Ask a Question forum: Ficus Benjamina tips turning black

Views: 92, Replies: 7 » Jump to the end
Alberta, Canada
timdea
Mar 23, 2018 3:03 PM CST
Hi there!

So here's some background. About a month ago, I got a 6 ft Ficus Benjamina from a retired lady. She travelled often and when she would leave she would turn her heat way down in the house. This resulted in her ficus losing 1/2 it's leaves. So she gave it to me - in this state - to care for and hopefully revive.
The plant is next to a SW facing window and receives 1-2 hours of direct light and approx 6-8 hrs of indirect (I live in northern Alberta, Canada so light is still sparse and there's still snow on the ground). I've fertilized once with liquid fertilizer. Water approx weekly enough water to drain out the bottom. It never sits in water.

Here is my issue - The tips of the bare branches are green and there are tiny shoots of new growth forming. But once I see them, a few days later they shrivel and turn black. I have then been cutting this off - only the black - as there are new growth shoots further down the branch. Why is this happening? The other half of the tree drops maybe a leaf a day (green healthy leaves)and seems to be ok other than new growth turns black as well. The leaves it has are all green - no yellow - maybe the odd brown tipped leaf. Please see pictures.

Why are the tips and new growth turning black and dying? Should I just cut off all the bare branches and start new? Would the tree be able to survive such a severe haircut?

Any help would be appreciated. I'd love to restore this tree to its former glory!
Thumb of 2018-03-23/timdea/79758b
Thumb of 2018-03-23/timdea/5e6686
Thumb of 2018-03-23/timdea/6c765c
Thumb of 2018-03-23/timdea/ff6538
Thumb of 2018-03-23/timdea/e6fd31
Thumb of 2018-03-23/timdea/5c5d70

Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
Image
DaisyI
Mar 23, 2018 8:26 PM CST
Welcome!

What kind of light was the tree receiving at its old home? Are you allowing the soil to dry 1 or 2 inches down before you water?

Part of the problem might be that the tree is recovering from some shock due to moving to a new home. Ficus benjamina are sometimes a little picky about a move but it will get used to its new home.

Part of the problem might be that you are providing more direct sun than it was getting at its old house. It will also get over that.

But I am going to focus on water as, after a month, the other problems should be abating. You may be over or under watering. I am going to guess overwatering because, when I under water mine, the new leaves wilt and fall off - they have never turned black. Also, everytime I water, I give my tree a quarter turn to keep all sides of the tree healthy.

Fertilizing was a mistake for two reasons. Healthy plants require ferilizer rarely. Unhappy plants don't need ferilizer at all and in fact, could lead to their demise. If you used fertilizer at full strength, you may have burned the roots so the tree can't utilized the water you are giving it.

The tree is still pushing out new growth so there is hope. You can cut the dead twigs out of the tree and see what you have left (make sure the twigs are dead with the 'scratch' test). Then assess and decide where you want your tree to go. Full and bushy? Ten ft. tall? Artistically skimpy? Ficus benjamina take well to pruning.

Good Luck! Keep us posted.
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

Webmaster: osnnv.org
Alberta, Canada
timdea
Mar 23, 2018 9:51 PM CST
DaisyI said: Welcome!

What kind of light was the tree receiving at its old home? Are you allowing the soil to dry 1 or 2 inches down before you water?

Part of the problem might be that the tree is recovering from some shock due to moving to a new home. Ficus benjamina are sometimes a little picky about a move but it will get used to its new home.

Part of the problem might be that you are providing more direct sun than it was getting at its old house. It will also get over that.

But I am going to focus on water as, after a month, the other problems should be abating. You may be over or under watering. I am going to guess overwatering because, when I under water mine, the new leaves wilt and fall off - they have never turned black. Also, everytime I water, I give my tree a quarter turn to keep all sides of the tree healthy.

Fertilizing was a mistake for two reasons. Healthy plants require ferilizer rarely. Unhappy plants don't need ferilizer at all and in fact, could lead to their demise. I


Thank you for the reply!
I think you could be right - maybe I'm overwatering. The plant was very dry when I got it and I think I've watered weekly - 1.5 weeks since. Is there anything I can do to resolve that? Or just take a step back and let it dry out?
Dang. Wish I'd known that about the fertilizer - I had read you should fertilize monthly in the spring. And since I have no clue if it has ever been fertilized, I thought I'd take a chance.

I'm not sure what kind of lighting the plant received in the other house. But I've not moved it at all in mine. So hopefully, like you said, it adjusts.

What is the scratch test exactly? Scratch the bark and if there's green under it, don't cut?

Thanks!

Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
Image
DaisyI
Mar 24, 2018 12:46 AM CST
Let it dry out some and test with your finger or a chop stick before you water again.

Yes, that's the scratch test. Another old farmer trick is if you give a branch a quick tug, the dead ones will break and the live ones will bend. But stick with the scratch test on your small tree. Start from the outside and work your way in.
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

Webmaster: osnnv.org
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
Image
WillC
Mar 24, 2018 7:51 AM CST
Your Ficus tree, where it is located in the photo, is not getting nearly enough light, especially given your northern latitude. Ficus trees are light-lovers and do best with maximum indoor light. Move your tree out of the corner where the walls are blocking most of the light and place right in front of the window and make sure the window is completely uncovered during the daylight hours. Providing adequate light is the most important factor and nothing else you do will matter if the light is not strong enough.

In poor light, the plant does not grow very much so it uses less water and nutrients. As recommended by Daisy, stop fertilizing. Allow the top inch of soil to dry before watering thoroughly. As the light improves and growth recovers, it will need water more frequently.

Any brittle stems should be removed entirely, as they are dead. Any of the remaining live stems can be pruned back to any length and you will get new foliage emerging just below where you make the pruning cuts. Because Ficus trees respond very well to pruning and because your tree is so sparse, I would prune back all of the stems by one-third to one-half. That would leave you temporarily with a naked tree, but as the light improves and new growth comes in, you will have a much more attractive tree without bare, leggy stems. I know that seeems extreme, but in good light, Ficus trees are fast growers and recover quickly.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Alberta, Canada
timdea
Mar 24, 2018 4:56 PM CST


Any brittle stems should be removed entirely, as they are dead. Any of the remaining live stems can be pruned back to any length and you will get new foliage emerging just below where you make the pruning cuts. Because Ficus trees respond very well to pruning and because your tree is so sparse, I would prune back all of the stems by one-third to one-half. That would leave you temporarily with a naked tree, but as the light improves and new growth comes in, you will have a much more attractive tree without bare, leggy stems. I know that seeems extreme, but in good light, Ficus trees are fast growers and recover quickly.[/quote]

Thank you for the info WillC!

I did the scratch test as per Daisy and all branches are green and alive. You still think I should prune? How much? I thought I read somewhere that a plant won't tolerate a 50% cut. Would you think to just cut all branches to the main larger ones? (On the bare branches only of course).
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
Image
DaisyI
Mar 24, 2018 6:57 PM CST
Look at your tree and formulate a plan. Bushy? Sparse? Tall? Short? Its really what you want - its your tree.

You can keep it any size and any shape forever simply by pruning. Looking at the one photo of the whole tree, I personally would clean up the trunk to the bottom of the first branches. Don't take out any of the main support branches but cut all the twigs back so the top forms a rough oval. That means some branches will have to be cut back more than others.

BUT, this is my vision. You can borrow it or make your own. When I brought mine home from my Mother's house, it was about 8 ft tall and in a huge pot and growing in every direction. It is now in a 15 x 15 x 15 inch pot and stands about 5 ft tall. My point is, make it what you want.

Where ever you cut, new leaves and branches will grow just below that point. So when you decide where to cut, cut a couple inches below that spot as the tree will quickly fill in and grow out of your 'vision'.

Hope this helps.
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

Webmaster: osnnv.org
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
Image
WillC
Mar 25, 2018 9:12 AM CST
I concur with Daisy's advice. The general rule of thumb about not pruning more than 50% does not apply in this case.

I tend to be rather ruthless with Ficus pruning because I have done it so many times and I know that they recover relatively quickly even when pruned back severely. Most folks are quite tentative about pruning, so I recommend pruning as much as they can personally tolerate. There are no hard rules about pruning a Ficus.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
I now have a book available on indoor plant care

« Garden.org Homepage
« Back to the top
« Forums List
« Ask a Question forum
Only the members of the Members group may reply to this thread.

Member Login:

Username:

Password:

[ Join now ]

Today's site banner is by rocklady and is called "African Violet"