F. benjamina, crown dieback

hemmy

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I have a ficus benjamina that’s been in training from regular nursery stock since ~2012. It was growing slow with some loss of upper canopy branches so I repotted it this summer and left it at a nursery with more summer heat than I get. It had been in the same pot for 2 years with a pumice, scoria, orchid bark mix. This time I went with a 2:1:1, akadama, pumice and scoria. But it has continued to lose branches (red and yellow circled areas. I don’t see any pests and I suspect it’s more of a root and energy balance issue. It gets afternoon shade, so I’m trying to find a spot where it will get more sun. But those are a premium in my yard.

Any advice to halt the dieback and increase ramification? (Yes, I know F. benjamina is notoriously finicky, but I bought this before I had read those things.)
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hemmy

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Here it is right after 2021 repot
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And another from 2020
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Shibui

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The tree appears to be in reasonable health but not bursting with energy as it should be at this time of year. There are a number of possible reasons for the symptoms.

The ficus I am familiar with love fertilizer. How much and what have you been feeding it?
Mine generally get some yellowing and a little die back in winter because it is a bit cool here so weather and temp could be a possible cause for your leaf problems.
Lack of water or even over watering could also cause yellow leaf and die back. Ficus are quite drought hardy but even they can be pushed a little too far.

Ficus are generally quite shade tolerant. They even do well as indoor plants so shade is unlikely to be the primary cause of these problems.

As far as ramification, my figs respond best to aggressive pruning. Just looking at the upper and outer shoots it does not appear to have had much trimming?????
I've found that the more I can get them to grow the more often I can trim and the quicker ramification increases. Fertilizer+ good conditions = growth = trimming = ramification
 

Forsoothe!

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"...As far as ramification, my figs respond best to aggressive pruning. Just looking at the upper and outer shoots it does not appear to have had much trimming?????
I've found that the more I can get them to grow the more often I can trim and the quicker ramification increases. Fertilizer+ good conditions = growth = trimming = ramification"
Yes to that. The wood is not forever on anything. It has some useful life and needs to be replaced, as in: grown larger in which case the new wood is on the outer surface and the old wood is the core; or, twigs are replaced with new by hard trimming. One, or the other has to occur on some regular basis. This tree is too airy and has probably never been hard trimmed to force new growth as is evident from the 2021 pics wherein the shape of the canopy is the same irregular form, just more filled-in before losing leaves & twigs/branches. It should not be allowed to "just grow". It should be shaped routinely and pinched to keep it responding by ramifying, all of which looks more neat and importantly, new at the canopy surface. If it was also denuded every couple years in May or June that would also serve to renew the canopy and underlying branches.
 

hemmy

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The ficus I am familiar with love fertilizer. How much and what have you been feeding it?
Thanks for the response. It gets Dr. Earth Life and/or Gro-Power granules every 1-2 months.


As far as ramification, my figs respond best to aggressive pruning. Just looking at the upper and outer shoots it does not appear to have had much trimming?????

You are correct, at it has not been pruned aggressively for at least a couple years. I was trying to let it get vigorous before a cutback but it never did. I think I was too timid with it compared to my other ficus species, since they have the tendency towards dieback if pruned with out leaving a growing tip or leaf with bud.

I’ll give it a trim now and maybe introduce some fish emulsion or weekly diluted miracid equivalent.

Thanks!
 

MHBonsai

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I love benjaminas personally. They grow faster than anything else I've seen when you get them in the right conditions.

I've had that kind of die back on benjaminas from the pot getting dry, or low light. Either can cause the tree to abandon a branch. Sometimes when they get root bound, parts of the pot stop draining properly and some parts remain eternally dry. I've seen mine kill off branches in a similar way that were shaded off by above branches too.

If it was mine, I would lightly repot into a much wider pot, like 2x wider but same depth with a really freely draining substrate. Let it start pushing growth again, then pump it with a ton of fertilizer until it's growing so fast it's hard to stay in front of. Then when it's really healthy, it needs a hard cut back to a viable bud (and a good green leaf if you want to be safe). That's the way to get benjaminas to back bud and ramify.

Great tree!
 

hemmy

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I am with @MHBonsai . Rootbound and lack of water as a result. Increase water availability and/or repot
To clarify, it was repotted July 2021.


like 2x wider but same depth with a really freely draining substrate.
Thanks, I’ll look to repot next year. As always, you never have the right container! I think for aesthetics, it would also look better in wider pot with that large of a canopy. With low temps crossing into the 40s the next couple of weeks, we are out of the window where I disturb the roots on ficus. I’d be hesitant to shift to a larger container now, as we head into the rainy season (fingers crossed we have one this year).
 

hemmy

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While I have you here. . .

Since I haven’t gotten the ramification and tighter growth on this one, the design is not progressing very well. This the last complete wiring last year, front, back, and possible drastic cutback. I’m struggling between the 3D in person view and the mess it looks like in 2D. I’d like to get more contour and definition to the outline, but removing lower and back branches seems like it would cause it to lose depth.

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Shibui

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Styling is a personal choice. I don't think the pompom look suits ficus (or many other species!) so I would rather see a fuller canopy than the virt. Your tree does have a lot of branches and twigs so by all means thin it out a little which should allow more room for the remainder to ramify better.
Now that I check the pot size I do agree with the others about a larger pot. I understand about never having the right sized pot. It is possible to keep a tree healthy in a smaller pot but it can start to create more problems like the trouble you are seeing.
 

MHBonsai

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To clarify, it was repotted July 2021.



Thanks, I’ll look to repot next year. As always, you never have the right container! I think for aesthetics, it would also look better in wider pot with that large of a canopy. With low temps crossing into the 40s the next couple of weeks, we are out of the window where I disturb the roots on ficus. I’d be hesitant to shift to a larger container now, as we head into the rainy season (fingers crossed we have one this year).

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t wait on the repot. Better chance of having a successful winter if you know what’s up with the roots. Be gentle with it and tease out the roots wide without removing much and it won’t skip a beat.

In the heat of summer you will get extensions like this every couple weeks if you get itenough soil/light/water.

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Styling advice is tough. I really like the framework of the trunks and I think pads could look good as long as you keep it like a wide canopy tropical and not a pine/juniper.

I think you could make a really cool acacia tree image with this one in minimal time. Needs some help at the roots though.

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hemmy

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For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t wait on the repot. Better chance of having a successful winter if you know what’s up with the roots. Be gentle with it and tease out the roots wide without removing much and it won’t skip a beat.
I don’t think I have wide container with enough height. I’d have to make a small box. Just to be clear, this tree is going to overwinter outside with lows from 42-45degF. But we should be 48-55F lows with 60-75F highs for the next few weeks. Would you still repot?
Thank you!
 

hemmy

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Haha! Well it DOES get colder! Our “zone” is 30-35F. But we haven’t see anything below 42F in the last 10 years.
 

Bonsai Nut

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I agree with root investigation. Dead crown is often an indicator that something is amiss directly below the nebari - right at the base of the tree. Make sure you are cleaning out all the old soil when you repot and don't leave a block of old soil/roots in the middle.
 

sorce

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I reckon ficus are too adaptable when it comes to roots to consider this a root problem.

With an ability to tuber up for dry spells, and the ability to drop ariel roots when wet, I am certain this isn't a root issue.

Death of the farthest, freshest, most transpiring growth would be a sign of a root problem.

Death of interior parts is a light/pruning problem.

possible drastic cutback.

While "drastic", this is still an innapropriate cutback for a ficus.

They require much more severe cuts and maintenance pruning than other trees in order to prevent this internal twiggy dieback.

Always skinning it to right proper nexts buds with no leaves is almost a requirement to keep the interior viable.
They absolutely need their own space and light.

"Pom poms" is not only a design flaw, it causes a hort flaw which furthers the design flaw.

Hence...
I haven’t gotten the ramification and tighter growth on this one, the design is not progressing very well.

Sorce
 

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