Repotted my ficus and things went terrible wrong

OLTHEMJune 9, 2014

I have been nursing a lovely ficus lyrata for three years. One branch took off and the rest of the tree had very few leaves. After reading several posts on this plant I decided to prune the branches to gain a more symmetrical shape and repotted two days ago. I also attempted some root work after reading several of Al's posts. (Cleaned all soil from roots, rinsed and removed 1/4 of the bottom roots.

After two days, all of the leaves have drooped. Now I am worried that I have killed the plant by doing too much at once. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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Looks like transplant shock!
I had the same problem with a camellia sinensis last year - I accidentally damaged the roots while repotting.

What I did back then was to cut off about half of each leaf (like, cut the tip off the leaf). This reduces the amount of stress on the plant's root system, because plants loose a lot of water through their leaves.
If the leaf surface is reduced, so is the water loss.

The other thing I did was to make up a very weak sugar solution and pour it on the roots. From memory, I think I used roughly 1/3 of a teaspoon per litre (or per quart). If you taste the solution you should barely be able to taste the sugar at all.
This is a nice pick-me-up for the plant, and certainly won't do any harm.

My camellia un-wilted within the hour and it had new growth in the next week or so.

I've never tried this with a ficus, but that's how I usually manage transplant shock when it happens to my plants.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 12:28AM
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Thank you so much for your response. The smaller leaves have started to perk up a bit. The larger leaves still look the same.

The roots were wet when I re-planted it.

This may sound like a silly question but would I dig up the plant to pour the solution on or simply water the plant with the solution?

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 10:25AM
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Hey Olthem!

Looks like a nice plant you have, just in need of a little time. I don't think you have killed it by any means. Patchyjack is right, that the problem right now is that the roots are recovering from being bare-rooted and pruned and are not taking up water very fast. The plant is loosing more water through the leaves than what is coming in through the roots, so its wilting.

What you can do in the mean time, until the plant regenerates its roots, it keep it in a cooler part of the house, and definitely out of direct sun. I would say are a rule of thumb, if a plant has been root pruned/repotted to stay out of direct sun or very bright light for at least 1 week. The bright light or hot temps increase the water loss through the leaves.

Once your plant gets its roots growing strong again, you will be in a good shape. Better than before I would say.

As a final note, you could also but a large piece of clear plastic over the plant, to form a mini greenhouse. This would also reduce water loss through the leaves until the roots start growing. Just be careful, too much humidity could cause a fungus problem, and its very easy for it to get hot under a tent of plastic, so be especially sure there is no direct sunlight while its in a mini greenhouse.

PS: You ask about digging up the plant, I would strongly advice against that, you need to move/disturb it the least possible at this stage, while its beginning to regrow roots. Also be careful not to water too much. You don't want the soil to dry out, but you don't want it really wet either. The plant has much less roots than before, and it will take sooo much longer to dry out the soil. Do if you got the soil really wet, it may take a week or more to start drying. This could lead to some root rot.

Best of luck!

This post was edited by smishgibson on Tue, Jun 10, 14 at 11:22

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 11:18AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Yes, you overdid it :-)
Re-potting or foliage pruning, one or the other, is how I would have done it. If you plan to do both in the same season, I've found it best to prune about 3 weeks before re-potting.


    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 12:18PM
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Thank you so much for you response. I have moved the plant to a darker location. Thanks for the tip as I thought it needed more light!

The soil is wet on top. Do I need to water more at this point?

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 12:21PM
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Hello again!
If the soil is wet on top, then no! You don't need to water. It's very important not to overwater your plant. Allow the soil to dry a bit before watering.
If the roots were wet when you repotted your plant, it may be that you have been watering it too often.
Overwatering is really easy to do, and a very common problem! I've been growing plants indoors for more than ten years and I still make that mistake sometimes.

If you do decide to use a sugar solution pick-me-up, then just water the plant with it. It will reach the roots through the soil. You don't need to dig.
But again, don't bother if the soil is already quite wet. Adding extra water won't help.

This post was edited by PatchyJack on Tue, Jun 10, 14 at 20:53

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 8:51PM
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Thank you for your help.
The roots were wet when I planted as I kept them wet while I cut back the roots. I read about that in a previous thread.
I will try the sugar solution once the soil feels dry to the touch.
The larger leaves are still looking very sad. They are starting to turn a yellowish colour. I am so sad that I have over done this as I had a beautiful healthy plant that was in need of a better shaping. Also the roots were in rough shape.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 3:17PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Sorry, but no, don't water when it's just dry to the touch.

Get a stick of some kind, ruler, pencil, chopstick, etc., stick it all the way down in the mix & pull back out. If dirt comes out on the stick, or the stick feels wet to the touch, then there's still moisture down there so don't water more.

Assessing when it's dry is also about down deep in the mix among the roots, not just the top several inches, which can feel dry, while there's still some moisture wayyyyyyy down below. Watering while it's still wet down below can cause rot w/out one realizing it.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 6:02PM
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Thank you Pirate Girl. I will hold off on watering.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 6:11PM
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Pirate girl is right about not watering when the top looks dry, but don't let the soil dry completely!
You've got a ficus, not a cactus.
One way that I use to check the moisture levels is to put a wooden satay stick into the soil - pushed all the way to the bottom if possible - and leave it there permanently. The stick absorbs moisture from the soil. When you want to check how wet the soil is, pull the stick out and feel the lower half of it. When it feels just barely damp, it's time to water again.

Also, those big leaves are more likely to perk up if you cut off the tips (to about half way). I know that probably sounds like it'll make the plant look funny, but otherwise, the leaves are likely to die and fall off.

Don't feel bad about your plant. Everybody makes mistakes! I certainly have.
Just do your best!
I personally think your tree will recover, but it will probably take some time.

This post was edited by PatchyJack on Wed, Jun 11, 14 at 19:29

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 7:25PM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

At this state I wouldn't water at all, if the leaves aren't working (there must be some photosynthesis but not much) the plant needs almost no water. So I'd just let it be, if the roots bounce back, there will be new growth.
You could try to root a cutting just to keep yourself busy while waiting.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 8:04PM
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Thank you for all of your help. Ms Green Finger, is there a thread that talks about rooting a cutting? I saved the large branch I cut off and stuck it in water. Perhaps I can work some magic on this one!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 8:09PM
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Leaving the branch in water may be all you need to do!
Check out this forum!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 8:36PM
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Hi there,
I wanted to post a follow up of where I am at with my ficus. I has spent the summer out doors in indirect sunlight. I have fertilized it twice. Leaves are coming back but no new branches yet. Also one branch is completely dead. Should I cut it off. I am not sure about the shape either.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 1:01PM
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A close up of the dead branch

    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 1:03PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Cut the dead branch off flush to the trunk.

Run a piece of flexible wire through a piece of tubing to protect the top branch from the wire. Then wire the top branch to the stub of the old trunk. If the stub is still alive, use something to protect that from the wire, too.

You can see what I mean on this Ficus retusa 'Melon Seed' I just acquired in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. It was in a 2 gallon container and I repotted it Friday into the small pot you see, after removing more than 90% of it's roots AND foliage.

A closer look at how to do the rigging that will allow you to pull that top branch to a more vertical position.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 2:54PM
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Thank you Al. Is the goal to make the long branch the new trunk? Should I cut the stub off it is dead? Anything I can do to promote moe leaf production on the branches? I appreciate your time.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 3:46PM
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Thank you Al. Is the goal to make the long branch the new trunk? Should I cut the stub off it is dead? Anything I can do to promote moe leaf production on the branches? I appreciate your time.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 3:47PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Yes, that's the goal, but it doesn't have to be the permanent fix. If a branch starts growing off the main trunk, you can train THAT one to a vertical position and later cut the trunk off just above the new leader. You can use any branch that occurs from now forward as the new leader. If no appropriate branch occurs, you always have the existing one to fall back on. Also, training a branch to a vertical position means it will get much more of the tree's energy than it would if it was closer to horizontal.

Cut off the small branch stub, but leave the stub that's a remnant of the old trunk to use as a tie-off point. Tie (wire) the top branch to the trunk stub and gradually tighten it over time until it's vertical. See the end of the wire that's twisted together in the picture above? When I grasp that with a pair of pliers and twist, it shortens the wire and moves the smaller branch closer to the branch that's leaning to it's right. The brass rod between the 2 trunks is because the trunk on the right wasn't strong enough to bend the trunk with the gray cushioning on it. The rod makes it so the trunk I wanted to bend to the right is actually now having to resist BOTH trunks, which it can't do, so it's bending to the right.

To promote more leaf production, just keep the plant healthy and give it as much light as you can, or as much as it will tolerate. Use a very fast-draining soil and fertilize the heck out of it during peak growth months - not so much in the months that it wants to rest.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 4:26PM
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The stub broke off immediately and was hollow inside.
I will try to find wire tomorrow but there isn't a stub to tie it to anymore. THis will make it very tricky!

Thanks for your time and for sharing all of your knowledge.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 8:19PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Nah! Just make your own stub. Take something like an old broom handle and use a couple of sturdy zip ties, one at the top & one at the bottom to secure it to the existing trunk. You'll be sort of making a long splint. Cut it to length so it sticks up several inches to a foot above the branch and wire or tie the branch off to whatever you used. Use some padding to protect the bark wherever you think it's appropriate. I sometimes use very short pieces of garden hose or tubing split longitudinally as a cushion - like the clear piece of tubing in the pic above.

Keep us posted?


    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 9:32PM
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You bet! Many, many thanks!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 10:31PM
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