Ficus microcarpa produces a lush hedge that grows quickly to create a privacy screen in the home landscape. Pruning back an overgrown hedge depends on the shape. These hedges are typically seen in either a pruned, formal shape or an informal, natural shape. Hedge ficus are a tall species that can get out of control quickly when no maintenance is done. Knowing how to the properly prune back the shrubs will bring it back to a desirable shape without damaging plant health.
Which Ficus Grows as a Hedge?
The plant characteristics of Ficus microcarpa make it ideal as a hedge species. Also referred as Indian laurel fig or Cuban laurel, this species reaches a height up to 25 feet. This ficus grows up to 2 feet each year and becomes overgrown when left to grow naturally without pruning. Ficus microcarpa is found in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10b through 11. The preferred growing environment is full sunlight to partial shade with a moist, well-draining soil.
Formal, or shaped, hedges tend to overgrow in height. Prune an overgrown formal hedge by cutting off half the growth in early spring before new sprouts appear. This initial pruning stimulates new, lush growth and brings the hedge to a more desirable height. Wait to shape the hedge with more precise pruning until there is 2 to 3 inches of new growth after pruning. A shape that is wider at the bottom allows light to reach all the branches. Lower branches that are shaded too much can become leggy or lose foliage.
An informal hedge offers a thick privacy screen that gets an unruly appearance when there is no pruning maintenance. It should be pruned back to half its size over two or three annual pruning sessions. Remove large or misshapen branches from the bottom of the hedge in early spring for the first pruning. Never remove more than one-third of the total growth in an annual pruning session. Prune out unsightly, long branches each spring for three growing seasons or until the hedge has new growth and a desired shape.
How to Prune
Inspect the hedge and ficus shape before pruning and attempt to work with the natural flow and shape of the branches. Prune each plant so it is wider at the bottom to allow adequate sunlight to all areas. Choose scissor-action hedge clippers to prune and cut branches from the hedge. These clippers are available in long-blade and short snipper blade types. Disinfect the blades before using the clipper on a hedge to remove disease or pathogens that could infect the plant. A good disinfectant is a solution made by mixing 1 part household bleach and 9 parts water. Wash the blades immediately after each cut made to a branch that appears to be diseased.
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