Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Mother Tree

This is the Mother Tree. She's about 9" tall and 16" across the long way. My sister in law gave her to me, she had her at work but she just didn't have the environment to let it thrive. That happens sometimes, in offices particularly. She looks like a savanna tree because of the way she's been pruned, it's pretty cool.

She was really pot bound when I got her. When I repotted her I scraped away some of the top soil exposing these awesome nebari (nebari is a bonsai term for exposed roots, in case you didn't know). They look like frog legs.I've taken about eight cuttings from her, all of them were rooting in water as I mentioned in my first post about propagation. Except for one that met with a falling mishap all have been doing fine. At least so far as the people who have them tell me. Heh. The ones I have are growing quite well. One is ~14" high and one of the cups has two cuttings one of them ~10" and the other growing off at all kinds of weird angles. I'll do a post about them some other time. But, here is proof that propagating ficuses in water works. Well, internet proof anyway.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to Care for Ficus Benjamina

Alright, kids, this is going to be a constantly updated post. I'm going to be putting not only what I know in here (or suspect at least, heh), but also any reader tips I get. Eventually I'm going to go through my books and bookmarked websites and put some actual numbers up here, but for now I'm just going to run down the basics. If you have any tips you want to share just leave them in the comment section and I will add them, with attribution of course.

Ficus benjamina is a tropical, but it's very popular as a house plant since it can thrive year round indoors. It's also often used for bonsai. So, here's what I know off the top of my head.

Light: Ficus benjamina likes lots of bright, indirect sunlit although some direct light is ok. No more than a couple hours of direct light a day, though. I've had good luck with grow lights too.

Water: They like it moist, but not sopping wet. You should water them when the first 1/2" or so of soil is dry. I'll be putting better details up on this up eventually, since over watering is one of, if not the top killers of house plants. Now, you've probably heard this before, but don't put them (or any houseplant) on a regular watering schedule, that's wicked bad for them. Water them only when they need it.

Temperature: Ficus benjamina like it warm, being a tropical. I've always heard they need to stay above 55 degrees F, but I once had some cuttings sit in an unheated room in an apartment in Boston in December for a week and they all survived. It definitely dropped below freezing many times. I still try to keep them above 55, usually around 57-65 in the winter and who know what in the summer, maybe 75-90s. I live in New England, we get pretty thorough temperature fluctuations.

Humidity: They love humidity, freshly rooted cuttings in particular really want a humidity tent. If the humidity is high enough they will put off air roots too, which are wicked cool. Although I did once make a humidity tent that was too tightly sealed and almost killed one of them. It got all moldy, it was weird and gross. I washed the ficus off and gave the tent better air circulation and it survived just fine though.

Food: Honestly, I don't feed them that much. I've used liquid fertilizer but didn't like it. I've also used that MiracleGro constant feed potting soil. When I used that I used it cut with regular soil since I've heard that it's a bit much for ficus' on it's own. It's worked well for me so far, the tree's are all growing.

The picture up top is my first one, I call her the Mother Tree. My sister in law gave her to me, all my benjamina cuttings have come from her.

I like ficus benjamina a lot, partly because of the one in my dining room when I was a kid. My mom has always been very fond of them and our dining room had lots of windows. There was a corner that got constant, bright, indirect light, it was perfect and the tree loved it. Heh, I remember my dad complaining once that it was too big when it was hitting the ceiling, which was really pretty high. My mom said that that's the way she liked it. It was almost always touching the ceiling. One of my childhood cats liked it too, but for a litter box. We eventually had to cover it with rocks too big for her to dig at easily. She wasn't very well behaved.

Friday, January 22, 2010

How to Propagate Ficus Benjamina: Part 1

Ok, this is going to be a real time houseplant blogging extravaganza. Excited yet? Heh, it helps that it's going to take months. This afternoon I took a cutting off my largest ficus and put it in a cup of water. This, my friends, is the first step towards propagating a tree in water. Not too far fetched, I know. Heh. I am going to blog it's progress over the next several months. First though, I'm going to give a quick overview of how I do this whole thing.

Now, I've read a lot of articles, blog posts, etc on the differing ways to propagate a ficus and this is the only method I've used and had work for me. I've tried just plunking a cutting right into the dirt, with and without rooting compound, and it didn't work. I've tried air layering and it didn't work. But rooting them in water has worked every time.

All you have to do is cut off a piece of new growth from your ficus. You want it to not be completely green, but not barky yet. You can kind of tell in this picture. Heh, plant photography is a bit different than food photography. I've had the best luck with branches that have 4-5 leaves, around 5-6" long. I cut off most of the leaves, leaving the two at the top. Then you just put it cut side down into a cup full of water and put it in bright indirect light. And wait. There's a lot of waiting. But within a couple weeks you'll see little white roots. I'm keeping it in front of a south facing window, next to it's mother. They get some late afternoon direct sunlight, but not too much. Ficus benjamina don't want too much direct sun, but some isn't bad. If the leaves start looking bleached the tree is getting too much.

You want to change the water every 4-5 days, making sure to be really careful when the roots start coming out to not hurt them. Once you have good roots you just transfer them to a pot. But we'll get to that later. So, that's how you do it. Further updates as events warrant.

Other ficus benjamina propagation posts:  Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Post One: In Which I Introduce Myself and Explain My Deal

Hi, I'm Bob. I usually blog about cooking over at Cooking Stuff. This, however, is going to be a blog where I catalog my limited knowledge and continuing experiments with growing houseplants in my apartment. I've had a certain amount of success with ficus' in particular, both keeping them alive and propagating them.

Propagation is what most of my posts are going to be about since it's really my favorite part. I tend to have more cuttings than space, so most of the people I know have been pressured into taking at least one. I've rooted ficus benjamina, ficus elastica and pothos successfully, all in water. I'm focusing mostly on the benjamina because I like them best. Eventually I intend to branch out into bonsai, but first I'm learning the ins and outs of keeping plants alive in a drafty apartment in New England. I don't want to spend all that effort in shaping a tree just to have it die in the first winter.

But that's it, really. Soon I'll be putting up a post about propagating ficus benjamina.