Ask a Question forum: Ficus tree

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bandit1619
Jun 30, 2015 2:23 PM CST
This question pertains to a Ficus tree (I believe it to be just a standard Ficus) my mother has. Here's some quick background info:
She resides in San Marcos, TX.
Ficus was purchased approximately 6 years ago.
Has always been an indoor tree.
Ficus is 6 ft. tall.
Potting soil is approximately 3 years old.
Sits next to double sized patio window for late afternoon sun.
She tends to let soil get very dry before watering.
There is no pebble base in the pot, below the soil.

Now for the issues. While there are many signs all over of new growth, the tree drops leaves with frequency. Most of the dropped leaves are dead however, a few are green. There is also a bare spot in one area. I'd estimate this area to be about 5% to 10% of total area, has been present for months and shows no signs of spreading. I turned the tree 180 degrees so that the bare spot is closest to the window a month ago. No noticeable change as of yet. She would like to slow down the rate of dropped leaves and attend to the bare spot so that it hopefully once again can be filled with growth. I think the potting soil needs to be changed but am meeting resistance with her on that matter. The soil has turned almost into a powder and smells funny. Occasionally there is a light, whitish in color growth on the top of the soil, usually after watering (mold?). Any assistance would be appreciated.
Name: Hetty
Sunny Naples, Florida (Zone 10a)
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Dutchlady1
Jun 30, 2015 2:52 PM CST
Welcome! bandit1619
I think you've answered your own question. It sounds like this baby badly needs to be repotted. What type of Ficus is it? If it is a F. benjamina (the most common one used for houseplant) it will probably pout and drop more leaves when you repot it (they hate to be disturbed) but it will come back healthier.
If the soil smells funny it would probably be best to wash it off the roots completely.
Good luck!
Name: Lin
Florida (Zone 9b)
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plantladylin
Jun 30, 2015 2:57 PM CST
Hi bandit1619, welcome from me too!

I bet her plant is Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) and the white stuff on the soil could very well be mold: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/dustylooking-mold-soil-housepla... If the soil is beginning to smell funny it could be stagnant from too much water. The bare spot sounds like that particular part of the tree was not getting adequate light, from not being rotated periodically.

I'd suggest removing the entire plant from the container, wash every bit of soil from the roots, trim any dried or dead roots, thoroughly wash the container and replant in a fresh, well draining potting medium. The Weeping Fig tends to be a bit "fussy" about being moved. Years ago I had a few Ficus benjamina trees and if I even moved them a foot or two ... they'd drop leaves like crazy. At times they would even lose every single leaf to the point where I'd have a bare tree but they'd eventually leaf out again.
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Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
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Shadegardener
Jun 30, 2015 4:02 PM CST
Does the pot have drainage holes? Is there a saucer underneath the pot? If so, is there gravel in the saucer to that the pot won't sit in water? If there's no drainage holes, consider a new pot, same size or very slightly bigger. Does the tree get fertilized? If so, could the white stuff be salts/minerals for the water or fertilizer? These trees don't need a lot of fertilizer or an overabundance of water. I don't think I would go as far as removing all of the soil from the roots as long as there's no rot. The more the tree gets disturbed, the more it will pout. I would get a really good potting soil that contains compost (maybe something like Dr. Earth or Happy Frog). Compost is all these trees really need for feeding. Because these trees are in their pots long-term, I would stay away from chemical fertilizers that could have a salt buildup over time. Once the pot and soil issues are resolved, I would spray down the leaves (both sides) with water (outdoors if you want to avoid a mess) - these trees love that. I can't get mine outdoors - too big - so I wash the leaves (both sides) by hand. Once all that's done, misting the plant every couple of days will help with generating new leaves. Facing the bare spot towards the light would be good as long as that sun isn't super strong. My tree has been with me for 25 years and had formerly grown to 10 ft tall in an office building. I cut it down to get it into my house. It's been in the same pot every since with no soil changing - just top-dressing with compost. It will drop some leaves until it gets settled down and, when happy, will produce tiny green fruits (non-edible).

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