Trying not to kill this thing!

Forum for discussion of Tropical bonsai – Ficus, Bougainvillea, Fukien Tea, Dwarf Umbrella etc.
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mfry1379
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Joined: May 12th, 2019, 8:02 pm
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Location: Sydney - Penrith

Trying not to kill this thing!

Post by mfry1379 » May 12th, 2019, 8:30 pm

Hi All,

So first of all, a little context, I have been telling my mother (an avid gardener) and my father (an avid bonsai gardener) for about 15 years that "one day I will do Bonsai" because I think it is cool. The problem is, Dad who would probably be able to teach me everything lives 1000 kms west of me, and mum, who as you will see, knows bugger all about Bonsai, but at least knows plants, lives 600 kms north. But due to my interest I have been given books, and have been given a tool kit, so I guess I have what I need to do Bonsai... except the know-how. The hold back is that I don't want to destroy some poor tree because I am a twit and get it wrong.

Mum recently was told due to health she can no longer work with dirt, so she gave away a lot of her plants, and she arrived on my doorstep with the tree pictured. It is, as far as I can gather, a 17 year old pot bellied fig. It was 8 years old when mum bought it, and she has had it for 9 years.

The issue is I have absolutely no idea what to do with it. I water it once or twice a week with a spray of the hose, and I keep it under the eves of the house so it gets morning sun, but hopefully is protected from the more harsh weather. Mum also worries that the frost will kill it (winter is coming).

I haven't yet been able to find the time to get to a class, or to get to the local bonsai club with this thing, and I was doing some googling and found this forum. So I have two questions:

Can anyone give me some advice for looking after this tree (so as not to kill it) as a first question, and secondly, where would you start trying to fix it? It may be that I shouldn't try anything until I get to a class or a club, but I am interested in thoughts. My first thought is a bigger pot, but then I have all the issues of the right soil and drainage and so forth. I am happy to try it out on my own, but killing a 17 year old tree because I am a twit would feel pretty horrible.

Thoughts? Help?
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shibui
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Re: Trying not to kill this thing!

Post by shibui » May 12th, 2019, 8:55 pm

First, the good news: Ficus are one of the hardiest trees for bonsai. In fact, they are difficult to kill. Just keep watering when the mix gets a bit dry. You have a lot more leeway because it is a ficus so even if it does get a bit too dry it will probably manage. How often to water depends on the time of year and local weather so just keep monitoring soil moisture and water if it feels dry.
Ficus can manage to survive even when not repotted often enough, and, even in pots that are way too small. Now is not the best time to repot ficus. They respond best to root pruning in warmer weather so most of us repot in late spring or summer. Your tree should manage until then. That should give time to find out about how, what potting mix and to find a pot.
When the time comes you can cut more than half the existing roots when repotting. That will allow room for new roots to grow.
Ficus can be frost sensitive but they are also one of the easiest trees to keep indoors so in cool areas growers bring ficus inside for most of the winter. Find a bright spot near a window but preferably not in full afternoon sun. Check water more often when in a heated or air conditioned room because that causes low humidity and the tree will dry out more quickly. In light frost areas figs are usually OK under protection of a verandah. Often the house walls will provide enough heat to keep areas close to the house frost free.
Figs love fertiliser when they are growing. Feed with any plant fertiliser every 2-4 weeks. A bit less in winter because growth will be slower.

Your fig has not been pruned for some time by the look. They respond really well to pruning so you can cut without any need to worry. For the moment just shorten any branches that look too long. At some stage you should consider which side looks best and try to prune to make it look like an attractive tree by encouraging good looking branches and removing the ones that don't look so attractive. Again, there is no urgency in running this ficus. Pruning can be done any time because ficus respond very well to pruning.
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