A scary fix

I don't normally post about houseplants, and rarely about pruning, but today I bring you both.

This Ficus lyrata (fiddle-leaf fig) is the oldest houseplant I own. I received two of them as a gift from neighbors who were moving out of my apartment complex twenty-something years ago, and they're still going strong. They have been perfect for me, handling drought, low-light, and poor nutrition for decades. I'm surprisingly bad with indoor plants.


Once these plants get too tall I prune them back (which is every 4 or 5 years it seems), root the cuttings, and watch the new growth fill out the original plant. This time (a few years back) things didn't work out so well:

The new growth all happened near the cut point, and all of the branches grew outward instead of up:

Although this was a nice look when the branches were short, it became unmanageable when they elongated, and it's time to do something.

This is the look I wanted:

So, what to do about it? There's only one choice: radical pruning:

This is scary, as there's always a chance that no new branches will sprout. Having done this so many times though, I'm pretty confident it will work. I cut them really low this time so additional growth wouldn't make them too tall again. I also staggered the cut heights in case all of the growth happens at the tips again.

They're not happy about it.

An intense shot of fertilizer will help give them the boost to start growing.

I really should have done this earlier in the summer, but better late than never.

Since I'm doing all of this right next to a sad-looking potted mint on the deck...

I'll basically do the same thing to the mint:

Heavy pruning and a shot of fertilizer. (Although I'm organic with my in-ground plantings, I have no problems using chemical fertilizers on my potted plants.)

Radical pruning is very scary the first time you do it -- I remember the first time I cut my butterfly bushes to the ground in late winter, I was certain I'd never see them again -- but if you know the plant you're dealing with through experience or Internet research, everything will be fine. In fact, it will be better than fine.

So now I just sit back and wait for the new growth to appear on both plants.

I sure hope it does. (I still get nervous about this.)


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Lisa  – (September 16, 2012 at 8:07 AM)  

I am happy to hear that I am not the only outdoor gardener who is not so great with indoor plants! I only have a few, but everyone assumes I love them as much as my gardens and tries to gift me with more. Uh, no thanks! Unless your goal is dead potted plants!

Pam's English Garden  – (September 16, 2012 at 8:34 AM)  

I am not good with houseplants either, Alan. I am not as brave as you, but you inspire me to reevaluate mine. This is a good time, as I am about to bring them indoors for the winter.

scottweberpdx  – (September 16, 2012 at 8:47 AM)  

OMG...it really is scary! I think I'm going to have to pollard my Variegated Willow next spring...and even though I know people do it all the time (and it's not exactly my favorite plant), I'm still nervous that it won't grow back!

Wolf  – (September 16, 2012 at 11:09 AM)  

My mom gave me a basket of plants that has that Ficus in it. Good to know I can prune it back to keep it bushy.

Mint LOVES being chopped back. Heh. So do Buddelias. I chop both of mine back every Fall.

Unknown  – (September 16, 2012 at 11:05 PM)  

I've thought many times of acquiring this particular Ficus, having seen them in shopping complexes. Now that I know from you that it is no primadonna, perhaps this time I shall seriously consider it.

Barbie  – (September 17, 2012 at 2:20 PM)  

Wow - that is radical - I would be scared to cut it back so hard. Let me know what happens. :-)

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