Houseplants forum: Two large ficus trees need to come inside soon

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Name: Cassie
SW Missouri US (Zone 6b)
Crofton09
Sep 4, 2018 12:43 PM CST
In June I acquired two large ficus trees from a family friend. They've been on my back porch since, tied up toward the top by the gifter's son. Autumn is approaching so I need to figure out how to maintenance these trees and where to put them. They've got to be close to 9 ft tall. My house is not very accommodating, as the living room is the only room with vaulted ceilings and only has one north facing window, which I currently have a plant stand at (it might have to be moved to the dining room behind the table). From my research so far, I might have to rehome them. Here's my crazy list of questions. Is this an okay location for these trees? Where would you prune them? Can the trunks be rebraided? After pruning, what's your advice for propogating (water vs soil)? Can I wait to repot until spring? How do you freshen up soil on plants this huge? What else should I know?
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Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
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gasrocks
Sep 4, 2018 12:55 PM CST
Nice trees. Ficus are known for dropping their leaves when moved. Stress. Myself I would not do a thing to them except move them inside. That might be enough stress for now. Gene
Name: Cassie
SW Missouri US (Zone 6b)
Crofton09
Sep 4, 2018 1:19 PM CST
Thank you, Gene! Here's a photo of where they would be placed. I'm worried that they may not get enough light to do okay in my home. I wanted to place one on either side of my TV, but I might bring one into my bedroom corner (if it would fit) instead of depriving it of a window spot.
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Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Sep 4, 2018 1:40 PM CST
Ficus trees are light-hungry trees and must be located right in front of a completely uncovered window, at a minimum, if they are to survive indoors. More than a couple of feet from a north window or off to the side of that window will not be enough light. You might be able to keep one on the window side of the TV, but not on the far side of it.

Ficus trees are notorious for shedding leaves profusely when their light is reduced. Moving your plants from outside to even a sunny location indoors is a drastic reduction in light, more than you realize. At best, they will shed up to 50% or more of their leaves. The best way to ease that adjustment to lower light is to prune the trees back very substantially, removing all of the small branches and foliage in the interior portion of the trees, as well as shortening the height and width of the tree so that it will fit inside. After pruning, the trees should be about 18 inches below the ceiling.

I know that is a lot of pruning that would leave the trees looking very small and sparse. The good news is that Ficus trees are tough to kill and quite adaptable as long as they are getting at least minimal light. I have seen Ficus trees pruned back so far that they were virtually leafless, but still survive and flourish subsequently in good light.

There is no reason to try to undo the braiding of the trunks and I advise against trying. Likewise, your trees do not need repotting and they do not need fresh soil and will not need to be repotted even in the spring. If you do manage to keep the trees through the winter, I suggest you keep them indoors because if you move them back outside, they will be forced to acclimate all over again.

It won't be easy for you to keep them, so perhaps you can find a more suitable location for them. However, they will always need to be close to and in front of a sunny window and they will do a lot of shedding regardless.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at [email protected]
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Name: Cassie
SW Missouri US (Zone 6b)
Crofton09
Sep 4, 2018 10:55 PM CST
Thank you, Will!

I might try to do as you suggested by pruning back and keeping them near a sunny window, even though the majority of the advice I've gotten elsewhere says I should probably just find them a better home. Couple reasons - I don't want to give away such a gift, they would add to the house if they did make it and I'm stubborn sometimes. *Blush* I wanted to be able to keep them indoors all year anyways.

I'm wondering when they should come inside. I'm in SW Missouri, so it's still at least in the 50's at night here, but who knows what October will bring. Let's say if I were to prune them and let them "recover" before bringing them in, would this be less stressful than pruning and immediately bringing them in?

And I know you guys say they don't need repotting and don't need additional soil, but, I can see roots exposed in the top of the soil and the trees have been knocked over during high winds. Should I not at least add an inch of soil or so? And to be honest, I hate these pots. D'Oh!
Name: Christine
Saugerties, NY zone 5a
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Christine
Sep 5, 2018 6:39 AM CST
Just a thought, why not gift one and keep one for yourself :hearts:
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Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
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gasrocks
Sep 5, 2018 6:44 AM CST
If your biggest concern is getting them enough light during the winter, they make really efficient LED lights. I use lots of them. Gene
Name: Cassie
SW Missouri US (Zone 6b)
Crofton09
Sep 5, 2018 9:48 AM CST
Thanks, Christine!

Gene, regarding lights... I noticed the other day in a television show I often watch they had placed lights from below (as in stakes in the pot). Does this help or was it just decorative?
Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
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gasrocks
Sep 5, 2018 9:50 AM CST
Lights from below is called stage lighting. Just for looks.
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Sep 5, 2018 11:30 AM CST
Cassie - Your trees can stay outside until night temps start to approach freezing.

You can prune at any time, but the pruning will trigger new growth leaves that will be adapted to the light they receive if they are still outdoors. You might consider moving them now to a very shady outdoor location - kind of a halfway house on their way to an inside location.

Exposure of surface roots is normal. Those exposed roots have already developed a bark-like covering to protect them from exposure to the air. If you now cover those roots with damp soil, that bar covering may rot. Mother Nature knows what she is doing!

Find some attractive planters of your choice and then set the existing ugly pots right inside the nice ones. Then, cover the surface with a top dressing of Spanish moss. This double-potting is much easier to do and less stressful for the trees. In addition, you are trying to curb, not promote, growth so not adding more soil will help in that endeavor.

Given the size of your trees, any artificial light will have to be able to cover a wide range and you will need multiple fixtures.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at [email protected]
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Name: Cheryl
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ShadyGreenThumb
Sep 8, 2018 11:32 PM CST
I move my 3 outside ficus every fall into a greenhouse . I expect leaf drop but actually have very little of it. Of course, that's probably because it basically still does remain outside.

But in order to move my 12ft trees by dolly, I use 5-6 short bungee cords at various points up the tree to bundle it up to keep the move more manageable. I also keep the trees tied up for our short winter. I tie up mynPalm trees in the very same way.zit protects them from breakage during the move and while in the crowded greenhouse.

You may consider lightly tying up your ficus for its move indoors.
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Name: Cassie
SW Missouri US (Zone 6b)
Crofton09
Sep 9, 2018 11:54 AM CST
Thanks again for all your help everybody! I bought my pruning shears and gloves to hopefully prune the trees on my next day off. A couple more questions before I do.

Just to make sure I'm putting correctly, it's right after a leaf, right? Is there anywhere to find examples of what I should be aiming for shape wise (so far looking at artificial trees has seemed to be helpful)? And if I keep some of the cuttings, what size pot do you recommend rooting them in? I picked up rooting hormone, but see that some have suggested that it's not necessary with ficus... what's your take on this?

Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Sep 11, 2018 10:47 AM CST
If you prune a stem just above a leaf, then it will not leave a bare stub. It is a matter of appearance, nothing more. The overall shape is a matter of personal taste. I have seen Ficus trees shaped like lollipops and others like slender spires and everything in between. The trees won't care. Please yourself!

Rooting hormone is of questionable value. Does no harm, but not worth a big investment.

Use small pots with multiple tip cuttings of several inches in length in each pot. Use a porous potting mix. The key will be keeping the potting mix slightly damp at all times until the roots develop. Good light and warm temps will help with the propagation. Some cuttings will take and others won't. You should have lots of cuttings so don't fret if some don't make it.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at [email protected]
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Name: Cassie
SW Missouri US (Zone 6b)
Crofton09
Sep 13, 2018 11:27 AM CST
Thanks Will!

Crazy question.. to avoid buying a bunch of pots right now for cuttings that may not make it or that I might give away.. I have an interesting idea. I work in foodservice and our cups are plastic. The smaller sizes fit well into the bigger, leaving space between them in the bottom. If I cut holes in the smaller ones, then nesting them into the larger cup, will these make alright starter pots?
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Sep 13, 2018 12:18 PM CST
Nothing wrong with plastic cups as long as you poke drain holes in them. Not sure they need to be double-potted unless you prefer that to little saucers placed underneath to catch excess water.

You can also put multiple stem cuttings (up to 5 or 6) in a single cup or pot.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at [email protected]
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
[Last edited by WillC - Sep 13, 2018 12:21 PM (+)]
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Name: Cassie
SW Missouri US (Zone 6b)
Crofton09
Sep 13, 2018 1:42 PM CST
That's the only reason I was doing the double cupping, to easily catch the drainage. Thanks again!

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