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Article: The Weeping Fig, Ficus benjamina- indoor and out: Ficus care - good advice

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chuck7701
McKinney, TX
(Zone 8a)

July 27, 2009
2:44 PM

Post #6870854

Good article on how temperamental these can be. It can't be stressed enough how fast these trees respond quickly to changes - light, air, drafts inside, over and under watering, etc.

I have three large ones, the original could be considered a bonsai - been in the same plastic pot since the late 70's when my brother gave it to me. It's well over forty years old and 10 feet tall. Summer they are outside in full hot sun. Air rooted many new trees from branches, two of which are almost 30 years old.

A very wet spring and summer 07, two that were outside developed the air roots in this picture. This is one of the smaller thirty year olds.


Thumbnail by chuck7701
Click the image for an enlarged view.

JLWP
Denton, TX

July 27, 2009
3:55 PM

Post #6871241

Wow-----I'm so glad to see such an informative article and all the pictures! I do wonder about something, and it may be related to our schefflera. Bear with me: 33 years ago, I bought a small (under 12") schefflera tree which over the years would get so large that my husband would take his "rain forest machete" and cut it back to mostly stems; then, it would take off growing again. What I'm wondering is, can I treat my ficus benjamina this way? The last 2 winters I've spent rolling my 2 large ficus trees in and out when I discovered they really loved getting to stay outside if the weather permitted (and getting to have a spray bath from the water hose quite often). But they're probably about 12 feet tall now, and the doorway isn't!! A few years ago, I was visiting Clark Gardens (on the east side of Mineral Wells, TX) and it was Easter time with warmish weather and the doors were open so that I could see inside the "winter home" of some of their tropical plants and their ficus trees were topped off. The young woman who was driving me around in their mini-tram said that every year when the ficus were moved indoors for the winter, the gardeners would trim them down shorter, though they still looked 8 feet tall or so with plenty of leaves at the top. She commented that the tops would grow back every year. Can I do this with my overly tall ficus benjamina, and will they be likely to make a good recovery (like my schefflera does)? I don't do that every single year with the schefflera, but enough to keep it manageable. (The ficus trees stay outdoors in dappled shade mid-spring through mid-November.) What is your best advice?
And thanks a million for your article!
Jan
chuck7701
McKinney, TX
(Zone 8a)

July 27, 2009
6:07 PM

Post #6871704

Jan,

Put them in full sun...if they have already been outside, you might adjust them to partial afternoon sun for a few days. Otherwise, just move em out there. Some leaves might burn or scald, but they grow like weeds in the sun with lots of water. I have very extra large water trays. My biggest problem is they are so top heavy the occasional storms and wind gusts knock them over. I tie them to the BBQ pit to keep em up.

You can whack them back just like a hedge if you want. Shape them like a poodle tree even. Mine in the picture had been pruned and shaped considerably then taken inside to adjust it. It lost very few leaves going from full sun to inside after the pruning. I started it a couple of years after my son was born and was giving it to him as a house warming gift. It was the best looking of all three of them shape, air roots and form wise.

They will come back. One year I left two of them outside and one of our infamous cold freezing fronts hit a couple hours before I got home from work and knocked them back hard to stumps. They came back.

Several years ago two of them were in the house and the compressor went out, the temps in the house hit 110-115 degrees and baked them. Whacked em down to stumps and put them outside. They came back.

The only detriment to cutting back is they lose their "natural weeping" form you typically see in malls or high open areas inside. If you roll them into the house for the winter months, and they are too tall, then cut them down to size. I will have to do the same this fall. I thin out a lot of the small inner branches too.

Major advice - trim it outside in the yard!!!! They drip sap like crazy after a trimming, so you need to let the cuts dry and seal. It can be a chore to get it off of things if it dries hard, especially carpet...

Chuck
JLWP
Denton, TX

July 27, 2009
7:00 PM

Post #6871888

All right then...I'll try it! Sounds like the way to go in order to keep these for decades (like you have)! One more question...about the cuts and sap...do you put anything on the cut areas of the larger branches, or does the sap take care of keeping pests out? Sounds like the pruning back would definitely need to be done a day before bringing the ficus trees inside in order for all the sap to stop dripping. And you never pruned the roots of that tree in the picture? It's amazing that it's been in the same pot since the '70s!
Thanks,
Jan
chuck7701
McKinney, TX
(Zone 8a)

July 27, 2009
9:09 PM

Post #6872416

No sealing is necessary, the tree seals itself. If you're cutting large branches 1 inch or more, follow the general pruning rule and leave at least 1/4 inch stub, a bit longer if they are bigger so the bark will close over. Don't cut large branches flush with the bark, smaller ones are OK.

The is Grandpa - pushing 40 years old. The branching is from when the whole top froze back about 8 years ago.

Same pot since I've owned it in the late 70's, and back then it had a double trunk, lost one. I have never trimmed the roots, not even sure if I could. It is one solid root ball, and weighs about 70-80 pounds. Recently pulled it out and flushed out the old dirt and accumulated fertilizer salts which I do every 2-3 years.

Thumbnail by chuck7701
Click the image for an enlarged view.

JLWP
Denton, TX

July 28, 2009
3:53 PM

Post #6875546

Thanks so much...lots of good advice! And I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who anchors top-heavy plants to other things on my patio or yard to keep the plants upright in case a strong gust of wind sweeps in (and it will eventually). In a way, we're like farmers who figure out how to do things we need to do with what we have on hand. That is a gorgeous ficus tree on your patio! I'm so glad to see it and to know how old it is and how you've been taking care of it...that just amazes me. Gives me incentive to keep my 2 ficus trees instead of giving them away, which I had considered doing because of their size. I really do appreciate your answers and your pictures...all very, very helpful!
Jan
Helen_Derry
Orangeville
Canada

July 29, 2009
7:41 PM

Post #6881039

I just read your informative article on ficus plants. I had no idea they could grow so big in their native habitat.
As for the indoor plants, you didn't mention having problems with scale insects. I first notice sticky spots on the leaves when it erupts.Two of my 5 ficus plants have scale which is on the stems near where the leaves emerge. (Usually scale is on the leaves of plants.) I have the most success when I just scrape it off. I have tried alcohol/soap/water sprays with less success. Does anyone else have the same problem?
chuck7701
McKinney, TX
(Zone 8a)

July 30, 2009
3:24 PM

Post #6884717

Thanks, but I only wrote the notes above, not the article.

Indoor ficus, especially when weak are very attractive to aphids and scale. The "dripping sap" is the waste from the insects like scale and aphids. I have some permanent spots on older wood furniture from this stuff.

The best treatment - move them outside, wet them down and let soak, then spray hard several times over a thirty minute period. This will eliminate a lot of the aphids and some scale.

For scale - use horticultural oil - it will smother them.
For aphids - soapy water or oil works good. If it is a bad infestation on any of my plants, I resort to something stronger for an immediate kill. They multiply faster than the plant can recover.
cheryljm
Oakhurst, CA

July 31, 2009
2:18 AM

Post #6887551

Just curious, after you trim the branches, have you ever tried to root them, and if yes was it successful? Or how else does one propagate these trees?

Also, do you leave them outside all year long or take them inside in the winter?

This message was edited Jul 30, 2009 7:44 PM
chuck7701
McKinney, TX
(Zone 8a)

July 31, 2009
4:47 AM

Post #6888062

If it doesn't freeze in your area, leave them outside. They can easily stand temps into the upper 30's with no damage if acclimated. Much below that the smaller branches and tips go first in a frost. I haul mine in and out of the garage most of the time up until late December, then I have to move them inside the house for the colder months and prepare for a major leaf drop.

I've tried putting the cuttings in water, some times they root, most don't. Then again I don't make a lot of effort to get new growth this way. For me, these are too small and takes too long to grow. If the cuttings are too big, the wood is often too hard, too small and they rot. I'm sure if you followed the proper rooting methods you would get much better results.

The easiest way to propagate is to air layer the larger branches. Select some nice straight branches you're going to trim off. Prepare three of four of the same size for example, root these, tie the bases together, pot them up. Once they're established you can do the fancy braids with them.

For a thick branch 1/2 inch or more, make a cut 1/2 way through the underside of the branch, insert a flat toothpick or sliver of wood to separate the cut. Wrap 3-4 inches of the limb cut in wet spaghnum moss, cover it tightly with dark plastic and tie the ends closed with wire. Thin branches, just scrape 1/4-1/2 of of the bark and wrap. You can sprinkle some rooting hormone on the cut or scrape, but they root easily with or without it.

Unwrap occasionally to remoisten the moss and check for root growth. In about 4-8 weeks you'll have enough roots to cut it about an inch below the roots and pot it in your regular soil mix. To avoid shock, before cutting the rooted branch, strip 1/3-1/2 of the leaves and lower limbs the at least a day before and allow to seal. This will help prevent a nutrition demand overload on the new roots and increase the survival chances. If not most of the leaves will drop off and you risk losing your "new" tree.

I've grown 2-3 dozen trees this way over the years, and usually keep 2-4 small trees around to give away.

palmbob

palmbob
Acton, CA
(Zone 8b)


July 31, 2009
3:11 PM

Post #6889349

thanks... this is all good stuff to have IN the article, only I didn't know the details. thanks so much for this!
cheryljm
Oakhurst, CA

July 31, 2009
10:56 PM

Post #6891281

Yes, thank you. Great info!
Petalpants
Corpus Christi, TX
(Zone 9a)

August 1, 2009
2:26 AM

Post #6892185

Thanks for the great info & pics, Palmbob---and Chuck, for that extra advice to help give gardeners Hope, esp. when Ficus loses all its leaves at once & you think it's gonna die, but if you have faith... they usually come back. I rescued a fairly large Ficus tree at our church 'trash heap' one year; They thought it was dead or going to die, as it looked really bad...dry roots, even out of the pot, maybe 10 leaves at most, really scraggly-looking. I actually didn't know if it was too far gone or not, but took it home, repotted & watered it, & that tree showed its gratitude by getting new leaves soon after & then kept on growing. It would lose its leaves if I moved it to a new position, even a few feet...Whoops, sorry! Mine did like occasional showers in the tub, which my husband thought was hilarious, but he was sweet & put up with the dirt. Ha! The only thing that my Ficus succumbed to was puppies. I never tried air-layering, wish I had known then. I also didn't know you could trim them like a hedge...Wow, I'm amazed at that, too. I think I'm in the mood to go buy a baby Ficus!!! =)

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