Ficus Benjamina losing all leaves! Help!

lindseylu(7 - New Mexico)February 10, 2008

Hello... I have an indoor fig tree (Ficus Benjamina) that has suddenly begun to lose its lower leaves. They turn yellow first and then fall off. I am afraid the entire tree will be bare soon; can anyone offer me advice on what to do? I have not changed anything in the tree's environment or watering -- this is a rather sudden occurrence. Please help me save my little tree -- thank you in advance! Gratefully, Lindsey

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Lindsey - When did you last fertilize? with what? what strength? leaf loss manifest in oldest leaves?

There are many possibilities. The most common cause of defoliation in benjamina is a reduction in the amount of light the (individual) leaves receive. Leaf loss can even occur when the tree is not really resited, but only turned so the side of the tree that was exposed to the brightest light is shaded by its own foliage.

Gradual chilling over several days or weeks usually presents no particular problem as far as defoliation is concerned, but exposure to sudden drafts or chill does cause the symptoms you describe.

Since you say nothing cultural has changed, I have to believe it's related to your watering habits and is likely a drought response. A drought response can be precipitated by under-watering, over-watering, or increasing accumulations of soluble salts in the soil from fertilizer and/or irrigation water. BTW - your watering habits should change/adjust, as the plant uses varying amounts of water with changes in cultural conditions and as it moves through its annual growth cycle. You should not water on a schedule, but on an "as needed" basis.

Water when the soil feels dry at the drain holes. Each time you water, you should water thoroughly so the soil is well-moistened. Return a few minutes later and apply more water so that 10-15% of the total volume of water applied flows out of the drain holes. The first watering allows some time for the accumulated salts to go back into suspension and the second watering flushes the soil of the dissolved salts. High levels of soluble salts in the soil inhibits the plants ability to take up moisture, causing both water (the drought response) and nutritional deficiencies. If you cannot water in the manner I described because you fear there will be subsequent root rot issues, your soil is inappropriate.

If you describe your watering habits & answer the fertilizing questions at the top of my post, we should be able to get your plant back on track.


    Bookmark   February 10, 2008 at 12:25PM
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lindseylu(7 - New Mexico)

Hello, Al,

Thank you for your excellent information. I water my fig tree approximately once a week; I live in a virtually zero humidity climate and I always check the soil first. I fertilize the tree every 1-2 months with Schultz 10-15-10 plant food. The fig tree is (and has always been) in a southwest-facing window and gets no drafts or chills. The leaf loss is indeed in the older leaves.

Your expertise is greatly appreciated! Thank you!


    Bookmark   February 10, 2008 at 3:54PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Are you watering in sips - so that you never flush the soil? If so, I would bet on the accumulation of salts from fertilizer and irrigation water building up in the soil and inhibiting water and nutrient uptake. have you been using the fertilizer dose concentration suggested on the label?

The Ficus genus uses about 8 times as much N as it does P. This means the fertilizer you're using has more than 10 times the amount of P in it your plant can use. The extra ions are wasted & only further inhibit water/nutrient uptake. I would suggest that you switch fertilizers to something with a 3:1:2 ratio, such as MG 24-8-16 granular soluble or MG 12-4-8 liquid. Both will contain some micronutrients as well.


    Bookmark   February 10, 2008 at 10:36PM
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lindseylu(7 - New Mexico)

I haven't been flushing the soil, so I will alter my watering method. I will also switch to a 3:1:2 fertilizer (although I had been using the exact concentration suggested on the Schultz label). Thanks again for the pro advice! I will let you know how the tree is doing! Sincerely, Lindsey :)

    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 3:12PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I would thoroughly saturate the entire soil mass tonight (or soon) with room temp water and allow it to sit for a half hour. Then, I would pour a gallon or two onto the soil three or four times at 15 minute intervals. This should flush most of the salts from the soil. If you think the soil will remain too soggy and may cause root issues, you can push a cloth wick up into the soil and allow it to hang below the container when it stops draining after the last flushing. This will drain additional perched water from the container. Alternately, tilting the container at a 45* angle or depotting the entire root mass after it stops draining and setting it on a newspaper over night will also remove perched water.

If you water as I described and fertilize weekly or bi-weekly with a 1/4 strength solution, you will keep the TDS and EC (total dissolved solids and electrical conductivity) of the soil solution very low, while still maintaining nutrients in the adequacy to luxury levels. This will facilitate water and nutrient uptake.

Be sure your soil is long lasting and fast draining. If you want to know more about soils appropriate for growing trees in containers and why they work well, click on the embedded link I left.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 6:14PM
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lindseylu(7 - New Mexico)

Wow! Great link! I learned a lot just from reading it. You put a lot of work into that thread and it certainly will help a lot of people with their plants. Ok, I'm on it and I'm sure your good advice will save my tree! Thanks!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 1:39AM
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I have had my Ficus for about 9 years. It is about 10 feet tall. It has been loosing leaves for the past 5 months - from the lower branches. I have cut out the dead limbs. Then I soaked it with water. Then I waited about 4 weeks to be sure it was dry. I am now watering the plant at weekly intervals - when it seems dry. It is still loosing leaves. The top of the plant is healthy. It is still loosing leaves - most of the middle and bottom are leafless. What should I do?

    Bookmark   September 21, 2008 at 7:28AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The first thing I note is this: If you water a plant and go four weeks between waterings I would expect the plant to lose leaves from a drought response. The drought response can be caused by either too much, or too little water. In the case of too little water, a drought response as a survival mechanism is expected. In the case of over-watering, fine rootage rots and the plant is unable to move water to the canopy, so ... a drought response. Also, you shouldn't water on a (weekly or other intervals) schedule. Water only when the plant requires water. Test the soil at the drain hole (for established plantings) and when soil is dry there - it's time to water. You should water copiously at every watering, being careful to insure that the entire root mass is moistened and that at least 10-15% of the total volume of water applied escapes the drain hole. This helps remove salts that are guaranteed to accumulate if you water in sips. If you cannot water copiously when you water, even in the winter, you should take a close look at your soil and consider altering or changing to an entirely different soil structure.

All that I said prolly doesn't really address the issue of why the plant was losing leaves in the first place. You'll need to help us out here. It could be from soil compaction, over/under-watering, (lack of) light issues, accumulating salts in the soil, sudden chill, insect infestation, nutrient deficiency (N, particularly)...... starting to get the idea that some detective work is needed to make an intelligent guess at the primary issue?

This I can tell you: It is pretty normal for trees like Fb that exhibit very strong apical dominance to loose lower/interior leaves and shed lower/interior branches unless you take some steps to help the plant retain them. The plant's genetic tendency is to grow strongest at the top of the tree and at branch tips, and that is where it concentrates its energy. If you don't arrest the strong growth, the rest of the tree will suffer for lack of energy allocation.

When I get a suffering Fb to rejuvenate that is exhibiting symptoms like yours, I always prune the top hard, as long as the plant isn't suffering too much and it's between Apr-Sep here. I'll remove all the branches at the top that spoil the form of the plant, just as you would in the landscape, and then reduce every branch in the top 1/3 of the tree to 2 leaves. The branches in the middle 1/3 of the tree get reduced to 4-5 leaves, and generally the lower 1/3 of the branches do not get reduced unless they are growing outside the boundaries of the desired shape or they happen to be very strong branches. This is an important consideration, if you plan on keeping your tree(s) for as long as you've had yours. If you don't follow some kind of plan, you end up with a very gangly tree or something like a lollipop on a stick.

I think that if you take the time to consider what I said, and reply with more info based on what sounds applicable, we can figure out the best course of action. Keep in mind that at this late date (in the summer), time is not on your side. If you need to undertake anything drastic, like an emergency repot, you need to do it asap.


    Bookmark   September 21, 2008 at 11:15AM
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Hello... I have an indoor fig tree (Ficus Benjamina) for last 6 years, that has suddenly begun to lose its leaves. The change started 10 days ago. They turn dry first and then fall off. The stems got dry completely before they fall off. I have not changed anything in the tree's environment or watering. I noticed this morning on all leaves some white spots or eggs, not sure on the place where the leaf taches the branch. Also the trunk has changed its color. Today I removed all those already dry leaves and cleaned the rest of those white whatever it is.
I am afraid to lose my tree, please if you can help me with your advice.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2009 at 11:17PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If I went with the odds, and you're sure it's not from over-watering, I'd say it's the result of improper watering technique and the associated accumulation of soluble salts in the soil. These salts act on plants the same way as the salt used to cure ham/bacon. When the level of salt in soils equals the level of solutes inside plant cells, osmosis (how plants absorb water into cells) stops. When the level of salt surpasses the level of solutes inside plant it actually pulls water from cells (as salt does to ham) and is called 'plasmolysis', or commonly 'fertilizer burn'.

There are other possible causes, but there is no where near enough info to make anything like an accurate diagnosis; though as mentioned, high salt levels in the soil is the most likely culprit. It happens most often in the winter & is exacerbated by the low humidity levels associated with indoor conditions.

BTW - you should include your state & USDA zone in your user info. Those giving the best advice will want to consider where you live when paring their offerings down to specifics.


    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 8:55AM
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There you go again, our good Dr. Al (tapla)!

A VERY well explained fact, to the average person.
I always wondered what 'fertilizer burn' is/was. I have
experienced it; plant leaves suddenly dry/brown

I had thought that the fertilizer (ammonium nitrate/sulfate
in particular) got to the leaves and did the damage.
That seems not to be the (exact) case. I understand
the physics very well (but not so much the biology).
All makes sense to me now. Like why I feel very, very
thirsty if and when I eat something very salty.

Water tends to migrate towards the more SALTY part of
any porous membrane, and drain the rest of the body.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2009 at 7:58PM
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There is a big difference between mammals and plants!
Mammals have a mouth (that can drink more water),
plants have only roots; and the water-absorption
mechanism may be thoroughly disrupted by the presence
of excessive salts (and other stuff).

    Bookmark   January 4, 2009 at 8:46PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

We're actually talking about the process of osmosis. Water movement across membranes, in and out of either plant or animal cells is remarkably the same. Think of seawater as compared to fertilizer solution. Men lost at sea rapidly become horribly dehydrated when, in desperation, they begin drinking seawater to satisfy thirst. The rapid dehydration is caused by the same process of reverse osmosis that cures ham/bacon. As the water is drawn from plant cells, the plasma attached to cell membranes is torn loose and the cell destroyed - thus the term 'plasmolysis' or commonly - fertilizer burn.

When we eat something salty, it increases the level of solutes in the fluid between cells (inter-cellular fluids). These extra solutes makes it more difficult for cells to gain water, and in the case of the lost sailors drinking seawater, can even pull water from human cells while we're living. The sensation of thirst is usually our signal that we need to dilute the inter-cellular solution (by drinking a fluid low in unnecessary solutes) to make it easier for our cells to absorb water.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2009 at 9:23PM
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Perhaps this is simply the annual leaf drop experienced by ficus when winter comes and light levels change? The OP never says how long she owned the plant, just that the leaves are falling off.

My ficus my first year really scared me when come December-January it began turning yellow in the inside and dropping leaves--lots of them--probably over a hundred (this is a big tree-over 10' now). I freaked out the first year. This year I realized that nothing is wrong. This is what it does. In fact, it is still making new leaves on the tips. It's healthy, just a little thin, but by no means scraggly or bare, and if this year is like the last, it will bush out come spring when the sun is stronger. Last summer and fall it was full to the hilt with leaves and I expect all things being equal, it will do the same.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2009 at 2:13PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I don't think leaves would suddenly start dropping off after nearly 2 months of increasing photo-period (Dec 21-Feb 10) because of light levels that are too low. She said she fertilizes every 1-2 months; from that we can draw the conclusion she's had the plant a while.

I think the leaf loss is more likely caused by the fact that she admittedly waters in sips. This guarantees a salt build-up in soils that usually becomes more concentrated and manifest as winter progresses. Since we can water profusely to the point of free drainage from the drain holes when the plant is growing robustly, and with little worry about the possibility of root rot setting in, we are normally flushing the soil of these salts in summer. The effect of accumulating soluble salts in the soil is to make it increasingly difficult for the plant to absorb water. This reduces photosynthesis which reduces auxin production. Since a steady flow of auxin across the leaf abscission zone is required to keep an abscission layer from forming at the base of each petiole, the abscission layer forms and leaves fall - starting with the oldest. This is the basic physiology of the drought response, which can be brought on by high levels of soluble salts in the soil, under-watering, or over-watering.


    Bookmark   January 15, 2009 at 10:45PM
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I have to laugh (though sympathetically) at the F. benjamina concerns. When my elderly parents lived in southern Florida and I would visit during the year and help with the heavy tasks I would have to take about 40 feet of diameter and 20 feet of height off of this front yard tree every two years or so. And this tree received nothing in care, though perhaps the yard got fertilized a bit. Shabby developers down there long ago would bulldoze every native tree, build the house, and plant a rooted cutting F. benjamina in the middle of the front yard as a fast growing no-care shade tree. That is no care until they got big, then a lot of work. Some down there in parks where they would allow the aerial roots to stay and form additional trunks got to be gigantic in width.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 5:37PM
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I recently re-potted my Ficus tree, which was severely root bound. The tree had been doing well previously (losing leaves in the fall as described above, turning yellow and dropping). I have not changed my watering habits nor the tree placement but now 3 weeks following re-potting the tree is dropping green leaves copiously. The soil is not dry and not over wet, just damp.
The potting soil I used is by Schultz and contains 0.08-0.12-0.08 fertilizer.
Can you help me pin-point the cause of the leave dropping, I am concerned.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 12:02PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Where do you live? Did you actually repot, which includes soil removal and root pruning, or just pot up? I take it you've added no additional fertilizer?


    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 2:43PM
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I have had a 7 foot tree for about 6 months. I have moved home in the last 2. Since moving the tree looses leaves every day. I notice a white fluff on the leaves sometimes, even on the branches; could this be something to do with the leaf loss? The leaves seem sticky too. The tree has less light than before, but not drastically. I fertilized two weeks ago due to the leave loss, with slow release fertilizer. I have removed them since reading somewhere that fertilizing has a negative effect if the tree is loosing leaves. New shoots seem to be dying.
It is a 'lollipop' tree. How can I stop the white fluff? I believe it to be mold..?
And help it recover?

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 6:50AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The white 'fluff' is almost assuredly a mealybug infestation. I can help you with the rest, but I'm @ work now & need to attend to a commitment. I'll ttyl, or maybe someone else will chime in.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 11:29AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ficus b often responds to a decrease in light levels by throwing its leaves at you; but it also sheds leaves as a drought response, which can come as an end result of a high level of soluble salts in the soil (why TDS/EC levels and ratios are important), under-watering, or over-watering.

Fertilizing isn't a bad thing in itself, even if the plant is losing leaves, but fertilizing when soluble salt levels are already high or when there are ample amounts of nutrients already in the soil is assuredly not a good thing.

Let me know if you're still around and if you want to chase this further .... the last guy was something of a will-o'-the-wisp and I don't want to be talking to dead air. ;o)

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 4:54PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ficus b often responds to a decrease in light levels by throwing its leaves at you; but it also sheds leaves as a drought response, which can come as an end result of a high level of soluble salts in the soil (why TDS/EC levels and ratios are important), under-watering, or over-watering.

Fertilizing isn't a bad thing in itself, even if the plant is losing leaves, but fertilizing when soluble salt levels are already high or when there are ample amounts of nutrients already in the soil is assuredly not a good thing.

Let me know if you're still around and if you want to chase this further .... the last guy was something of a will-o'-the-wisp and I don't want to be talking to dead air. ;o)


    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 5:01PM
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So if I have mealybug what do you recommend? Spraying with soapy water? The white fluff isn't obvious; I have to search for it usually. Could the mealybug be responsible for the great loss of leaves? Or is it the salt? How do I combat the salt problem? I water the plant once a weak, about 2 litres.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 9:04AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If the mealybug infestation isn't bad, you can use a q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol to do them in. Just dab them and it will kill them. If you want something stronger, contact me off forum and I'll recommend something.

You probably have a situation where the salts have accumulated in the soil (high TDS/EC) and are preventing water uptake. I think you should flush the soil immediately:

* Late in the day, move the plant to a spot where you can fully saturate the soil. Saturate it with room temp water & allow the plant to rest for a half hour or so. This allows the salt in the soil to dissolve into the soil solution.

* Flush the soil thoroughly by pouring a volume of room temp water roughly equal to to the volume of the container through the soil. Do this at least 4-6 times, more is better.

* Depot the plant after it stops draining, and set it on newspaper overnight (skip this part if it is very root-bound). This will pull water reluctant to drain from the soil and prevent root rot if the soil is too heavy.

* In the AM, return the pot to the container (This part would be skipped too, if the plant did not remain unpotted overnight.) and fertilize with a 1/4 strength solution of a 3:1:2 (preferred) ratio fertilizer. Ask about fertilizer ratios vs %s if you don't understand.

* Keep it warm (65-80*) and give it the best light you can manage. Water carefully. If you need more help on fertilizing and watering technique, let me know.

* When the plant begins to move into the more robust part of its annual growth cycle and has gained some energy reserves, we can get after the roots/repotting, which is probably going to be something to address later in getting the plant back on track.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." ;o)


    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 6:36PM
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Thanks for that.
I think I have got rid of the mealybug with 2 heavy sprays of insecticide.
The tree has a lot less leaves, but I have noticed a couple of new leaves.
I would prefer not to take the plant out of the pot, then re-pot; would it be sufficient to just rinse through with the room temperature water a couple of times then leave to do its thing?

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 12:48PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Flushing the soil will help some, and for a little while, but the plant will continue to slowly decline unless you decide to do the root work. Your plant - your call.


    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 4:24PM
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The mealybug has gone, but there is still a kind of sap on some leaves appearing.
The reason I am reluctant to depot the plant is because it is in a large pot and would not be too easy. Thus I would prefer a method that would be easier on the back etc. As I said, there seems to be new growth, but some tips seem to be a little dry. I'm guessing from what you said that this is due to a lack of water intake due to salt build up around the roots. How exactly does the salt build up? Only from over & under watering??

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 9:05PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Salt accumulates when you don't water so the entire soil mass becomes saturated and a good % of the water you apply exits the container. When you water in small sips, ALL the salts in both fertilizer and tap water remain in your soil. The accumulative affect is the same as when you rub curing salt onto ham or bacon. It pulls the moisture OUT of cells. The natural osmotic flow of water is from the soil solution into cells because there is a higher concentration of certain solutes inside of cells than in the soil solution. Whenever the soil solution contains a higher concentration of these solutes than is found inside of the solution in cells, it actually PULLS water out of cells. If this is severe enough, not only does the plant suffer drought stress, even in a sea of plenty, but also the plasma membrane pulls away from the more rigid cell walls, destroying the cells. The term for this is 'plasmolysis', but we commonly call it fertilizer burn, and it can occur with you never having fertilized - only from the accumulation of dissolved solids in tap water. Fertilizer just makes it happen faster, when you're not watering properly - or CAN'T, because of a heavy soil. Also, and for obvious reasons, using fertilizers with ratios skewed, when compared to the ratios plants actually use, can contribute significantly to the build-up of salts in the soil.


    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 10:25PM
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Ok, so my last post was due to being lazy and busy.
I have just rinsed through about 8 times, pulled the plant from the pot and set it on newspaper... for about 8-10 hours? I also put a towel around the roots to keep them warm (?)
In short, I really don't want to kill this plant, I've killed too many things of late (not through choice-long story) so I wish to work towards life now, as you can imagine.
When I re-pot should I use totally new soil? Drainage stones in the bottom of the pot also right.
And yes, I would like a suggestion of good fertilizer, maybe you could email me the suggestions? Do you sell them directly?
And how much should I water the plant, only when it is dry? -that can be hard to tell most times. When I bought the plant the sales woman told me to water once a week with about 8 glasses of water. We spoke different languages (literally) so the communication was difficult.
My apartment lacks heavy sunlight or any decent sunlight at the moment, but summer is just around the corner, and there will be more sun then.
I would just like to know all the things I can do to make sure this plant doesn't die. Water, food, etc.
Thank you very much for your time so far; very appreciated!

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 3:28AM
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I have a seemingly healthy potted ficus tree (approx 5ft tall and lives in 12 in depth of soil, 15 in diameter pot) that has started to drop yellow leaves. I recently moved the tree indoors from my patio. I see that leaf loss can be due to a decrease in light exposure so I assume this is the cause since the leaves that used to face the sun are now facing in towards the room. The plant still gets a lot of afternoon sun as it sits in front of a glass sliding door to the SW. I hardly ever water it (less than once a week, I'd say) and when I do I don't give it much (1/2 gall) because the water will soak thru and spill out over the tray and onto my hard wood floor! I have never fertilized it other than whatever came in the original potting soil. I've had the tree for 6 + years and live in Los Angeles, CA (zone 9, I think). Overall it is very easy to care for but I worry about the leaves falling off. Will the tree eventually adjust to its new indoor home and stop shedding? Should I repot or trim as you suggest to some of the other posts? Or simply turn the plant around from time to time? Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2010 at 11:19AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Delboy asks: When I re-pot should I use totally new soil? Yes - use a durable, free-draining soil. I don't know how ambitious you are, but I (and many others @ GW) make & use the soil you see here:

Drainage stones in the bottom of the pot also right. No. Drainage layers do not improve drainage. Water simply 'perches' in the soil above the drainage layer. For a better understanding of how water behaves in soils, follow this link.

I would like a suggestion of good fertilizer, maybe you could email me the suggestions? Do you sell them directly? I don't sell anything in a physical sense, but I do try to sell you on several concepts that will make your growing life a lot easier and productive. One thing that is tremendously important is your soil, which is why I embedded the link and showed you the picture; and another is a good nutritional supplementation program. Plants grow best when nutrient levels are present in the same ratio in which plants use them, and at levels high enough to prevent deficiencies, yet low enough that plants' ability to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in water. This is most easily achieved with regular small doses of soluble fertilizers in the 3:1:2 ratio. Examples of 3:1:2 RATIOS, are MG, Peter's, others 24-8-16, MG 12-4-8, or the one I prefer, Foliage-Pro 9-3-6. Again, these are ALL 3:1:2 RATIO fertilizers.

... how much should I water the plant, only when it is dry? Yes. Water on an 'as needed' basis. If you have troubgle determining when the plant needs water, use a sharpened dowel inserted deep into the soil. It should come out clean & dry when inserted, and not cool if you touch the tip to the inside of your wrist. When you water, it's important that you water until the soil is saturated and at LEAST 10-15% of the total amount of water applied exits the drain. This flushes accumulating salts from the soil.

Your plant will thank you for gradually acclimating it to full sun and fresh air, by back-budding and showing much better growth. I've been moving all my tropical Ficus outdoors over the last few days.

You may also find this thread about Fertilizing Containerized Plants helpful.


Allyo - Trees in pots are always in state of gradual decline from the time they first become root-bound to the point you can lift the roots and soil from the pot, intact. Unless you regularly prune the roots and repot, your plant cannot grow to its potential within other cultural limitations. So, your tree badly needs to be bare-rooted, root-pruned, and repotted.

It also needs fertilizer regularly. We cannot depend on the medium to supply nutrients to our containerized plants. We need to take an active role. Please read what I wrote above, in this post, to DB, and follow the link to the thread about fertilizing if you want to learn more. You also need to correct the habit of watering in sips. The reason: ALL the soluble salts in your tap water accumulate in the soil. Think of how salt pulls the moisture out of ham or bacon, and you're visualizing what high levels of salts can do to your plants. As salt levels rise, it becomes increasingly difficult for the plant to absorb water; so your plant ends up dying of thirst, even in a sea of plenty (damp/wet soil).

Technically, plants aren't 'adjusting' organisms, they are reactive, reacting to various cultural influences and various stimuli, but in the practical sense, your plant will 'adjust' to its surroundings and continue to grow within the limits of its cultural conditions. This process IS energy driven, though. It will take a LOT of energy to push another flush of leaves, so until the tree recovers, it's very important that you do what is required to keep the tree from shedding another flush, as it may not have the energy reserves, which could be fatal.

Turning the plant would be somewhat helpful. A key point here is a soil that drains well enough to allow (both of) you to flush the soil w/o having to worry about root rot.


    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 10:27AM
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Thanks for the information.
There seems to be a residue on the leaves. Is this a bad sign?
The plant itself still seems weak.
I have repotted etc, but I'm a little worried.
The plant doesn't get a lot of sun.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 2:37AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Yes - it's a bad sign - likely a scale infestation that needs immediate attention. Contact me off forum and I'll tell you how to treat it. There is no chance you can get the tree outdoors into better light?


    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 8:10AM
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HELP! I received an 8 foot, 15 yr old ficus tree from a friend who was moving. The tree seemed to be thriving just fine, even though it's leaves were covered in dust and it had been kept in a non-draining pot for the entire 15 years. Once moving the tree to my house, I promptly placed it in front of a large, cathedral, north-east facing window, wiped the leaves off of dust and watered it with miracle grow. Two weeks later I find that I must be killing it. It's leaves are yellowing and It's losing an incredible number of them daily. I do not have a green thumb, but wish I did. I thought about re-potting it after reading that it should be in a pot with drainage holes, but I'm afraid to since it is still so new to my house and has never had drainage holes. What should I do?

    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 1:33PM
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I am hoping the ever so helpful Al is online and can help me. I have thoroughly read through all the posts and think I know what I need to do to fix my ficus problem but would like to get insight from you Al if I am on the right tract. I have aficus tree that was given to me about 15 years ago as a cutling about 4 inches tall with one leaf on it. I have nursed it successfully through the years moving homes about 7 times. Over the years it would occasionally drop leaves and new ones would spout out soon after. It is currently about 5 feet tall. My concern right now is that I was given some of those water globes that slowly release water as the plant needs it and I put two of them in my plant. It has been about a month since I did that and now evryday there are about 10-12 yellow leaves dropping from the tree. I have never fertized it in 15 years(all of its life) its currently in a non-drainage pot and is in a great sunny spot in front of a huge bay window with southwest sun. I am in zone 4 and have not moved the tree for 5 years except rotating it in the same spot to allow the sun to shine on the other side. I have never pruned the tree or the roots. I am thinking I should rinse the plant as you stated above in your other posts and put it on newspaper for overnight....etc, etc. I also liked the soil picture you posted above. Where would one find this soil? I have since taken out the globes and have went back to watering when needed. My tree is so sparcely leafed that I am sure I am killing it. It has maybe 45 leaves on it and like I said it was about 5 feet tall. So I am quite worried. Would appreciate any info you can give for my specific issue and if you'd rather not re-type what you've already posted in the past just give me the date of the post and I will re-read from above. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2010 at 3:02PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

How kind you are - thank you.

I thought for a while on how to approach your particular issue. Even though there is little question your tree is in dire need of a full repot (which includes root pruning), the facts that your tree sounds like it's vitality level is pretty low and winter is almost on us, sort of trumps that option. Things in the vitality department aren't going to improve much until after the vernal equinox, when your plant starts getting really stimulated by day length, but we can still work on what are the most likely factors that limit growth and vitality, the greatest of which are likely either a high level of soluble salts or watering habits, with a strong leaning toward the salts issue, as you already suspect.

I'm going to assume you've eliminated insect pests like scale and mites as a clear and present danger? ;o) If so, are you up for a thorough flushing of the soil; some deep vertical slits in the root mass with a utility knife; potting up into a larger container - temporarily until next summer when we can really get after the roots and get your tree back on track?

You can't buy the soil in the pic. It's the recipe I've been using for >20 years. I can help you with making it if you're interested. I have a ton of Ficus in it - all my trees, in fact; but I think for now, your tree would be happier if you used a soil as close to what it's in as possible.

Let me know what you think, and if/when you want to get started.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2010 at 3:31PM
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Hi Tapla (and anyone else that can give me some advice!
I've had my ficus (not a benjamina, but an excotica, similar enough I guess) for about three months now. It's about 4 foot 5 and was lush and full when I got it.
The directions said to water it daily, but that seemed very excessive to me and so I sparingly water it, especially considering the season and all. Soil is kept moist, but not too much (meaning I think it's impossible I over-watered it)
I placed it in front of a window so it could get the most light as possible. After about a week or two, when it started dropping its leaves, I noticed it was a bit drafty near the window, so I figured it was the draft that made it drop its leaves. Moved the plant to a less drafty place for a week so, while I fixed the draft near the window and put it back again.

It drops at least twenty leaves a day. Sometimes they yellow first, sometimes it green, even young leaves. While I do see new growth (new budding leaves, so to speak), they aren't growing as far as I can see (which does make sense,since it's not the right time of year for that), the rate at which the leaves are falling is freaking me out. It'll have none left once winter is over at this rate!

I'm considering doing the draining/flushing out thing you've described here a couple of times. Do you think it's a viable option? Also: Can it hurt the plant? (Leaving the soil perhaps too wet?) Is it better to wait until Spring/Summer? I'm afraid it might be too late then!

Thanks in advance for any advice you can give me!

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 3:52PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Exotica is a cultivar of benjamina, so it actually is Ficus benjamina 'Exotica'

Watering daily would only be appropriate in exceedingly fast and highly aerated soils, like in a near hydroponic situation. Trees should always be watered on an as needed basis, not on a schedule, though as the soil choice moves toward 'faster draining and highly aerated', the effects of watering on a schedule become less critical.

The leaf loss could be from any one or more of a number of causes, but the prime suspects are decreasing photo load (light) or a drought response to over-watering.

Flushing the soil will only be helpful if you've over-fertilized or there is a high concentration of soluble salts in the soil from a combination of fertilizer and the dissolved solids in your tap water. If you DO flush the soil, unpotting the tree after it stops draining and setting it on newspaper overnight of for an appropriate time usually pulls all the extra water from the soil. You should inspect roots to see if root rot has set in anyway. Look for dark, foul/sour-smelling roots, or roots that separate, leaving only the center pith behind and attached to the root when you pull on them. If you find this condition, you need to cut back to sound tissue.

Your tree will be very weak now, so it's important, after you tend to the roots, that you keep the roots above 65* and keep the tree in a bright spot. If you have other comments or need additional specific help, just ask.

It WOULD be better if all this was happening in summer, but it's not, and it needs to be addressed now, as it's unlikely the tree will straighten out w/o your direct intervention.

The pot does have a drain hole and you have checked for insect infestations - including scale and mites - yes?


    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 5:10PM
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Thanks very much for your response!
The pot indeed has plenty drainage holes and no infestations are present.
I flushed it today and it's now standing on a newspaper. Perhaps this won't help, but it's the only thing I cán do at this point I believe. I must say the roots look perfectly fine, so I didn't cut in those.
I suppose the healthy roots are actually a good sign? Makes me think it still has a chance to survive, at least.

I have some bare twigs here and there, with no new growth to be seen on them. I read somewhere to scratch it with a fingernail to see if the inside is green on so there's still life in there. A couple of them are green, some are just completely dry. Should I be trimming the latter?
Or just leave it be, let the plant have the brightest spot in the house and just keep my fingers crossed until next Spring?

    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 1:36PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

There's no harm in pruning off dead branches, but I would stop for now, when you get to viable tissue.

Good luck. Come back next late spring or summer & we'll be able to move ahead faster.

It would be helpful if you added your USDA zone and state to your user info - even a large city near you would be helpful. Advice often hinges on geography. ;o)


    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 2:39PM
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Thanks for your helpful advice. :)
I'll certainly come back later and let you know what happened!

By the way, I would add my USDA zone if I actually were in the USA. ;)

    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 3:12PM
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My miniature Ficus tree is over 20 years old, recently I moved from Southern California to Southern Oregon. It began as a houseplant, then I moved it outside, it grew and grew (it is now 3' tall. Moving to Oregon it was outside till the weather went to 40 degrees, then I brought it in. Last week we had some upper 60 to mid 70 degrees and I put it outside for some fresh air. Our nightly temperatures were not going below 40, however the other night it went below what was perdicted.
My tree has leaves turning brown and the new growth has turned brown too. Will my tree recover in a few weeks?
And can I later this spring re-pot it as the root was coming throught the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot and I had to cut it off before moving it from California to Oregon. I believe its time to re-pot this tree again, thoughts.
Thanks for any advise you can give me as I do not want to lose my tree after all these years.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 12:53PM
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Hello, I have recently bought a healthy 9ft Ficus Benjamin at my nursery and decided to plant this indoors. I live in the Free State in South Africa and decided to plant the Ficus in a built in plant pot underneath a sky light. The plant pot does not have draining holes but is about 1.5m x 1.5m in width and the depth approximately the same.

The nursery suggested that i plant the Ficus in the original soil bag and cut the roots open at the bottom. The bag should degenerate over time as it is not plastic but environmentally friendly canvas material.

I water the plant when the soil is getting dry but due to the plantpot it would be hard to inspect the bottom of the pot. It is also hard to water too much as there are no draining holes and the water would just sit at the bottom on the cement floor of the pot.

The plant has been in this position for a week and started shedding leaves (about 30) from the middle of the tree.

I have a few questions:

Does it get too much direct sunlight from the skylight above it?
Would the permanent plant pot be a problem for future watering patterns when I flush it?
Its summer in SA at the moment and the temperature is about 35 degrees Celcius.

If this location is not ideal for the plant, please advise and I would need to repot ASAP as I dont want to lose the plant.


    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 4:41AM
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My tree was healthy and with the longer days of sunlight began putting out a lot of new growth, I trimmed some of it and instantly it seems that the whole tree is starting to die, leaves drooping, some fallen, some curled and dried, some yellow or brown--
Except the new growth, which is still happy--
I gave it a lot of water with some fertilizer, which may have slowed some of the die-off--
Any thoughts ??
Thanks so much !!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 11:13AM
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