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How far can I cut back the roots on my Ficus trees and maintain their life? Is this even possible? They are approximately 20 ft in height and 10 yrs old.

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    where do you live? I guess these are planted outside? How close is the nearest building?
    – kevinskio
    Oct 21, 2013 at 16:05
  • It would help us to know the site context and conditions:Have you got a picture of the base area, at least out to the dripline (although most roots go further), another showing the uppermost branches and some leaves (a trees' current health can be assessed looking at the leaf tip atop the tree)
    – nigelc
    Mar 2, 2014 at 3:13
  • Some site context would help: a picture of the base area, @ least to dripline ; one showing uppermost branches and some leaves (if you can see bare twigs with no leaves, a tree is already telling you it's under stress). Are you planning to do anything new, close to the tree in the near term? e.g. new paths, building extensions etc? Because again if you cut back the roots a little, and e.g. build a path on the other side of the trunk, it won't help you're tree's health. Finally are you somewhere with recent severe climate changes?
    – nigelc
    Mar 2, 2014 at 3:23

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In general, the top grows in proportion to the bottom. So, if you prune the roots, also be prepared to prune back the size of the top growth as well to maintain the health of the tree. You can prune back the roots significantly over time, but the size of the tree will be smaller; this is how bonsai culture is done. Note how these small trees develop thick trunks and main limbs over time, even as the size of the plant is very limited from its unbounded state.

It is best to prune back roots over a period of years to avoid shocking the plant. Guesstimate the outer diameter of the roots and make the initial cut maybe 10% in from there (make sure to mark where this cut was made). After a year passes, make another cut inward from the first, letting your observations of the tree's growth/health over the previous year since the initial cut guide how much you take.

Do the pruning after the tree has entered a dormant period and suggest taking a conservative attitude for best long-term results.

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  • This is good advice at a general level. Can you expand on it and add specific advice for Ficus. They are tropical and do no have a dormant season.
    – kevinskio
    Nov 1, 2013 at 10:40

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