This is a Variegated Ficus Benjamina that has just started life as the top of an aerial-layer. It was kindly given to me yesterday. I've never seen any fig put out roots in an aerial-layer south of Darwin as quick as this one did. From the time the layer was put on it took about two weeks before the ball of moss was full of roots. The aerial-layer was put on round about 28th of February of this year. When the sphagnum moss was full of new roots it was severed and put into the blue pot you can see in the first photo. Today, I took it out of the blue pot and the roots are already out to the sides of the pot - this is one tough cookie
I didn't disturb the roots at all because they are still very tender and easily broken, so they are still wrapped up in the sphagnum moss. I just put it straight into the styrene box to grow it on a bit quicker.
You can see by the second photo taken from the side that it doesn't have much depth to it (very little on the back):
The third photo shows where some of the branches at the back have been wired down to give it more depth:
The next photo is from the front and the low branch on the right is an example of what I said on Dr. Dunc's Juniper about not having anything growing below a branch unless you want to change the direction of the branch. The branch marked by the yellow arrow will be removed and the branch marked by the blue arrow will be wired up a bit to become the new lower branch. Up the top, I want to reduce the height of the tree, and the orange arrow points to a little shoot that will become the new leader The branch angling out to the right will be cut off later on.
From the front between the two branches marked by the red arrow there are no branches growing out that side. I need a branch between them and there are a number of ways of achieving it. I could try injuring the bark where I want the new branch to hopefully encourage the tree to put out a new shoot there (and it does work sometimes), I can graft a branch directly onto the trunk or I can 'thread-graft' another branch on :
I'll explain thread-grafting at the end of this post.
I have done very little pruning at this stage - only the odd leaf here and there, because it is still virtually a cutting with some roots on it so I want as much foliage as possible to feed the new root system. That's why it looks so 'scrappy' and the moment. When I know that it has put out some decent roots, then I'll get in and prune and wire it more to shape. Bear in mind what you see here is only the first stage of very basic shaping. I reckon it should start taking shape in about six months and within a year it will be quite a presentable small tree.
Now, I'm sure you'd like to see the tree that is came off so if you ask nicely, I'm sure the lovely lady that gave me this one will be happy to post photos of it (I'm pretty sure she has some photos of the aerial-layer on the tree and when it was severed)
. I won't name her, she might not want to
Again, if she does, bear in mind it is in the first stages of training - it isn't a finished tree, but the potential is great.
Now, for those that don't know what a thread-graft is. A shoot is allowed to grow wild for a few months or more. When it is of the desired length, a hole is drilled right through the trunk where the new branch is wanted and just a little bit larger than the thickness of the branch. All the leaves are stripped off the branch back as far as is necessary (but you don't cut off the very tip - that's where it's growing from). The branch is threaded through the hole in the trunk very carefully as far as it will safely go and secured in place - wire the branch where it curves round before going through the trunk. You need to make sure the branch can't move at all otherwise it won't take. If you have any proper 'cut paste' or even plasticine, seal around the branch both sides where it goes through the trunk - even a thin film of silastic will do the job. Then LEAVE IT ALONE - don't try and bend it, don't move it - don't even breath on it - till you can see that the branch coming out of the trunk is thicker than where it goes in. That means it has fused with the trunk and is now being fed by it. You can then cut the branch off from the back and Viola! you have a new branch where you want it. This is a very effective way of grafting. We put four thread grafts on a friends Bougainvillea one afternoon. Three of them took - the fourth would have, but his dog broke it off where it came out of the trunk.