kath85_gw

Why is my ficus tree dying?

kath85
9 years ago

Hello,

Perhaps someone with a better green thumb than I can give me some advice about saving my poor ficus tree. I bought it the beginning of last winter and was told not to repot it until spring so it is currently in it's plastic pot inside a larger clay pot. It is sitting in the brightest room in the house which isn't saying much in Ohio, but at a temp of 65-70 degrees. I water it faithfully once a week when the top is dry with about a cup if water and try to make sure there is a little moisture throughout the bottom layers of soil. It is probably three to four feet tall.any of the leaves are turning completely brown, curling at the edges and falling off. Some leaves get spots first and many of the branches appear to be dead. It's been a slow process over the past several months, but every week I find a good handful of fallen leaves on the carpet. How can I save it? I realize that direct sunlight in Cleveland is virtually impossible in the winter, but the greenhouse where I bought it insisted that a ficus could still survive. What do you think?

Comments (37)

  • gorgi
    9 years ago

    What ficus tree?
    There are hundreds+ of ficus species.
    This FF is intended for the general ficus genus,
    but it turns out that it is mostly focused towards the
    F.carica kind (the common edible fig).
    Please specify or show a picture, and I am sure that
    some expert (not me) will come to your help.
    Good luck...

    Best Answer
  • kath85
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Update: just lifted up the plant to clean out some old leaves and discovered what looks like pill bugs and centipedes. Ugh. I don't know if that's the issue, but it sure can't help. We've never had those bugs in the house so I imagine they came along in the soil. How do I go about getting rid of those guys?

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  • tapla
    9 years ago

    Hi, Kath. I can help you get your tree back on track if it's not too far gone. First - what species (benjamina, lyrata, elastica....?), then let me ask if your container has drain holes?, then tell me about your fertilizing - if you've done any. Do you have a water softener for your water supply? ion exchange or RO if you do?

    There is an active thread I just replied to that you might like to read - just click on this embedded link. I'm almost sure I'm going to be telling you pretty much what I told Sketchybird, but we'll see what you have to say.

    I also wrote a long post about the care of tropical Ficus in containers that should be very helpful. I'll link you to it below. At least we have a start - ball's in your court. ;o)

    Al

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

  • kath85
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Al, thank you for the links! A lot of excellent, concise information there that I wasn't able to find elsewhere online.

    To answer your questions, I think it is a benjamina. The trunk is braided if that helps. There is one center drainage hole in each of the pots and a clear plastic tray beneath to protect the carpet. No fertilizing and no water softener - just plain (city) tap water.

    I did rotate the tree a bit as I noticed it was leaning slightly toward the window and somewhat leafier on the window side. I would like to think that all it needs is just such a simple solution as that, but I have a feeling it's going to be a little more complicated.

    I so appreciate you taking the time to help!

    Katherine

  • tapla
    9 years ago

    I see I can get to you by email. If I send you a short note, you'll have my addy so you can send me a picture (of your tree) lol. Can you do that?

    What I think we need to do is get you on track in the watering fertilizing areas for the moment. First, I think we/you should get your soil flushed thoroughly, as I described in the link to Sketchybird. I'll copy paste it so you don't need to go looking for it:

    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.

    Any questions you have before you flush the soil and fertilize are welcome. If you're still interested - I'll help you get set up so you can water properly until you can repot. Repotting is different from potting up, in that repotting includes bare-rooting, a soil change, and root pruning.

    .... apprehensive, or excited to be taking a big step forward? ;o)

    Al

  • kath85
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Al,

    Thanks so much for the detailed instructions! Sorry it has taken me so long to reply, but your post was very helpful and appreciated! And yes, if you think it will help I can certainly email you a photo.

    Actually, I've had a lot of fun watching my ficus lately. Ever since I cleared out the dead leaves in the pot, killed those few bugs and rotated the plant, there have been no more dropped brown leaves and brand new shoots are even growing from branches that I had previously thought were dead! So now I'm kind of afraid to do anything else lest I jinx it.

    I think that the flushing and wicking part is simple enough though and will likely give that a go when the weather settles down a bit and I can let it dry out in the basement or garage without fear of extreme cold getting to it.

    But about the fertilizer. I try not to use any chemicals in/around the house. Do you think that fertilizer is necessary or are there organic mixes
    available?

    So excited to be learning all of this from a pro!

  • tapla
    9 years ago

    I understand if you're self-limited by an all organic ideology, but I also believe you make it more difficult to achieve success. First - fertilizing is always necessary to maintain your plants in good vitality in container culture. You cannot depend on the decomposition of the soil to release enough nutrients to fill the plant's needs. Organic fertilizers are probably more accurately referred to as soil amendments, and depend on the activity of soil micro-organisms to break the 'fertilizer' molecules down into elemental form. Since populations of these micro-organisms go through boom/bust cycles in containers, delivery of nutrients from organic sources are usually unreliable and erratic. You have little idea what you're actually supplying or even when it might become available. Once these elements DO become available in a form plants can assimilate, they are in exactly the same form supplied by soluble fertilizers like Miracle-Gro, Peter's, Foliage-Pro ...... With soluble fertilizers you know exactly how much of any nutrient is available, and it becomes available the moment it is applied. From this, you can see how much easier and more efficient it is to maintain plants in containers using soluble fertilizers with favorable ratios.

    On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being growing in the garden and 10 being hydroponics, container culture is probably a 7 or 8, and requires different approaches to managing moisture levels and nutrition for best results. If you follow the following embedded link, you may find the info about fertilizing containerized plants more detailed & helpful.

    I'll leave the ball in your court insofar as how you'd like to proceed, but before I take my leave, I would urge you to flush the soil asap (use sink/shower/tub) and look into getting your plant into a more appropriate soil when the timing is more appropriate. I have helped many hundreds of struggling growers take giant steps forward in their ability to maintain healthy plants by simply helping them to understand how important TO that success, a soil that allows you to water and fertilize properly is.

    Take care - best luck.

    Al

  • terry_upstate_ny
    9 years ago

    It may be that the fig tree needs to go dormant for the winter. In the spring it should grow new leaves.
    I started putting my potted fig tee in my unheated basement for the winter, on the advice of other members. It gets great new leaves in the spring when I put it outside.
    Terry

  • tapla
    9 years ago

    Katherine is talking about a tropical tree, Terry. Prolly Ficus benjamina, aka weeping fig. ;o)

    Al

  • wildforager
    9 years ago

    There seems to be a good comparison of organic vs inorganic fertilizers at wikipedia. It was helpful for me.

    Here is a link that might be useful: wikipedia Fert. page

  • sheilajgw
    6 years ago

    I wonder if anyone might be able to help me as well. I have what was a beautiful ficus tree -- it was potted for about 10 years in a very large pot -- 2 ft. high by 30" wide at the mouth. It lived happily outdoors and grew to be about 10 feet tall with beautiful green leaves. It was the star of the garden. About 2 months ago, it started losing leaves -- I watered and fed it to no avail. Finally I realized that it was probably root bound, and had my gardner take it out of the pot and plant it in the ground. It continued to die -- and now all that is left are the very large trunk and branches without leaves at all. I noticed a green film on some of the branches -- and in some spots it looks like it has developed knotty holes -- dead wood is falling off and leaving the interior branch. Some of the higher branches have snapped off -- dead.

    Is there anything I can to do save it -- I am really at a loss.

  • Karla Maxim
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    please help me save my tree.

  • Dave
    3 years ago

    Karla,

    youve provided no info on what the issue is or what tree you have.

    Also, post in the house plants section of this forum if you want proper help. This section is dedicated to edible figs. If you have a ficus benjamia, alii or layrata, they're not edible figs.

  • Karla Maxim
    3 years ago
    I tried to post pictures
  • Karla Maxim
    3 years ago
    here is my ficus
  • Dave
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    As I said, please go to the houseplants section of this forum. Tell us about the tree there and what the issues are.

    i have no clue what you're trees issues are since you didn't say anything. But I'd guess you don't give it enough light and you give it too much water.

    why are the curtains closed?

    here is the house plants forum

    http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/houseplt

    If you don't want to post there, read all of this:

    http://forums2.gardenweb.com/discussions/1476078/ficus-trees-in-containers-iv?n=204

  • Karla Maxim
    3 years ago
    the dog tipped it over today
  • Dave
    3 years ago

    So what's the issue?

  • bcboater
    3 years ago

    Tapala

    I'm new to the forum and have read nearly all of the posts. My ficus has done very well until the last couple of months when the leaves started to turn yellow and drop off. I've had the tree for 35 years after inheriting it from my college roommate. My first thought was that maybe it need a repot, but I'm not sure that it hasn't been overwatered. My normal watering routine has been about a half gallon of tap water once a week. Since it is the middle of winter in Northwest Indiana can it survive a repot now? Should it just be pruned and root trimmed and put back in the same pot? What do you recommend?

    Thanks

  • tapla
    3 years ago

    35 YEARS? Good job!

    The method of watering you're using promotes a build-up of mineral salts from tapwater and fertilizers. One thing I'd plan in the immediate future is a prolonged and very thorough flushing of the soil it's in. My longer range plan would involve a full repot in June. I'm envisioning that root congestion is severely limiting your plant. Things I would do in their proper order:

    * Flush the soil next time the plant needs water. Don't let the planting sit in water that drains through the drain hole from the soil.

    * Start monitoring water needs with a wooden dowel rod sharpened in a pencil sharpener as a tell.

    * Full repot in June - around Father's Day. Same pot is fine if you really get after the roots. I'll help you with that when the time comes

    * Prune it after it's recovered from the repot.

    How you should fertilize depends on how you water. Once you decide on that course, I can help you with a plan that your plant will approve of.

    Al


  • bcboater
    3 years ago

    Thank you Al!

    Please explain how the dowel rod is used as a tell, and how it is situated in the pot.

    This will make my wife happy. She has been on me about having to pick up dead leaves everyday!

  • Dave
    3 years ago

    You stick the dowel into the soil all the way to the bottom and pull it out. If it comes out dark, stained with soil stuck to it, there's moisture in the soil.

    Keep doing this and checking daily or every couple days until it comes out clean and dry. When it does, that's when you'd water again.

  • bcboater
    3 years ago

    Thanks Dave!

  • salarocca
    3 years ago

    Help!

    i acquired a focus tree two weeks ago and I think it's dying. It used to be in the front office at work. They decided to remodel so the sent all the furniture and plants out to the factory and did a silent auction. I won the ficus tree. When the plants were moved out to the factory they were all very dry and looked half dead. Someone watered them but I'm not sure how much. When I won the ficus I had to lay it on its side with the branches hanging out the back of my mini van to take it home. (I live in Ohio so the temps were in the 30s-40s that morning.) When I got it home I watered it. Within two days the a few of the pale, dry, brittle leaves were turning dark green and looking good. But then a few days later and all the leaves are pale green, dry and brittle again. I added some Miracle Grow and then a few days later took out some loose old soil from the top of the pot and added some fresh soil. Today I found it had dropped two leaves. I'm at a loss here cause I've never taken care of a tree before. (Not that I'm all that great with house plants. LOL) I know this ficus needs trimmed cause it was left to branch out but right now I want to get it healthy. Can anyone help me? Thank you!

    ~Shelley

    I think it's a Benjamin Ficus

  • Dave
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    Photos would be helpful. Otherwise we have nothing to go by.

    It likely received some cold damage from hanging out of the back of your van.

    how long was it in this factory? Did it receive any light in there?

    Dont fertilize an already stressed plant.

  • salarocca
    3 years ago

  • Dave
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    That tree is likely dead.

    You can still test to see if there's anything viable though.

    To do this, scratch the bark with your fingernail starting at the top. Keep scratching lower and lower on the tree until (and if) you see green underneath.

    If there is any green, cut the tree back to that point and put it in front of a window (with no blinds) that receives a lot of light.

    Keep the soil lightly moist but since there's no canopy, it won't be using much water at all. You won't need to water often.

    Im guessing the factory it was stored in wasn't headed, it got no light, maybe no water and then you driving it home with it hanging out of your van in the winter (this is a tropical tree) finished it off.

    Just trying to be honest.

    this is how the leaves should look:

  • salarocca
    3 years ago

    The factory is heated but not real warm. It had no sunlight out there and someone did water it because it was dry and looked bad when it was brought out there. All the plants looked like no one had been taking care of it for quite a while. There is green under the bark on the main braided trunks. I'll get it trimmed back to there and wait and see. Thank you very much for your help!!

    ~Shelley

  • Dave
    3 years ago

    If you have time and want to really learn about ficus Benjamina, read the following link. All of it. You'll learn a lot and it'll help you if this one comes back, or if this one does not and you choose to get another (they can be had at lowes for around $20 for a 3' tree).

    http://forums2.gardenweb.com/discussions/1476078/ficus-trees-in-containers-iv?n=213

  • salarocca
    3 years ago

    Thank you very much for all your help! I greatly appreciate it!

  • Dave
    3 years ago

    Please update us in the future!

  • HU-75812364
    last year
    last modified: last year

    Can anyone help me save this ficus tree? Last winter it started dropping leaves and a few branches got brittle and died. This winter is even worse. I've attached a picture of the way it looks. I have had this free for about 40 years and in the last five it's really started to fade. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. My email is: gpl1@mindspringcom




  • tapla
    last year

    Your tree is in steep decline because it's being asked to tolerate cultural conditions at or beyond what it's genetically programmed to tolerate. I'm guessing it's probably been potted up to a larger size pot several times, but never truly been repotted, which includes root pruning and a complete change of soil. If that's the case, root congestion would undoubtedly be severely limiting, as the limitations associated with it begin at about the time the root/soil mass can be lifted from the pot intact. It's possible that, by this time, there is calcified soil in the center of the root mass that might be so hardened a chisel would be required to remove it - no way to tell until you get a look at the roots. Other potential issues that would be much closer to expected than suspected, would be a soil with a badly skewed ratio of nutrients in it, and a high level of dissolved solids (salts) in the soil/soil solution. The badly compacted center of the root/soil mass is probably limiting the ability of both plant and soil to absorb water, and limiting the root system's oxygen supply, which is a key factor in making available the energy that drives root function. There's little doubt that it can be saved, but it'll be a chore, and something I'd probably start planning to do in June ..... if you live in the northern hemisphere.

    Lots more to talk about, but I'll wait to hear what you have to say.

    Al

  • HU-767113964
    2 months ago

    My ficus (we call him cousin ficus) is over 35 years old an nearly 14ft tall and we live in southern Indian. During the winter we take him inside and sometimes ficus loses some but not all leaves. We moved ficus outside early April since we were having decent weather; however there were several days of 35-45 for a week and all leaves turned white and almost all have fallen. I scrached the bark and there is green underneath so I have hope but the fall off is 10 x worse than ever. Given the sheer size of our ficus, we can’t find a larger pot and at about 100 pounds it is virtually impossible to do so anywa.


    Hope that we haven’t “offed“ Cousin Ficus by taking it out to

    the cold.


  • HU-767113964
    2 months ago

    So I didn’t edit well and wrote on a cell phone!!!...to clarify


    Southern Indiana

  • tapla
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Surely you can cut the top back hard in mid-June, saw the bottom 2/3 of the root mass off, bare-root what remains, prune off any remaining offensive roots, then move the plant to a smaller pot with fresh/appropriate soil .........

    Al

  • HU-767113964
    2 months ago

    Al....thanks for responding. will take it down a few feet next month. I get the part about getting rid of the bad roots but I would think the larger the pot the better? My concern is that even if I prune it down to 10 feet a large pot is better so that the tree and pot aren’t knocked over as easy as a smaller pot when the wind picks up. I guess my question is how crucial is it to go to a smaller pot and why does a smaller pot help the tree?


    Thanks

    Mark

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