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Finally, I found out why my plants died


miamicuse

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For about 3 years now, if I put potted plants under my Ficus benjamina to give them some shade.  Many of them end up doing really badly no matter what I did.

They would do well for a few months then they started to weaken.  No bugs no infestation just slowly wilting.

So I have a few dozens of Licuala seedlings in tall tree pots, some are doing well, but half a dozen of them died.  Really strange.  I raised the tree pots up and they were full of roots, so they are so full of roots that I need to upsize the pots?

Upon close examination, these roots are not from the Licuala palm seedlings, they are from the Ficus benjamina!  The fertilizer and water I gave to the potted plants drew the roots from the ficus up through the drain holes into the pots and stole everything from the plants that were there.

and for a while I didn't understand how these thriving plants would be doing so well they grew roots quick because I would put them down and two months in I tried to move the pots and they would be stuck and I thought oh wow it must like this spot to put roots down so fast but it's not their roots but the ficus rooting up!

Now I am putting a paver under every pot if they are within 50 feet of the ficus so I can spot the ficus roots.

IMG-20230917-184602.jpg

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Ficus (fici?) are beasts. Their roots are incredibly aggressive. The banyan comes to mind. It's nevertheless surprising to me what your benjamina did.  

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2 hours ago, miamicuse said:

For about 3 years now, if I put potted plants under my Ficus benjamina to give them some shade.  Many of them end up doing really badly no matter what I did.

They would do well for a few months then they started to weaken.  No bugs no infestation just slowly wilting.

So I have a few dozens of Licuala seedlings in tall tree pots, some are doing well, but half a dozen of them died.  Really strange.  I raised the tree pots up and they were full of roots, so they are so full of roots that I need to upsize the pots?

Upon close examination, these roots are not from the Licuala palm seedlings, they are from the Ficus benjamina!  The fertilizer and water I gave to the potted plants drew the roots from the ficus up through the drain holes into the pots and stole everything from the plants that were there.

and for a while I didn't understand how these thriving plants would be doing so well they grew roots quick because I would put them down and two months in I tried to move the pots and they would be stuck and I thought oh wow it must like this spot to put roots down so fast but it's not their roots but the ficus rooting up!

Now I am putting a paver under every pot if they are within 50 feet of the ficus so I can spot the ficus roots.

IMG-20230917-184602.jpg

Makes sense..  Ficus roots are notorious for getting into ...anything...  if conditions are ideal.

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7 hours ago, Silas_Sancona said:

Makes sense..  Ficus roots are notorious for getting into ...anything...  if conditions are ideal.

Do yourself a favour get rid of the ficus before you get a huge plumbing bill and make enemies with your neighbours for blocking there drain pipes with tree roots not mention blockout out there sunlight 

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The paver won't stop it from rooting into the pots. Inevitably a wandering surface root will find them, then find a way in. NEVER underestimate a ficus.

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6 hours ago, happypalms said:

Do yourself a favour get rid of the ficus before you get a huge plumbing bill and make enemies with your neighbours for blocking there drain pipes with tree roots not mention blockout out there sunlight 

Dense, high canopy shade, in a place where it can be 110F+ for 55 days/yr,  Overnight lows of 90F+  36-40 days/yr  = a priceless commodity in the desert, especially in my back yard lol. Full sun here = not so welcoming.

If i could remove it, the F. microcarpa / nitida in the yard would be replaced w/ one of our native / regionally native Ficus sp.  ...Or one of the taller Bursera sp, that grow just south of AZ. / another dense, shade-producing, near native tree like Swietenia humilis  ...If i could get fresh seed from Baja Sur  / Sinaloa. 

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3 hours ago, Silas_Sancona said:

Dense, high canopy shade, in a place where it can be 110F+ for 55 days/yr,  Overnight lows of 90F+  36-40 days/yr  = a priceless commodity in the desert, especially in my back yard lol. Full sun here = not so welcoming.

If i could remove it, the F. microcarpa / nitida in the yard would be replaced w/ one of our native / regionally native Ficus sp.  ...Or one of the taller Bursera sp, that grow just south of AZ. / another dense, shade-producing, near native tree like Swietenia humilis  ...If i could get fresh seed from Baja Sur  / Sinaloa. 

I see the situation at hand in that case go the shade for sure fast growing to get the shade I see your reason for keeping them smart move in those temperatures for sure I fully don’t know the climate zones of your country thanks for sharing your climate we get temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius plus with the hot northern winds in Australia that you can cook an egg in 

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45 minutes ago, happypalms said:

I see the situation at hand in that case go the shade for sure fast growing to get the shade I see your reason for keeping them smart move in those temperatures for sure I fully don’t know the climate zones of your country thanks for sharing your climate we get temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius plus with the hot northern winds in Australia that you can cook an egg in 

42-45C pretty much every day here Late May thru..mid / late August.. 47- 49C occurs w/ regularity..  In many neighborhood backyards, 50C is common on the hottest days ...esp. if a dry summer like this year..  I'd say our climate would be similar to somewhere in the interior of Aus..

Florida, where the OP is at,  is hot ...but nothing like here.  Humid and rains a lot more there too.  Ficus are usually only a problem here if planted in a really small space.  

Only issue w/ a lot of fast growing trees is they can be wind throw / limb shatter targets in Monsoon windstorms.. Plenty of slower / steady shade creating tree options -that hold up better in wind storms, and handle long duration extreme heat pretty well-,  ..they're just harder to find / require research ..and maybe a trip to locate / collect seed of.. Doesn't help when nurseries pander to impatient folks here that don't comprehend the advantage of  " slow N' steady ",  vs. " grow as fast as you can so i can impress someone else".. 

....The " Keeping up with the Joneses " disease as some call it.  

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10 hours ago, Silas_Sancona said:

Dense, high canopy shade, in a place where it can be 110F+ for 55 days/yr,  Overnight lows of 90F+  36-40 days/yr  = a priceless commodity in the desert, especially in my back yard lol. Full sun here = not so welcoming.

If i could remove it, the F. microcarpa / nitida in the yard would be replaced w/ one of our native / regionally native Ficus sp.  ...Or one of the taller Bursera sp, that grow just south of AZ. / another dense, shade-producing, near native tree like Swietenia humilis  ...If i could get fresh seed from Baja Sur  / Sinaloa. 

A couple thoughts come to mind: 1) Why not go to Mexico, and make some Fig Newtons with your bounty, then hide some Bursera seeds in the cookies. 2) Move to a location where you can create such a garden.

Hi 101˚, Lo 66˚

 

Casas Adobes - NW of Tucson since July 2014

formerly in the San Carlos region of San Diego

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6 minutes ago, Tom in Tucson said:

A couple thoughts come to mind: 1) Why not go to Mexico, and make some Fig Newtons with your bounty, then hide some Bursera seeds in the cookies. 2) Move to a location where you can create such a garden.

Hi 101˚, Lo 66˚

 

Could do it here,  but will enjoy -not enduring more 110F summers / better overall growing conditions  from CA. 

Who, under 65-ish, still eats Fig Newtons??, 🤣 ....Would you like a T.V. Dinner with them??  :floor2: 

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17 minutes ago, Silas_Sancona said:

Could do it here,  but will enjoy -not enduring more 110F summers / better overall growing conditions  from CA. 

Who, under 65-ish, still eats Fig Newtons??, 🤣 ....Would you like a T.V. Dinner with them??  :floor2: 

I think younger Mexicans (in Nogales) still eat them (Bimbo brand?), or come up with a more clever way to smuggle them in.

When are you moving back to "the land of fruits and nuts"?

Hi 101˚, Lo 66˚

Casas Adobes - NW of Tucson since July 2014

formerly in the San Carlos region of San Diego

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11 hours ago, Silas_Sancona said:

42-45C pretty much every day here Late May thru..mid / late August.. 47- 49C occurs w/ regularity..  In many neighborhood backyards, 50C is common on the hottest days ...esp. if a dry summer like this year..  I'd say our climate would be similar to somewhere in the interior of Aus..

Florida, where the OP is at,  is hot ...but nothing like here.  Humid and rains a lot more there too.  Ficus are usually only a problem here if planted in a really small space.  

Only issue w/ a lot of fast growing trees is they can be wind throw / limb shatter targets in Monsoon windstorms.. Plenty of slower / steady shade creating tree options -that hold up better in wind storms, and handle long duration extreme heat pretty well-,  ..they're just harder to find / require research ..and maybe a trip to locate / collect seed of.. Doesn't help when nurseries pander to impatient folks here that don't comprehend the advantage of  " slow N' steady ",  vs. " grow as fast as you can so i can impress someone else".. 

....The " Keeping up with the Joneses " disease as some call it.  

That’s hot your climate is in comparison to the town lightning ride out west in Australia try lose staking your trees leave a little movement in your tying method it helps with stronger root development and yes the good old nursery man who sells fast money trees not slow more exotic trees I have a small hobby nursery and the biggest question I get asked is got any golden canes  I can’t stand em but I have to grow them or miss a sale 

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On 9/19/2023 at 1:47 AM, happypalms said:

That’s hot your climate is in comparison to the town lightning ride out west in Australia try lose staking your trees leave a little movement in your tying method it helps with stronger root development and yes the good old nursery man who sells fast money trees not slow more exotic trees I have a small hobby nursery and the biggest question I get asked is got any golden canes  I can’t stand em but I have to grow them or miss a sale 

Hot for sure..

Staking doesn't always work for sapling- sized trees that can be damaged in 70mph winds.. .. Can't stake these guys anyway.. 

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This year's casualty across the street..  Lose one each year ...and lots of branches on the others that are still standing - for the time being-.. ( ..on top of all the others that are lost across town each year )  Victims of:  Great tree, that is used for the wrong application wayy too often ..and butchered / over watered by those who don't know / want to know how to properly care for desert trees, which often promotes growth that is too fast / roots that are too shallow ( to balance out the weight of the canopy ) , ..which then  ( ...often enough anyway )  makes them more susceptible to wind throw / limb failure..


Only nurseries i purchase from are always looking forward / seeking out / educating folks about new plants / ways of thinking when it comes to plants / landscape / hort. -related ideas, and aren't afraid of telling inquiring folks ..no, we don't sell that ( among other, brutally honest things  a favorite nursery of mine posts frequently on their social media page(s) ) More newer nurseries are adopting this nursery's vision as well.. 

They frequently post about not caring about missing such sales because  ...for every 1 person who is looking for -over planted / " average " / " Do you have what the neighbor has " options,  there are 5+ other people who will purchase from them, because they promote better options / forward thinking ways of thinking about everything plant-related..  

Working in and out of the Nursery / Landscape business for right around 20-ish years, on top of the other 19 -ish  years playing around with plants in general,  I've always told myself  " If i can't stand a plant / see it planted too much,   ...or see lots of holes in some long held horticultural / landscaping concept / belief,  ..i won't grow / sell it   ..let alone promote it.. 

The only customers i want,  are the ones that are glad i don't.

 

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On 9/18/2023 at 6:00 AM, happypalms said:

Do yourself a favour get rid of the ficus before you get a huge plumbing bill and make enemies with your neighbours for blocking there drain pipes with tree roots not mention blockout out there sunlight 

I don't think removing this big tree is a possibility.  The time to remove it may have been 30 years ago and 3 owners ago when it was a single tree.  Since then it has grown new branches that dropped down aerial roots and those have grown and became new trees and it now is a cluster of trees taking up an area about 250 SF, if I were to look at it at the ground level I counted many thick trunks and aerial roots, but at least 7 trunks with diameters in excess of 20".  Removing it will be extremely costly with labor and heavy machinery, but also legality in terms of a tree removal permit that has all kinds of requirements that has to be satisfied such as must show proof that tree to be removed has caused damages to the structure like a big crack on the driveway or wall etc...in other words, you can't remove it simply because you think it's going to be trouble, they will allow it only after it has done the damages and you can show proof of that.  I have another thread about this last year with more details:

So far what I have done in the 4 years I have owned this place is to have a tree trimming come aggressively trim it back in all directions twice a year.  It has shrunk the overall canopy back to about 400 SF and nothing overhanging the roof, fence and deck anymore, but even that is costly at an average of $2000 per trim, that alone was $16000.  Of course that does nothing whatsoever to the root system underneath.

So I have a love/hate relationship with that tree.

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3 hours ago, miamicuse said:

I don't think removing this big tree is a possibility.  The time to remove it may have been 30 years ago and 3 owners ago when it was a single tree.  Since then it has grown new branches that dropped down aerial roots and those have grown and became new trees and it now is a cluster of trees taking up an area about 250 SF, if I were to look at it at the ground level I counted many thick trunks and aerial roots, but at least 7 trunks with diameters in excess of 20".  Removing it will be extremely costly with labor and heavy machinery, but also legality in terms of a tree removal permit that has all kinds of requirements that has to be satisfied such as must show proof that tree to be removed has caused damages to the structure like a big crack on the driveway or wall etc...in other words, you can't remove it simply because you think it's going to be trouble, they will allow it only after it has done the damages and you can show proof of that.  I have another thread about this last year with more details:

So far what I have done in the 4 years I have owned this place is to have a tree trimming come aggressively trim it back in all directions twice a year.  It has shrunk the overall canopy back to about 400 SF and nothing overhanging the roof, fence and deck anymore, but even that is costly at an average of $2000 per trim, that alone was $16000.  Of course that does nothing whatsoever to the root system underneath.

So I have a love/hate relationship with that tree.

Could you imagine the root mass underground most trees have twice as much root mass if not more underground than foliage I had a massive blood wood gum tree removed this year costing $2000 you understand plants well working in the industry it’s an addiction plants most of us gardeners do it for love of plants and Mother Nature your soil looks very sandy and dry I can only certain trees would grow in it we all have a certain plant in our garden and wonder why we planted it there love em or dislike them 

IMG_5601.jpeg

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You could spread out some landscape fabric in the areas you plan to grow your potted plants.

Hi 96˚, Lo 68˚

Casas Adobes - NW of Tucson since July 2014

formerly in the San Carlos region of San Diego

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4 minutes ago, Tom in Tucson said:

You could spread out some landscape fabric in the areas you plan to grow your potted plants.

Hi 96˚, Lo 68˚

Even the roots of determined grasses can break right through that stuff,  even the " thicker ", nursery-grade material.  ..I'm pretty sure you'd be able to hear the audible laughing of a Ficus as you walk away,  after laying down fabric,  thinking it would stop it's roots..

Benches, even if  only 8" above the ground, or setting stuff on concrete pavers would be the only thing that would work.

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4 hours ago, Silas_Sancona said:

Even the roots of determined grasses can break right through that stuff,  even the " thicker ", nursery-grade material.  ..I'm pretty sure you'd be able to hear the audible laughing of a Ficus as you walk away,  after laying down fabric,  thinking it would stop it's roots..

Benches, even if  only 8" above the ground, or setting stuff on concrete pavers would be the only thing that would work.

Definitely bench’s or pallets the way to go a lot of nursery’s are using pallets now 

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9 minutes ago, happypalms said:

Definitely bench’s or pallets the way to go a lot of nursery’s are using pallets now 

Benches or plastic Pallets on block, over a bed of 8" deep gravel at the some of the good nurseries / greenhouses here.  Some set certain stock on top of just the gravel.  Looks nice and easy to  maintain / stays pretty much weedy plant free.

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20 hours ago, happypalms said:

Could you imagine the root mass underground most trees have twice as much root mass if not more underground than foliage I had a massive blood wood gum tree removed this year costing $2000 you understand plants well working in the industry it’s an addiction plants most of us gardeners do it for love of plants and Mother Nature your soil looks very sandy and dry I can only certain trees would grow in it we all have a certain plant in our garden and wonder why we planted it there love em or dislike them 

IMG_5601.jpeg

I think when I bought this place a few years ago I got a quote to remove my ficus and it was a quote like "starting at $20000" plus the removal permit fee plus the arborist certification fee (to certify the tree must be removed due to property damage) plus about 20' of fence that needs to be removed to allow heavy machinery to enter the area, plus the cost to mitigate the tree removal by the city which is to plant an equal size tree somewhere else on the property that will replace the lost canopy (over 750SF at the time).

The show stoppers are #1, the replacement tree cost is often more than the removal cost, and often times if there isn't a way to replace it you have to put $ into a tree fund or something.  There are some law changes in the last 2 years by the state that may have made this easier but more confusing.  It's detailed in the thread I referenced earlier.

Show stopper #2 is the fence removal.  That fence is right at the property line.  Back in 2015 new city code required all new fences to be set at least 3' back from the property line, a zoning requirement.  If my fence is removed, it has to be installed 3' back.  Well what do you do when it's a wrought iron fence between concrete stone pillars that are 32"X32" in size, do you move these concrete pillars?  Plus the intermediate fence posts are set in concrete footings, there is no way to move them back as it's concrete 3' back too.  City said I can't just cut the fences, set it aside, weld it back, that would not be classified as a "repair", it must be moved in it's entirety.  What about getting rid of the fence?  Nope, code requires property to be fenced if a pool or a pond exist that's deeper than 18".

Plus I will lose A LOT of shade in the process.

So for now, I am living with whoever planted in years ago.

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On 9/18/2023 at 12:20 PM, hbernstein said:

The paver won't stop it from rooting into the pots. Inevitably a wandering surface root will find them, then find a way in. NEVER underestimate a ficus.

It won't stop the roots but if the roots want to enter they have to go around the paver and find a path along the outside where I can see.

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3 hours ago, miamicuse said:

It won't stop the roots but if the roots want to enter they have to go around the paver and find a path along the outside where I can see.

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That's exactly what i do here to keep bigger stuff from rooting into the ground / any roots from the Ficus here from sneaking up into the bases of container- grown stuff.  On the pavers, any roots peeping out from the drain holes will air- prune.. 

Tubs you're using to contain the square tree pots will keep the Ficus roots away from them too. Can always drill a few small weep holes in the sides of the tubs about 3/4ths to 2" above the bottom too so that the pots in the tubs don't end up waterlogged / sitting in several inches of water, when you water too

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50 minutes ago, Silas_Sancona said:

That's exactly what i do here to keep bigger stuff from rooting into the ground / any roots from the Ficus here from sneaking up into the bases of container- grown stuff.  On the pavers, any roots peeping out from the drain holes will air- prune.. 

Tubs you're using to contain the square tree pots will keep the Ficus roots away from them too. Can always drill a few small weep holes in the sides of the tubs about 3/4ths to 2" above the bottom too so that the pots in the tubs don't end up waterlogged / sitting in several inches of water, when you water too

The human brain has a way of solving problems in a fantastic way as they say if you apply stress you get diamonds resolving our problems humankind has always been able to solve problems there are a lot of animals us included who have used tools to benefit themselves it’s an evolutionary process we have I wonder what we will solve  in the future drainage is so important in containers with plants although I have some palms I sit in trays of water only an inch or so not the complete container Joey palms love it in winter i remove the plant from the water so the roots don’t get to cold 

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So I have a croton planted in a terra cotta pot that seems to be in decline the last few months, and it was doing great for two years.

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So today I thought may be the ficus it getting into the pot.

Sure enough, there are root intrusion up into every drain hole.  I broke off the roots and this is the bottom of the pot.  As I broke the roots off they had this white sap.  These are not croton roots.

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I removed the croton from the pot and separated out the ficus root.  What I held in my hand are some of the ficus roots in the pot.

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Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty [from Ficus roots].

Ficus roots will always manage to get into plant pots no matter how you try to protect them. I find putting the pots up on concrete blocks or benches only slows them a little (although that's a lot more preferable to leaving them on the ground). You need to check them every now and then, armed with secateurs. There's no set up where you can just forget about them. It's just another gardening job, like numerous others. Need to do it more frequently in the wet season.

 

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9 hours ago, tropicbreeze said:

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty [from Ficus roots].

Ficus roots will always manage to get into plant pots no matter how you try to protect them. I find putting the pots up on concrete blocks or benches only slows them a little (although that's a lot more preferable to leaving them on the ground). You need to check them every now and then, armed with secateurs. There's no set up where you can just forget about them. It's just another gardening job, like numerous others. Need to do it more frequently in the wet season.

 

You are right, I have to keep an eye on this ficus.  It is invasive and indestructible. 

My two most "hated" gardening chores are #1 scooping figs dropped into the pond every May and October, and #2 clearing royal palm seeds dropped by critters off the ficus tree that they got from nearby royal palms.  All having to do with this tree.

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  • 2 weeks later...

A couple of new observations.

Some of the plants that I must keep in pots, because they are more the understory kind and need to be brought inside during a storm or chilly days, or they need to be in pots while I am figuring out where to plant them, I am switching to the self watering pots where there are no holes at the bottom.  I don't think the ficus roots can penetrate those pots.

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Two days ago, my wife showed me where she had half a dozen bags of potting soil that she has set aside a few months ago.  She picked up a new bag and found that she couldn't lift it...it was because the ficus has gotten into it.  She had two stacks of potting soil bags, three on each stack.  The ficus has sent roots into the bottom bag, all the way through it, into the middle bag, all the way through it, into the top bag, and spread it's roots into the entire bag to the point once she tore the bag open, it looked like it was root bound.  I could not believe how aggressive that was, I didn't take a picture of it before the entire bag fell apart and once we removed all the roots, I think we ended up with 1.5 bags of dirt.

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