Nursery ficus. Chop? Air layer? Looking for advice

Tbwilson33

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Hey everyone, novice bonsai guy just looking for advice. I found this at a local mom and pop shop for 35 dollars and thought why not? Decent size trunk on it. I just bought it thinking of trunk chopping it and trying to root some cuttings but I just started thinking I could air layer the top to get two nicely sized trees out of it. Only problem is I have never tried an air layer. Done some research on it but I have never tried it so I’m a little anxious about it. Any bit of help would be appreciated.
 

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thomas22

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This looks like Benjamina. If it is then keep in mind a chop is risky. I'm not saying it will die or don't do it but just keep in mind they are not as dependable as Microcarpa for a chop. If you go for it then wait until late spring/early summer and fertilize plenty before the chop. I would chop about 6'' from soil. I personally wouldn't air layer unless I saw a really nice portion of tree I thought would make a nice bonsai. It wouldn't hurt to air layer and maybe you could detach air layer when you chop.
Good luck
 

MHBonsai

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A healthy and vigorously growing Benjamina will bud if you chop them to the ground. But even then there is a chance of failure. If you air layer off the top I highly doubt the base will live.

Either way, I'd wait until it is growing like crazy outside in the summer with plenty of extending growing tips before doing anything. They are a mixed bag and you never know how they will respond to being chopped, but If they are growing hard, your chances of success or higher. I would chop a bunch of interesting branches and try to root them first. You can root 1 inch or more diameter cuttings with these if you take good care of them and keep them bagged in a humid environment.
 
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If you don't care about the tree, then experiment. Like MH said they root easily but try an air layer out to see how it works. Youtube is your best friend for learning that. It's better to make these mistakes now on something you don't care much about, then later when the material is top notch.
 

WesB

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What is your growing zone?

There is definitely plenty to work with up top. I vote for the air layer. They’re easy on Ficus during the right time of year. I’m a 6.5/7 grow zone and Could start an air layer just above the lowest branch June 1 as true summer kicks in then check for enough roots on July 1. Layers just above the lowest branch should ensure the trunk lives ;).
 

WesB

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Another option separate from the layer is to take some cuttings, when they have been potted on their own roots for a season you can thread graft or graft them low into the trunk. Once they have set and fully fused you then can start the air layer for the top.

This would give you a nice girthy trunk with branches/leaders to grow and a second tree from the top.

It may take 2 years or just 1 to do it all depending on your zone and vigor of the tree. It’s totally worth the effort to do both the graft and layer.
 

Tbwilson33

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I live one the boarder of zone 5b and 6a. It’s currently inside for the winter. I’ll probably wait till the summer like what was advised. I’ll make sure to update in the future! Last thing I’ll ask is you guys wouldn’t recommend defoliating before the chop? I know on my tiger bark ficus I got some budding down low on the trunk after defoliating it. Thought maybe I would do that to see where and if I would get a bud down low on the trunk.
 

WesB

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I live one the boarder of zone 5b and 6a. It’s currently inside for the winter. I’ll probably wait till the summer like what was advised. I’ll make sure to update in the future! Last thing I’ll ask is you guys wouldn’t recommend defoliating before the chop? I know on my tiger bark ficus I got some budding down low on the trunk after defoliating it. Thought maybe I would do that to see where and if I would get a bud down low on the trunk.
I wouldn’t ever ever defoliate or cut below 1 leaf on a Benjiman in your zone unless it was summer and the tree had a month or 2 of strong vigorous growth building it’s energy level up ahead of time.
 

Tbwilson33

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I wouldn’t ever ever defoliate or cut below 1 leaf on a Benjiman in your zone unless it was summer and the tree had a month or 2 of strong vigorous growth building it’s energy level up ahead of time.
But would you agree that might be a good way to get a bud down low on the trunk?
 

WesB

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But would you agree that might be a good way to get a bud down low on the trunk?

Not really with Benjimens, they don’t respond as well as the other species of Ficus and can suffer die back. In parts of the country like South Florida for example or in a nice heated greenhouse with high humidity you can get away with it. Dry chopping a Benjamins puts you at high risk of losing the tree. Layers and grafts in the summer are your friends and will set quickly with a vigorous Ficus.
 

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