The Q&A Archives: Ficus Pests

Question: I have had a ficus for about six years now. I've never had a problem with it other than a minor aphid attack a few years ago (which I took care of with soap and water). It has grown extremely well in the past two years, nearly doubling in size.

About a month ago, the leaves started to look mottled. I realized that the tree was rootbound in the small pot it was in. I bought a new, much larger pot and have since replanted it. When I started to prune it a little last week, white sap oozed from the cuts I made. (I'd never seen sap before, but I don't prune it very often). Upon closer inspection, I noticed tiny black/brown bumps on the underside of the top leaves. I don't know if they're bugs or some kind of disease. I washed the leaves off with soap and water and rinsed the tree in the shower for a few minutes. The top leaves continue to be mottled.

Is my tree just recovering from being in too small a pot or is there emergency treatment I need to apply to save it?

Thank you.

Answer: The sap you mention is normal and will stop oozing as soon as the wounds heal. Ficus weeps when pruned in the summer. If you need to prune it back again, try doing so in the late winter when the plant is nearly dormant. Without so much fluid coursing through the tissues, the wounds will barely drip. Grape vines drip what seems like buckets of water if they've been pruned too late in the spring, too, so weeping isn't all that unusual a circumstance.

Black or brown bumps on the undersides of leaves suggest scale insects. The hard cases protect these insects from predators (and insecticides), and allow the insects to feed undisturbed. The best way to control is to pry them off or squish them and then wash the residue from the plant. The scale insects suck juices from plants, resulting in yellowing or mottling of the leaves. As soon as you get the insects off the plant, the damage should stop.

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