Ask a Question forum→Benjamina Ficus Bonsai

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London, United Kingdom
Benji77
Jun 7, 2020 6:28 AM CST
Hello,

A Londoner in need of help, please. I have a 20 year old Benjamina Ficus bonsai, which was purchased a year ago. After a few weeks it adapted from the nursery to the home environment and everything was good. It was growing very well and lots of leaves. On Feb 4th I took it back to the nursery, upon advise from the seller the previous year, to assess whether it was pot-bound. So, it was last checked up on in February by this reputable nursery and it was decided that it was not pot-bound so no need to disturb the tree. The seller also commented how very healthy it was.

In March, as the lighter days were coming, the tree started producing huge amounts of shoots and leaves and was developing for about a month or so. Every single branch was coming with a multitude of shoots. Then suddenly around mid-April, the new, light-green leaves started curling up, going brown and falling (first affecting the left side), whilst the old, dark green more leathery leaves were staying. When it recovered somewhat, it affected the right side the exact same way. It is now June, and the right side is virtually bare, but is covered in new shoots. Also, the new leaves are no longer falling to any great extent on the side that started recovering, but the old leathery leaves (specifically only them) are going yellow (exactly the same was as trees do when preparing for winter) and slowly falling off.

The tree stands in a bay window to get as much light as possible, but there are sheer blinds installed to protect it from the most powerful direct sunlight, also because we had the sunniest spring and hottest May on record. I was checking the soil and humidity as I've done before, so I can't think I have over/under watered. It gets its occasional fertiliser too.

This is so bizarre and I am at a loss. It has so many shoots and keeps developing them, but no leaves.

Thanks for any advice.

Thumb of 2020-06-07/Benji77/1a72bf

Name: Will Creed
NYC
Prof. plant consultant & educator
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WillC
Jun 7, 2020 8:37 AM CST
Welcome! What a shame!

When were the shades installed or pulled down?

How do you determine when to water and about how often is that? How much water do you give it each time?
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at [email protected]
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
London, United Kingdom
Benji77
Jun 7, 2020 11:01 AM CST
Hello Will,

Thank you for your prompt response and the Welcome. :)

Good point about the shades, as I ordered it when the weather started getting hot. It was rather unexpected that we would receive such a dry and hot weather. I may have reacted perhaps a bit slowly, as the tree has been in the window since last year and had adapted well to that spot of receiving sunlight all day long, although last year was rather normal weather wise. Additionally, the blinds were delayed due to manufacturing a week, but I had moved the tree just slightly inwards (about 3 feet) from the window so that it would still receive the light, but not the direct sunshine until the blinds arrived.

The way I check whether the bonsai needs water is by assessing the soil about half an inch or so below the surface. The amount of water... that's difficult to say. It's a "feel". It's not so much that it would drain through the bottom as I am conscious about root rot. Maybe around half a cup? The pot stands on tiny white pebbles that are kept moist.

What I do every evening during summer, is to spray/mist the moss on the surface of the soil to keep from dying and also to protect the soil. But that amount of water would not be sufficient to penetrate into the soil.

During the summer the tree gets fertiliser about every 2 weeks and during winter once a month. Occasionally, once every 2 or 3 months, it gets a very quick shower to wet the branches (evening time) and left to drain properly. I never shower it from the top as it doesn't like the leaves wet, but spray from the bottom up and then that way the soil is not hit so hard either. You suppose I am giving it too little water? Just working by the same "feel" and protocol as I used last year when it was a happy-bunny.

Thank you for your help

Esther
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Jun 7, 2020 12:20 PM CST
When you water, water until some comes out the bottom of the pot. Dying new growth is a first sign of lack of water. Trees normally grow outside so, getting the leaves wet is not a problem and washing it when you water will keep the bugs away.

If the tree was always in the same window without shades, it can live without shades now. The extra heat and sunshine was a time for more water, not less light.

Luckily, it will regrow. I would not fertilize it. Bonsai are not normally fertilized because fertilizer encorages growth, something you don't want your bonsai to do.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

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Name: Will Creed
NYC
Prof. plant consultant & educator
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WillC
Jun 8, 2020 8:31 AM CST
Hi Esther - Your Ficus is very sensitive to any changes in light, so I am sure your plant is reacting to that change. Find an indoor location where it gets lots of sunlight and leave it there permanently.

As Daisy has pointed out, it is important to always water thoroughly when you water. For most Ficus bonsai that is about once per week or whenever the SURFACE of the soil feels dry to your touch. Your concerns about root rot are unwarranted in this case. The misting does not help and it may be misleading you as to how dry the soil is so you are probably better off skipping it.

If you increase both the light and the watering, I'm sure yuour Ficus will soon be pushing out lots of new growth.

Now is a good time to prune back many of the leafless stems so you can control its overall size and shape. New leaf growth will come in on any stem starting where you make the pruning cut. Pruning is the best way to eliminate the bare stem portions.


Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at [email protected]
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
London, United Kingdom
Benji77
Jun 8, 2020 11:57 AM CST
Hello both,

Thank you very much for your response and I will try your suggestions. Smiling I am much obliged you took your time.

I would just like to clarify, I do water Benji during summer every 1-2 days depending on how hot the day was, when the surface about 1 cm below the top layer of moss etc, is dry. I was told to not judge just by the top surface as that may dry quickly, but half an inch down it may still be moist and therefore I might run the risk of overwatering. Maybe I was over cautious. Nonetheless, I shall try your approach and let you know. :smily:

The misting of the moss, which I do every night, is solely for the moss itself to keep fresh as that dries very quickly during the day being exposed on the surface and currently being a hot spring.

The thing that puzzled me the most was that I have lots of new growth, just no leaves and its affecting one side at a time.

Thank you again and wish you a great day,

Esther

Name: Will Creed
NYC
Prof. plant consultant & educator
Image
WillC
Jun 8, 2020 12:08 PM CST
If you are watering thoroughly, I am surprised that the soil dries out again a cm deep within a couple of days.

Are you watering evenly over the entire surface of the soil?

Is the weaker side with less new growth the side that faces away from the window?
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at [email protected]
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
London, United Kingdom
Benji77
Jun 8, 2020 1:52 PM CST
Are you watering evenly over the entire surface of the soil?

Yes, I am indeed. That I am quite thorough with. I do it the same way as I did through last year when it was thriving.

Is the weaker side with less new growth the side that faces away from the window?

No, not at all. The tree gets direct sunlight from about 8am to 4pm because of the position in the bay window. Currently, the side that carries more leaves is the side that gets more of the early sun, but between 11am-2pm the tree gets sun all over. However, the side that first lost the leaves, was infact that side which got the early morning and intense midday sun, which is why I thought maybe they were scourged. That side has started to recover. The other side has now lost the leaves but is filled with green, albeit bare, little branches.
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Prof. plant consultant & educator
Image
WillC
Jun 9, 2020 7:02 AM CST
I think it all goes back to the reduced light it received. Once that has been resolved for a couple of months I think you will see noticeable improvement.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at [email protected]
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
London, United Kingdom
Benji77
Jun 12, 2020 12:28 PM CST
Hello again,

Thank you both for the good advise. :)
I will give it a go.

Very grateful for your prompt responses.


Have a great weekend,

Esther

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