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Our Moreton Bay Figs, five years on

Amanda Commins

Amanda Commins

March 2, 2019

For those readers who have been following our Moreton Bay Fig journey since my first post in March 2015, it is now almost 5 years since the tube stock arrived from NSW and time for a further update.

We are having varying degrees of success. As reported in my last updates (May 2016 and June 2017), fig #4 had been removed from the property due to ill health and was on R&R in Perth in a pot. In October 2017 we decided that it was about to outgrow the pot and that it was time for its return to the country.

 

Getting it back to the country was another story and, as you can see, it took up most of the Landcruiser – much to the consternation of the dog!

 

The fig was planted in the ground in January 2018 and, unlike the other figs, has the benefit of regular watering via our reticulation system.

 

Fig #4 replanted. The Corten steel surround is there to help keep the couch grass away from the roots and will be removed at the appropriate time. The Tagasaste behind the fig has been left to provide a bit of protection and will also be removed.

 

Photos 3 & 4: Fig #4 root system at replanting (Above) and 12 months later (Below). The red arrow points to the original trunk that died right back.

 

 

In contrast to the other 3 figs we planted, this one has been planted on a sandy rise that would have originally been banksia sandplain until it was cleared (not by us), then used as a paddock and most recently forms part of our large house paddock. I didn’t add much to the soil (sand) other than a wetting agent and a small amount of Seamungus (a soil and plant conditioner). Once I saw new growth, I did add a slow release general fertiliser, but this is pretty much it.

For a while after planting things went a bit backwards but now this is our best success story and I think there are a few main reasons for this.

Firstly, I think I made a mistake originally choosing to plant the figs on the river flats. I thought the soil would be richer and they would have better access to water. However, the reality has been that they are susceptible to flooding/water logging in winter and during the dry summer months the ground sets like concrete – I know fig roots are strong but there’s a difference between survival and thriving.

 

Fig #4. Multi-trunked and 2.02m high

 

Secondly, we have developed a better watering system for the figs. In addition to the reticulation watering that only this fig gets, I have recently started giving them a good deep drink about once a month. To do this we have a 200L water tank on the back of a small farm vehicle and use a piece of plastic hose (about 20mm in diameter and 4m long) to syphon the water on to the fig.

We probably should have developed this system much earlier, but it wasn’t until a larger rescue fig (not a Moreton Bay) came into our possession and we realised that the existing spray system wasn’t going to work, that the cogs started working properly.

So now we are unsure what to do with the three figs that are planted on the river flats. They are growing but I think they could be doing better and would probably be happier on the sandy hills that we have. I may try moving the least happy one to see how that fares but, as we do experience some frosts, I think spring may be the best time with lots of deep watering over the following summer.

 

The rescue fig, Fig #5  ( Ficus benjamina) being watered with the syphon system. And, yes, those power lines are further away than they look!

 

The 5th fig that has joined the family was in a pot in suburban Perth. However, the roots had escaped the pot and headed next door where they weren’t welcome. By the time it came to us its roots had been controlled somewhat but we had to cut them back further to get it out of the pot. This one is also planted on a sandy hill and gets a deep water about every fortnight. Despite the severe treatment it has had it has coped well with the long, hot summer.

So where does that leave us? Following are current photos of all the figs. I hope you find them of interest.

 

Fig #1 at 1.50m

 

Fig #1 close

 

Fig #2 at 1.24m

 

Fig #2 close

 

Fig #3 at 0.93m

 

Fig #3 close

 

NOTE: The trunks of the figs planted on the river flats have certainly thickened up since planting, but the foliage is considerably less dense, and the leaf size is smaller, than  Fig #4.

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thesoapbaker
thesoapbaker
1 year ago

Hello Amanda,
Wonderful reading of your Morton Bay journey. I too am a Morton Bay lover, I started my journey on 17th October 1992 ,purposely putting date to memory with the dream of children yet to come, asking me about my majestic Morton Bay.
I live in Donnybrook, Western Australia. Average rainfall around 900ml, and are susceptible to frosts.
The journey so far has had a couple of bumps, but nothing major. It grew with an upright habit for about the first 20 years and now it is beginning to spread and openup. This is the first year I have not had a pair of emus arrive around mid January to eat the figs.
So hang in there, time really does fly and before you know it, you will have a wonderfully large tree. ( mind you, I dont think any tree could rival that one at UWA)
Maryanne Buck
Donnybrook, WA

Amanda
Amanda
1 year ago
Reply to  thesoapbaker

Hi Maryanne

Many thanks for your feedback and great to hear about your fig. It gives me hope. And I love your forward planning!

Out of interest (and if you have time), any idea how tall would your tree be now?

Thanks and regards, Amanda

Karen Shaw
Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  thesoapbaker

Hi Amanda,
I thought I was insane googling ‘Moreton Bay Fig frost’ for about the 50th time in 7 years, but clearly, I haven’t searched these words for 4 or 5 years, because I never found your blog before. I’m so relieved to find I’m not alone in my obsession.
An admission, I killed my first baby fig through sheer ignorance of frost in 2013, right after purchasing my country block.
I had grown 4 figs from seedlings found in Melbourne parks (after discovering I couldn’t buy one). I planted the biggest one on an alluvial plain, near the dam, on my 3 acre block in Malmsbury (300m above sea level) at the edge of the Macedon Ranges (Vic). I have a tiny terrace in bayside Melbourne which is frost-free, whereas Malmsbury suffers pretty severe frosts from about June to early-Nov.
It was terrible timing: I headed off on my round-Australia trip a couple of weeks after planting, leaving my neighbours to keep an eye on the fig. It did really well, doubling in size after a month or two, and then the frost came.
I now have 3 figs bursting out of the largest plastic pots I could find. I can’t stand to kill another one, so was looking for somewhere frost-free to plant them, but if I’d do anything to grow them at Malmsbury… It’s the reason I haven’t let them go, yet (they’re almost 3m tall).
Please tell me (roughly) where your farm is located so I can compare climates? Also, did any survive, and if so, up to what size did they require frost proofing, and what was the best method, do you think?
Fingers crossed at least one of yours survived, but seeing as your blog stopped 4yrs ago, I’m not optimistic.
Kind regards,
Nichola

Emma Spong
Emma Spong
1 year ago

G’day Amanda! Been following with interest. We are a bit further up the road from you by the sounds up near Moora. Is there anything in hindsight you would change about your initial soil prep and planting? We have one in a pot and I am debating whether to wait til Spring to plant it out or not? Any thoughts would be welcome!

Karen Shaw
Admin
1 year ago
Reply to  Emma Spong

Hi Emma

Good to hear from a fellow MB fig fan. We planted ours on the river flats (Moore River) because we thought the soil would be better and there would be better access to water but in retrospect it was a mistake. I think the soil is too wet in winter and sets like concrete in summer. Only 2 of the 4 remain where we originally planted them – I think these 2 will be ok but they have certainly struggled. The one we moved closer to the house is in sandy soil. It does get retic in summer and has thrived compared to those on the river flats.

In summary, I certainly think they need a free draining soil. With our sand, I would add some compost to get them going. So far as fertiliser, I just give them a general purpose fertiliser. The other thing to note is that the figs do not like frost. This is probably common sense given where they are from but ours have been impacted every year. I am hoping that the impact will lessen the bigger they get.

I think waiting until Spring is a good idea. Good luck – I hope yours thrives. Amanda.