Houseplants forum: Indoor ficus tree help!

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BC Canada
SomeOne247
Nov 1, 2016 8:12 PM CST
I took on a huge responsibility taking in a indoor ficus tree. I knew they are a difficult plant to take care of. First problem was sustaining full foliage ever since I got it, second was I forgot about the heaters turned on after autumn.

I could never get it to grow to it's full potential of leaves, I could not find any info on Google about how to get the most foliage.

The poor thing was near a heater for two weeks about 5 feet away, which I thought would be far enough not to be effected by the heat and get enough sunlight now that it's been cloudy for months.

The new spuds and baby branches are now dried and shrivelled and new leaves are soft and droopy. I know it dislikes very much to be moved around, but I had no choice from the heater, its further away from sunlight now...

I water from the bottom once a week, every second week with proper measured food. That is an inch of play sand onto of the soil because I had a fungus gnat problem, I checked the root base last repot and change of soil. I call it my Charlie Brown tree...

It looks like it's done... is their any saving it!?
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Name: Karen
NM (Zone 7b)
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plantmanager
Nov 1, 2016 8:27 PM CST
They absolutely hate being moved. I had one that sulked and dropped all of it's leaves each time I had to move it to a new home. I just left it alone, and it always recovered. Don't overwater while it doesn't have leaves. It took several months before it started to improve.
By the way, mine looked worse than yours!
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[Last edited by plantmanager - Nov 1, 2016 9:34 PM (+)]
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Name: Laurie b
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
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lauriebasler
Nov 1, 2016 11:27 PM CST
Someone at work got an expensive Ficus and promply decided it did not need much water. It looked like your tree above, for a minute; finally loosing every single leaf. That was over a year ago. The plant is full of leaves and healthy. It will regrow new leaves if you stick with it. Good Luck!

Laurie L
BC Canada
SomeOne247
Nov 2, 2016 5:33 AM CST
Ok, so should I trim back a huge amount of branches to two fists size to start brand new growth? Allot of the ends are dried out, if I don't move it again, will the ends come back or should I just trim it all back?
Name: Lin
Florida Zone 9b, 10a

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plantladylin
Nov 3, 2016 5:52 AM CST
Hi SomeOne247, Welcome!
Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) can be very temperamental when grown as indoor container plants. Your tree looks fine to me and it should leaf out again at some point.
I don't know about pruning this time of year and I'd only fertilizer during the active growing season (spring and summer). You can test for viability in the branches by gently bending each branch ... if they have some "give" and spring back under gentle pressure, they are still alive. If the branches are dead, they should easily snap off. If they break off, then gently prune back in small increments until you see live, green wood. If you can raise the humidity around your tree, that will help a lot during the dry, winter months. Heat inside a home can cause plants to dry out rather quickly so be sure to keep the soil moist but not soggy/wet.

I grew quite a few Weeping Figs back in the 70's and 80's but I hated that when I moved them even a foot or two, they would start to drop their leaves. I had some 8 and 10 foot tall trees on my patio by the swimming pool for a number of years but I finally got tired of the leaf drop when I'd rearrange plants on the pool deck so I gave them to a neighbor. My trees would drop every single leaf and go completely bare but after a few weeks, new growth would appear. I still have one small, neglected and extremely pot bound tree out on my back deck; it rarely gets watered but we have high humidity here in Florida so I guess that sustains it. My little tree is so root bound that I'm going to have to cut the pot away for transplanting. We just moved to this house a few months ago and when walking around the yard recently, from a distance I noticed a skinny tree outside the fence along the side of our property that I'm pretty sure is a Ficus benjamina but I haven't had a chance to get out there to inspect it closely to see if it is a weeping ficus.

Don't give up on your pretty tree, just have patience and take a wait and see attitude ... sometimes plants will surprise you with their resiliency. Smiling
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Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Nov 5, 2016 10:08 AM CST
The leaves of Ficus benjamina are very light sensitive. Each leaf is adapted to the light it receives at the time it emerges. If the light is subsequently changed, then those older leaves tend to die back and new leaves emerge that are adapted to the new light intensity. That is why folks say they don't like to be moved.

That said, they are also light-lovers. They must be very close to and directly in front of a moderately sunny window that is completely uncovered. The more light it receives, the more leaves the tree can support. Your fear of the heater is unfounded and has caused you to move it away from the light source that it desperately needs. Without adequate light, nothing else you do matters.

Your tree may also be reacting to your changing the soil, which is never recommended. There are better ways to treat fungus gnats. The presence of the gnats is a good indication that the soil is staying too moist for too long. Whether or not your tree recovers depends on how much trauma was done to the roots when you repotted. It is also best if you remove the sand and water from the top after the top inch of soil dries out. Bottom watering is not helping. Also, stop fertilizing. Fertilizer is intended only for healthy plants and is not medicine.

You can test the health of your tree by bending the stems. Those that are brittle and snap easily are dead and can be removed. Healthy stems will remain pliable.

If the roots are reasonably healthy, you provide better light and improve your watering, there is a good chance it will recover slowly. Be patient!
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
I now have a book available on indoor plant care

LibbyMA
Mar 8, 2018 1:12 PM CST
Hi,
I have a 5.5 foot tall indoor ficus tree that is about 30 years old. (My father gave it to my mother as a present when I was a kid.) It's been trimmed and cared for and is in pretty good condition. But no one has EVER transplanted it into a new pot. It's still in the original 13" pot. It's really root bound with roots above the surface of the soil.
I'm worried that if I repot it then it will be stressed and die.
Any suggestions or advice?
Thanks!
...Libby
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Mar 9, 2018 11:42 AM CST
Libby - Root exposure on the soil surface is not a problem as those roots quickly develop a bark protective covering as soon as they are exposed to the air. (We see that all the time with large outdoor trees.)

Yes, your tree is probably very rootbound, but as long as it is healthy and you are able to provide adequate water for it, then there is no reason t stress about repotting it. My advice is to leave it alone for another 30 years!
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
I now have a book available on indoor plant care

KellyGreen2
Jun 2, 2018 11:03 AM CST
Hi everyone. This is an older thread but I'm going to add to it in case anyone else is google searching.

I upset my ficus very badly when I put christmas lights on her in 2017. She began browning and dropping leaves within 2 weeks and eventually became leafless.

The poster who said the ficus is very light sensitive is oh so right! Never put christmas lights on a ficus *Blush*

I also kept the window open during cold months which made the tree even worse. So dumb.

I have her and another ficus now. Both ficuses were exxtremely happy in my home from the moment they were moved in. Neither shed a single leaf the first six months! The 2nd ficus is still okay.

After months of distress (on my part and the tree's) I decided to repot her based on a ficus article I found online.

The roots were definitely overgrown, growing around the soil and through the bottom of the pots (web-like). I cut the roots back, which I'm not sure I should have done and repotted her in new soil.

Another 2 months and I'm still looking at nothing but branches. Finally I find a video that says to scrape the tree and see if there is green underneath. There is! Beautiful bright ALIVE green.

The video said to cut off all the dead branches, testing to see if they are dead by how the branch gives when you gently bend it. 99.9% of the branches were dead, no green inside. I pruned her down to about 75% her size.

Now the waiting begins. All the remaining branches are healthy with green insides.

I am going to keep her where she is, by the window, and watch her come back to life. As the other poster mentioned, ficus do not mind sunlight at all, my ficuses thrive in front of the windows in my living room.

I will update this post occasionally to share the ficus' progress. I think I finally put her back on track and we will see a whole new tree grow. Crossing Fingers!
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Jun 3, 2018 9:41 AM CST
Thanks for sharing your experience KellyGreen2. However, I have to disagree with your conclusion that the holiday lights caused your Ficus to lose all its leaves. There are many types of holiday lights, but even the largest ones that burn hottest will only damage leaves that they are in direct contact with and burn. Smaller holiday lights don't do that. The light itself that is emitted is harmless to the plant. True enough, that Ficus trees are sensitive to changes in light, but that refers to natural light or special grow lights. I don't know what did cause the leaves to die, but it wasn't the holiday lights. Perhaps it was the cold or something else in the environment.

Good that you pruned back all of the stems and branches that were brittle. Ficus trees respond very well to major pruning and will recover nicely as long as they get lots of good light and are watered properly.

How about before (now) and after photos?
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
I now have a book available on indoor plant care

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