Issue: March 6, 2004

Pruning and braiding ficus branches


I was recently placed in charge of all the plants at my church, and we have one ficus tree that is rather big and bushy looking. It is not at all what you would want in a small church foyer. I don't necessarily want to "over-prune" it, thus causing damage. I noticed that the bottom of the trunk looks as if two branches were twisted together and fused into one. Is it too late to perhaps do that to the other branches (twist and fuse them)? How would I do that?



I see two good questions in your e-mail. The first question is about pruning the ficus, and the other is about braiding the branches. I will discuss each.

The ficus tree is used because it is a vigorous tree that tolerates relatively low light conditions encountered in indoor settings. If the tree receives sufficient sunlight, it grows and soon becomes too large for situations such as you have described. If the tree is indeed healthy and vigorous, reasonable pruning should not cause problems.

What is reasonable pruning? That will be removal of branches that are not prospering. Removal of these weak branches will help the tree. Other branches to remove are those that are too tall, or those spreading into the foyer, blocking traffic.

When you prune, carefully chose the site of the cut. Remove a branch back to another healthy branch that is at least one-third the diameter of the branch being removed. Don't just cut back to stubs. If the new branch that is left is still too large, cut it back to another branch that is one-third its size. This reduction pruning will help you restore the proper size and balance of the ficus. Make the pruning cuts just above the branch to be left with slight slant down the back of the branch being removed.

Braiding can be done to the smaller, supple branches that can bend without breaking. You may need to prune away small twigs on the branch so that they may braid easily. If there are larger branches that develop from the branches to be braided, start braiding out-board (distally), beyond the branches. As the braided branches grow in girth, they will begin to graft together, forming that larger, braided, branch appearance. Doing this earlier with younger branches will be easier, but by selecting the right branches to braid together, you can create some interesting effects. If you select two branches from separate primary branches, the effect will be the creation of a window surrounded by branches and the trunk. Enjoy the possibilities.

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Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.