sketchybird

Dying Ficus!

sketchybird
9 years ago

Hi,

I have a very sick ficus! I adopted my ficus from the garbage 3 years ago, and it has never been a particularly pretty plant (never grew too many leaves), but has been making slow progress in my sunniest window for awhile now. Starting maybe 6 weeks ago, its leaves all started turning yellow and dropping. I know that ficus are finicky plants, and don't like change, but I haven't changed anything that I know of (I water it when it is dry, usually every week or so, I don't move it, etc). I have been scouring the forums for some solution, and pretty much all the experts say that it is being over or under watered. Looking closer at the leaves, all the yellowest ones have a waxy bead at the base of the underside of the leaf, which covers a brown dot. I can't see any bugs. Is this normal? Every day I lose at least 10 more leaves, and the plant can't keep going like this...it's a 6 foot tree with only about 60 leaves left. I'd love to hear some expert opinions!

Thanks!

Comments (18)

  • tapla
    9 years ago

    Sorry - I forgot this thread was here. Here's what I would do. Move the tree to where you can flush the pot thoroughly - in the tub or shower is great. Saturate the soil with room temperature water and wait 10 minutes. Then, flush the soil with a volume of water at least equal to the volume of the container it's in 5-10 times - the more the better. This removes accumulating solubles (salt build-up) from the soil. After it stops draining, remove the tree from the pot & set it on newspaper over night. The paper will 'pull' excess water from the soil. Return it to the same pot next day.

    Wait to water until a wood dowel stuck deep into the soil comes out clean & dry. When it needs it's first watering after the flush, fertilize with a 1/2 recommended strength of MG 24-8-16 or 12-4-8, or Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 (my favorite).

    I'll have you add a wick to the pot for now. The wick will help excess water drain & allow you to water properly. You'll need to arrange for the pot to be ABOVE a collection saucer when you water, with the wick dangling below the bot 2-3", but NOT touching the effluent that collects in the saucer. When you water - use enough water so at least 10-15% of the total volume of water you apply exits the drain or drips off the wick. This keeps solubles from accumulating in the soil. You can learn more about why how water behaves in container soils here. If you absorb the information in this thread, it will stay with you and help you with your container gardening from now on.

    Can do?

    Al

    Best Answer
  • tapla
    9 years ago

    This is a tropical plant like benjamina or other? not carica, an edible fig - yes?

    Many plants, Ficus among them, posses highly specialized gland-like trichomes (hairs) at the leaf base where petioles attach that secrete oil, resin, or mucilage - 'wax', in the case of Ficus. A typical glandular hair has a stalk and enlarged terminal portion (what you see) which is usually referred to as the gland. It's a normal part of leaf anatomy.

    We can narrow down & maybe even isolate the problem(s) causing the leaf loss if you're willing to answer questions like:

    Have you inspected thoroughly for pests like scale, mealybug, and mites?

    When was the last repot?

    When fertilized last - with what?

    When you water, do you give it just enough, or soak the soil so a lot of water runs through & collects in a saucer?

    If you can confirm it doesn't have an insect issue, and you're sure it's not under-watering, the odds heavily favor either over-watering or an accumulation of soluble salts in the soil. All three issues - the salts, under-watering and over-watering will trigger a drought response & cause leaf abscission (falling).

    Light issues can also cause leaf abscission, but since you said nothing has changed, it's probably not light-related.

    Is it in front of a window? on the N,S,E or W of the home? You haven't moved it?

    Al


  • sketchybird
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Yes, it is a benjamina.
    I can't see any evidence of bugs, the leaves that come off just yellow and drop...no bugs on them or anywhere else that I can see. The last repot was when I got the tree, about 3 years ago...I have noticed that the root ball does not seem to have grown much in that time into the new soil, I can feel a couple of inches of loose soil around the roots.
    I fertilized it about a month ago with miracle grow, around the time it started to drop leaves, because I thought maybe it was just a bit depleted.
    When I water it, I water from the top and the bottom, and let it all soak in. I generally water it pretty heavily, but never enough that it has to stand in water. It is hot in my apartment, and gets dry pretty fast, but I water it about every week, so I don't think it's being under watered.
    It is in front of an East facing window, and also very close to a South facing one. I haven't moved it, because I know that can cause leaf drop.
    Any thoughts? Thanks for your help!

  • tapla
    9 years ago

    Usually, when you improve photo-intensity or photo-period (light levels and duration of exposure) most Ficus grown indoors respond very favorably. Leaves are able to adjust better to higher light than lower light. The reason is a little complex, but if you're curious, I'll explain why trees shed light due to changes in light levels, but that's probably not the issue in play here.

    If there are no bugs, it's a fairly safe bet to think that the issue lies either inside of a triangle bounded by your soil choice, your watering habits, and the level of salt in the soils. These three soil-related facets work together to your plants favor or detriment, depending on your choices and habits.

    Another issue that can cause issues with with lost foliage (primarily on the lower parts of the tree and on the interior [branches closest to the trunk] of the canopy) is the tree being extremely rootbound. From what you're describing, and arising from the fact the plant hasn't been root-pruned or repotted in several years, I'm sure that's a big consideration and needs to be corrected, but I don't think it's the immediate problem that needs resolution.

    Are you willing to do this:

    Move the tree to a spot (just for a day) where you can thoroughly & repeatedly flush the soil with room temperature water. If yes, I'll give you a few simple instructions that should get your tree back on track until we can get it properly repotted. I'll help you with that, too. If you're willing to invest the effort, I'll provide the guidance. As long as your tree isn't 'circling the drain' it should respond favorably within a few weeks - especially since days are now lengthening, but you need to remember trees are on tree time and we are on people time - they're different. Things don't happen overnight, but I have no doubt that if the tree has enough energy to push new growth that it can be saved.

    {{gwi:3269}}
    The strings are securing it in the pot because it was recently root-pruned & repotted. Keeping a tree stable, so it can't move in relation to the pot, minimizes the time it takes for a tree to reestablish. In this pic, the top foliage mass of the this tree needs pruning - the branches are too long, and the whole tree needs thinning to let light and air into the interior (promotes back-budding). I usually do that 2-3 weeks AFTER I repot. Leaves are the engines that drive root growth, so I generally do my repots/root work (on tropical figs - not carica) first & prune later.

    Al

  • sketchybird
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    I can put the tree in the bathtub for the day...are we talking in pot or out of pot?
    I'm sure you can tell I've got no experience with ficus. I found mine on the side of the road in November a few years ago, and I wanted to save it, but I've never really known what to do with it. I'm sure it desperately needs pruning...it has many branches (most of them leafless at this point). If you're willing to help me, I'll follow your directions step by step and we'll see if we can save it!
    Thanks so much for all your help!

  • rpgieselman
    4 years ago

    We are having similar issues with a fairly old ficus benjamina(?)

    tree (currently about 8 ft tall). We brought it to this house about a year ago. At that time, it was quite overgrown, both above and below the soil. The roots were so bad that they had grown out the top and bottom of the pot and were circling it.

    I trimmed back the branches, cut back to the roots, and repotted it (I know, as I write this, it sounds like I put it through a lot of stress all at once). The good news is that it seemed to adapt quite readily and did well for close to a year.

    A month or so ago, it began losing leaves on a fairly wholesale basis (not the "instant shed" that I've seen on some ficus that have been moved or treated to the cold, but 6-12 leaves/branch turning brown and falling off at a time.) It's beginning to look pretty dead at this point.

    I water it once a week and generally include some Miracle-Gro as per instructions. I water it "just enough" trying to avoid filling the tray at the bottom (we have a cat that likes to lick from there, something we discourage).

    Ideas, please?

  • Suzi AKA DesertDance So CA Zone 9b
    4 years ago

    I think you should repost this in the house plant forum. This forum is more for edible figs AKA Ficus Carica. You have a house plant AKA Ficus Benjamina.

  • Dave
    4 years ago

    Yes try the house plant section. Ficus benjamia does not belong here.

    I'm pretty knowledgeable with these trees (I've learned a lot from Al) and would be glad to give advice. But I won't do that here because it's not the right place.

    Mine doesn't just survive, it thrives.



  • tapla
    4 years ago

    Rp - My guess is, if you're adding fertilizer weekly and not flushing the soil thoroughly on a regular basis, the TDS (total dissolved solids - the amount of salt) in the soil solution has continued to increase over time to the point where the plant can no longer take up water. The level of dissolved solids in the soil solution must be lower than the level of salts inside of cells if water is to move from intercellular spaces in the plant to an intracellular location. The salt content of intercellular water can become so high it actually pulls water out of the plant's cells. When this occurs plasma is torn from cell walls, killing the cell, which is where the technical term 'plasmolysis' comes from (commonly - fertilizer burn). Your picture also shows that what I said is a distinct possibility. The plant might have been over or under-watered, or other issues might be affecting the plant, but based on the info you provided I'd flush the soil thoroughly by slowly pouring water = to at least 10x the volume of the pot the plant is in through the soil to flush it of any accumulated salts.

    What are the NPK %s of the fertilizer you're using?


    Al


  • rpgieselman
    4 years ago

    Thanks Al - I will give this a try. Miracle Gro is 8-7-6.

  • rpgieselman
    4 years ago

    So, should I cut back on the fertilizing or flush regularly (what cycle?) or both?

    BTW, I have two additional ficus (bushes) which I treat similarly without any issue. Those were not overgrown or pot-bound, so I didn't take the same drastic measures with them that I did with the tree. Maybe it was the repotting, etc that made this one more susceptible?

  • Dave
    4 years ago
    last modified: 4 years ago

    You should pick up some foliage pro 9-3-6 or if you use miracle gro, use the 12-4-8 or the 24-8-16.

  • rpgieselman
    4 years ago

    Okay, thanks Dave! I'll take a look for these.

  • rpgieselman
    4 years ago

    I am now most of the way through the flush (two more soaks to go). I am not sure whether it is the flush or the rain last night (I'm doing this outside), but the dead leaves have now turned from dry and brittle to soft and pliable. Fingers crossed!

  • tapla
    4 years ago

    That would have been the rain.

    Al

  • rpgieselman
    4 years ago

    Ha! Should have known. Thanks again!

  • Dave
    4 years ago

    The dead leaves won't come back though.

  • rpgieselman
    4 years ago

    No I wasn't expecting that, but I was interested to see the dead leaves gain some moisture and become pliable. Thanks to all for your assistance.

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