Cannot Seem to Pinpoint The Dry Leaves Issue with Ficus Lyrata

Vanessaroo(6)November 13, 2011

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

I posted the following on an older topic but got only one response, so I figure I would give it another try.

I've been reading a lot of posts on problems with Ficus trees and still feel unsure as to what is exactly causing the leaves of my Ficus to turn brown. I'm a relatively new gardener (about 1 year) and I have managed to kill very few plants. Can't seem to pinpoint the issue with this beautiful tree!

I purchased the Ficus from a plant shop here in NYC in May this year and as was expected, it dropped some leaves for a while after we brought it home. Since we brought it home in May I didn't want to prune and repot and decided to wait until next year. The problem now is that the tree keeps getting brown spots on the leaves and the latest brown spots have shown up on the inside of a leaf as supposed to the edges.

As per Al's great advice (ficus expert) here on these forums, I flushed the soil about 2 weeks ago and still I keep getting more brown/dry spots on the leaves.

I water it about every week on average and have followed the advice of using a wooden stick to feel the level of moisture in the soil.

1. The tree has always been indoors, even at the plant store where I bought it.

2. I fertilize every few weeks during the early summer but thruthfully, I had not fertilized it since July until last week. I used to use MG 8-7-6 but switched to MG 24-8-16, last week. Do you recommend fertilizing during Fall and Winter?

3. I have not added anything besides the fertilizer.

4. The pattern of the damage foliage used to be mainly bottom leaves but now it seems like it is slowly creeping upwards interior leaves included.

5. It seems to be pretty root bound. I have not taken it out of its container but as you can see on the linked photo, the roots are protruding from the soil. Also. when inserting a wooden stick for moisture, there is quite a bit of resistance. Do you recommend perhaps repotting without pruning?

6. I have spent quite a bit of time, trying to figuring out if I overwater or not. I came to the conclusion that if anything it is maybe underwatering. I probably water the Lyrata about every 10 to 13 days and up until this week it does get a nice amount of sun from a southern window for about 4 hours a day. When I water I use about 3 quarts of water and towards the end, a little water seeps out of the pot.

I wonder if the issue is perhaps too much sun? Or not enough? Perhaps a very invisible pest? The soil? Not fertilizing enough? Wateing?

I would like to prune and repot but from what I read Fall is not an ideal time to do it.

Please help this very anxious Lyrata lover! I posted the link below with several additional photos that illustrate the problem further.



Here is a link that might be useful: Ficus Lyrata issues

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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I'm sure Al will be by when he has time....

Until then, I'm looking at the soil mix in the last pic, and it seems too heavy (peaty).
Smart money would be on the soil making it difficult to water properly, flush, and fertilize.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2011 at 12:39PM
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Thank your for your advice. Al was kind enough to provide me with advice/questions but he seems to be busy, so I thought I would post separately to seek some help in the meantime.

The soil mix seems to be an issue. I have seen in other post by Al, that a different mix is recommended. I would like to repot but I'm not sure if Fall is the time to do it.

Have you or anyone else has tried repotting at this time of year? I'm afraid that if I don't repot the tree might suffer further damage.

Thank you,

    Bookmark   November 13, 2011 at 1:29PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Vanessa. I saw your email, but my mail has been really backed up lately. I'll try to answer here.

There are a couple of things to consider here. The first is when you're working with trees, you're on tree time, not people time, and things happen much more slowly than we would like them to. Nothing snarky in the way I offered that observation. ;-)

The second is that trees are 'generating' organisms, not 'regenerating', like animals. They cannot regenerate cells in the same spatial positions, so cannot heal themselves. This is applicable not only to the damaged foliage, which is just a symptom, but possibly to the underlying cause of the symptom.

What that means is if the tree is going through a physiological process of either shedding the foliage or extracting mobile nutrients and other biocompounds for reuse in other organs, it's likely that process or the physiological process that caused the symptoms is not correctable. As an example - if symptoms were being manifest resultant of the tree's initiation of the shedding process as a drought response, there would be an abscission layer formed or forming at the base of leaf petioles which is not reversible. Since it's not reversible, nutrient/water flow in, and photosynthate flow out of the leaves would be impaired. Even if the cultural conditions causing the drought response are corrected, the physiological response continues due the the lack of the organism's regenerative ability. The same applies to any possible damage by a previously high level of soluble salts in the soil (solution).

The short answer is, many processes, once begun, are not reversible and can only move forward to completion.

From reading your enumerated notes:

2) If you haven't fertilized in a while, especially not since you flushed the soil, your plant needs it. How often you fertilize and whether you can/should fertilize through the winter depends on your soil choice and watering habits. If you're watering so 10-20% of the water you apply exits the drain when you water, you SHOULD fertilize through the entire growth period. More fertilizer would be required if you have good light than if you have poor light. If you are watering in sips, you cannot fertilize as regularly, and it's likely the ratio of nutrients in the soil will become rather skewed, to accompany the accumulation of soluble salts.

5) If the plant is badly root bound, I'd saw off the bottom 1/4 of the roots, make some deep vertical cuts in the root mass with a sharp utility knife, and pot-up a size. Use a soil similar to what you have now and use a wick to help drain the soil after watering so 10-20% of the water applied exits the drain hole. Move the plant outdoors into open or dappled shade as soon as temperatures allow, and do a full repot around Father's Day.

It's not a photo-exposure or photo-intensity issue, unless it's a manifestation of the shedding process due to inadequate light.

The best you can do is to have faith your tree will respond to favorable cultural conditions & then set about to provide them. I think you already have a good start on what it will take to get things turned around.

I'll post this reply on the thread over at 'Houseplants', too.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2011 at 4:27PM
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Vanessaroo, I take care of the plants in the local public library; and one of them is a lyrata, about twice the size of the one shown in the photograph. However the size of the container seems to be the same. It showed similar symptoms and I got many opinions as to the cause. Most indicated a fungus problem at the roots. Since application of any chemical was out of the question, I trimmed or removed the leaves to start with an "all green" plant. I reasoned that if any browning occured it would indicate that the condition still existed. I used a probe to determine the soil moisture at the very bottom of the closed container and watered only when it was 'powder dry' at that depth. I thought that I would make it difficult for the root fungi to spread if I did this. I now apply about 6 pints of water every two weeks and the soil is powder-dry by that time - most of the time. (Many people do not observe signs about eating and drinking.) It took almost a year for the browning to disappear totally. I fertilize once at the beginning of April and again at the beginning of September, using a 14-14-14 water soluble fertilizer at one level teaspoon per gallon because I do not want it to grow larger than it is now. I dust or wipe the leaves and mist all the plants with a mild soap solution.
One nursery operator opined that the problem might have started at the grower; he had a similar experience with a shipment of 'Pandurata'.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2011 at 7:39AM
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