SFusion
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Advice for a new Ficus Microcarpa?

Hello all!

I received a Ficus Microcarpa Bonsai for Christmas, and I would love some advice on caring for it!

I've done a TON of reading on this forum and the other recommend reading sites. It's already losing a few leaves everyday (I've read this is common and probably because it's been moved around several times the last few weeks before christmas)

As requested in this thread:

Identification: I believe this is a Ficus Microcarpa Bonzai (is it also called a Ginseng?)

Location: Middle Tennessee

Age/History: Age Unknown? Bought from Sams Club a few weeks ago

Watering/Care: A tag on the plant suggested placing 8 ice cubes in the box (supposedly equal to 2/3 of a cup of water) once per week. They thought it was getting dried out, so gave it a good dose of water two days ago - It still feels damp within the first half inch or so right now.

Soil and Pot: A decorative wooden box, but the plant itself is in a cheap shallow plastic potter. Soil seems like regular potting soil from a commercial seller.

Rocks: There was pea gravel on top of the plant, but I took it off as recommended by several threads here.

Lighting and Location: This is up for debate. I'll be going back to my own house (at my parents currently) and it will get a new home on Thursday. (I'm worried about transportation - it's ~35 degrees and sleeting out right now)

Currently I just have to it sitting under a 100W CF Bulb in the living room. Near a large window but not drafty.

Growing outdoors: I'm definitely willing to grow outdoors, but I believe that's only for summertime for this species.



So, basics out of the way, I want to keep things simple in the beginning and focus first on Not-Killing-It and secondly on good growth going into the growing season. I'm happy to be patient about beautifying and shaping until after I am more experienced with the plant and bonsai care.

1. Light - I plan on putting this plant in the line of light from a large triple-wide french door at my house, but away from possible drafts.

I plan on supplementing with a 100W CF Bulb in a reading lamp placed as close as I can get it to the tree.

Watering:
I plan on monitoring closely over the next few weeks to learn how much the plant needs. I will add a good dose of water (or two or three) whenever the first 1/2 inch of soil is dry.

Soil and Re-potting: - This is the point where am I most confused. I've read a lot in the soil sticky on this forum, but I still have no idea what to do.

Should I re-pot now and get it out of the cheap plastic mess ASAP or wait until spring?

Should I try to trim the roots now?


Next, as mentioned above, I have to go back to my own house (about 2 1/2 hours drive to east tennessee) in weather that is 30-40 degrees at most. Any advice for this transportation later this week?

Finally, although I plan on being patient with the beautification process, I have to ask about the large cut section across the main trunk. Obviously this wasn't bought from a professional bonzai seller. Are there strategies that can overcome this?

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Gnome
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SFusion,

You seem to have done the basic research so I'll just comment on a few things. Make sure that the potting arrangement still allows for proper drainage. Are there holes in both containers? Water thoroughly, not shallowly, but then monitor the soil carefully before watering again, think frequency not quantity which should always be copious.

Warm weather is the preferred time to re-pot Ficus, not hard and fast just preferable. If it was an emergency you could do it now but I would wait for now if I could. Allow the plant and yourself to become accustomed to the new situation.

Don't feel bad about confusion over soil, everyone has their own thoughts and preferences when it comes to this subject. What, specifically is unclear?

Definitely outside during warm weather, the plant will really appreciate it and you will see just how much it should be growing when active. Mine don't do much during winter, just coast until summer.

Norm

SFusion
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Gnome,

Thanks for your quick reply.

As far as the Pot/Watering situation - I haven't actually pulled the cheap plastic pot all the way out of the decorative box yet.

I've felt around and figured out that it is there, but pulling it out will dump the soil everywhere, so I hadn't done that. I figured the less I could disturb it the better. But it sounds like I'll need to do that because the box has no drain holes and is definitely not meant to get soaking wet.

You asked what was unclear:

Biggest question right now: Should I repot right now? It's losing a few leaves (3-6) everyday, but there seems to be new leaf buds at the top as well. The plastic pot does drain (I think) but obviously the box does not.

Other question: I will be travelling with the plant tomorrow in nasty cold weather. Any survival strategies you could recommend for the trip to keep from killing the plant would be great. (Appx 2 1/2 hours in the car - ~35 degrees outside)

Less Urgent: Obviously from the pics you can see the large cut space where the plant was trimmed back to be "Bonsai" - With the right care, will this grow over so that I can make it look like a "proper" Bonzai eventually?

Thanks again for your help!

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Gnome
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SFusion,

First things first, if it's not already too late. Perhaps put it in a box in the warm home rather than take it outside 'naked' Next make sure that the car is warmed up. I think you should be OK for a few hours if the car stays relatively warm.

As far as re-potting; my strong preference would be for you to attempt to stabilize it for now and await summer to re-pot. If you give it good light and monitor your watering habits carefully there is a good chance it will improve.

Norm

SFusion
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Norm,

Thanks for the advice!

For the car trip home, I put the whole thing down inside a cardboard box, then put that down in a large black trash bag, which created an air pocket around the box and plant. I took that out to a warm car and drove the 2 1/2 hours home. The plant seemed to do fine.

I've got him set up in his new home now and under a bright light.

I got a 55w CF bulb (the package says it replaces a 200w conventional bulb) and puts out 3860 lumens. It was the biggest thing they had at walmart.

In the picture below you can see I've concentrated the light directly on and as close to the tree as I can get it. (The bottom of the bulb is about 4-6 inches from the top of the plant)

The tree seems to be doing better already because no more leaves have fallen off since I set this up.

In light of Norm's advice I've decided to wait until warm weather to attempt re-potting. I'm monitoring the moisture carefully. It's still slightly damp within the top 1/2 inch of soil, so I'm just waiting for now. It will probably be due a good soaking tomorrow morning, or the next day.

What do you think of the light set up?


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manofthetrees
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oh yeah thats enough light the aluminium foil really isnt needed with the light output of that bulb ...ficus like to have their leaves misted daily they absorb alot of water that way, you can also fertalize them with a highly diluted solution misted on the leaves once a month.

as for the scar it will take some advanced techniques to resolve it quicker...you can make the straight cut into a "v" ,an approach graft or a tread graft will also speed up the process. cuttings can be rooted quite easily to use for the 2 latter process ,but these will take some research and time to acheive

SFusion
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Manofthetrees,

Thanks for the help. Sorry for the really late response.
aluminium foil really isnt needed with the light output of that bulb
The foil is actually for me more than the plant. The bulb is huge and sticks out way below the edge of the lamp. Looking at an unshaded 200w bulb isn't fun for anybody so I covered it.

It's been a little over a month now and the Ficus seems to be doing great. There are new tiny buds and new leaves busting out all over the place.

I've been diligent about watering, but I actually don't have a spray bottle yet so I need to get one of those.
as for the scar it will take some advanced techniques to resolve it quicker...you can make the straight cut into a "v" ,an approach graft or a tread graft will also speed up the process. cuttings can be rooted quite easily to use for the 2 latter process ,but these will take some research and time to acheive
Thanks for the advice. Like I said, I'm not in a huge hurry, but it's nice to know. - I'll do my research, thank you for the starting point.

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Gnome
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SFusion,

Glad to hear that your Ficus has stabilized. I agree that styling is not the issue at the moment, good things to begin researching though. Your next hurdle will be to understand the basics of bonsai soil, or there is always the option of simply purchasing a small quantity.

Next the question of the pot. Please don't take this the wrong way but are you in this for the 'long haul' or do you wish to display something sooner?

You can always pot a younger tree in a bonsai pot but this tends to slow development. If you are looking to the future it would be better to use a more utilitarian pot of sufficient area. I say 'sufficient area' because you can overdo it.

While a bonsai pot will slow development, a greatly oversize one can also be a problem. It's like Goldilocks, you have hit the right size, not too big, but not to small. You could always 'split the difference' and use a somewhat over sized bonsai pot, just don't go too big.

Norm

SFusion
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Norm,

I completely understand what you mean. I am definitely in it for the long haul. I know this little tree is years away from a bonsai pot.

As you mentioned, the next thing I need to figure out is what pot to put it in this coming spring. I only have other house plants which are in cheap clay pots.

Should I just use one of those? If so, what size? perhaps 6 or 8 inch? I believe the little plastic tray the tree is in now is about 8 inches in diameter, but very shallow.

And of course I need to research soil. I know everybody has their own opinions about that, and there are some great thread around here already, so I'll read up.

If anyone knows any specific recommendations for Ficus bonsai soil in particular I'd love to hear them.

Thanks again for all the help

imafan26
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I'm glad your ficus is doing fine. Ficus almost always will drop leaves when it goes from a light to dark situation. But it is forgiving, even if you don't amp up the light the new leaves will acclimate. When you take your ficus outside it needs to be hardened off again otherwise the leaves burn.
Ficus roots can be trimmed to stay in a relatively small pot.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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