Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ficuspalooza results are in!

For those of you who weren't here then, in January, I took a bunch of cuttings of various Ficus benjamina cultivars at work, and brought them home to try to root them, for various reasons. One reason was that I wanted more plants (which in retrospect seems a little deranged of me). Another reason, though, was that we have had difficulties getting stuff to root at work (with plain-green Ficus benjamina and Ficus maclellandii both), and I was wondering if there might be a better method for rooting than what I'd been doing.

So for these, I took four cuttings of each, planted them in damp perlite, and stuck them in my mini-greenhouse. They therefore had more or less the same level of humidity, they all got watered at more or less the same times, etc. It was, in short, as uniform as I could make the test given my limited finances and space. The original set-up is at the post here.

And the results are both kind of encouraging, and not encouraging, at the same time:

Clockwise from top: Ficus benjamina 'Exotica,' 'Starlight,' 'Black Diamond,' 'Monique,' 'Spearmint.'

In this picture, we have the "after" shot for each of the five varieties I tried out. Survival rates were as follows, in order from most successful to least successful:

'Spearmint:' Not only did all four cuttings survive, but they all did quite well, and put on a noticeable amount of growth.
'Black Diamond:' All four cuttings survived (though one had a head start). Some new growth.
'Monique:' All four cuttings have survived. Three of the four had roots; the fourth isn't dead, but hasn't rooted at all, and I suspect isn't going to survive. Some new growth.
'Starlight:' Only two cuttings survived, and neither of them looks very good.
'Exotica:' Only one survivor. Some new growth, but I remain disappointed with basically everything about 'Exotica' so far.

All of these are patented varieties, and so are for my personal enjoyment only, so there's maybe not a huge amount of relevance to work stuff, but on the other hand, damp perlite turns out to be a much, much better rooting medium than water (which is very slow) or soil (about 75% of them rot out before doing anything). Soil with bottom heat is only a slight improvement. So in the future, if we need to propagate any non-patented varieties, we'll try using damp perlite, as will I personally, if I want to at home. This is useful, if it translates to the plain varieties. My next goal is to try to root some Ficus maclellandii cuttings in perlite and see how that goes, which I'm sure I'll have time for around October.

The other way this experiment helps is, it gives me one more piece of information about the varieties as far as how they compare to one another: I can tell customers that 'Spearmint,' 'Black Diamond,' and 'Monique' are not only pretty, but reasonably strong and robust too, which at least suggests that they might be sturdier, harder to kill plants indoors (though I hasten to add that that's not at all proven by the experiment here).

It's also confirmation that we never want to order 'Exotica' again, ever. I like the narrower leaves (particularly since the new leaves come in reddish, which is pretty), but the growth habit stinks, and the robustness of the plant seems questionable.


Sheila said...

I used to root a lot of cuttings of hibiscus and various other tropicals. I used a mix of about 50/50 perlite and vermiculite. I liked the fact that the vermiculite seems to retain more water. Anyone else use this?

Vanillalotus said...

That's very interesting to see your results. Maybe you will need to try different temperatures. Maybe sheila's mixture would be better. I'd say to keep on trying there must be better ways to root the ficus.

Anonymous said...

Root your cuttings in sphagnum moss, not sphagnum peat moss or perlite. Woody plants root best in media with a very high air porosity and although perlite has this, it's not the same. It's also the best for growing Aglaonemas(and anthuriums, philos etc) in, you'll never have root rot.

Anonymous said...

Also, did you put the cuttings in a plastic bag? A heating pad like the ones you get in seed starter kits will also work wonders.

mr_subjunctive said...


The mini-greenhouse mentioned in the post is a high-humidity area, enclosed in plastic. It's not a plastic bag, but more or less the same in most respects.

This post is very old (March 2008). Two of these sets of cuttings were transferred to soil and are still with me ('Spearmint' and 'Black Diamond'). The other three all died some time ago. I think 'Spearmint' is probably misidentified; the real 'Spearmint' is apparently solid green, not variegated.

I haven't done much Ficus propagation since this post -- a few plants here and there, but nothing on the same scale -- but I do intend to try propagating Ficus maclellandii at some point relatively soon. I will try to remember to start some in sphagnum moss whenever that happens.