Ficus Nerifolia ground layering

I’d like to show some pictures of a ground layering I have attempted, but first a short history of the plant.

Last fall I bought a willow leaf ficus from a local nursery. It was pretty tall and I when I saw it I knew that I could chop it down quite short and get some cuttings from it. I wish I would have placed something in the picture for size reference.

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After chopping it down I found up with several nice sized cuttings which I placed into disposable clear plastic cups filled of calcined clay. I cut quarter sized holes in the bottom for drainage and covered the holes with drywall tape. The cuttings in cups were placed into a clear plastic storage container on top of my dresser away from any bright light. Within a few weeks I could see the roots emerging inside of the plastic cups.

Now back to the main plant. The root mass was a mess, but I didn’t want to do too much to it, so I very lightly trimmed the outer roots, shook and sprayed off most of the soil, then placed it back into the container filled with inorganic bonsai soil. A few weeks later I decided to slip pot it into a colander and it’s been in that colander until today. I had it growing under a couple CFLs and then under my fluorescent shop light where it’s been putting out a good amount of foliage.

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The nebari was a twisted mass of thick roots, not unlike you see on a lot of ficus bonsai. I usually dislike that messy look, but sometimes it works. In the end that’s not my plan for this tree however so I decided to attempt a ground layer. The technique I am attempting had been described by Al Keppler (if I remember correctly) either on BonsaiNut or his blog.

First pull the tree out of the soil. You can see the feeder roots dangling off of my ficus. It’s not as many as I would have liked to have had, but I’m building a new root system, so maybe it’s not that bad.

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You can see in that second picture where I accidentally ripped a root back. That’s not a good idea. After pulling it I took a box cutter with a new blade and carved a ring around the base of the trunk where I wanted the new roots to sprout.

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Unfortunately, I was hard to get a nice clean cut around and I ended up scraping the cambium off with a little more harsh gusto than probably needed. After this step I took a paper towel sheet and cut it so that the piece would wrap around the exposed cut a couple of times. I dampened the paper towel and tried to disperse rooting hormone evenly across it, spreading it out with a spoon.

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After this you simply wrap the paper towel around the exposed cut, pat it down gently, and cover it with soil. In the original description it may have been wrapped with plastic wrap, bagged, or they may have used sphagnum moss instead of soil.

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With this plant, the twisted mess of thick roots made it hard to sit it low enough in the colander to get the layer under the soil. I didn’t want to mess with the established root system very much, so I just dealt with it. The top layer of soil has some pine bark added to it in an effort to hold a little more moisture.

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The rooting hormone on the paper towel strip might not even be needed considering ficus is such a tough species, but hopefully this will induce a new set of roots to be worked with. My goal with this tree is to create a small shohin tree like one of the ones I saw Rob Kempinski post on the International Bonsai Club forum. For reference it is 8 inches wide:


Here is another inspiration, coincidentally also by Rob:

robert kempinski ficus 2006_010

Thanks for reading. I’ll be sure to update this in a few months with the progress.

Published by

Charles Willis


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