Braided Ficus Emergency

hermitsoulAugust 26, 2012

Hi, I hope someone can advise me on this. I have a five-foot braided ficus that had had some neglect. I had just got it back to happiness at a sheltered east window in my office. The A/C vent is directly across from it (about ten feet away) and I usually kept a chair in front of the vent and an oscillating fan going to move the air and keep the cold air from blowing directly on the tree. I also kept the A/C on the warm side anyway. The climate here is very hot and dry and the power bill shoots up if we try to keep it below about 75-80.

Two weeks ago someone here turned the A/C way down into the 60's over the weekend. I came in Monday morning to what felt like a refrigerator. That cold air had been blowing right on the ficus all weekend. I hadn't worried about the chair and fan as I left the building with the A/C at about 85. There are maybe five or six leaves still alive--everything else is dead. I've trimmed some of the twigs and see just a hint of a sort of sick green.

Can I save this tree? And if so, how? I had been planning on repotting it as it needs a little more room. Should I wait? This poor ficus holds a lot of sentimental value for me.



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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Aww man! That's a sad story, Laurie. (Ficus benjamina? I'm assuming so.) If the tree was in good health & growing well, it will almost certainly push a new flush of foliage. If it was weak and struggling, it might be too tough on the tree. I wouldn't repot it now. It will need the reserve energy retained in the roots to push new foliage. Potting up would be ok, but I would wait until the tree starts to push a new flush of growth and leaf out BEFORE I pot up, and then I would only go up a little in pot size after severing the bottom 1/4 of the roots. You can come back for lots more information about what to do, when, after you have evidence your tree is fighting back.

If it helps, you can read the link below that's dedicated to guiding those who are tending ficus and other tropical trees in containers. There's a lot of good info and conversation there.


Here is a link that might be useful: Lots more about tending your Ficus if you click me ....

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 8:31PM
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Thank you so much! I do believe, if the light is JUST right, that I can see 1/8 inch pale green slips at the tips of some of the branches. Fertilize? Give it the trimming I thought it needed to shape? Or leave it to its own devices and continue to send it loving energy?

I will follow your advice and wait on the potting up. The pot isn't a lot larger, though more attractive and the saucer underneath doesn't leak. That will be nice.


    Bookmark   August 27, 2012 at 5:57PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ah - it's good to see you smile, and it's good to be able to smile in the face of adversity. ;-) I'd just leave it be for now, and be very careful not to over-water (check with a wood dowel or skewer before you water) or let it go dry. It will take almost all of the tree's energy reserves to push a new flush of growth, and that will leave the tree vulnerable - especially to any additional loss of the foliage it's pushing now, which is why the watering is important - guards against a drought response and the shedding of leaves. It might be better to take a conservative approach, at least until you're sure the tree is well on the way to recovery. Where you live (?) will have a lot to do with what you can or should do, as far as any pruning goes.

When you're sure your tree is recovering, we can take a closer look at how congested the roots are and maybe pot up or do some things that allow the plant to stay in the same pot, but with a little fresh soil to semi-rejuvenate it until you can get after some more serious root work next summer.

How have you been fertilizing? How recently - with what - what strength? When you watered, were you watering so you were flushing the soil, or just watering in small sips to keep the soil damp? We'll get around to fertilizing as soon as you know your plant has turned around, but the answers to the questions above will help me determine if you should flush the soil thoroughly before you start fertilizing again. If your plant makes it through the next few weeks, there's little doubt that you can really make some big strides in restoring its vitality by this time next year. That seems like a long time to a grower, though it's naught but a blink to a tree. Putting yourself on tree time and resigning yourself to being patient enough that you can work with the tree's natural rhythms instead of against them will pay big dividends in the end. And what you learn along the way, you can apply to your other houseplants or other perennials you might one day keep containerized. We'll have you known as the plant whisperer among your friends/co-workers before you know it. ;-)


    Bookmark   August 27, 2012 at 6:59PM
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