardless of plant type.

    Personally, I'd nix the commercially sold potting soil and go for a mix that allows better aeration, better drainage, and makes for healthier roots. The gardening industry isn't interested in providing you with a product that keeps plants healthy... they're interested in making money. And if you're constantly buying new or replacement plants and constantly re-potting, they're making money. Profit makes the retail world go 'round.

    Providing enough light goes without saying. And as Al states, the onset of winter does not mean growth stops entirely. Just because growth can't be seen with the naked eye doesn't mean it isn't occurring.

    Al is not just some hobby grower offering you his opinion... Al is an extremely accomplished grower offering us all his vast knowledge, years of experience, and his verifiable expertise. In all the years I've known him, he's never given a bad piece of growing advice. Many of us consider him to be our teacher, our professor of collegiate gardening, our in-house expert on all things green! Instead of being a published gardening expert selling his knowledge through expensive books, Al has graciously deigned to share his knowledge with us novice growers, without charge. He believes as I do... that successful gardening is for sharing.

    For what's it's worth, I've learned more about how to grow healthy, happy container plants since first reading Al's articles, than in all my previous years of reading general gardening books... going by general advice, a lot of which turned out to be fallacy... and my own many years of experience aided by those books and gardening lore. There's a lot to be said for getting accurate and simplified information taken directly from the science of plants and growing.

    Good luck with your interesting rubber tree... I may be a bit prejudiced, but I believe that if you take Al's advice, your tree will flourish. :-)

    Here is a link that might be useful: Basic Science - the Why and How

  • tapla

    There is actually very little difference between what Grr said and what I said. The instructions were so close they're virtually a paraphrasing of what I said, so I don't really think that if that person disagrees, it's very strongly.

    If we disagree on the cultivar of the plant, no big deal - not enough there for there to be any impact on the advice. The species is more important, and we agree that it is benjamina.

    I said the tree needs a new pot - he says the tree needs a new pot.

    I said the tree needs to be flushed often if using the softened water because of salt build up - he said it doesn't need to be flushed that often because of the size of the tree, but doesn't go into detail. If the only difference between us is the frequency with which the tree needs to be flushed, we're nearly in accord on that topic; but here, I would ask you to consider that the size of the tree really has nothing to do with how often it's appropriate to flush the soil. What determines the appropriate intervals between flushings (if that is a word) ;o) is how quickly soluble salts accumulate, which has nothing to do with tree size. Besides, I think we can both agree that it's better to be safe than sorry, and I don't mind being charged with being overly cautious. We know that the water softener exchanges sodium chloride for Ca,Mg,Fe,Mn,S, and other ions, and though sodium is required in such minute amounts that it is virtually never deficient in any medium, it does become toxic very quickly at very low levels, as does the chloride ion, the other half of sodium chloride. This explanation offered as the reasoning behind my suggestion.

    He said give it a good potting medium - I don't think I got that far, but I would suggest that as well. For Deanna and for the short term, I would suggest she uses a similar soil to what the plant is in - until the time to do a full repot is more appropriate. At that time, I would suggest she repots into a soil more durable and less water retentive than the MG. The reasoning is simple. Fast (draining) soils allow you to water copiously at every watering, flushing the soil of any salts that are accumulating and helping to prevent a plant that looks like the pictures Deanna posted.

    That Grrr is willing to allow it's OK to pot up using a soil that contains a slow release fertilizer, he's probably willing to allow that a half recommended dose of fertilizer is appropriate after flushing the soil. It seems logical that if it's ok to use a soil that contains fertilizer, it must be ok to fertilize should the soil NOT contain it. I wasn't willing to make the assumption that the soil would contain fertilizer, because those that do always note it on the package. It serves to warn the buyer there is already a starter charge in the medium, and it is a selling point the manufacturer wouldn't miss taking advantage of. It's safer to assume that a fertilizer that is not labeled as containing fertilizer has none, than to trust that it has enough nutrients to sustain normal growth, no matter how reduced that growth might be come winter.

    So you see - the differences in opinion are very small. For the minor variances, readers can decide what approach is best reasoned/makes most sense, and choose as they might. Other than the soundness of my reasoning and the facts I offer to support the things I say, all I'll additionally offer is that I do consider my advice very carefully/thoroughly before I offer it. I take into consideration things that many miss, or are totally unaware of. Small disagreements like this are kind of fun, because it gives good reason to go into detail (for any interested) and helps others learn as the discussion progresses.

    Changing gears:

    Jodi - thank you for the nice compliments. It's not really important, but I have been published several times, and I'm often contacted for permission to use articles or parts of the advice I've offered in forum settings in books and articles of others. Not long ago, a variation of the article you linked to was published in The Journal of the American Bonsai Society. FWIW - I've never submitted an article for publication - in every case, the article was discovered online, or as something I wrote on request for someone's newsletter.

    To the forum: Jodi and I go back a while. I THINK this is how we met: She was having rot issues with her Hippeastrums. I got her address under the guise of wanting to send her something, and surprised her with a bag of the gritty mix. I'm sure we talked about fertilizers & watering ....... The end result is that reports currently indicate Jodi is much happier with the results of her efforts - greater rewards with less effort and a much wider margin for grower error ....... and we're friends, for which I'm grateful.


  • meyermike_1micha

    There you have it..

    If I agree with one, I keep a friend..If I agree with another, I keep that friend...If I disagree with one, I lose that friend, and if I disgree with the other, I loose that friend..For me, who gives a hoot if you loose a plant...

    This thread is a joke..I kept a good friend and lost another over it, because I shared my belief..Thanks to the one that stayed with me, and is not as shallow as some of my pots.

    So much for sharing my opinion here..


  • birdsnblooms

    Tyler, that is ONE huge Ficus! I love its leaves. I wouldn't mind getting one. Can you tell me where you purchased this lovely tree?

    It's not Triangle, although closely related.

    Here's a pic of my Triangle, but variegated.


    Note, the Triangle leaf shape is wider, although both Ficus have heart-shape tops. Your leaves are narrow, mine, wide. Hope you get an ID, it's very interesting. Toni

  • cynandjon

    I bought a rubber plant last week at Lowe's. I have other plants so I'm a bit concerned because its developing brown spots on the leaves. It had a few when I bought it I just figured it was from neglect but since it has developed more. Do you think its from stress, over watering or some kind of pest? Any ideas?

  • birdsnblooms

    Cyn...are the brown spots in the leaves, or do they stick out? Like bumps? Toni

  • tapla

    It could be from a number of things, Cyn. Something called oedema is common and results from combinations of over-watering, cloudy days and/or reduced light and high humidity, but over-watering is enough to cause it. It starts as a watery looking spot caused by burst cells. The spots eventually take on a corky appearance.

    Other suspects are fungal infections, particularly one of several leaf-spot diseases, or the effects of over/under-watering or a high concentration of salts in the soil.

    If I had to give odds w/o more info, I would bet on oedema (most common in the fall) or a reduction in light. As the plant prepares to shed the leaves, it removes nutrients and bio-compounds from the leaves. The same fungi that break down dead material in the soil, are often able to get a head start before the leaves fall.

    If you're familiar with scale, and the spots/bumps are very small, you need to eliminate that as a possibility first.

    Take care.


  • ttkidd

    Al - Hopefully you don't mind, but I've copied the contents of your last message to me into a text file for future reference. There's a lot of great information in there. Thanks!

    If I wanted to create some natural looking movement in the lower trunk so it's not just growing straight up, would it be best to do so by wiring it in place, or would you suggest making cuts below the 2/3 max height point? I would love to create some kind of twist or curve to the trunk before the canopy starts.

    Toni - I hope you were being facetious about the plant size :) I really should have moved it away from the window before snapping the photo. It's about 30" tall at the moment.

    I bought it on a whim actually. I was placing an online order with Glasshouseworks for a bunch of Jades and Portulacaria afra, but needed another plant to reach the minimum required for international orders. They have it listed as Ficus triangularis. I agree though - according to pictures I've seen online and what you showed above, my leaves are too narrow. Nothing else on their website matches with what I have, and I've done a couple web searches to no avail. I'm just calling it the 'mystery fig' for the time being.

    Hopefully it stops defoliating soon. I can almost sit here and watch the lower leaves turning yellow.


  • jodik_gw

    Actually, Al, it was in reading your linked article... back when it was quite a bit younger... that I had an eye opening and life changing moment. I left behind all the nonsense of green thumbs and other fairy tales, and dove headlong into the actual science of how plants grow and what we need to do to successfully emulate Mother Nature... but in a container environment, where things are all controlled by us, the growers.

    Yes, I had rotting Hippeastrum bulbs, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. I listened to so many people... too many, apparently... and it wan't until I read Al's simplified science that it all clicked. The article contained factual information, and a lot of common sense. I don't why some of it never occurred to me!

    There's no such thing as a green thumb... it's all knowledge. And it doesn't have to be complicated, either... as Al's articles prove.

    I think part of the problem is that the retail gardening industry doesn't want us to be successful, because if we are, we're not buying gobs of mucky soils and all the accoutrements they try to push. And at the other end of the spectrum, we have so many gardening fallacies passed around, or opinions that aren't based in fact, but only in what has worked for one person at one time.

    What we need are facts. We need to know the cliff notes on plant science, and I think Al's articles give us those cliff notes... and quite beautifully, if I may say so.

    Anyway... if Al had steered me wrong, I certainly wouldn't be singing his praises. I believe very strongly in being honest, in sharing the truth, in spreading the good word... you don't have to be a Master Gardener or have a college degree to grow healthy, lush plants. You just need a little knowledge.

    Happy Gardening!

  • cynandjon

    I hope you can see them. They werent blurry in my doc, but in photobucket they look blurry.Thanks for any help you can provide.



  • birdsnblooms

    Tyler, yes I was being facetious...lol..you said 30" above..the aim of your picture, street/building, if one quickly glances at the pic it looks like it's growing off the ledge..that'd be one big stake..lol.

    I'll check GHW..it's under F. triangularis. He's usually good with names, even though, both are closely related, besides the fact they're both Ficus.

    Tyler, is it still outside? Maybe it's too cold or soil is staying wet for prolonged periods? Toni

  • ttkidd

    Toni - It's not outside at all. I wish I had some outdoor space to myself, but I gave that up for my current location. The condo has a large rooftop patio with a few BBQs, so disregarding the fact that I have no personal outdoor space for plants, I don't feel I'm missing too much. The plant is just sitting on the window sill. When night time temperatures drop more I'll have to pull it back, but for now the temperatures its getting should be comfortable for it.

    I'm hoping the defoliation is just transportation stress and the fact that it's growing in a completely different environment that where it was previously.

  • birdsnblooms

    Tyler, looks like it's outside.. And what a view! Guess I can scroll up to see if you mentioned this before, but what floor are you on? If you don't mind me asking. Looks way up there..lol

    Did you move this year? Any idea how cold your patio gets in winter? It's a nice growing area.

    Your Ficus needs a longer stake, unless you have other plans.
    I wish my bushy Rubber tree would grow upright/tree-shaped. I'm thinking about cutting all but one trunk, staking, and see what happens.
    I went to GHW's, saw the Triangalaris; it doesnt' look like your Ficus. It's a standard Triangle. Plus, he's getting variegated soon.
    I want a Ficus like yours. It's so different. Toni

  • ttkidd

    Yeah...it's a great view :) I moved here from a very dark apartment where I was only able to grow plants with artificial lighting. Such a huge change.

    Been here just over a year now. I'm up on the top floor (31st), so it's a quick trip to the patio. They close it down in winter because it gets so cold and windy down on the waterfront. In summer it's great because while the rest of the city is baking I'm getting a nice breeze off the lake, but in winter I pay for it when I have to suffer through bone numbing, wet and frigid gale force winds off the lake :) I nearly got blown over a couple times last winter while trying to exit the street-car in front of the building.

    In all though, it's a great place to live, and I've been able to buy a lot more plants since I moved here.

    Hopefully I can get the ficus to a point where it no longer needs a stake, but until then I will be working on getting something longer. This is just what I had on hand while I was potting the plant.

    Maybe I can email GHW and ask them what they sent me. I'm not very hopeful though, as they weren't all that communicative through the whole process of getting this order.

  • tapla

    Tyler - I actually meant to address the question you're asking about movement in the trunk, when I said there was a 'couple' of ways to go about working your tree, but only mentioned one, that being lopping it off at 2/3 of the height and letting the canopy fill in for the other 1/3.

    The other way to approach a more bonsai-like appearance is the trunk chop. If you're diligent about providing very favorable cultural conditions, the tree should gain energy quickly come early summer. This will allow you to prune the main stem back to 2 healthy leaves, which will force back-budding lower on the stem. You can then wire or otherwise train an emerging branch to the vertical so it becomes the new leader. If the tree happens to be growing extremely robustly, you can actually simply cut the top off and leave a stub of a trunk, which will back-bud very quickly. Timing is important for this procedure, with summer providing approximately a 2 month window for the best results and fastest/surest recovery.

    If you look at this Radermachera sinica (China Doll),
    you can see the movement in the trunk where I chopped the tree back the first time. The trunk is straight, then it moves to the right. (The little tree on the left is a Ficus benjamina - note how the leaves have reduced in size from their normal size. The other little tree is a Peruvian myrtle.)

    I'll be able to control the direction of the top after the next chop
    by what branch I choose as the next leader.

    Here is another tree already being prepped for a chop. The trunk will be chopped back to just above where the wire crosses the trunk in the spring. The branch coming off the trunk and moving to the left is going to be the new leader. I even have the next leader after that, chosen and wired into place. See how that works?
    It looks like it will be very ugly after the chop, but in a year's time, the new leader will be half as big as the trunk, so I'll chop that off and do the same thing with the third leader. See how this builds a tapered trunk. Tapered trunks help give the illusion of great age in bonsai and eliminate the stick-like appearance of young trees.

    Concentrate now on getting your watering down pat. Read what I'll say to Cyn, below. The watering technique and comments about soils apply to you, too.

    Jodi - thanks so much again. I can always count on you to offer a positive word and brighten a thread. Your observations are usually spot on.

    Cyn - your spots could easily be oedema. Be very careful about how you water. Your tree should go until your finger tells you it's dry at the drain hole, or a sharpened wood stick pushed deep into the soil comes out clean and dry. At that point, you should water thoroughly - enough so at least 10-15% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain hole(s). If you can't do that w/o risking root rot, you may wish to consider moving your plant to another soil next summer. Inappropriately slow soils reduce growth and vitality by impeding root function/metabolism, and as already noted they increase the possibility of any of many fungal infections that cause root rot and problems with the lower stem. If you want to start a conversation about what you can do culturally, or want some tips on how to deal with water-retentive soils, just ask.

    Take care.


  • shanielynn

    How do "house plants" know it is winter? LOL!!!

    (Sorry, couldn't help myself :))

    This original thread (about trimming/propagating rubber tree) was what brought me to GW originally. Now my rubber trees can bounce back from just about anything!!! I even learned to propagate and grow cuttings directly into our terrific soil (sand). Some did perish due to our time below 30 F this past winter. Thanks to my newly found appreciation of soil science and teacher (Al), most of my plants are happy and now I am able to pass on some knowledge to other family members as well... My little one loves to water and with the "crack" soil I have learned to create, they (most of my potted plants) can even withstand a good flushing. =D

    I do recall getting myself into some "trouble" by trying to help someone root cuttings (of a different type of plant)in our summertime. Our summer is the plant's winter apparently. I was told not to fuss with a plant during its wintertime. A leaf fell off one of my plants onto a sandyish patio and decided to root itself. I think it was confused!

    We all live in different places and so do most of our containerized plants, so of course not every single variable can be accounted for. BUT: The Laws of Physics are the same everywhere (at least as far as we know now).

    Tyler: Lovely view in Toronto!!!
    Toni: What is the reddish plant between the ficus and the jack o lantern in your pic above? All three of which are quite nifty btw...

    PS Please do not let my newly started tomatoes know that winter is coming!!!!!!!!! PLEASE! :)

  • tapla

    Lol - that's right, Shanie! I remember our talks about soil & stuff, but then you disappeared for the longest time! More than a year - yes? Really good to see you back. ;o) I remember you calling the gritty mix 'crack for plants', too. Wasn't your DH always stealing it from you .... or something like that?

    Plants have their own internal clocks that are very difficult to fool, which is how they know when to flower/fruit/go dormant or quiescent ..... and when winter is coming. You can learn more by using the search words endogenous Circadian rhythm. E.g., the plants I have under lights are grown under 18 hrs of light and 6 hrs of dark. There is only one window in the basement that is completely obscured by winter clothing, allowing in virtually no light, but still the plants respond to day length in normal fashion, slowing down until about Christmas (winter solstice), then picking up speed slowly until the vernal equinox, after which they pick up a little more speed and start growing more earnestly. The plants get almost exactly the same amount of light all winter, yet there is a considerable and steady variance in growth rates from week to week/month to month, clearly indicating there is more than light at play insofar as factors relating to growth rates.

    Take good care!


  • birdsnblooms

    Tyler..a step up, well in your case, 31 floors, 'can't imagine the number of actual steps,' up, lol.
    I once lived in what we call a Garden Apartment..it's basically a basement a step or two above ground level.
    The LR had 3 large, north-facing windows, but way too dark for my taste.
    Brightness is not only good for plants, but people, too. Especially those of us who dislike 20 hours of dark.

    Be careful exiting street cars in winter. Lakefront winds are strong. Last time I went downtown, 'Chicago' I thought the wind would lift me off my feet, carry me across town. Freezing cold plus harsh winds equal frost bite.

    That's too bad your patio is locked in winter. They should have enclosed it, using quality insulation. In winter, you could have placed plants that don't mind cooler temps, set up a place to sit, and looked out the window during snow showers. Or a good mystery.

    Brighter light should thicken your Ficus trunk. But for the time, get a larger stake and attach with ties. Especially the top. You don't want it growing crooked.

    Thanks, but don't worry about notifying GHWs..especially since you dwelt with someone with a 'tude. Who needs that? You should have received an email and invoice with names of plants.
    Do you know the length of time shipping took?

    Shan...the plant with red leaves is Pelargonium 'Vancouver Centennial.' It's basically a Fancy Leaf Geranium.

    How do plants know winter's coming? Shorter days is the main reason.
    Think about native trees. As daylight decreases, leaves fall. Colder/cooler temps play a key role, too. The world is still, on hold.
    As for house plants, some go completely dormant, some semi-dormant, yet others come to life.

    Shorther days promote Poinsettias, many Kalanchoes, Christmas/Thanksgiving Cactus, Cyclamen, Amaryllis, and most likely many other types to flower. Several succulents bloom in winter.
    Your secret is mine, lol..Too bad it wasn't corn, you could cover its 'ears, lol' I know, dumb joke. Toni

  • ttkidd

    Al - Thanks again. I think this is the approach I'm going to take. I can live with a few years (or more) of ugly to get what I want in the end :). I have a number of jades I can practice pruning on until the ficus is ready to be cut.

    On the topic of potting soils, I know your general feeling about commercial potting mixes but it's what I have at the moment and finding a lot of the ingredients for your gritty mix is proving difficult around here. As well as the potting soil, I also have on hand a large bag of Hydroton (LECA) that I use for my orchids, and a large bag of perlite. Can one or both of these be used as an amendment to improve soil conditions, and if so, in what proportions?

    Toni - Shipping as in the amount of time it took to get from them to me, or the amount of time it took from placing the order until I got the plants?

    I placed the order on August 17th and they shipped it out on Oct 7th. The package arrived late last week. The final invoice in the box was printed according to my initial order, minus the one plant they were out of.


  • tapla

    "I can live with a few years (or more) of ugly to get what I want in the end." Spoken like a true bonsai aficionado. ;o)

    You can change the amount of water a soil holds by adding things like perlite or hydroton, but you can't change it's drainage characteristics or the ht of the perched water table until the sum of the larger particles exceeded about 60%. To envision this, ask yourself how much perlite it would take to amend pudding so it drained well and was well-aerated. You can see that when you add large particles to small the small particles surround the large and nothing changes, other than the total volume of water in the soil. Reducing the o/a water content can be a plus, but it's not as conducive to maximizing root health as it would be if the water retention was reduced through superior aeration/drainage. IOW - reducing the amount of water in the soil by adding fillers like perlite is not as beneficial as starting with large particles and building aeration into the soil.

    You can pot up anytime with little in the way of issues, but repots and the accompanying root work should be limited to the summer months, when the tree has lots of reserve energy and the most robust portion of the growth period ahead of it to ensure quick recovery.


  • shanielynn

    Toni: I thought it might be related to a "strawberry begonia" I used to have, also some fancy geranium apparently... Good guess :)! I think all plants have 'ears', not just corn, so I always try to speak to them nicely lol!

    Down here, most container plants enjoy the "summer" after September... I do believe the lower air pressure (and relative humidity) as well as the less intense rays of the sun trick the plants! I was just being silly about the whole winter "house plant" thing. At one point someone told me that there is no such thing as a âhouse plantâ =D! I know our house remains quite stable as far as humidity, light and temp most of the year (artificially of course).

    Tyler: I know nothing about your specific ficus. When you chop, could you just reroot the top? Obviously, you are not coming into the proper time of year to try such a thing but could it be something else to think of? I was spoiled when I started my eâs: I was given a truck bed full of cuttings that were almost all over at least 4 feet long⦠An aside: how did your other plants (succulents) work out from the mail order?

    Yes, Al, my DH has now officially stolen all of MY âpremixedâ potting mix. That's ok though cause now I make the mix different for each plant. I am scared about my turface stash though. I may have taught him too much about it recently LOL!!! He has done very well with his own experimenting so, you did teach me well. I should probably send you some pics... He's also stealing my plants before I can even pot them!

    Have a great day!

  • birdsnblooms

    Tyler, wonder why they took so long to ship.. Especially since your package had a long hike. Hmm.
    Soon, they'll hold orders back until spring. Perhaps it's their busy time, trying to get last orders out? Maybe that's the reason for your delay.

    Shannon..Strawberry Begonias are very pretty..I have a green w/red, but thinking about getting golden and variegated.

    Yep, plants have ears, eyes and feelings. They even respond to music..talking helps. Makes them happy. lol.

    There really isn't such a thing as a house plant,...but everything has a name..therefore, plants grown in a house are coined house plants. lol

    I envy you living in Fl. Most plants can stay outdoors year round. Perfect climate for tropicals. Sunshine and humidity. What more can you ask for?

    Your winter and mine are totally opposite. Although last year, Fl got hit with cold, most likely a temporary occurrence.
    One thing I'm waiting for is the citrus ban to end. I won't buy citrus from any state other than Fl. It's been a long time..5-6 yrs? Hope it ends soon. Toni

  • grrr4200


    I didn't say i completely disagree with what you may or may not say in regards to Deana's issue, Nor did you need to respond to my comment that was in meant for her. But that is your way.

    My reasoning however, in regards to 'flushing' the soil. These trees aren't bonsai. I don't know how large your largest ficus tree is but the bigger the tree, the less 'bonsai rules and regulations' apply. It's a different playing field. And telling someone to continuously flush a large specimen could cause a lot of problems... You can't expect weakened fertilizer to make up for lack of good potting medium and quality water.

    You may be well versed in the land of Ficus trees and their culture however, some of the things you advise may actually cause more harm then good. Especially in Deanna's case. The variegated Benjamina's are not as hardy as the plain greens. Especially in more northern climates. and flooding a tree that size repeatedly will not do any good. You're looking at root rot (regardless of potting soil) Bug infestations, Fugus issues deep in the root ball, Leaf drop, and eventually complete loss of the tree all together.

    Unlike a bonsai that drains quickly the larger ficus you have the longer it takes it to dry out. You also gave some information about cutting roots. There is no reason for that either. Rough up the root ball, ensure the roots are healthy and pot up. This is a tree. Not a small tree that will accept root prune or come back as quick as a miniature. Chopping the roots of a tree like hers with the height it has, and the water regimen you advised... might as well tell her to put it outside in the snow...

    If there are problems with the salts in the soil i understand unearthing the root ball and re potting. I agree with you on that, However! Why flush the root ball with the same water that's causing the added salt issue that you think is the main problem here? That doesn't make any sense.

    My watering information doesn't need any additional information tagged onto it. Use distilled water, and or purified water when watering your ficus tree. Plain and simple. If you believe there is a problem with your water source. Fix it, don't flush the root ball with the same water that gave it the problem in the first place...

    In regards to your fertilizing after flushing out soils i highly disagree. Because i disagree completely with flushing the soil in the first place. I take care of trees that are over two stories tall. Over twenty feet tall and just as wide. They're in huge pots. I know what i'm talking about in regards to ficus as indoor trees. Fertilizer is great yes, however it can also crystallize around roots and ruin tree's of Deanna's size. Please remember... you cannot treat a Ficus tree the same as you do a Ficus Bonsai. They may be the same cultivar but they definitely need different care.

    Many people here treat you like a God. That you know all. That your advice is best and without it they are doomed. No one can even post anything on these threads that even somewhat differs from your opinion without you replying to what they have to say... and scolding them for it.

    I used to love coming here and reading up on peoples problems, giving my two cents and gaining some great friends/cuttings from our communications. I don't even want to come around anymore because whats the point? Your cyber bullying and know all isn't worth trying to give someone else another suggestion.

    I give you credit on your knowledge, but you're not always right, and i hope that you understand that i'm not the only person around these threads that feels that way. If it's one thing i can leave you with personally, it's to be humbled... and not so pompous when someone has an opinion that differs from your own, they're not wrong. And there is no reason you should comment to their comment informing them of the differences they say or the agreeing with you. Just because someone agrees with you doesn't mean you're right, and doesn't mean you're wrong. Let other people say there piece and leave it at that. Quit undermining other peoples advice, its rude and inconsiderate.

  • sissysimone

    Hi.i don not put comments here very often but I had to say something.i have been reading this thread for days and to me it seems like some are trying to undermine the very beneficial information started by Al and other places.
    grrr,you were doing good with your writings in some way as Al acknowledged in some respects, until you starting chastising him for only trying to help others out..In no way do i see him or others intentionaly trying to hurt others or chastising except for your last post. quite clearly I saw this with words like,"many treat you like a God", "you know it all", "he is cyberbulling", "pompous", "rude and inconsiderate". Isnt this the kind of behavior that Gw sends warnings for and the very reason great threads are spoiled.
    Let he who thinks he is without fault cast the first stone first..I have seen gang up against Al, so no one should be pointing fingers here.
    Now I am sorry, but i am not taking sides. if Al had ever done this to anyone here, i would of notifyed him of how disappointed i was, but he has not..It seems there is a team against him, it seems apparent throughout, and not just here. many here also see this..Please stick to helping the poster out instead of repremanding a good man for trying to help others here or consider sending him a private message and do not spoil a good thing with hurtful words

  • sissysimone

    i forgot to say that i read als memebr page, and i highly believe that this man knows what he is taliking about.

  • tapla

    Trees in containers are trees in containers. Bonsai culture is simply container culture, taken to the extreme, and to suggest that the same principles that apply to bonsai don't apply to other containerized trees is unsupportable. Growing trees in small containers and in small volumes of soil is much more difficult than growing in the containers houseplants are typically grown in. Your skill set HAS to be more finely honed to be successful at bonsai than it does to grow in larger containers. That's much like suggesting an auto mechanic can't work on bicycles because the rules don't apply. Besides, most of the advice I give has nothing to do with bonsai. It just happened that one of the posters on this thread inquired directly about bonsai techniques.

    All but a few people with an ax to grind DO treat me very well, I'll gladly admit, but that is probably because I have a very long history of going far out of my way to help others with well-reasoned and horticulturally sound advice that works (literally thousands of testimonials over the years). Not that it matters, but I've also sent hundreds of plants and hard to find materials like fertilizers and supplements, as well as soils to forum members - at my expense entirely. You have only to read the hundreds of threads on GW to see this is true and not an exaggeration. I don't just talk the talk when I say I truly enjoy helping people, I walk the walk.

    When someone comes to a thread I started and flat out says I'm wrong or contradicts something I've said, it is only fair that they should offer their reasoning for their correction. If I correct someone or offer a dissenting opinion, I always offer a thorough explanation of how I arrived at my conclusions, so whoever I'm talking to can decide what is the most logical and reasonable way to move forward in trying to solve their problems. I never just pull something out of the sky I can't support and treat it as fact.

    I don't decide whose advice is best - others decide that. I make sure what I say is factual and scientifically supportable, and I don't operate at beyond the limits of my knowledge, something I think is a wonderful idea for anyone, and too frequently ignored. I'm guessing that because my advice is so often sought after, that a majority holds it to be valuable. I know some find it distasteful because it doesn't agree with theirs, but I often wonder why, instead of attacking me, their effort isn't channeled toward supporting or explaining why they choose to offer directly dissenting advice. I think virtually everyone would like to know how someone arrived at their conclusions, especially when advice differs - human nature. It's a great way for the forum to learn.

    I don't undermine any one's advice, but if I think it has the potential to detract from someone else's growing experience, I'll offer a dissenting opinion with an explanation. What you look at as undermining someone else's advice is not that at all - it is simply me supporting my own advice against contradictions to something I've said. Lol - perhaps trying to keep my own advice from being undermined.

    I'm not here to hold hands with people who constantly go out of their way to disagree with me and who try to diminish me personally, along with the things I say. I'm here to help the people who need it and to see they have the information they need to make informed decisions. I'm very good at that and I've been doing it a long time.

    People aren't stupid. They can see who knows what they're talking about and who deserves credibility. Anyone can tell people they know what they're talking about, and most do. You gain credibility by consistently illustrating you have a command of the information you share. Just making statements and proceeding as though they are fact doesn't give credibility. If you really believe my advice was wrong in any way, let's talk about it. Pick my most egregious error and tell the forum why you feel it was wrong. I'll state my case, and let the chips fall where they may. I'll remain civil and completely on topic.

    It really does look to me like there are a few, discontented by the fact that I'm able to maintain my credibility by virtue of how I share my knowledge and experience. I don't agree that people treat me like a god - at all, but even if they did - why should that upset anyone? I don't get it. How people treat me is their choice, and doesn't diminish anyone else. Am I just fooling these people? Are they that foolish?

    I paid my dues, and learned the plant sciences and how plants work. I also know how people work, and I can't give you or anyone else additional credibility by changing myself. Anyone can gain credibility the same way I did it - by being positive in the way you help others, and making sure you know what you're talking about before you direct someone or contradict another poster. Just to be clear, there is a difference between an opinion and a contradiction. Contradictions are fine, but you destroy your own credibility when you contradict and don't have the goods to back it up, and that can't be laid at the feet of someone else. If you want to start an argument with someone who knows what they are talking about, sometimes you're going to lose. If you don't like losing - best to avoid the argument or be sure you have the goods to withstand.

    Now, I've replied in a very civil, well-reasoned, unaccusatory manner. In most cases, but not all, you can consider my use of the word 'you' to mean the collective 'you', because it was a handy pronoun that best allowed me to express myself. I'm just a matter of fact guy that enjoys helping where he can. I hope that if you find reason to continue, that you can set your personal distaste for me and the personal commentary aside.


  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

    your incredulous tone isn't very kind or becoming of you.
    I will answer the question happ'ly, though, regardless of the thinly-veiled hostility. You wrote:

    "Are you stating that the fertilizer and flushing diminished the need for good light? Wow...

    Truly amazing!"

    The light was the same - the plant was in the same location as years prior.
    With the same light, but without flushing, vinegar, or fertilizer, the plant simply
    didn't grow over the winter. I thought that was normal...when, in fact, the plant was
    simply under-nourished.

    With the same light, plus a hint of fertilizer after flushing, my plant grew several
    leaves over the winter. Clearly, light was not the limiting factor. If I am misunderstanding
    the concept of limiting factors, I hope that someone kind will kindly correct me.


  • ttkidd

    Al - Thanks for the tips on the soils. I'll keep photos and records of my progress and hopefully post some of them in time. I also want to say that I'm very appreciative of your advice, and hope that you'll continue to give it despite the objections of some others.

    Shannon - If the tip is large enough, I will absolutely try to root it. It's always better to have a backup plant in case something goes wrong with the original :)

    All the other plants, with the exception of one, that I got from GHW arrived without incident. Four different types of jades and two different types of Portulacaria afra. The plant that didn't do so well was a Pereskia aculeata, which were unrooted cuttings when shipped, but which unfortunately also ended up as defoliated cuttings by the time they arrived. I understand the plant is deciduous and the bark is still green, so hopefully they'll still root for me. I'm not giving up until they're dried up and brown.

    Toni - I think the main reason it took so long was they had to get a government official down from another town to write up the phytosanitary certificate. They warned when I placed the order that it could take a few weeks, so I went in knowing what I was getting into. I have no issue with them other than an occasional difficulty in getting a response to emails. Unfortunately international orders aren't so straight forward.


  • tapla

    Thanks, Tyler. I appreciate the encouragement.

    Thanks, Sissy. ;o) We don't see you enough, but it's always good to see you.

    Thanks, Josh - I'm sorry you're catching flack just because you often agree with me.

    I've recently complained to GW about the obviously organized effort to discredit me (not just on this thread, but on many others - and by only a couple of members trying to fly just under the radar) and to bait me into doing/saying something that will get me banned from posting. This is nothing new. It's been going on for more than a year. Hopefully, others are able, or will become more able to see how the game works and get tired of the discord being intentionally sown.

    The thought has crossed my mind more than once, that people expert enough they feel inclined to follow me from thread to thread to contradict me and tell me how wrong I am over and over, expecting me to not respond, really would be fulfilling a much more positive role if they offered their knowledge and experience to the forum, as I have. They could easily start a thread designed to help people learn and broaden their growing horizons, and put themselves on the line - a great way to build credibility. Why not choose an area where they shine and have a go at it? I've started at least 50 threads, posted specifically to help those that want to learn, to learn. Why is it that that irks some people so badly? Why are those threads suddenly, many after hundreds of harmonious posts, magnets for discontent? I'm certainly not sabotaging my own threads.

    I debate fairly. I don't follow people around so I can argue with them, I don't get personal, and I use facts and science, sometimes pointing to errors in reasoning or logic to make a point. Even during debate, my replies are always worded so whoever is reading along has the chance to learn something. If I wax philosophical, like now, I'm still trying to show my real heart, and to offer the open-minded a way to look at things from a reasonable perspective w/o the malice - to give you something to think about. An example might be someone mistaking self-assurance for arrogance. They're certainly close enough that someone highly biased might mistake one for the other.

    I'd be happy as a clam if we could just get back to the business of helping people deal with their trees. If we disagree on a point, just state your best case. Tearing me down doesn't elevate anyone.


  • jojosplants

    I'm sure in no time you will have your tree growing strong!
    You have been given some good advice.
    It would be nice if you could post and share it's progress.

    Tyler~ I hope to see your progress too! I like the attitude you have for your tree. :)

    >>I also want to say that I'm very appreciative of your advice, and hope that you'll continue to give it despite the objections of some others.I know many of us here feel the same as you do on this. I too appreciate the time Al gives so freely and from the heart.
    Even with all the negative in this thread, I continue to read knowing I will get something out of it... and have. :)

    Sissy~ Hello! Always good to see you! You need to join us more often. :)

    Josh~ Hello!
    I remember when you got the foliage pro. It's always great to hear that someone's plants have improved and how.
    You and a few others here have been a huge influence in me changing how I do things, and I couldn't be happier!
    I can proudly say your an awsome friend, and mentor! and Jodi, and Mike.. and Al as the root of it all. :)

    It's always a shame to see such muck in a thread... But as I sort through it, I learn and I hope many others can say the same.

    I will never yank another dead leaf off a tree again, before checking the branch for life! Thanks! :)

    What's the best thing to do with a leaf that is brown from the tip half way in?
    Cut off the brown or remove the whole thing.?

    I have some on some tree's due to sun damage. My poor fig for one.


  • tapla

    Hi, JJ. Thank YOU for the encouraging words, too. I don't know if Deanna is still following the thread, but we've exchanged emails since she stopped participating. We didn't discuss why she decided to change, and I wouldn't feel comfortable speculating on her reasons; but I had nothing to do with her decision, other than whatever confidence she might have had in me based on what I had said both before and after she came to the thread.

    "What's the best thing to do with a leaf that is brown from the tip half way in?
    Cut off the brown or remove the whole thing.?"

    From an energy management perspective, the best thing to do is leave it. Either the partially damaged leaf is making more energy than it's using and the tree will retain it; or, if the opposite occurs, the tree will recognize it as a liability and shed it. During the shedding process, the tree will salvage nutrients and other biocompounds from the leaf and translocate them to other tree organs. It can even mobilize some of those nutrients normally considered immobile in the plant. Removing the leaf before this process is complete, deprives the tree of these nutrients.

    If you just can't stand to look at it, how important this might be to the plant depends on the tree's state of vitality. It's probably an insignificant loss to a robust tree in the middle of summer - to remove a handful of blighted leaves; but greater consideration should be given a tree a just hanging on to life and perhaps going into winter. Once you understand the concept, it becomes mostly a common sense thing.

    I'm guessing your tree might be Ficus carica, the edible fig? If so, mother nature will be removing the leaves soon enough anyway. ;o)

    BTW - whenever you remove a damaged leaf from any tree, please use a scissors to cut through the petiole (leaf stem) instead of pulling it from the tree. The act of pulling leaves off very often damages axillary buds (buds lying dormant in leaf axils, aka crotches), which can prevent a leaf or branch from emerging to replace the old.


  • jojosplants

    Good Morning!
    Thanks Al!
    I'm not crazy about the brown parts of the leaves, but if the tree is better off if I leave them alone, I can live with that. :)
    Yes, It's my eidble fig. The apricot too, but I think that was from it not getting watered enough for a few days (my son was helping, or should I say forgetting..lol)

    I'll leave them as is.

    I've heard many times over the years a dead leaf/twigs take energy from the tree and to remove it. Wives tales I guess. :)

    I promise I'll never yank another leaf again. ;) That's great to know!!
    That might explain why one of my lemons looks awful! If a leaf turned brown, I yanked it. :(

    Well, that's one of the things I got from this thread!
    Thanks Al~
    For all you do for those of us here to learn!

  • deburn

    Hi Al, I have a Ficus (Elastica?) that I've had for many years and hadn't really paid any attention to, except a few months ago, when I kept it in a location with medium to low light mistakenly thinking that's what was needed.

    A week ago I put it in a south facing window. It has multiple stems that all have very few leaves, and most of the leaves are at the tip. Most of the leaves are also new growth (another sign of stress?) I cut off two of the stems a week ago - I was cautious because of the time of year and because it's not flourishing. Otherwise I'd have been more aggressive in pruning.

    I will flush the pot later today. I also read that you suggest cutting back the tip and the newest leaf of any stem/branch that has more than 3/4 leaves. I will do that as well.

    What else would you suggest to improve the looks and vitality of this plant?





  • tapla

    Hi, JJ - the information you referred to has often been promulgated on this forum in particular, but others as well. I don't know if it's reached the status of 'old wife's tale' or not, but dead leaves and branches really don't/can't act as energy sinks - they're dead ...... and no energy flows to or from them. If they are not dead, they are either producing energy for the tree, or sending 'heads-up' chemical messages to the tree that they need to be shed after the tree salvages what it can. I've explained the physiological process before, but if there is interest, I'll go through it again.

    Deburn - The tree has the look of one that is extremely root bound. This is not to say there are not other issues, but trees that show tufts of foliage at the ends of branches and exhibit very little branch extension usually have tight roots and/or impaired roots (circling, girdling, etc.) The problem is, now is a poor time to correct the root issues. It is pretty universally accepted in the nursery trade that the growth of plants begins to me impaired at about the time the root/soil mass can be lifted from the container intact, but your tree is stressed and an out of season repot (not to be confused with potting up) isn't a good choice.

    I would flush the soil and remove a couple of inches of the soil mass from the bottom, cut some deep vertical slits in the root ball with a sharp utility knife, then pot up a size. After thoroughly flushing the soil, it's a good idea to replace the lost nutrients with a half strength dose of a soluble 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer. If you're confused about fertilizer ratios vs the NPK %s, just ask & I'll clarify.

    If you are concerned that potting up might lead to root issues due to a heavy soil that remains wet for an extended period and threatens the specter of root rot, I can offer some tips that will help you deal with the excess water retention.

    It's fine to remove the growing tip of each branch, and I usually suggest that you remove the last leaf (to have emerged) along with it to be sure you actually remove the apical meristem (growing tip), but with your tree, if you think you can get just the tips, I would do that. More photosynthesizing surfaces (leaves) means more energy for your tree.

    If you give the tree the best light you can, keep it between 65-75*, and work at your watering practice, the tree will respond. Slowly, during the winter, but favorably.

    Next summer, maybe we can get after a full repotting and getting the tree into a soil that will make things easier for both you and the tree. We can probably chase the foliage back far enough that you'll have the makings of an attractive clump planting by summer's end.

    Best luck. ;o)


  • deburn

    Al, thanks for the detailed response, as always.

    I flushed the pot this morning and fed it MG All Purpose Plant Food, 3-1-2, at about half strength, which is what I think you meant. I didn't realize till I started reading your posts that pots need to be flushed on a regular basis. Once I did, I assumed this particular pot could not be flushed till I realized that there's a plastic piece on the bottom that pops off.

    BTW, I haven't fertilized this plant (and actually all my plants) very much.

    I will remove all the apical meristems this evening. It already has the best "seat" in the house, but keeping it between 65-75* will be difficult because I generally keep the house cool in the winter, especially at night.

    With the potting up that you suggest, I'm assuming that I would use your Gritty Mix. Please let me know if having two different soil types is an issue

  • tapla

    Ahhhhh - what a trouble maker that little piece is! ;o) Even if you haven't fertilized, you can see that all the dissolved solids (salts) in your tap water must be building up in the pot. Let's be clear, that the frequency with which it's a good idea to flush your pots depends on a lot of variables. Primary, is your soil. If you're using a fast (draining) soil that you can apply water to copiously every time you water, you'll be preventing salt accumulation by virtue of your watering habits. On the other hand, if you're watering in sips so all the salt in your tap water and fertilizer accumulates, you should flush more frequently.

    A very large % of the problems hobby growers bring to the forums centers around the relationship between their soil choice and watering habits. The more water retentive the soil, the more difficult it is to squeeze good growth and vitality out of the plant, and the narrower the margin for grower error in the area of over-watering and accumulating salts.

    You should probably wait, if you intend to switch to the gritty mix. It's not a good plan to have two soils so dissimilar in the same container. Suggestions:

    * Pot up, using a soil very similar to the one your plant is in now.
    * Cut off the bottom and slit the sides, as mentioned
    * insert a wick through the drain hole before you pot up. Ideally, you would melt another hole through the bottom near the side and insert the wick there.
    * After you water, tilt the container at a 45* angle with the wick down. The wick should dangle 2-3" below the container, and not touch the effluent (drained water). This will remove MUCH more water from the soil, and allow you to water copiously and flush the soil each time you water. You'll be flushing the fertilizer out of the soil, along with any accumulating salts, so plan on fertilizing with a half strength dose of 24-8-16 or 12-4-8 (both 3:1:2 ratios) about every 3-4 times you water. Don't worry - there is no danger of over-fertilizing if you can follow this plan. It's a very healthy way to approach nutrition management. It assures a low concentration of nutrients in the right ratio at all times, which is actually a very admirable goal for your nutritional plan no matter where your plants are in their growth cycle.
    * Keep your watering under control. Only water on an 'as needed' basis. Wait until the wick feels dry, or the soil is dry when you test it at the drain hole, or a sharpened dowel or skewer comes out clean and dry after you insert it deep into the roots.

    You should see steady but slow improvement until early summer, then much faster improvement.

    Take care .... and thanks for the confidence, Deburn.


  • tapla

    I should have mentioned, that it's common for root rot to be an issue when there is no drain hole. Sometimes, the fungal infection even affects the lower trunks/stems. Did you check the roots over to see if there were black, slimy, or sour-smelling portions of roots and remove if discovered?


  • morgan13

    Hi Al,
    I just acquired two ficus trees. They have been grown outside and the trunks are amazing. About 4-5" in diameter (each tree is about 5-6' tall) with knarled roots at the surface of the pot....a bonsai lovers dream. Problem is they were neglected have no leaves in the center of the tree....all of the branches are thick between 1-2" but bare. One tree is lopsided with leaves at the tips of one side and nothing but bare dead looking branches on the other side. I started to prune that one down to where I found live green wood and sap but started getting afraid to keep cutting.....and now it is even more lopsided because I am afraid to cut ALL the leaves off to balance the shape of the tree. The other one I have not touched yet. They both are pot bound and have not been repotted in 5 years. How should I proceed with these two trees....prune like crazy or be conservative. What about repotting? I do want to bring them inside because it freezes where I live and I think the awesome trunks will look amazing in the house. But what should I do at this point? Winter temps can get down to 25 degrees....but more than that I really got the trees to have inside. Since they already have super strong trunks, would they be ok inside in a super bright window that gets afternoon sun? I can get photos of them in the next few days


  • tapla

    Hi, Tammy - I think I noted not far upthread, that one of the first signs of a root bound tree is the lack of branch extension and loss of interior foliage. The 'tufted' look is so characteristic, that I eliminated a tree the owner expected to win the 'expert class' in a bonsai show I judged this summer, because I could tell the roots were very constricted, just by looking at the tree. When the condition is allowed to get particularly severe, roots wrapped around other roots can completely cut off the flow of water and nutrients to the upper parts of the tree. Trees are somewhat different from species to species in how tightly they adhere to the arrangement that root A feeds branch A, root B feeds branch B, and so on, so that when root A dies, branch A dies. All trees follow this connection to some degree, so it's normal for individual branches originally fed by roots that were later compromised by tight conditions to be shed for lack of the tree's ability to move water and nutrients through the compromised conductive roots.

    Ideally, we would correct the root issues during a full repot. The problem with that scenario is your tree sounds severely stressed and unlikely to be able to recover from such a drastic procedure for two reasons, the stressed and weakened condition being one, and the the other being that the timing is bad with the tree just going into winter.

    If you can be patient, I'm not at all concerned about the trees being lopsided. We can build a tree from whatever remains viable for the long term. My focus would remain fixed on getting the tree to a state of vitality that will allow us to start serious work on the tree w/o killing it.

    Because you just acquired the trees, there is probably no way for you to determine how badly the soluble salts situation is - how much is in the soil. Safest is to assume the salt level is higher than it should be and the soil should be flushed. This is pretty much a standard suggestion for struggling trees. It sort of 'resets' the level of nutritional reserves in the soil, flushing out all the excess soluble that we can't even guess at the concentrations of, and replacing them with a low dose of fertilizer. This ensures that the nutrients are available at a low level that won't interfere with water uptake.

    Let me know if you're good with:
    * Flushing the soil very thoroughly. Flush 5-10 times with room or ambient temperature water, using at least the volume of the container for each flush.
    * Cutting off the bottom 2-3 inches of the root mass and making deep vertical slits in the root mass at 3-4" intervals with a utility knife.
    * Potting up, using a soil very similar to the one your plant is in now, for now. (We can work around this if you'd rather not invest in such large pots. Let me know.)
    * Inserting a wick through the drain hole before you pot up. Ideally, you would melt another hole through the bottom near the side and insert the wick there.
    * After you water, tilt the container at a 45* angle with the wick down. The wick should dangle 2-3" below the container, and not touch the effluent (drained water). This will remove MUCH more water from the soil, and allow you to water copiously and flush the soil each time you water. You'll be flushing the fertilizer out of the soil, along with any accumulating salts, so plan on fertilizing with a half strength dose of 24-8-16 or 12-4-8 (both 3:1:2 ratios) about every 3-4 times you water. Don't worry - there is no danger of over-fertilizing if you can follow this plan. It's a very healthy way to approach nutrition management. It assures a low concentration of nutrients in the right ratio at all times, which is actually a very admirable goal for your nutritional plan no matter where your plants are in their growth cycle.
    * Keep your watering under control. Only water on an 'as needed' basis. Wait until the wick feels dry, or the soil is dry when you test it at the drain hole, or a sharpened dowel or skewer comes out clean and dry after you insert it deep into the roots.
    * Keep the plants in the best light you can provide, and try to keep soil temperatures above 65*, up to 80.
    * Guard against sunburn. If you think/know the trees were in low light, acclimate them to high light levels gradually - over a period of a week or two.

    You can read through this thread & see if you spot anything I might have missed, based on similar advice to others. To be honest, I've been talking to so many people about their Ficus trees over the last month or so (not just those from GW) that it's hard to remember everything. Be sure to raise any questions or concerns, and ask for clarification where/if needed.

    Take good care.


  • morgan13

    Hi Al,

    Ok, so don't prune any further..??..what about the obviously dead branches?? I was able to cut the ones on the "dead" side of one tree to fresh healthy wood....is it better to do that or just leave it....I am worried that any new growth will just continue on the tips if I don't do some pruning. One tree is getting soaked right now in our rain store....and the other is under the patio. Should I move the one getting wet to under that patio or the one under the patio into the rain? I can do the flushing this weekend. There does not appear to be much soil at all, just roots but they do look thick and healthy. I did buy nice pots for them as what they are in is plastic and got pretty busted up in moving them. But the pots are TOO big and like I said, ideally I would like the trees in the house. So if they were outside, in the weather and sun for the past 10 or more years (the guy told me)....then should I bring them inside now before any new growth starts on them or just leave them outside until it gets close to freezing....where there were was on the coast and it did not freeze, now they are inland with temp range between 25ish up to 117 degrees but at least the heat is over for now.

    Thanks for your help.

  • deburn

    Hi Al, I potted up before I saw your post, so I did mix the previous soil with 'my' version of the gritty mix! I didn't have Turface, so I just used uncomposted fir bark and the grower size gran i grit!

    The roots were not slimy, though there was a big piece that was lying in the pot, so that may have been due to rot. I tried to make the vertical cuts, but just succeeded in dislodging more soil. The base of the stems are darker than the upper portions - is that a concern?

    Here are pics of what the root ball looked like and the plant as it looks now. I didn't add water because the gritty mix was damp from having rinsed the gran i grit. Should I water and fertilize now or do it in the morning?








    PS: I got quite excited doing all of this and so I decided to pot up an aloe, as well as some cuttings!

  • tapla

    Tammy - It's ok to prune back to live foliage or viable buds. If in doubt, prune in short cuts until you hit living tissue, then stop. Don't pull dead leaves off - cut through leaf petioles (stems) with a scissors. The petiole stub will shed on its own.

    I realize you'd like to chase the foliage back closer the the trunk, but that is best done with hard cuts when the tree is high in energy reserves, and to some degree, as reserves build, the tree will back-bud on its own. Working trees is a back and forth thing ..... build energy reserves - do the work - let the tree recover and build reserves - repeat. For the time being, your tree needs all the foliage it can put on.

    BTW - pictures here or via email would be very helpful.

    You'll need to make a judgement call about the rain. If you think the soil is heavy enough that it will remain wet long enough that you feel cause to worry about the roots rotting, you need either to take steps to reduce the amount of water the soil can hold, or get the tree out of the rain.

    You should bring them inside now. The tropical Ficus doesn't carry on photosynthesis well at temperatures below 55*. Essentially, at low temperatures the tree stops photosynthesizing and goes on 'battery power', calling on its stored energy reserves. You should avoid those low temps. Additionally, the tree's ability to return to normal photosynthesis doesn't bounce back with the return to favorable temperatures. There is a lag after exposure to chill, with the return to the normal photosynthesizing ability often measured in days instead of hours.

    I'm not sure how much foliage is on the trees now, but it's likely it will all shed within a few weeks after you bring the trees in, so don't be surprised. Let's hope the tree currently has enough energy in reserve to push a new flush of growth, because that's what its viability hinges on.


  • tapla

    Deburn - We'll have to see how things go. There really wasn't much there in the way of roots, but with the faster soil and better aeration, things should go well - just as long as your planting wasn't already beyond the point .....

    The entire root mass should be damp or moist. You did flush the soil - yes? Wait until it's time to water next to fertilize - half strength.

    Love your enthusiasm!


  • deburn

    Thanks Al! I flushed the soil this morning. Forgot to mention that I did cut the largest root by about 2-3 inches. It was pretty thick. I have a utility knife with a small blade so it wasnt a clean cut unfortunately.

    So, generally speaking, how frequently would I expect to need to water, given this hybrid soil mix? deburn

  • tapla

    When the wick is dry. You remembered the wick, right? Or, when the wooden dowel/skewer comes out dry. A review of what is offered upthread will find it covered in more detail.

    Good job!


  • tapla

    You will find the continuation of this thread by following the link below.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Ficus Trees in Containers

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