Thirteen and a half years ago I moved into my house here in Folsom. Wanting to make it homey and full of life, I bought a ficus tree at Costco. Well actually, it was three small trees intertwined and growing together, green and healthy.
During their first winter when the heater came on, the trees started dropping leaves like crazy. Knowing that ficus have a reputation for not liking change, I was hesitant to move them. It was clear they were on their way to dying anyway, so I took a chance and moved the planter to a place near the windows in the kitchen. I thought that with more light from the windows, and being out of the direct path of the heating vent, the little family might be happier.
Two of the intertwined trees continued to drop leaves and eventually looked dead. The third one, however, stopped dropping leaves before it became completely bare. I decided at that point that maybe if I gave her a name and talked to her, she would begin to thrive. I named her Francesca, and talked with her everyday and told her how strong and beautiful she was. She was still too small (about the thickness of my index finger) to stand alone since she had been intertwined with her sisters from early on, so I cut off the tops of the two dead trees, and left Francesca intertwined with their trunks until she grew a little stronger.
Francesca responded well to her name, and before long she began to leaf out again and grow. When she looked healthy and strong, I cut away her dead sisters (sounds cruel I know, and remember, they were already dead), and she continued to thrive in her new location. In fact, she grew so much it became obvious that she would need a bigger pot for her roots, and more space to spread out.
I took Francesca outside and carefully repotted her in a larger pot as she was quite root bound. I gave her some nourishment and water, and left her outside for a couple of days to drain. I tucked her as close to the house out of the direct summer sun as I could, and she still got very sunburned. I put her on a rolling plant stand and pulled her through the sliding door and into the living room with two story ceilings. Poor thing, she was sunburned, dragged through the doorway, (an opening which to her probably felt the size of a birth canal), AND, put into a new location. She probably thought I was trying to do her in!! It was the ultimate ficus challenge for sure! I continued to talk to her and pray that she wouldn’t get too pissed off and give up. Francesca again showed me her resiliency and ability to tolerate change. She is so big now I wouldn’t be able to get her out of the house if I tried. I have pruned her back severely, moved her around to different spots in the living room, and still she thrives. I am beginning to think that ficus have a bad rep as being temperamental.
I want you to know naming my trees and plants didn’t help only Francesca. When I moved into my house, I had a wimpy oak tree at the edge of the front yard which was a disgrace to it’s oak family I am sure. It had a scrawny little trunk, and the branches grew longer from one side of the tree than it did the other. It truly was a Charlie Brown tree and looked pretty pitiful. To be fair, it did have some competition for water and light with another tree in the front yard.
In a wind storm one winter night, the bigger and stronger tree decided to self prune and split off about 1/3 of its canopy. Lucky for me, it fell in front of my house rather than into it. When that happened, I took that tree out for safety reasons and my yard looked rather bare with only my scrawny little oak. Not only that, I know longer had protection from the hot summer sun in my front windows. I remembered how well Francesca had done when I named her and talked with her, so I named the scrawny little oak tree Herra, and began to tell her how beautiful she was. Thirteen and a half years later she is a massive tree . She is greater than a foot in diameter, and beautifully balanced in all directions. She truly is the envy of the neighborhood!!!
It was purely a gamble that I determined she was a girl. Over the years, it has become evident that I guessed her gender appropriately. She is a very fertile tree with TONS of acorns, and her little offspring come up where ever her “ova” take hold in the slightest dab of soil. Since the squirrels have found her, they have spread her seed far and wide, and she has offspring everywhere!!!! Just the other day I went out and picked up a 5 gallon bucket of acorns – and she was just beginning to drop them for the fall season.
Herra has a beautiful canopy with tons of leaves. When her leaves drop, the wind typically carries a good portion of them into my neighbor’s yard, so we work in tandem to clean them up. He blows them into a pile in my yard, and I vacuum them up and mulch them for my compost pile. We have done two major clean ups so far this fall, and she still has about a third of her leaves to go. When I am covered in leaf dust and whining about the work, I have to remind myself how big and beautiful she is in the summer, and how much she shades the sunny side of my two story stucco home. The picture above is of Herra today.
If you are a doubter, you can ask Francesca, Herra, Dracena, Dinero, Isabelle, and all the others – they are all living proof. If you have a plant that is struggling, name it and it will grow!!! Seeing is believing 🙂