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BADLY compacted Ficus Benjamina - How Agressive Can I Root Prune?

12 years ago

Hi everyone,

I acquired 8 free F. Benjamina from craigslist, from about 3-6 feet tall. I'm excited to start some bonsai experimentation with them. They were, of course badly neglected, and had been growing in black plastic pots for probably 10+ years, and I'm sure have NEVER been root pruned, repotted, etc... Probably never watered, fertilized, or anything else either. They're all pretty scraggly, but have fantastic trunk flare.

Anyway, I took them out of the (cracked and deteriorated) pots, started soaking them in some water, and am now starting to try and detangle/bare root them, root prune, and repot. I realize it would be ideal to do this in like April-June (I'm in LA), but i'm moving, and dont have that luxury. Plus in my experience, if I do a MAJOR root prune, it's usually more successful when i cut off a MAJOR portion of the top growth, which I did after picking them up.

They are so incredibly rootbound that the roots have become potato-like tubers, with crazy hard soil in between. I will try to post a pic tomorrow when it's light. All fine root hair growth is so stuck in the cement soil that when i try to wash, gently prod, rake, etc... the roots break off with the soil. I live in a pretty forgiving climate, southern CA, and ficus grow REALLY easy here.

But, how aggressive can i be, pruning them? I have read conflicting information, 1. that Ficus can be grown in straight water, and 2. that to be healthy Ficus need lots of air on their roots. How can both these be true?

I am going to replant them in the 5-1-1 soil-less mix (thanks Al by the way, it rocks), with a combo of fungicide & root hormone. And basically hope for the best. I have already done my best with a couple. I sawed many of the tubers right in half when i cut off the bottom 1/3 of the "soil." Then I just kinda gently ripped and worked out whatever soil I could, ripping a lot of fine feeder roots as I went, I'm sure. They were free, so I'm kinda experimenting with this. But man, they look cool, and could make fantastic bonsai.

If I were to actually try and bare root them, no matter what kind of care I took, I'm sure I would end up with basically a couple badly hacked-up root tubers, and nothing else. Yet, if I dont do SOME kind of root pruning, I'm just going to pot up a badly neglected plant and hope for the best.

In everyone's opinion, what's the best way to go about making these guys live, and being able to aggressively root prune?

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