Causes of yellowing leaves on Ficus

e-w-031December 9, 2013

Hi all,

I've had a Ficus Lyrata for about a month now. It's been doing well, particularly recently when I've added a CFL (5500k, 1300 lumens) above it because the light levels have been so low. It even just put out a gorgeous, huge, and very healthy looking new leaf. Just today I noticed that some of the leaves about half way up the tree are looking dull, not shiny like they were when I first got it. The lowest leaves on the tree are looking even more dull and a little yellow. The leaves at the top look fine.

The tree came to me planted in a bark based mix that I think has fertilizer pellets in it. I've been flushing with every watering and fertilizing weakly every weekly. Since its winter I've been fertilizing at about 1/4 the amount the instructions say. I use Dyna Grow Pro Foliage. I only water when the mix has "dried" (not totally dehydrated) to about three inches down in the pot.

I've read that yellowing leaves on a ficus can be a sign of under fertilizing. Of course I know it can also be a sign of under or over watering too. I think I've been doing ok with watering.

I couldn't find any information about dull looking leaves except in the presence of an insect infestation, which I couldn't find any signs of on my plant. I do think I might have seen a fungus gnat hovering around the mix last time I watered but I think that probably came from my two orchids that had been infested. Just in case I looked at photos of aphids and white flies and have not seen anything that resembles them.

I'm guessing that the dull leaves are from not enough light getting to the leaves lower down on the tree. What are your thoughts? What are possible causes of dull leaves on a ficus?

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Upon further inspection I notice quite a lot of small particles in the potting mix that look like salt. Could these be Epsom salts added to the mix? I can't think of any other reason to add salt to potting mix.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 1:08PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

How about pix pls. of the plant & the mix w/ the salty grains if you can shoot such details. Those wanting to try & help will likely ask for those pic.

Could it be sand, not salt, no? If so, it's terrible for the plants, & likely to cause root problems.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 1:45PM
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I wondered if it could be sand too. But it looks clear like salt and I haven't seen sand that is like that. I also wondered if it was some sort of thing that is supposed to retain moisture. Like those clear gel blobs you see sometimes, except these don't have the consistency of gel, they are small and hard. Maybe they are sand. That would make a lot more sense.

I know pics help, but I know my camera and lenses are not capable of capturing such macro details like little grains of sand. Also, the dull look of the leaves is so subtle that I don't think it would show up. I'm just trying to "read" any signs that my plants give me that something isn't right before it turns into a disaster.

I've been thinking more about the slight yellowing of some of the leaves and I think I did over water for a coupe of weeks. I moved the plant from a room with dry air where I had to water twice a week to a room with humidified air and watered at the same rate. I know, bad of me to not check the soil first. But hey, I'm still learning here.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 9:12AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Even if you can't shoot details of individual grains, we can still see a lot from seeing what the mix looks like, esp. in terms of water retentiveness.

If the dullness of the leaves is that subtle, it may not be trouble.

Still I encourage you to show pix as well as you can, it helps us to help you.

Maybe our resident Ficus Man (Al/Tapla) will come along & see this, am guessing he too would suggest pix to better assess the state of your plant. It's really rather hard to say w/out seeing it.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 11:06AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You wouldn't see salt dispersed throughout the soil in the form of particulates because of its solubility, though you might see crusty deposits on the soil surface if you have an issue with TDS (total of dissolved solids in your soil solution). Some pictures of the plant would be good, and maybe a close-up of the soil.

I thought I commented on this post yesterday, but maybe I did something that caused my contribution to vanish into cyberspace ..... wouldn't be the first time a fair amount of work was spoiled by an inattentive keyboard jockey, I guess.

Sometimes things we least expect can thwart our best efforts. At any given time, there is one factor that is most limiting growth or vitality. When you figure out how to correct that factor, another immediately takes its place as most limiting. We never really reach perfection, no matter how hard we try, but we can get to the point where most things are close to where the plant would prefer to be if it had a voice.

Surprisingly, it's not difficult to cultivate the ability to keep your plants healthy, good looking, and growing well. The largest obstacle in most cases relates to soil choice. We often select media that can't possibly supply a healthy environment for roots w/o much more knowledge/effort than it actually takes to grow well, then we become frustrated when our plants rebel.

I have links to threads I posted that will help you understand the importance of a healthy root environment to the wellbeing of the organism proper. To my way of thinking, this should be the starting point for anyone that hopes to become proficient at growing in containers. If you never gain an understanding of how soils work and what plants need in order to maintain a healthy foundation, their root system, you'll forever be spending time and effort trying to find newer and better ways to deal with the limitations imposed by soil choice, when you could be using that time and effort much more efficiently and with much greater reward.

Getting back on track, and back to your plant - we might find out what's causing the problem, and we might not. Sometimes it's best to trust in the idea that if you focus on getting the basics right, the plant will reward you by displaying its favor. That doesn't mean you should abandon trying to figure out what is the precise cause of the dull leaves, but please don't withhold trust in the power that learning how to give plants what THEY want has on the rewards you get from your efforts.

I'll leave you with something basic that should help you avoid many of the problems that almost everyone near the beginning of their growing journey will end up confronting at some point. If you would like more info, just ask.


Here is a link that might be useful: An overview

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 5:09PM
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