Is there any hope left for my Ficus?

bassettbrandi2November 13, 2007

Hi there

I have been reading some of the past threads on the Ficus plants, and trying to nurture my Ficus, however, it is dying more and more every day.

I have had the plant for about 2 months.

During this time the plant has been dropping leaves and overall losing it's health.

At this point there are no new leaves growing what-so-ever.

I am letting the soil dry out as I thought that I was possibly watering it too much.

I am spraying it a bit.

It is in sunlight.

It is in a consistent location... so Im not sure what else to do to help rejuvenate this plant.

If you have any ideas I would really appreciate your feedback.

Thank you very much.

Plant lover.


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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Depot & examine roots. They should be tan to white & firm. They should smell earthy & not sour or acrid. You're sure there is no scale of mite infestation - right? Spraying it a bit with .....?


    Bookmark   November 13, 2007 at 7:52PM
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sweetcicely(S7 USDA9 No.CA)

Hi Brandi,
Sounds to me like there's hope for your Ficus. If you have taken a look (and a sniff), as Tapla recommended, and found everything to be ok inside the pot, perhaps some of the following might help.

I'm assuming that you have a Ficus benjamina or weeping fig, with green waxy long-oval leaves with longish points and branches that droop a little on the ends. Is that it?

Many who buy Ficus experience what you are going through before they learn how to care for these trees in their own situations. There is so much conflicting information about them, that it is sometimes hard for new Ficus growers to sort out.

The best I can do is tell you how I care for my Ficus and hope that something, here, will work well for yours. You will need to have patience and hope, because it often takes time to turn a stressed plant around.

You didn't say how big your tree is, or what your climate is like, but most of this information is general enough to apply to any Ficus. My plant is indoors by a window and away from heating and air conditioning vents. Temps at its location range from about 85 degrees on summer days to a low of around 65 on winter nights.

My little tree is twenty years old, a foot and a half tall, with a 1 1/3 inch diameter trunk, and a three foot lateral branch span. It needs new soil, but is healthy and in an 8 inch diameter, 5 1/2 inch tall terracotta pot.

A couple of times a year, and for no apparent reason, my Ficus drops a dozen or so leaves. I know, now, not to panic and change something, when this happens. It is apparently normal. But when the leaves Keep falling, something is up. The first thing that comes to mind is over-watering, or something else having to do with water.

This Ficus does not need water until the surface soil is dry down to 1/2". (That takes 4 days in summer; 4-5 days in winter.) Then I put the pot into a shallow dish (bigger than the pot bottom) and water it slowly and thoroughly until water flows out of the bottom of the pot. I empty the initial excess water into something else and tilt the pot on edge to finish draining. Thorough drainage is important.

If your plant is smaller, you could do this at the kitchen sink. You can even give the leaves and branches a vigorous cool water spray with the sink's handsprayer. My Ficus Loves it! Be sure to drain right away.

If Ficus are left standing in ANY water for more than about 5 minutes, water pressure bursts the leaf cells surrounding the midveins. This causes the leaves to die and drop.

Since you are in a cooler and probably more humid climate, the interval between watering in summer may be a bit longer; but if you use the rule that the surface must be dry down to 1/2 inch, climate won't be a consideration.

It is best not to fertilize a plant that is stressed or recovering from stress. Hold off on fertilizer until the leaves have grown back.

Ficus are sensitive to full strength fertilizer, which can be another cause of heavy leaf drop. Once a month I fertilize my Ficus with miraclegro, at Half strength, dissolved in cool water. Any good general house plant fertilizer should be fine, so long as you use it at only half strength.

Direct sunlight is too much for my Ficus benjamina. Yep; it drops leaves. I don't know if that is because of quick drying, over heating, or a combination. It sits on a table within 6 inches of a window facing SSE, but the window has a semisheer curtain that provides just enough protection, summer and winter, to keep the Ficus happy.

One final word: It's my guess that Ficus really aren't all that persnickity. They just have a narrow set of needs with regard to water, fertilizer, and sun. Once you get it, they're happy and become the easiest plant in your collection.

I hope something here will help and that you will be seeing those new little iridescent green leaves starting to poke out all over your Ficus within a couple of weeks.


    Bookmark   November 14, 2007 at 5:14AM
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Hi, Are any of your stems shriveling up? If they are, there may not be much hope for it. Cut out those stems off and like Al and SC already said repot if there looks like it still has fleshly colored roots. If you are loosing green leaves, that usually means over watered. If they are yellow, then its been under watered. Once a plant has root damage it is very hard for it to come back. Patty

    Bookmark   November 15, 2007 at 8:29PM
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Sometimes leaf drop on ficus trees can happen because of a simple light change, like moving it from one place to another, or one window to another. The leaves might not fall for a few months later after the move, but it eventually stopped shedding once it had gotten used to the change.
Cold, hot, soggy wet or dry can cause leaves to fall too.
Leaves can yellow if the tree is too dry, or too wet, I keep mine slightly on the moist side.
I read where people let their ficus dry out, well, I let my ficus dry out "once" maybe eight to ten days worth and it rewarded me by dropping yellow leaves like crazy, so, I started to keep it a little on the moist like I had been for years, and it hasen't dropped leaves like that again.

Billy Rae

    Bookmark   November 15, 2007 at 8:52PM
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Hi Brandi,
Some Ficus are so fussy, especially Benji's: the slightest change will cause leaf drop.
Your plant is basically new, it needs acclimating to its present conditions..You've had it 2 months, bought in Sept when day light was longer..Since it now darkens by 4:30pm instead of 8 or 9, again, the slightest change causes leaf drop.
Next, what type of environement was it in when you bought it? Green house or outdoors?
Before that, it was probably grown in sunny Fl, w/humidity, fresh air; a perfect climate for tropicals.
Now it's in a heated house, with dry air, and no air circulation. Results: leaf drop.

Check trunk bark. Scrape outter bark with a sharp object/knife..if the tissue is green, your Ficus is alive..You can also inspect branches by scraping.

If you've any warm days left, (45F+) carry your Ficus outdoors, give a firm shake until yellow/brown leaves fall. I'd remove attached discolored foliage, too. For appearance and energy reasons. Set your Ficus in the brightest window..Since you're in Canada, a south or west window would be best.
Inspect leaves, under and atop, stems, in-beween branches, for pests. (Mites, scale, mealy, etc)
If none are present, that's a great start.
Like most plants, soil needs to dry a bit between waterings..Billy Rae stated she keeps her soil barely moist..You may need to experiment a bit but once you find the perfect watering technique, keep at it.
Ficus do not like change, so once you find a spot, keep it there. Don't move around..otherwise, results: leaf drop.
No fertilizer is needed this time of year.
In spring, you can start a regulur feeding routine..I've only tried it once, but people who've added Epsom Salts to foliage plants swear it works fantastic.
BTW, I'd use a fertilizer a bit higher in Nitrogen (first number on fertilizer bottle) Follow container instructions, but IMO, cutting amount of fertilizer by half of what they recommend is appropriate.
Humidifers IMO are mandatory..I also mist plants daily..some people say it's useless, but at the least, it'll remove dust particles that accumlate on leaves.
If your Ficus is alive, I'd bet once days grow longer, you'll start seeing baby leaves. Once you see new growth is a good idication fertilizer can be applied.
Plants love being summered outside, so if you have a yard or porch, take out gradually..The only problem taking Ficus out are when it's time to bring indoors you 'may' have the same problem with leaf drop, but I found if you bring in Ficus earlier than you would other plants, there's less chance of this happening. Good luck w/your Ficus, check for those pests...Toni

    Bookmark   November 16, 2007 at 2:01AM
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I'm in a similair situation: I'm in Canada, got a Ficus in Sept. now suddenly it's leaves are turning yellow and falling off. I think I might have been UNDERWATERING it but just now I had a look at the leaves and noticed tiny little bugs on some leaves, other leaves being eaten. How do I get rid of the bugs! It's very distressing... I don't have a green thumb and didn't know Ficus was hard plant to grow and shelled out $50. The plant seems to be still growing new leaves but this bug thing has me gnawing my finger nails!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 11:08PM
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Hi Maurly...what does the bug look like? Can you describe it? For instance, what's its color? Shape? Is it quick-moving or slow, almost immobile? Do they fly?
Do u know anything about plant bugs?
Are the leaves sticky? Do you see spider webbs on leaves/stems? Brown bumps that can be scraped off? White cottony lumps.
To rid this bug you need to ID it first..
If your ficus isn't too large a tree, can you carry it to the sink or shower and hose off?
Perhaps you should use an insectidal oil.
I use home made, around the house, non-chemical stuff..2-4 drops of dish soap, ground citrus rind, ground garlic..Add to a mister and spray away. Nothing will harm the plant..but you'd still need to ID the bug..Toni

    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 1:42AM
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sweetcicely(S7 USDA9 No.CA)

If the bugs are red or tannish, just barely visible, and they move or scurry, they are probably Spider Mites--with or without fine weblike strands.

If they are small but visible, clear, bubble-like, clustered and slow, but moving, they are probably Aphids. Aphids also leave little sticky spots behind, called "honey dew."

Scale have a thin transparent shell and look like little clear or brownish oval scabs, tend to cluster, and can be scraped off without skinning the plant.

Mealie Bugs are soft-bodied, also tend to cluster and look white to tan and fluffy or like they've been dipped in flour.

Scale and Mealie Bugs move so slowly that you have to watch them for a while to see any movement.

Colors for all of the above may vary. You can look at pictures of each of these bugs by going to the URL below; then type the name of each bug in the Search box one by one to I.D. your bugs.

From your brief description, I'm guessing that your Ficus has spider mites. If that is true, and you are in a situation where you can carry the plant outside to hose it off, that would be great. If you have a trigger spray nozzle on the hose, that's even better. Wear something you don't mind getting wet.

First put the pot on something low and stable from which it can drain; then give it a good hard spraying, starting with the top and going out each of the branches, Under and Over the leaves, from the center of the tree and going out to the tips. Be thorough, going all the way around the tree. Spray the pot, while you are at it. Then give the trunk a bit of a shake and let it drain Thoroughly. (Ficus love being hosed down, but hate to stand in water for more than 5 minutes.)

If you use this treatment, it needs to be repeated once a week (or on watering day, if that is sooner) for a month, because you will want to spray off any mites that hatch over the weeks ahead. Spider mites don't like water or high humidity, so misting your Ficus between hosing will help to discourage further infestation.

Launder the clothes you wear to hose off the plant and vacuum the area where the plant stays to get any stray mites.

Since it is late November and you are to the north, this outdoor hose treatment may not be possible. The Ficus can take water that is pretty cold (I've done this in February), but the tree wouldn't like temps in the 30's.

If it is too cold to hose down your Ficus outdoors, then Plan B could be to use the shower. If you have a hand-held shower with good water force, you should be able to spray under and over the leaves pretty well. As with the outdoor treatment, drain the Ficus well, and repeat the shower spray every week for about a month.

This isn't the only treatment for spider mites on Ficus, but it is one which worked for me, and the mites never came back.

If your plant has some other kind of bug, and you can identify or describe it, someone here should be able to point you in the direction of an effective treatment. I wish you success in rescuing your Ficus from the varmints.


    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 5:33AM
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Great information thank you!
I know they are not aphids but not quite sure what they are. The pics on google are interesting by my bugs are so small I can not see what they look like close up! They are dark brown and round and were moving more last night. They are like half the size of the head of a pin. There are no webs that I could see. I poke one with my finger nail and he was on the run - not really "slow" but more of a scurry. They seem to like the edges of the leaves better as there are little holes on around the outside edges of the leaves.
I will spray with that homemade repellent and when it comes time to water again (darn I did it last night) I will put the Ficus in the bathtub. (I live in an apartment and it's in the 30's now so too cold anyway...)
Thanks much!!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 11:45AM
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sweetcicely(S7 USDA9 No.CA)

Good observations. They do sound like spider mites. The other bugs don't scurry and are quite visible. Spider mites can be anywhere on the plant, but are said to prefer the undersides of leaves.

Just a couple of postscripts:

The tiny white dots arranged parallel to and about 1/8 inch inside the leaf margins are normal structures of Ficus leaves.

Another thing you may notice while you are looking closely at the leaves is a small, white wax-like flake at the base of the back of some of the leaves. This is produced by a gland at the leaf base and is also normal.

As others have said, it is important not to fertilize while your plant is in recovery. Some sites say not to fertilize in winter, at all, due to reduced available light. My Ficus is fertilized year around, but with 1/2 strength fertilizer. High nitrogen fertilizer creates a need for increased sunlight which cannot be met by indoor Ficus, in the absence of artificial light. The response is more leaf drop.

Armed with insecticidal soap, showers, and your caring attention, you have your Ficus on the right road. Be patient and persistent--you'll get there.


    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 5:36PM
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The leaves will grow back, BTW, although it might not happen until spring. My poor ficus spent last winter as a mostly denuded mess, but I set it outside once the weather turned warm and it not only grew back, it more than doubled in size. This fall, so far, it's been happy - I found a windowsill it likes and it's staying there.

They're quirky and picky, but I love 'em.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 7:57PM
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