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Struggling ficus elastica

Posted by jrob808 New York City (My Page) on
Sun, Oct 14, 12 at 14:02

About a month ago I received a small ficus elastica as a gift. The plant was developing some serious problems--dropping leaves, yellowing leaves, and brown spots (see photo). I thought maybe the problem was overwatering/too much moisture in the soil, since it came in a very large plastic planter. I repotted it in a smaller smart pot about a week ago and I've cut back on watering, but there are no signs of improvement yet. Could the problem stem from something else? Any suggestions on how to save my plant would be sincerely appreciated! Thanks


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

Whats it sat in, the thing with the tag? Looks fabric.


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

Yes, it's a fabric planter, which I read helps protect against overwatering.


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

same thing happened to mine.


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

Did you figure out what was wrong and how to save it?


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

Sorry no I didnt.
but I found this in GW


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 14, 12 at 17:00

Once a problem has become manifest in a leaf or in leaves, those leaves don't heal. When a plant part becomes a detriment to the organism as a whole, the plant recognizes the fact (by way of chemical messengers) that the organism is better off without it and sheds the part.

The best way to 'save' your plant is to provide the cultural conditions that eliminate limiting factors to the greatest degree possible. The main areas on which to concentrate include A) the combination of soil choice and watering habits, which also encompasses the level of soluble salts in the soil, B) light levels, C) nutritional considerations, D) temperatures. If you get the soil right, watering habits and the level of salts in the soil are pretty much a nonissue. Nutrition is also as simple as you make it - one fertilizer can provide all your plant's nutrition. That leaves light and temperatures.

I'm going to suggest you have a look at a couple of threads, in the hope you'll find them helpful.

One outlines a very effective way to approach growing in containers.

The other is directed specifically toward growing ficus in containers.

If you find these helpful and wish to read more about how to make your soil work FOR you instead of AGAINST you, I'll link you to another thread that explains that, and probably has information that will help you significantly advance your ability to grow healthy plants in containers.

BTW - your adoption of smart containers is a step in the right direction. Perched water in container soils is a major impediment to our ability to get all the potential growth and vitality out of our plants that they have to offer.

Al


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

My link didnt post but thanks Al it was one of your posts anyway. LOL


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

I'm not familiar with the "smart" pot - how do they work? Yes, those types of leaf damage are consistent with overwet roots.


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 14, 12 at 20:31

The main claim to fame by 'Smart Pots', 'Root Trapper Pots', and several other types of similar containers is that they help to prevent the occurrence of circling/girdling roots through the mechanism of air pruning roots when they reach the highly permeable sides of the pot. Root tips die when exposed to air, which forces additional root division in much the same way that pinching causes fullness through additional back-budding in the canopy or top of the plant. A less lauded but probably more significant advantage is that when the pots are placed on the ground or a layer of soil in a second pot, they eliminate PWTs and their affects on root health. Even if NOT used to their best advantage, the gas permeable sides and bottom offer much greater water loss by way of evaporation, which can be turned into a significant advantage for growers using water-retentive soils.

Al


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

Hmm, is that like landscape fabric? Maybe there's a virtue to that stuff afterall...?


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

I'm not familiar with the "smart" pot - how do they work? Yes, those types of leaf damage are consistent with overwet roots.


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

Dear Al,
Thank you so much for your informative responses. Judging from the reading I have done on the links you sent me, I'm guessing the potting soil I'm currently using is too water retentive. I'm hesitant to repot again, however, since we are going into winter and the plant didn't react very well to the last major change I made (into the smart pot). Should I wait until spring to pot with a better soil? Also, should I cut out all the damaged leaves, or just wait for them to fall off?
Thanks again.


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Oct 15, 12 at 8:44

The primary claim to fame for 'Smart Pots', 'Root Trapper Pots', and other similar pots is that they offer some degree of air pruning of roots that would otherwise turn into encircling or girdling roots, and force root division in much the same way that pinching causes fuller plants. As roots reach the pot wall, they meet with dry conditions that kill the root tips. The theory is that once truncated, the roots cannot grow long enough to cause problems related to circling/girdling.

In many cases, the less lauded benefit comes in the form of the fact that these pots tend to expose more soil to air, which means much more water loss due to evaporation - a decidedly GOOD thing if using water retentive soils. Also, if you site these pots on soils that drains freely, the earth acts as a giant wick, and can eliminate perched water entirely. This can be a VERY significant advantage for those using very water retentive soils.

The most significant disadvantages are probably what you have to go through to get as much from them as they an offer, and dealing with their appearance - they usually aren't pretty, and using them in cache pots CAN reduce their effectiveness considerably.

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Jrob - you're most welcome. The ODDS are, your plant problem stems directly from an overly water retentive soil and a too heavy hand on the watering can; BUT, the facts are, several conditions related to an inadequate water supply to the canopy cause the same symptoms. The odds DO favor it being a soggy soil as causal, but before you play the odds, it's a good idea to consider that under-watering and a high level of salts in the soil cause the same symptoms, and to eliminate them as probable/possible causes.

To me, it makes little sense to continually try to deal with the effects of overly water retentive soils when you don't have to. My suggestion to anyone who will listen is to rid yourself of the limitations imposed by water retentive soils entirely. Simply adopt a soil that allows you to water properly without fear of root impairment or worse. This leaves you free of most of the problems people come here seeking resolution for, and gives you the opportunity to focus on other issues, like light/nutrition/temperatures, knowing any issues you DO face aren't likely to be soil-related. Learning how to make your soil work FOR you, instead of AGAINST you, is probably the largest single step forward a container gardener can make.

F elastica is a pretty forgiving plant. I think your plan to get the tree through the winter and plan around an early summer repot is a good one. How are you using the smart pot? What are you doing to ensure you can water properly until repotting time rolls around? What are you doing as far as nutrition - have a plan?

Al


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

Dear Al,
Thanks again for your help! I originally wanted to place the smart pot inside a larger, more attractive decorative planter, but I decided to hold off on that because I want to maximize evaporation. For the next months I'll leave it standing in the open air, exposed on all sides, and I'll refrain from watering until the soil is quite dry. I have never let the plant get very dry, so I don't think the problem is a lack of water.

I hadn't really thought about nutrition issues because I believe the person who gave me the ficus put it in new soil right before she handed it to me. Should I think about fertilizer already? Do you recommend a particular fertilizer for this type of plant?


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

Al: Thanks for the info. A couple more ?'s - how does your gritty mix, or any porous medium, work in them? Do you have to water even more often? And you say that setting them on soil in another pot improves the "wicking" action - then wouldn't setting them on a layer of soil in a decorative container meet that suggestion?

JRob: Don't let it get completely dry. Use a narrow wooden dowel to test down into the bottom of the soil/root mass, as if you were testing a cake. When you pull the dowel up, there should be a few bits of soil sticking, and if you run it between your fingers, you should feel just a trace of moisture. Also you might want to consider that using a porous potting medium will mean that you'll have to water more often, I don't know if that could be an issue for you or not.


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RE: Struggling ficus elastica

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Oct 15, 12 at 13:44

.... how does your gritty mix, or any porous medium, work in them? Since the gritty mix holds a negligible volume of perched water to begin with, instead, holding virtually all it's water inside of soil particles, the wicking action that occurs when the container is resting on soil has almost no effect on water retention. The water the wicking action removes is perched water, with intra-particulate water remaining largely unaffected. There IS more evaporative water loss through the gas-permeable container sides, but that occurs no matter what soil you're using. To my way of thinking, their greatest asset lies in the fact they allow growers to use soils too water-retentive to be used in conventional containers with the expectation of favorable results. Do you have to water even more often? Yes - no matter what soil you would choose, more frequent watering would be required for plantings in these types of containers. It should be noted though, that you can achieve all the positives associated with these types of containers by simply using a soil that doesn't support perched water - with the exception of their claim that these containers "auto root prune". That is partially true, and only to a point (helps prevent encircling/girdling roots). Roots still quickly become congested to the point that growth and vitality potential are lost - no matter what we choose as a container, so regular root maintenance is a requirement for growers who want to keep their plants in peak form. And you say that setting them on soil in another pot improves the "wicking" action - then wouldn't setting them on a layer of soil in a decorative container meet that suggestion? Yes - it's just a variation on the pot-in-pot or pot-in-trench growing technique that utilizes a second pot under the primary pot to remove perched water from the primary pot. This can be achieved with or without the specialty pots being discussed.

It's easy to get so used to watering once every two weeks that when a soil comes along that requires weekly watering we say "Wow - I don't want to deal with THAT!" You pay for those 2 week intervals between waterings in the form of lost growth and vitality, so the proper perspective isn't that well-aerated soils require watering too frequently - it's much more logical to hold that plants in water-retentive soils that are robbing plants of their potential need to be watered too INfrequently.

Al


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