Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

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Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby sheepdawg » May 21st, 2018, 9:22 am

Hey everyone, I grow several figs outdoors throughout winter and haven't had any problems. But I do notice they are slow to take off and grow when spring comes around. So, does anyone know how I can maintain vigor through winter?

My plants are either in a shade house or on a bench close to my house, so they get some protection. I don't fertilise during winter, should I change this?

And anyone have suggestions for a good all-round fertiliser? I have been using Thrive, but I'm going to start alternating between Thrive and Maxicrop.
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby Rory » May 21st, 2018, 9:31 am

My recollection of Toowoomba was like walking through a cold sauna. Maybe move to Brisbane. ;)

Otherwise, there isn't going to be any great advantage of fertilizing a lot of winter, but it would be more beneficial to make sure the mix the figs are sitting in isn't staying damp for a long time. It should require a rewatering within 48 hours at worst case. (but if its still damp don't re-water even if this means waiting 4 days etc etc). Otherwise the mix needs to be draining quicker. Add small particles of ash completely throughout the mix to help with drainage. Cold winters are usually a very slow growth period for figs, but when you say they don't take off well in Spring, that's a concern and makes me think the mix is too heavy, or has partially rotted the roots or causing fungus to grow or other problems. Just remember to only water the mix when it is quite dry over winter. You can afford to leave it longer before you rewater because if you forget to water a dry mix and its only 20 or 18 degrees its not going to be detrimental to a fig over a cold and sunny day. I usually force myself to step back and reassess whether I should rewater again in winter because of the cool temps and weak sun.

Do you keep your figs in a shade house over winter? I wouldn't do this. Toowoombas winter climate shouldn't really require any protection for them. They need to be exposed to full sun all the time in your area. Try to keep the figs in the sunniest position available, and afternoon sun is stronger than morning. In winter the sun is weak so it would be best if you can place them in afternoon sun if you have to choose. Don't cut them back at all in winter, and try to have the figs with a 'full head of hair' going into winter (lots of foliage). You should have heaps of aerial roots growing over winter I would think from that climate? I know where I am situated - due to the humidity- I get a stack of new aerial growth slowly emerging over winter.

What figs are you growing?
Port Jackson and Moreton Bays are the hardiest of all the figs I've tried and grow slowly over winter, (we drop to about 5 or 6 degrees minimum over winter)

Any of the other figs I've tried growing don't even come close to the fast growth rate you get from PJs and MBs.

Figs can tolerate any kind of fertilizer.
Last edited by Rory on May 21st, 2018, 10:27 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby treeman » May 21st, 2018, 10:57 am

I just looked up Toomwooba's climate and your average minimums for June July are 7C, the same as mine. So I presume you will get fairly regular 5's. You will get results if you can get the trees under clear cover facing north. Plastic or glass. Pretty simple to set up a quick lean-to. (if you have the room) There are no ''products'' to help against the cold besides physical protection, but stopping any feeding will help.
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby melbrackstone » May 21st, 2018, 11:03 am

Echo both Rory and treeman, put the trees in the sunniest north-facing spot you have. The plastic cover is also a great suggestion, it might even help keep some humidity going in our traditionally sunny and dry winters. They'll be nicely protected when the westerlies hit too, if you're got a north-eastern aspect.
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby shibui » May 21st, 2018, 7:18 pm

Jim Webb always said that dolomite lime helped boost fig cold tolerance and he would always remind us to sprinkle dolomite on the pot surface in autumn. His rationale was that natural occurring southern fig populations are all associated with limestone soil types. I have not checked to see if fig occurrence does coincide with limestone geology or whether there is any physiological correlation between any of the elements in dolomite with frost hardiness. I have used dolomite a few times on my figs. It certainly does not hurt them but as to whether it boosts frost hardiness :lost:

I did have an interesting discussion with a Tassie dept of ag frost specialist once. He definitely said that good levels of one of the ions - Na, Mg? - in the plant cells helped prevent frost damage. There may be some truth in making sure your frost sensitive species have had adequate trace elements before the cold weather and possibly through winter? Maybe those of us who persist in growing sub tropical in cold climates just have to put up with slow growth in spring :cry:
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby sheepdawg » May 22nd, 2018, 4:28 pm

Yeah, I don't water my figs often during winter. Like today I went and watered my swampies etc and left my figs because they were damp and their last watering was 5 days ago. I can easily go 1.5 weeks without watering them during winter.

And yeah, I do keep them in a shade house, but that's where I house most of my bonsai. The reason for my shade house isn't sun protection, I originally built it to increase humidity for orchids and aerial roots and I've never looked back. I have very low humidity where I live (slightly north of toowoomba) and its extremely windy, before the shadehouse I never was able to grow aerial roots. But they also basically get sun all day in there.

And I grow MB, PJ, microcarpa, benji, and I think I have a watkinsiana.

And I think I might have found a reason for my slow spring growth. The reason I switched to Thrive was because my previous fert didn't have manganese in it (can't remember what it was), and I only switched to Thrive in the late spring. I did a bit of a scholar search and found that manganese is an important co-factor in nitrogen metabolism which affects photosynthetic rates, especially at colder temperatures. So I'm assuming here that I've been depriving my figs of manganese causing a deficiency and the slowed spring growth. I'll be hitting them with Thrive or Maxicrop this coming Spring, so we'll see if they're still slow.
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby Rory » May 22nd, 2018, 5:23 pm

sheepdawg wrote:Like today I went and watered my swampies etc and left my figs because they were damp and their last watering was 5 days ago. I can easily go 1.5 weeks without watering them during winter.


:o wow. The weather for Toowoomba has had no rain for the last 5 days. To me that is worrying that your mix stays damp if you've had no rain for the last 5 days, and sun with temps of 20/22 and its still damp. :lost:
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby dansai » May 23rd, 2018, 7:28 am

I'm with Rory as to WOW with your watering. At the moment I am water 2 out of 3 days with all my stock except some pines. I grow a lot of natives including figs. My grow area has about full sun for 4 to 6 hours this time of year depending on shading from trees. Our temp highs are in mid 20's and only had a couple of nights go below 10 before last week. Now getting lows between 5 and 10. Most natives, including the figs, are still growing and I'm amazed at how much I need to water. From past experience this will continue through winter with watering slowing down a bit. Although we can get 30's mid winter and winds which mean watering daily.

What mix are you using?

As to your figs being slow to take off in spring, what are you comparing them too? Deciduous species will show growth early. My Natives tend to keep growing through winter, although slowly. Figs need warm soil temps to get moving, so may take a bit longer to wake up.
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby Rory » May 23rd, 2018, 9:26 am

Sheepdawg, I'll give you an example of what I mean. I recently bought 2 MB figs, and the mix was very heavy (very being an understatement). I noticed that when placed next to the rest of my figs, it would require watering after about 6 or 7 days. My other figs were all dry by about the end of day 2, and really needing a good watering, with only a few still waiting until midday on day 3. Now this was a month ago, so I made the call and stripped off all the heavy soil from the roots of both these new figs, and repotted into a well draining mix. As I suspected, there was root rot evident in parts, because the mix just wasn't drying quick enough and had started to rot parts of it. Now it still takes a few days longer for the new mix to dry out for the 2 new figs because they aren't actively using all the soil yet, but not 6 or 7 days anymore, at least until the roots will settle in again. Also, with figs I actually prefer to keep the roots in a container that isn't much bigger than the root ball, just so they aren't bogged down either.
I made sure I didn't remove any foliage and kept as much as possible on. After 2 weeks I have noticed new growth forming at the tips and they are slowly recovering. If I had left these over winter, it may have rotted the entire root ball.

I'm not saying you have root rot, but if your mix is going 5 days and still damp (after 5 days of sun and no rain), you will eventually get root rot with figs.
Most of my casuarina grow almost at 70% the growth rate in winter, compared with summer, and the same for many Melaleucas. My figs probably grow at about 40% of their summer rate. So again I would really guess that its your mix. The other issue to consider is... Did you defoliate them recently? or Repot them and remove roots recently? If not, then you have definitely got a problem with your mix staying wet too long and not draining quick enough.
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby shibui » May 23rd, 2018, 7:04 pm

then you have definitely got a problem with your mix staying wet too long and not draining quick enough.

I just have to question your apparent absolute certainty here Rory. I think this statement is probably colored by your experience in your location. I know that I use a very free draining mix with all my trees but in the past few weeks have been able to go from twice a day to about 5 days between watering. The shorter days, cooler temperatures, more cloud cover and occasional light showers combine to really reduce water needs. Deciduous trees are also using less as the leaves shut down. That obviously won't affect natives but even they are going up to 5 days without additional watering.
Both you and Toowoomba will still have longer daylight than us southerners which may have some influence on water but I also suspect that the elevation at Toowoomba will have an impact on water versus a coastal situation.

I believe that it would be appropriate for Sheepdawg to consider the mix he/she is using in light of your excellent example (recently acquired MB figs in inappropriate mix) but to use local experience to dictate such an absolute blanket over the entire continent is a mistake :imo:
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby Rory » May 23rd, 2018, 8:40 pm

shibui wrote:
then you have definitely got a problem with your mix staying wet too long and not draining quick enough.

I just have to question your apparent absolute certainty here Rory. I think this statement is probably colored by your experience in your location. I know that I use a very free draining mix with all my trees but in the past few weeks have been able to go from twice a day to about 5 days between watering. The shorter days, cooler temperatures, more cloud cover and occasional light showers combine to really reduce water needs. Deciduous trees are also using less as the leaves shut down. That obviously won't affect natives but even they are going up to 5 days without additional watering.
Both you and Toowoomba will still have longer daylight than us southerners which may have some influence on water but I also suspect that the elevation at Toowoomba will have an impact on water versus a coastal situation.

I believe that it would be appropriate for Sheepdawg to consider the mix he/she is using in light of your excellent example (recently acquired MB figs in inappropriate mix) but to use local experience to dictate such an absolute blanket over the entire continent is a mistake :imo:


Yeah, I do get what you're saying Neil. I wasn’t blanket covering the continent, just Toowoomba, which I presumed was relevant because he was in toowoomba. However the 5 days prior to that post sheepdawg made, the recorded weather for Toowoomba was sun, up to 22 degrees. Where you are Neil, I would think would be somewhat more cooler and yes maybe you have had cloud, but if the weather report was correct with full sun, then I am very dubious. :beer: If I have 5 days of cloud and/or rain and cool temps then I could get to 5 days too, but this wasn't the case with the 5 days preceeding his post, which is why I made the comment. :). For what it’s worth, believe it or not, but we get higher rates of humidity than Toowoomba, which further reinforces my point. Our location is a basin of damp and humidity. So it should hypothesize that it would dry quicker in Toowoomba, but that was another assumption I made.

The other issue was he said, it was still damp after 5 days, and note he said...not needing a watering after 5 days, but still damp, after 5 days of full sun and no rain or cloud.
Now, he also mentioned he can go for up to 10.5 days easily throughout winter, which I find even more worrying for the roots, regardless of the drainage.

Of course I could be wrong and it was wrong of me to say he definitely has a mix problem, but if the mix is staying damp for that long, surely whether he has a drainage problem or not, I would think you are going to get root-rot surely?
Last edited by Rory on May 23rd, 2018, 9:01 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby shibui » May 24th, 2018, 7:45 pm

Just me being pedantic Rory. I certainly believe that looking at the mix (and/or pots for adequate drainage?) is a priority so hope Sheepdawg has done so. :tu:
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Re: Products/nutrients for ficus to help get through the cold?

Postby sheepdawg » May 31st, 2018, 9:58 am

Hey all. I'm comparing the relatively slow spring growth to my in-ground figs and my other plants (tridents, swampies, and grewia mainly). Maybe this isn't the best comparison because the in-ground ones are growing completely differently to the ones in pots, and the other plants are deciduous mainly.

Also about my mix. I use a cacti/succulent mix from the big green shed, and supplement it with large-ish perlite that I get from a local garden supply place (can't remember the brand, but it's about twice as course as the "Brunnings Perlite" that you get from that green shed). So it's a airy mix that drains nice and quickly.

I haven't noticed any root-rot, and my figs usually have nice fine, fibrous roots when I re-pot them.

I also haven't noticed any symptoms of overly wet roots, like no fungal infections or anything like that.

I should probably point out that I "measure" moisture levels differently during the colder months. For example, if I had two plants with the same dampness but one is in summer and the other is in winter, I would water the summer plant but not the winter plant for fear of over-watering. Perhaps I'm actually not watering enough during winter? Maybe the sun isn't drying out the upper layer of potting mix, but the plant is sucking all the moisture out the bottom layers, and I'm incorrectly judging the moisture content during winter.

So I'm starting to think that perhaps my figs are growing at a good pace in spring but I'm just doing unfair comparisons. And maybe I'm actually underwatering during winter. I'll do a little experiment and water half of my figs more regularly than the others and see what happens.
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