Ask a Question forum: Looking after houseplant for a friend - concerned it is dying! Please help?

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Feb 25, 2018 12:46 AM CST
Hello everyone,

My friend charged me with keeping her plants alive during a long trip away from home. Unfortunately I am a completely inexperienced plant mother, and six months in this one doesn't seem very happy.

Its leaves are going brown and are brittle to the touch, and are falling off at an alarming rate.

Thumb of 2018-02-25/visitor/bf3167

Thumb of 2018-02-25/visitor/b9b342

At first I was worried I was over-watering it (its leaves were going yellow), so I cut back, but now every day more and more are falling off!

I'm very concerned and don't know what to do - I can't even tell you what species it is... Can anyone help or offer advice? Thank you so much.
[Last edited by imogen - Feb 25, 2018 12:53 AM (+)]
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Name: Sue Taylor
Northumberland, UK
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Feb 25, 2018 12:50 AM CST
I don't have much experience with these but maybe it's suffering a bit of shock from some changes. Have you recently moved it? The caudex is a water storage organ but it could also be suffering from dryness. Winter is also more difficult for plants when a lot are dormant, but if they're in a heated house they still do require some water.
Hopefully others will come along and give you some firmer advice.
Feb 25, 2018 1:02 AM CST
Thanks for your response! I haven't moved it -- it lives on the windowsill with the other plants (which are all doing fine).
It is in quite a chilly area of the flat, and close to the bathroom so is exposed to rapid temperature fluctuations - not sure if that makes a difference...
We were away for 5 weeks over christmas so it didn't get any water then, prior to being watered (probably over-watered) regularly.
[Last edited by imogen - Feb 25, 2018 1:03 AM (+)]
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Name: Tofi
Sumatera, Indonesia
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Feb 25, 2018 3:36 AM CST
Your ficus (it's a ficus microcarpa grafted on another ficus ( ficus 'ginseng' variety))
Most likely having a hard time in winter as it is a tropical plant, it requires humid, sunny and hot climate. Sitting on a chilly area is bad for it. (especially for the ginseng variety as those caudex-root contains lots of water, succulent and not so woody, they can easily be cut with knife... it means it is prone to root rot problem).
Find a bright sunny spot, warm site in your home, beware also on cold drift if too near to the window, Spring is almost there I believes, so lets just hope it will make it. Summer, acclimatize it gradually to bright spot outdoor like in a terrace. it could grow better/rapid again,
Also if the plant grow, beware of the sprouting from the root-stock (the leaves are larger, thinner and faster grower) this happens a lot to a not-so happy grafted plant. if you like it you can keep it, but if not it should be pruned away
Feb 25, 2018 4:14 AM CST
Thanks so much for the information and advice! We have had a particularly cold winter. I've now moved it to the sunniest, warmest spot in the flat. Hopefully it will start feeling better soon.
Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
Feb 25, 2018 12:05 PM CST
You said, probably over watered before ? I'm afraid your probably right, and it might be root rot.
One root in picture looks like it is rotted off at soil line.
Are stems, trunk, and roots, all the way down to soil line firm ?
Lift plant by trunk, to see if roots are attached.
Are any leafs mushy ?
Was it rensently repoted ? I don't, belive right soil mix was used.
Does pot have drain holes ?
Then, report back to us.
Anything i say, could be misrepresented, or wrong.
Name: Will Creed
Professional indoor plant consultan
Feb 25, 2018 4:28 PM CST
This plant needs lots of sunlight and proper watering. It won't withstand outdoor winter temps in your area, but it is fine indoors as long as temps remain above 50 degrees F. It does not require high humidity as long as it is watered properly.

I suspect that improper watering is the reason it has lost leaves. There is no calendar formula that anyone can give you for watering. In general, it is best to water it as soon the top half-inch of soil feels dry. The problem is how much water to give it each time and that depends on whether there is a drain hole in its pot. If there is, as there should be, then simply water slowly until a bit of water runs through the drain hole.

If there is no drain hole, there is a risk of water collecting in the bottom of the pot and rotting the roots. Tip the pot on its side to see if water runs out from the bottom. Henceforth when you water, add just enough so that the top half-inch of soil dries again in about a week. Alter the amount of water until you determine the right amount to last for a week.

You may want to prune off any dead stems and cut back any stems that are very leggy to improve its appearance.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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Feb 25, 2018 6:57 PM CST
I don't see any rotting roots. Ficus often do lose leaves this time of year so don't panic just yet - you've kept it alive for 6 months so you must be doing somethings right. Give it the care WillC suggested (lots of sun and check for dryness before watering).
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Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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Feb 27, 2018 2:14 PM CST
Hello imogen, as Daisy said, the plant does that leaf drop, especially when it has been moved from its usual growing area and as it adjusts to seasonal light level changes. Depending on the orientation of your window, if that is a north facing window, it is rather weak and if left cold all the more it pouts.

You did mention you have now moved it to another sunnier spot so that is good. Give it time to adjust. I am more concerned looking at the soil. It looks too damp. Although this plant will appreciate being somewhat on the moist side, when the environment is colder, it has to dry out a bit. Hopefully that container it is using has proper drain holes. It will not like sitting in too wet media.

As you can see that plant has a storage mechanism, so it will not totally be too thirsty, it is able to store water in its caudex, so be very careful with watering in winter, but it wants substantial access to light. If it is outdoors in a warm and sunny environment, it won't mind getting watered more frequently since there are a lot of factors that will help dry out the media faster. But when it is indoors, dry out time is longer.

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