Fixing Root Structure2

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Fixing Root Structure2

Postby taffyman » Sun Mar 09, 2008 11:58 pm

This Ficus Benjamina Var: Baby Ben was on our block when we moved here. Whoever planted it didn't have a clue what they were doing. At that time the ground here was highly compacted - you couldn't even drive a crowbar into it. Even if it rained heavily for a day or more, if you scraped the ground with your shoe it was bone dry less than a centimetre down. They had dug a 'scrape' about 150mm deep, shoved this thing in and backfilled it. You can see the results in photo3 - heavy bulbous roots. Water just wasn't getting down to the roots so it was storing every drop it could. I decided to take it out and put it into a styrene box. It didn't take much doing, all I did was to give it a push and it fell over. The roots were very thick and heavily matted with very little in the way of feeder roots. Since putting it in the styrene box I've taken six air-layers off it so now it's time to do something with it. Although the trunk is fairly thick, those heavy bulbous roots look ugly and totally out of place, so I decided to try grafting some roots on and grow it on in the ground for a while. If they all take, I'll cut the whole bottom away and most likely graft some more roots on as well. The donor roots have all come from the rootball. I've put twelve roots on so far by cutting into the bark, cutting a wedge on the ends of the roots, lifting the bark and sliding the roots hard up under the little flaps. I then bound it all up with grafting tape and it is now in the ground with the soil built up over the grafted roots. It's planted alongside the other one I did and mounded just the same. It'll be interesting to see how many take, and how long they take to fuse. If some or all of them fail, then it's highly likely that the tree will send out new roots of its own from the wounds. I'm also going to try some other different ways of encouraging new roots on some other trees I want to put in the ground. I'll wrap some wire round the base of one trunk and twitch it up as tight as I can get it. The tree should then send out new roots from above the wire. On another one, I'll cut a very narrow groove right round the base of the trunk and again use a piece of wire embedded in the groove and twitched up tight with a pair of pliers. I may try galvanized fencing wire for this because it is a lot stronger than the copper coated wire I use to bend branches. I'll also try ring-barking a trunk as in a proper air-layer, wrapping damp sphagnum moss around it but instead of covering it with plastic sheet, I'll just bury the whole thing in the ground. That way, the roots should grow straight through the moss and on out into the soil. Each one I do, I'll take photos and post them. I'll be interested to see how each one goes and which is the most successful.

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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby lmrk » Tue Mar 11, 2008 2:58 pm

That's brilliant Taffy!!!! Can't wait to see how it turns out! When will you know if the grafts have "taken"? It's very interesting seeing the techniques you use to get the desired outcome (Y)
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby taffyman » Tue Mar 11, 2008 3:45 pm

About a month or two, and I should start seeing results Leah. If it was in Spring - or I lived in Cairns or Darwin right now, the results would be quicker. I've actually done five over the last couple of days - by four different methods to see which gives the better results. So I've got three more new topics to post. If anyone can think of other ways to improve the root spread, let me know and I'll try them as well.
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby TasV » Tue Mar 11, 2008 10:44 pm

Taffy, I've got a coulpe of fig (the guy I got them off called them strangler fig) here that I'm growing on for bonsai, and on one of them the top section died off and a shoot has shot up from below the soil level from a root. By putting in root grafts like this do you increase the chance of this happening and getting multiple shoots shooting up from the graft or below the graft? We would induce shooting on the trunks of ponytail palms by wounding the base of the trunk like this too :-?
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby taffyman » Wed Mar 12, 2008 1:26 am

It's not likely Tas, but is a possibility. If it does happen then I'll just rub them off. With these Benjaminas in particular I've never seen a shoot come from the roots. In fact, I've had roots come out the bottom of a black plastic and styrene boxes that have grown down into the ground. I've cut them off and although the roots will stay alive for many months they never shoot. A lot of figs will shoot from root cuttings - I know for sure that the Natal fig does. I had some roots grow out of a styrene box that I cut off, and about two months later I had quite a good little tree growing from the largest one.
Some figs can also be induced to send out shoots from the trunk by wounding them - but it is a hit and miss affair. Sometimes they do, other times they don't.
The term 'Strangler fig' is rather a misnomer - most figs can be Stranglers if the conditions are right. If a bird drops a seed in the top of a tree and there is enough moisture and food for it from leaf litter etc to germinate, it can send roots down the trunk of the host until they get to ground level. From there, more roots will come down and as they grow and thicken they will eventually suffocate and kill the host tree. The canopy of the fig also deprives the host tree of sunlight.
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby imonetwo » Wed Mar 12, 2008 8:27 am

Taffy the green island cuttings I took are now out of protection and growing happily on their own roots.We have been really lucky this year as summer was a lot longer than usual. We are only just starting to get cooler nights now even though the days are still hot and are going to be for another week or so.

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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby taffyman » Wed Mar 12, 2008 2:28 pm

Hey Tas, I've just found another one that does shoot from a wound/root. This is Ficus Glomerata Syn Ficus Racemosa or Cluster fig. I was going through my figs today because some have been attacked by small green caterpillar grubs - so I was on the hunt :twisted: As you can see, I cut a low branch off (about a year ago), and it put out a new root from the base of the wound, now I find this little branch growing from the root/wound.
Cluster fig is another misnomer, there are a number of figs referred to as Cluster fig.

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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby taffyman » Wed Mar 12, 2008 2:29 pm

That's great Eric. Let's hope they have had enough time to acclimatize before your winter sets in. The potted one should I reckon.
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby Pam » Wed Mar 12, 2008 3:42 pm

That cluster fig appears to have some fantastic bonsai potential, Taffy. Do you happen to have a spare, 'junk' one lying around that we (meaning 'you') could experiment upon?
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby TasV » Wed Mar 12, 2008 7:46 pm

Thanks Taffy (Y) When you root graft like that, will they ever combine to 'make' a buttress as they mature?
Or is there another way to 'make' a buttress because my understanding is that cutting grown figs rarely develop a buttress... is that right? I have a moreton bay fig seedling that I collected 9 years ago that is now living with my Mum in NSW that was developing a nice swollen trunk base and I think it will buttress, but I wasn't expecting these cutting grown figs (whatever species they are???) to develop one.

As an aside... can you believe the guy I got these little figs from had a larger one (about 40cm tall and very old), growing outside in Tasmania ALL YEAR ROUND :shock: Makes me want to put one in the ground! I have just the spot too :lol:
Last edited by TasV on Wed Mar 12, 2008 10:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby taffyman » Wed Mar 12, 2008 10:07 pm

You're right Tas, cutting grown figs rarely grow buttress roots (and Benjamina are one of the worst) and in Bonsai it is no different. In fact it would be more difficult with Bonsai to get proper buttress roots because their main purpose is to support that huge weight above them and stop them blowing over. In Bonsai, what is done is to grow/graft a profusion of roots all round the trunk and over time, as they thicken and fuse with the trunk and together, they give the impression of a huge tree with buttress roots. Follow the link below to give some idea what I mean. A lot of Australian native figs will, given time and care, produce a nice tapered trunk - wide at the base with a fairly quick taper. I'll take a photo of a Port Jackson with a really good taper, in a black plastic that I know was grown from a cutting. It would be magnificent if we could grow real buttress roots - I'd give just about all my trees for one good specimen like that. The old Moreton Bays and Port Jacksons you see in botanical gardens and parks are some of the most stately trees on the planet I reckon.
It would be possible to create buttresses artificially I reckon, but it would take many, many years, a lot of work and a lot of patience. How I see it is to build up a profusion of roots all round the trunk until you have a very wide base, and carve reasonably shallow grooves in between them, wait for the tree to repair the wounds and do it again going deeper. Keep doing this over many years and it would eventually look something similar to the natural Buttresses. No sorry, I don't have enough years left on this planet to even attempt something like that :cry:
If you've got the space Tas, why not put one in the ground, it would be interesting to see how it develops.

http://www.bonsai4me.com/SpeciesGuide/Ficus.html
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby taffyman » Wed Mar 12, 2008 11:16 pm

Pam wrote:That cluster fig appears to have some fantastic bonsai potential, Taffy. Do you happen to have a spare, 'junk' one lying around that we (meaning 'you') could experiment upon?


Sure do Pam - about 10 or 12 I think. What sort of experimenting are you interested in trying :-? :lol:
Seriously though, what do you have in mind?
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby Pam » Thu Mar 13, 2008 6:39 am

taffyman wrote:
Pam wrote:That cluster fig appears to have some fantastic bonsai potential, Taffy. Do you happen to have a spare, 'junk' one lying around that we (meaning 'you') could experiment upon?


Sure do Pam - about 10 or 12 I think. What sort of experimenting are you interested in trying :-? :lol:
Seriously though, what do you have in mind?


Well, Taffy, I found it rather interesting that it sent out a new growth where you'd taken off the other branch. I understand that if you dont take the branch off totally, it can reshoot, but in your situation I doubt this is likely to be the case.

Soooo, what I was wondering - if you wounded the tree at a random place, would it produce new shoots/roots from that spot?

For instance, encouraging a tree to form aerial roots, or a nice new branch on the curve of a trunk, where previously there was none. Clearly, thread grafting would be a far quicker way of achieving this one, I guess?!
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby TasV » Thu Mar 13, 2008 1:43 pm

In areas where it is not so humid aerial roots are harder to encourage right... could you do a bit of wounding on a horizontal branch and then do something like a marcot around it so it developed roots and then kind of encouraged the roots to keep developing downwards by wrapping something like a wick dangling in some water around the branch and roots where the wound is? Once they get to the ground it doesn't so much matter about the humidity right? And the roots grow pretty quickly too right?
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby taffyman » Thu Mar 13, 2008 6:15 pm

Wow, I love it when a topic generates a good bit of interest - whether it's mine or someone else's doesn't matter. The topic, questions and replies are the interesting parts - and to me, that's what forums are all about - sharing knowledge, information and experiences. I think that's just great!
Let's see what I can answer from that lot.
Pam, wounding the trunk or branches of a fig is one way of encouraging new growth, but it's very hit and miss. Sometimes the tree will put out new growth, sometimes it doesn't. Also, the tree decides what it wants to grow. Sometimes a root will sprout, others a branch will. Thread grafting is definitely a better way of placing a branch exactly where you want it.
Tas, in your climate it isn't easy to grow aerial roots naturally, so yes if you wound a branch on the underside you can encourage roots to grow. Just putting a slit in the branch probably wouldn't work, it would most likely heal over, but if you took a bit of bark off, like a small 'window' and did what you suggested, it's highly likely you'd get roots to grow. Once the roots get to the soil, humidity no longer has a part in it. Oh yes, once the roots get to the soil they sure do grown pretty quick - they will also tighten themselves up so they are pretty near straight. Another way would be to cut the small window on the underside of the branch and wrap in your wick idea or damp sphagnum moss. When you see a root growing, take the covering off - with care! At this stage the roots are very fragile. Then get a plastic straw and slit it all the way down one side. Slide the root into it and place the bottom of the straw into the soil. Put a bit of tape down the straw where the slit is, fill the straw with fine sand and water it well. The root will find its way to the soil, and when it has, take the straw off (that's why there is a slit down the length of the straw).
Two further points to think about:
1. If the root freezes during your winter, there is a very high likelyhood it will die because the cells rupture, so the tree would need winter protection. When the root has thickened considerably, winter protection isn't so critical - but if it was me, I'd still do it anyway.
2. When an aerial root on a branch grows and thickens, it takes over feeding the branch from where it is to the tip. What you find then is the branch will thicken from the root to the tip, but stay as it is from the root to the trunk. So you end up with a branch that starts out one size from the trunk and increases in thickness from the root out to the end. There's an example below. I was going to post this in a seperate post. The tree in that photo was originally an air-layer, but when I severed it from the parent, I forgot to strip the bark off the lower piece. Consequently, not only has it got roots from the air-layer, it also has them at the bottom. The thing is though, that the air-layer roots have taken over feeding the tree and the trunk where they are is thicker than the lower section of the trunk. The blue arrows show the thicker section as opposed to what it is at the red arrows (the white arrows are the air-layer roots). Although this is on the trunk, it also happens just the same on the branches. Two ways of avoiding this sort of thing is 1. To have a number of roots along the length of the branch and 2. Make sure there is some foliage or another branch between the root and the trunk. That will ensure the trunk still has something to keep supplying and so will thicken up that part of the branch naturally.

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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby taffyman » Thu Mar 13, 2008 7:45 pm

Here are the pics of the reasonably thick trunk base I mentioned earlier. This one was grown from a cutting, and it shows what I said about our native figs readily producing good tapered trunks. This one is about 5 years old and the base is close to 100mm in diameter.The cutting would have been about 5-6mm dia. I forgot about taking the photos today, so apologize for the weeds in the pot - put it down to being afraid of the dark
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Re: Fixing Root Structure2

Postby TasV » Thu Mar 13, 2008 8:02 pm

Very cool (Y) My little figs are kept indoors in a sunroom and turned freqently so they don't grow lop-sided. Freezing won't be a problem. If anything I think I'll have to stand the pots in a tray of wet sand or gravel and mist it frequently as the wood fire dries out the air too much. They only go outdoors during late spring to mid autumn when it's raining, or on those still warm evenings we've been getting lately.

2. Make sure there is some foliage or another branch between the root and the trunk. That will ensure the trunk still has something to keep supplying and so will thicken up that part of the branch naturally.


I like this idea a lot... I have this idea of growing a fig over a rock in a cascade style (kind of...) and as it cascades down the face of the rock some aerial roots would come down as it neared the soil below and then anchor it at the bottom as though it was tavelling down the slope... now I know how to do it (Y)
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