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Ficus

Posted by ericsaeter z8 WA (My Page) on
Sat, Sep 25, 10 at 14:45

I've had this ficus for around 17 years and it's doing quite poorly and I don't know what type of action to take with it. 3 years ago a housemate's cat peed on it and killed most of it. It now has two small branches with a few undersized leaves on each. I fertilised it and kept it outside this summer which it seemed to appreciate, but now that fall has come it has ditched a branch full of healthy leaves.

What do I do? I know it desperately needs a re-pot but will doing such wipe it out from stress? Should I fertilise it until it's stronger and then repot?

Here's the horrific part. It's never been repotted... in 17 years. . .

I just CANNOT accept having this plant die. It's too old and wonderful.

It's one of those robusta elastica types, but before the highly purple/red coloured varietals became the predominant strain found in stores

yikes, help

Thank you so much in advance. . .


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Ficus

Had you meant to attach a picture? Otherwise I can't see anything here.

W/out any other info, I'd suggest stop fertilizing, it's probably not helping.

I would have changed the mix completely after the cat pee.

I'll leave the rest of this to our resident Ficus maven.


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RE: Ficus

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Sep 25, 10 at 20:58

The tree has a LOT of genetic vigor, which means it is well equipped to deal with a lot of cultural adversity. The problem is the plant as been operating at stress levels beyond its ability to cope. As a result, it is extremely low on vitality (different from vigor) and energy reserves. That in itself is not particularly worrisome in a vigorous tree, if the tree is entering it's most robust period of growth, but a tree with few or no reserves is particularly vulnerable as fall and winter, periods of slowed growth, approach.

If you brought it in and it shed foliage, it's almost certainly a response to a rapid decrease in light levels. If it shed the foliage while still outdoors, w/o you having moved the tree, it's likely a drought response. A drought response can be caused by 3 things - too much salt in the soil, under-watering, over-watering.

If you've been watering in sips - small amounts of water, it's very probable there are excess salts in the soil and you need to take remedial steps. If you're under-watering - fix it. ;o) If you're over-watering - fix that, too.

Share your thoughts on the watering and salts issues, but in the meanwhile, think about the idea of potting up. A repot, with root-pruning and a soil chance would probably be too stressful now. I would saw the bottom 1/3 of the roots off, and pot into a larger container, after cutting deep vertical slits in the sides of the root ball at 3-4" intervals.

Below, you'll find something to read about root-bound plants, if you're interested.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: About Root-bound plants


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RE: Ficus

Eric..is there a chance your housemate's cat we-wee'd on your Ficus again? :)

Have you relocated your Ficus, set in a different location?

For now, fertilizer is the last thing it needs.
If you've moved it, place in the brightest spot available. If it hasn't been moved, either keep where it's been or set in a sunnier area.
Perhaps vitamins/hormones would help. I use Superthrive on my plants. You might already use some such substance?

Is it possible to take outdoors and hose soil, thoroughly? If not, how about a shower? Set in the tub, allow water to spray 3-5 minutes. Afterwards, turn off faucet but leave your Ficus in the tub to absorb humidity. Keep the door closed through this procedure.

Remove dead leaves and/or branches. Is your Ficus a tree or bush?

You mentioned not repotting in 17 yrs. Does it need repotting? Are roots growing out of its pot, through drainage holes? Or on top soil?
For the time being, you should add fresh soil on top.

A picture would be helpful..Good luck, Toni

Hi Karen.


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RE: Ficus

wow thanks for this concise response. I think the first think I am going to go is grab some of this Superthrive stuff. I did actually fertilise it a month or so ago which cause it to grow several new leaves which I assumed had depleted the little vitality it had left.

The cat is long gone and this hasn't been an issue for 3 years now. There are no roots trying to leave the drainage holes.

Neglect is sort of big part of it's past over the years. I was once terribly good with plants and then I lost my hand for them very suddenly but I'm really willing to get this one happy so I can have it hopefully forever (17 years is a pretty hefty run)

I've not wanted to cut the dead branches off because I can't tell where they're really dead and where they're just dehydrated looking. It's a graduated difference between dead and alive, it appears. It used to have a good 30 giant waxy gorgeous leaves all the way up the trunk/stem you see here, but they completely fell off after the cat pee incident, and then it seemed to seek more lateral light via branching instead of replenishing the leaves on the stalk.

In this photo you'll see a branch that fell off has been stuck into the soil, freshly, and not an addtnl start

So I guess my plan of attack will be to put it right in the east facing window, give it a layer of houseplant soil on top, watering well once a week and eventually transplanting it when it looks like it's become fairly solid again. . ?

thanks Gardenweb. You are my hero now as well as in. . like '03(?) when I was last active lol

: )


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Re: RE: Ficus

wow thanks for this concise response. I think the first think I am going to go is grab some of this Superthrive stuff. I did actually fertilise it a month or so ago which cause it to grow several new leaves which I assumed had depleted the little vitality it had left.

The cat is long gone and this hasn't been an issue for 3 years now. There are no roots trying to leave the drainage holes.

Neglect is sort of big part of it's past over the years. I was once terribly good with plants and then I lost my hand for them very suddenly but I'm really willing to get this one happy so I can have it hopefully forever (17 years is a pretty hefty run)

I've not wanted to cut the dead branches off because I can't tell where they're really dead and where they're just dehydrated looking. It's a graduated difference between dead and alive, it appears. It used to have a good 30 giant waxy gorgeous leaves all the way up the trunk/stem you see here, but they completely fell off after the cat pee incident, and then it seemed to seek more lateral light via branching instead of replenishing the leaves on the stalk.

In this photo you'll see a branch that fell off has been stuck into the soil, freshly, and not an addtnl start

So I guess my plan of attack will be to put it right in the east facing window, give it a layer of houseplant soil on top, watering well once a week and eventually transplanting it when it looks like it's become fairly solid again. . ?

thanks Gardenweb. You are my hero now as well as in. . like '03(?) when I was last active lol

: )


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RE: Ficus

Your plant looks like it is not going to make it without some quick measures. I would definitely repot the plant now. Forget fertilizers at this point. The roots are probably poor and your best shot is to repot in fresh soil now.

Put the plant in the sunniest window you have and only water when dry. I would also remove the dead branches and cut the lead branch (tall) back to the first branch with leaves. At this point, I wouldn't worry about cutting off live branches. You need the plant to start making new growth.

Good luck,
Jane


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RE: Ficus

Eric..Woo. For some reason I thought you had a Ficus 'Beji' and fuller. Yours is a F. 'elastica',Rubber Tree. When you first bought it, did it have large leaves?
17 yrs is a long time..To be honest, your tree should have been repotted years ago. I believe it has root problem. Which is one reason it's not root bound. Its roots probably stopped growing and might be damaged.

Please, don't fertilize. As you can see, your Ficus has small leaves. Fertilizer helps root and leaf growth. Since your leaves are 1/4 the size they should be, at 17-yrs-old, fertilizer is wasted. Roots aren't absorbing nutrients.
Was your plant outside this summer?

Let's get your plant going. Although I said, don't repot, 'after seeing the soil,' take your Ficus out of the container. BTW, what size is the pot?

Cut dead and stray roots. If the rootball is the same size as roots, repot in 1-2 size/s larger pot, if not, wash the pot, add fresh soil, in, around the rootball and on top.
I'd use ST...10 drops to a gallon of water.
As for pruning stems. I should have been more specific. Prune dead stems. If you look on the top of the trunk, the tip looks dead. Feel it. Is it soft? If so, then that part is a goner, and needs cutting.

You have two other options. One is Air-Layering. Are you familiar with this technique?

Next, cutting the main trunk down. Some people cut as far back as a few inches from the soil line. That means, basically starting over. But with proper care, you could have a healthy tree.
Even if you cut halfway down the trunk, it'll get new growth, branch out. I don't usually recommend doing either this time of year, but your tree needs help.

As I said above, your Ficus should have been repotted some time ago, and a lot more sun. Don't believe Rubber Trees do well in shade..they don't. All it does is grow spindly stems, small leaves, and looks sad.
Decide which route you want to go, Eric. Good luck, Toni

Consider the options, Eric.


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RE: Ficus

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Sep 26, 10 at 15:23

Actually, I agree with Jane with the exception about the fertilizer part. Your plants does need immediate attention, and showers/vitamins/hormones aren't going to do it for you. I also don't think you should be worrying about leaf size or air layering, and now is not a good time for a repot, but potting up a size would be ok.

The things that would be best to focus on are:
* Making sure there is not a high level of accumulating salts in the soil. This kills a huge number of plants, with most hobbyists not even realizing why their plants are in a gradual but steady decline.
* Get the plant into a larger pot asap. If you decide to take my advice, I'll help you with additional information on how best to do this.
* Make sure you can water appropriately, or commit to flushing the soil at regular intervals to ensure salts do not build up. I can offer tips to help you deal with a heavy soil, or you can think about making your own.
* Keep the plant warm and in the best light you can provide, though direct sun indoors w/o some air movement may not be appropriate. This has to do with solar heat gain and an intact boundary layer (of air surrounding the leaves) that may not dissipate enough heat unless there is air movement.
* It's not appropriate to unequivocally suggest you don't fertilize. Plants cannot make food w/o a source of nutrients. Additionally, many plants are 'sick' because of
nutritional deficiencies. Yours could easily be suffering from more than 1 deficiency if you haven't fertilized in a month. Your plant cannot grow or recover without ALL the essential elements being available, so withholding fertilizer is probably a bad idea. After you take steps to flush the soil, an appropriate nutritional supplementation program is preferred to withholding nutrition.

You can get more information about what to expect and not expect from Superthrive by clicking on the link following, and scrolling down to the April 14 post by Linda Chalker-Scott, PhD., titled Thieves Purr Her comments about the product are interesting/revealing and parallel the experimenting I've done with some loose controls in place.

You can also follow the link below and review some conversations about the care of Ficus e. Many others have found themselves in exactly the same situation you are in.

The decisions about how to go about getting your plant back on track are completely up to you, but a systematic approach based on sound horticultural practices will go a long way toward ensuring success and speeding things up.

Good luck.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: More about rubber tree care


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RE: Ficus

To be honest I am a bit overwhelmed by conflicting advice.

This plant has thrived in much lower light than it currently has available to it. The leaves used to be HUGE and dense despite much lower light. It also used to be in a bathroom with great humidity and now it is not. It is in front of a door that is often cracked, in a room with good air circulation, and floor to ceiling eastern light.

So if I repot, is there a specific soil that would be best? I know nothing about trimming roots. I don't believe that it's root bound. I think the ball is only 3/4ths the size of the pot, which might mean that a soil recharge vs a repot may be effective? It's been looking like this for two or three years and it just does NOT want to die thank goodness.

When I added fertiliser a month or so ago it instantly grew about 4 new leaves and when I discontinued fertilisation it lost the older leaves and kept the newer ones.

My inclination is to replenish soil (without adding fert initially perhaps?) in existing pot for at least a little while as well as remove dead portions, let it get some foliage and then do a major overhaul in a couple months. . .

Maybe it would be beneficial to pull the root ball out, wash it well, trim the bad roots off (I assume they look like bad stems do; soft, wrinkly?) and see if there's any benefit from these measures initially?

Again, confused by options here.

Thanks guys, you are all like botanical EMTs to me right now


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RE: Ficus

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Sep 26, 10 at 17:21

Conflicting advice on forum sites is common. Choose who makes the most sense or who seems the most experienced with the plant material you're discussing and follow their instructions.

Very often, people follow the advice that seems easiest and often end up unable to gain enough traction to get beyond their issue(s). Grower convenience and the plants best interest are often mutually exclusive. Understanding the energy flow of the plant and what can and can't be done to stressed plants w/o making the situation worse, is an important part of good husbandry (taking care of plants). Timing of certain procedures is also an important issue. Sometimes things really need to be done (like a full repot) but the condition of the plant might be too poor and/or the timing inappropriate, so you have to do the next best thing(s) until you can appropriately remedy the issue w/o risking the life of the plant - unless you're just experimenting and it doesn't matter.

An example of something I would never suggest at this point is cutting the plant back. Unless I'm missing something, cutting the plant back, as was offered as an option, would remove all the plants photosynthesizing machinery. How then will an already struggling plant make the food (same as find the energy) needed to grow new foliage? The plant will call on nonexistant reserves. Unable to push new leaves, the plant will either die, be attacked by insects/disease, or cling to life by a thread until it finally, and very gradually, recovers - in several times the amount of time it WOULD have taken had you left the leaves on. You don't do chops (hard cut-backs) going into winter, and you only do them in the summer on healthy plants with good energy reserves - or you invite problems.

Ball's in your court. ;o)

Al


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RE: Ficus

Eric, unfortunately, people don't always agree on care for plants..guess it's the same as preparing a meal. You might add one teas of salt, I might use two.

When I offer advice on plant care, the advice originates from my own experiences or from pouring through plant books over the years. Too many years to name, :)
I would never suggest anything I wouldn't do to one of my own plants. Ever. I take plants seriously.

Eric, why did you take your Ficus out of the bathroom? WAs it getting unobstructed, direct/bright, eastern light? Sounds like a perfect spot.
Some authors claim, Ficus 'elastica,' Rubber Trees do well in shady spots. I disagree. It might do great in the beginning, but eventually growth will be spindly, small leaves, limp stems. Rubber Trees are strong, should stand erect w/o staking. If adequate light, humidity and fresh air is supplied.

One thing, your plant is a fighter. lol. Just won't quit.
Since your tree isn't rootbound, instead of repotting, just add fresh soil like I explained above.
A well-draining soil will do fine. I mix soils, Eric, but don't know if you want to bother. Let me know if you're interested, I'll explain what I use.

It's not unusual for Ficus to drop lower, older leaves. Also, you have to remember, days are shorter. Plant is no longer outside getting fresh air, natural warmth, sun, and humdity.
Some people won't dare move a Ficus, especially Beji's. Large trees are notorius for dropping few to large numbers of leaves. When moving Ficus from high to lower light, it's bound to lose foliage.. Ficus 'elastica' is much more hardier than Benji's, but some people lose leaves inspite of hardiness, species or care.
Did its leaves discolor before dropping?

Eric, with effort and some work, I believe you can save your tree. It's not going to happen overnight..patience is the key, except for its care.

Honestly Eric, 'please don't be upset,' but your Ficus has seen better days. It took 17 yrs, to go from a beautiful, large leaf, full tree, to a thin trunk with a couple branches, and immature leaf growth. It will not take another 17 yrs to spruce up but it will take time and effort. Good luck, Toni


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RE: Ficus

I think the bottom line is that the plant needs some work to survive. All the advice given is correct. I see you live in Z8 which should be warm enough to keep the tree outside for a while longer.

I would still recommend cutting the tall, dead branch. I would cut the tree back to any live branches. You do not want to remove the existing leaves, the plant needs those to grow.

If the plant is not root-bound after 17 years, it suggests the roots have either rotted away or died. Doesn't matter, the tree should have more roots.

If it were my tree, I would take it outside and repot in fresh soil. I suspect there is considerable root loss. If the tree receives enough light and warmth it should begin to grow.

I, personally would not fertilize, but will leave that up to you.

It is important to work on the tree quickly before it loses the few leaves left. I would leave the tree outside as long as the weather stays warm.

Hopeful stated correct, they are tough trees and with some attention should turn around.

Good luck,

Jane


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Ficus rehab

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Sep 29, 10 at 19:44

Eric - you may find this link helpful.

Here is a link that might be useful: More about Ficus


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RE: Ficus

I'm not trying to take sides but chopping the tree off at the soil line was a suggestion I immediately discarded as possible even in the least.

Situation: plant reserves low, few leaves to photosynthesize. . . Remove leaves, the source of the plants energy when it's already doing badly? Ridiculous.

No offence.

I appreciate all the help I've been offered though. The course of action I have chosen is to add a little soil to the top of the pot, water it a little bit with very highly dilute fertilizer (as to not burn it or bolt it) whenever the soil is bone dry � to avoid rot, fungus, or overwatering at this critical stage.

Once it's showing a little more promise I'm going to try to get the potential salt accumulation cleared out as well as pot up slightly and attempt a modest root trim it anything at this point appears unhealthy.

I'll keep everyone posted on the progress.

Also, the fallen branch that I stuck into the soil isn't showing any signs of yellowing � maybe it'll root?!? No, I couldn't find my hormone, plus I don't know if rooting hormone is something great to introduce to the environment of a plant on it's last legs. I have no evidence to support this � just playing safe.

Thanks guys.

I know it's a silly rubber tree and most folks think buying a new one is the best plan but I also know that Gardenweb understands that plants are life and not disposablem which is my opinion on the matter.

Eric


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RE: Ficus

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Sep 29, 10 at 23:22

Just FWIW, and not to perpetuate an argument, Eric, but the chop is very possible and commonly done - just not on plants severely weakened by stress and heading into winter. The proper time to consider a chop like that is in early summer when the plant has LOTS of energy reserves stored, to push a new flush of growth. Leaves and new branches will form quickly on trees bursting with energy, and the long day length with bright light ensures a quick recovery.

It's very possible your tree is already suffering from a high concentration of soluble salts in the soil. You can pretty much determine how likely that is to be the case by the way you've been watering. If you've watered in small sips to avoid root rot, it would probably be a good idea to flush the soil before you fertilize, as fertilizer would just add to the accumulated salt levels. If you've been watering copiously each time you water, so a good % of the total volume of water applied runs through the soil, out the drain holes, and is then discarded, it's less likely there would be a soluble salts issue.

Below, you see a mulberry tree I chopped a few inches from the soil line in early spring 09. In the picture, it looks sort of ugly because I'm still building branches on the tree, but in 2 years, the chop wound will have healed and it will be looking good in a nice bonsai pot. I'm showing you this particular tree because it clearly illustrates the tree has been chopped, and because mulberry is a very close relative of your rubber tree, as both are in the family Moraceae. Temperate trees can be chopped in early spring because they go dormant with their batteries fully charged, and wake up ready to rock in the spring. Tropicals and subtropicals normally have to endure a low-light induced steady drain on their energy reserves for the entire winter, so when spring comes, they are at the lowest energy level of the growth cycle, so need some time in the sun to recharge before significant work.

Photobucket

Your tree will be hard pressed to make it through the winter w/o remedial action, even WITH all the foliage it now has. Your decision not to remove it was indeed a good one. I have little doubt it would have killed the tree. The normal treatment for houseplants is to build up their energy, then cut the top back to a low branch you can train to vertical as the new leader. Sometimes everything can be accomplished with judicious pruning, as you have no concern for things like taper and proportions, though it's always a good thing to consider eye appeal and prune appropriately once the tree is on the road to recovery.

Take care - good luck.


Al


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RE: Ficus

Eric, there is hope for your ficus; I inherited one that ended up looking like yours about 4 months ago - but with fewer leaves (none!). Yes, it was the best time of year for it to experience the worst time of it's life, and maybe that did help it to pull through.

I removed all the incredibly hydrophobic soil and replaced it with mature, coarse compost from my pile. This old soil was so bad that after repeated soakings, the root area was still COMPLETELY dry when I repotted! I hesitate to call it a "repot" since I've learned that is a very specific action, dealing with roots, but since it had virtually no root structure at all, it didn't need me messing around with them.

I kept watering & kept it in a sunny spot. Eventually, some leaves appeared. Some minor back-budding is beginning to happen & new leaves just keep coming :)

The next step will be to prune back the longest, naked branches, the ones in the right of the photo, but not until late spring. A couple of the branches were pruned too close to nodes, so the precarious little branches will come off too. I will try to root all of the cuttings. I am also considering making a major soil change at that time & trying a mix that does not involve any actual soil.
Which leads me to my question: should I be fertilizing it through the winter? If yes, than what with? As Al knows, I am not a fertilizor; what will give this plant the energy stores to really make a comeback next year & give the cuttings the best possible chance at rooting out?

Thanks everyone & don't give up on your tree Eric!

Here is a link that might be useful: a picture of the plant now


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RE: Ficus

Eric, I didn't think you'd cut your 17-yr old Ficus back, and no, it isn't just a 'silly' Rubber Tree. You've had this plant a long time, naturally it has meaning.

If you notice, I suggested cutting back the main trunk as a last resort.
When one-trunk trees grow spindly, 'although it's a difficult task,' some people cut back mere inches from the soil line, as a means for the tree to regrow. I've never done this with a Ficus, but I have cut Avacado's back. However, I know others who have cut Ficus back, and now have lovely bushy plants.
Eric, just so you know, I suggested cutting back as an option.

As for Superthrive, it's a natural hormone containing 50 vitamins..There's nothing artificial in its contents. I do not use chemicals on my plants, 'except for some fertilizers.' No chemical insecticides whatsoever. Check out their website.

As Jane stated, you're in z8, so you should be able to leave your Ficus outside. BTW, has it been outdoors this summer? If not, don't start out by putting it in harsh sun at first. Bright light will do fine. Strong sunlight can burn your tree.
Also, if you decide to keep it outside, when it's time to bring back in, do so gradually. Each day set in a shadier spot until it's ready to come in. Hose it before bringing back indoors. Spraying with a little Fish Emulsion will prvent certain house plant insects from attack.
Once indoors, place in your sunniest window possible. It's important soil dries between watering.
Have you decided to check its roots?

Eric, don't expect much growth over winter months. Come spring, when all signs of frost end, let sit outside, starting with medium light, until it adapts to brighter sun.

Here are a few of my guys.

Ficus-RT's08

FicusBon08


RubberTree08

FicusWeep4-20-09

Fic-Tri-V10-09

Although Ficus aren't my forte, I keep a few. The only Ficus that's giving me trouble, is the Ficus 'Triangle' variegata...it needs a lot of humidity during winter.

Al, your bonsai is very nice..Toni


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