Let Your Ficus Grow Before Repotting and Defoliation

Summer is a busy time for people who love and grow a lot of sub-tropical and tropical bonsai. I live in Southeast Texas, and start to repot, defoliate and wire my ficus in June. By this time the Texas heat is intense, daily temperature is in the 90s with heat index over 100ºF; it is very hot working outside even under the shade. I repot my ficus later than what most people living in Zone 9 would do because I want my trees to take advantage of spring growth spurt before doing any major maintenance work. You may have read advises such as repot tropical trees when the night temperature is above 60ºF. That is correct for safety reason but it does not mean you have to plunge right into it when the weather warms up. Just take it easy and let your tree grow, let them become healthy and strong before repotting and defoliation.

Our last frost date is around third week of March. In early April I moved my ficus out of the greenhouse and let them sit under full sun in open air. Ficus grows virtually year round for us, when over wintering in greenhouse they just slowed down their growth, hardly noticeable but definitely continue to grow. That’s why I do not remove my fertilizer in winter. Once outside, with plenty of sunshine, fertilizer and water, there is a sudden surge in new growths. I let them have about 2 months of growth to gain vigors before starting any work.

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The ficus are in open space on the south east side of the yard. Full sun till around 2 p.m. when the oak tree which is about 40 feet away begins to block the afternoon sun and casts some shadows.

I put my fertilizer in tea bags and placed them on top of the soil surface. A lot of new roots grow underneath the tea bags, and some may even grow into it. I move the tea bags around every few weeks.

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Fine root mass formed underneath the tea bags.

How much is two months of spring growth?

These two Tiger Bark photos were taken around mid-June. The lighter, larger green leaves are the new growths, the dark green smaller leaves are from last year.

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This large Ficus microcarpa (Tiger Bark) put out a lot of new growths from April to mid-June. The round pot is 24″, and the tree width is probably 4-ft. across. Just went out to measure, the width is 54″!

Both trees are now ready for defoliation. For curiosity, I measured how much growth they put out in spring months.

Weaker shoots put out about 2″ growth.

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Stronger shoots put out about 4″ new growth.

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Some shoots grow very strong like they are on steroid, more correctly high on auxin trip. Keep them if you want the branch to thicken, if not, just cut them back.

Leaves are food factory for trees. Ficus loves sun, water and fertilizer. The more leaves they have, the more rigorous the growth. When they begin to shade out the inner branches, it is time to cut back and defoliate. Just be aware that overgrown shoots will eventually shade out the inner and weaker branches, and cause die-back. Exercise controls as needed.