RachelPlantFan

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Is this something that could be okay on a tree kept indoors in winter? It's wintered inside until spring. Zone 7. Its a fairly large overgrown tree. Should I just wait for spring? I'm wanting to whip this thing back into some kind of decent shape. One section has close together, uniform leaves while the other section has leaves far apart and is very 'branchy'.
 

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eryk2kartman

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I wouldn't do it for the winter unless you have proper light set up, by defoliating you basically weaken the tree and it needs energy to regrow, with very little light that you naturally get in the winter is not a good idea.
Watch the Ficus videos from Nigel Saunders, he explains it very well.
 

RachelPlantFan

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I wouldn't do it for the winter unless you have proper light set up, by defoliating you basically weaken the tree and it needs energy to regrow, with very little light that you naturally get in the winter is not a good idea.
Watch the Ficus videos from Nigel Saunders, he explains it very well.
Gotcha. That's what I was thinking but was getting mixed info online. So is this something I should do in spring or summer?

I love Nigel's videos. So informative. I'll be sure to target the ficus ones more regularly.
 

eryk2kartman

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Yes i would wait till spring,bring it out, get used to daylight and maybe week after you can try to defoliate, plant has to be in good shape with a lot of vigor.
Btw why do you want to defoliate it ? from photos it looks ok to do structural pruning, its not too dense or anything, if that was my tree i wouldnt defoliate it, i would trim it as it is.
 

RachelPlantFan

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Yes i would wait till spring,bring it out, get used to daylight and maybe week after you can try to defoliate, plant has to be in good shape with a lot of vigor.
Btw why do you want to defoliate it ? from photos it looks ok to do structural pruning, its not too dense or anything, if that was my tree i wouldnt defoliate it, i would trim it as it is.
I'm hoping to to force thicker leaf density. If I'm mistaken please correct me, but it does cause that right?
I'm at a loss on the pruning part. I'm just hoping to get the leaf coverage more uniform first. Unless there is a specific way I should go about it.
 

eryk2kartman

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If i understand it correctly, you want more ramification and this is not achieved by defoliating, you need to prune the tree regularly to get back budding and new branches to grow.
You should concentrate on trunk first and thicken it up to the desire size, once thats done you can work on the branches and ramification.
 

Shibui

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Just have a look at where the 2 different types of leaves are coming from. They are so different that I suspect it is a grafted tree and one type may be the stock that's growing while the more compact growth will probably be the grafted section. If this looks like the case you'll need to decide which type to keep. No amount of pruning or defoliating will make an open growing type look like the more compact growth.

Defoliation does not directly produce small leaves or compact growth. Good pruning coupled with appropriate defoliation will increase the ramification with many more growing tips. More branching means more leaves which will usually be smaller. Compact growth requires short internodes. Short internodes require good light levels and a little less fertiliser and water. Trees will often grow a mix of branches, some with shorter internodes and others with long internodes and rampant growth. Knowing which to keep and which to remove to achieve desired outcomes is a skill that can take time and experience to master.
 

RachelPlantFan

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I do believe it is a grafted plant. The more orderly branches are the original branches, while the other is newly grown in the past couple of years. In these pictures you can see the tree trunk and I see two types of bark. Now I'm at a loss of what to do.
 

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Shibui

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Rootstock will normally grow faster and stronger than the scion and eventually the grafted piece will die unless you remove the competition. In any case, different foliage type does not look great for bonsai.
There are always choices in bonsai and you have plenty of choices with this tree:
1. Cut off all the shoots that show the coarse growth and try to grow a bonsai from the grafted part. (you may need to keep cutting off new rootstsock shoots for a couple of years until the grafted part grows strong) i would happily remove any offending parts now, even though you are going into winter. The sooner that's done the better for the parts you want to keep.
2. Cut off the grafted ginseng parts and develop a bonsai from the rootstock branches (your bonsai will have that coarser growth but will probably grow faster and stronger than the ginseng ficus ever will and will still make a great bonsai)
3. Give up in disgust and throw the tree out or give/sell it to someone else to deal with
4. Get some help from more experienced growers (there's sure to be a bonsai club nearby or maybe a bonsai nursery)
5. Wait and see what happens
6.???
 

RachelPlantFan

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Rootstock will normally grow faster and stronger than the scion and eventually the grafted piece will die unless you remove the competition. In any case, different foliage type does not look great for bonsai.
There are always choices in bonsai and you have plenty of choices with this tree:
1. Cut off all the shoots that show the coarse growth and try to grow a bonsai from the grafted part. (you may need to keep cutting off new rootstsock shoots for a couple of years until the grafted part grows strong) i would happily remove any offending parts now, even though you are going into winter. The sooner that's done the better for the parts you want to keep.
2. Cut off the grafted ginseng parts and develop a bonsai from the rootstock branches (your bonsai will have that coarser growth but will probably grow faster and stronger than the ginseng ficus ever will and will still make a great bonsai)
3. Give up in disgust and throw the tree out or give/sell it to someone else to deal with
4. Get some help from more experienced growers (there's sure to be a bonsai club nearby or maybe a bonsai nursery)
5. Wait and see what happens
6.???
I think I like to looser growth better, just thought the coarser looked more 'bonsai'. The root ball/trunk looks atrocious though if I remove the graft, unless I carve it. The rootstock side has awesome 'banyan-esque' roots though. I'm going to have to think hard about what I want. I'll never give it up. It's family at this point. Even if I just let it live how it wants with just a smidge of help.
 

Shibui

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Yes, another option - do nothing and hope.

The coarser growth will likely grow faster and so develop into a tree quicker. i think it will give more, better options for future development.
There's no scale in your photos but I would expect if you allow the tree to grow freely for a bit any scars caused by pruning off the grafted stump would heal over in a few years.
Mention of the aerial 'banyan' roots brings up the possibility of starting new trees with those branches. If you cut them off including a few of the aerial roots you should b able to transplant them straight into a pot and they'd grow just fine by themselves. You'd then have more ficus bonsai to play with and could keep the original ginseng plant as well. I think delaying transplant of those until warmer weather would be better.
 

RachelPlantFan

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Yes, another option - do nothing and hope.

The coarser growth will likely grow faster and so develop into a tree quicker. i think it will give more, better options for future development.
There's no scale in your photos but I would expect if you allow the tree to grow freely for a bit any scars caused by pruning off the grafted stump would heal over in a few years.
Mention of the aerial 'banyan' roots brings up the possibility of starting new trees with those branches. If you cut them off including a few of the aerial roots you should b able to transplant them straight into a pot and they'd grow just fine by themselves. You'd then have more ficus bonsai to play with and could keep the original ginseng plant as well. I think delaying transplant of those until warmer weather would be better.
Size wise... the rootstock tree is 42 inches tall. The graft section 26 inches. The rootstock section is composed of two trunks and the graft is two grafts and five main 'branches'.
 

Shibui

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I was really looking at the diameter of the trunks where they will be cut. Height is unimportant because that is easy to alter. Diameter of cuts is more relevant because larger cuts will take more years to heal or may never heal over or may be carved into hollows depending on the sizes.
I can see the 2 escaped roostock trunks in the photos. I can also see that pruning off the entire grafted section will leave a relatively large wound and 2 straight, equal sized trunks so probably not ideal for a twin trunk ficus. That's where the idea for removing each of the rootstock trunks as separate trees came from. That plan leaves you with a grafted ficus with 2 smaller wounds that should heal relatively easily + 2 more trees that you could grow and develop as bonsai so that you can have the more open growth you said you liked.
 

RachelPlantFan

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I was really looking at the diameter of the trunks where they will be cut. Height is unimportant because that is easy to alter. Diameter of cuts is more relevant because larger cuts will take more years to heal or may never heal over or may be carved into hollows depending on the sizes.
I can see the 2 escaped roostock trunks in the photos. I can also see that pruning off the entire grafted section will leave a relatively large wound and 2 straight, equal sized trunks so probably not ideal for a twin trunk ficus. That's where the idea for removing each of the rootstock trunks as separate trees came from. That plan leaves you with a grafted ficus with 2 smaller wounds that should heal relatively easily + 2 more trees that you could grow and develop as bonsai so that you can have the more open growth you said you liked.
I appreciate your help. You've given me good ideas. I'm going to look into your suggestion to split the trees.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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@RachelPlantFan
You are in Georgia, there is a very active bonsai community in the Atlanta area.

You won't get much winter growth while the tree is indoors. If your tree were mine, I would:
1. - do nothing until spring. When nights are usually above 50 F put the tree outside for the summer. (April?)
2. In summer cuttings root very rapidly. You can take large diameter cuttings in June-August, they will root in a couple weeks and grow vigorously. You can root cuttings in winter ONLY IF you use a heated seed mat under the containers you root your cuttings in. Soil temp in winter needs to be 78 F to 85 F to get roots to grow. If you house is cool, like mine, nothing will happen, the cuttings will sit semi-dormant and slowly begin to rot. In my home, winter cuttings are a 100% failure.
3. Once it is warm enough to root cuttings, I would prune off all the understock growth - ginseng ficus - make that one group of cuttings. I would also make a few cuttings of the scion wood. The Ficus microcarpa 'Tiger Bark', You could easily end up with 5 or 10 trees to "play with".
4. The grafted Ficus with the fat tuber roots makes for a "bonsai - ish" plant that is more grotesque than handsome. Like desert rose and other pachycaul plants, they are enjoyed for their grotesqueness. The cuttings can be worked to make more tree like bonsai.

Ficus "Ginseng" ficus, this one is a little coarse in its foliage and internode lengths. These are best for larger scale trees, let your rooted cuttings get big, 4 foot or more tall, then cut back to less than 12 inches, then let grow out to 4 or 5 feet, then cut back keep a shorter segment. Repeat the cycle. I would shoot for bonsai in the 3 foot to 4 foot range. One design option would be the first 12 inches should be main trunk. Second 12 inches should be the sub trunks and major branches. The final 12 inches would be the fine branches with leaves. Essentially divide the tree in thirds. This is a generic tree design. Not a rule, just a suggestion if you don't know what to do. Another design suggestion, you want the trunk to be between a tenth to a third of the diameter of the height of the tree. The fatter the trunk relative to height the older looking the tree will be. A 3 foot tall ficus should have a trunk between 4 inches and 12 inches in diameter. Obviously any diameter over 6 inches in diameter is going to take time to develop. It won't happen right away.

The Ficus microcarpa probably the scion, it might be "tiger bark'' - the scion makes good bonsai at smaller sizes thru large size. You can probably make nice trees with the scion that finish around 12 inches tall to 24 inches tall. Similar 1/3rd, 1/3rd, 1/3rd plan, but you can do the segments at 4 inches intervals, for a 12 inch tall tree.

But this is all down the road. I would in late spring, as soon as the weather warms outside, put the tree outside, reduce the original to just foliage from scion branches, and make a bunch of cuttings of the rest. You can easily end up with dozens of ficus to practice with.
 

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