Ficus lost 80% of its leaves

Liudmila78January 8, 2012

I've been reading a lot on this forum on causes for the ficus tree to loose it's leaves, but not sure where to start with the rescue of my tree. I just purchased it in September and it was the most beautiful tree. Please see the link below for before and after picture:

As you can see the tree lost almost all it's leaves. I live in Boston, so it gets pretty cold in winter times. Also, I travel a lot, so I have to leave the heat down to 56-60F. When I am home, I raise the temperature to 68-70F. Maybe my tree is super sensitive to all the temperature fluctuations? Also, I water the plant once a week with about 1 cup of water. Is it too much? Maybe I overwater it? Once in a while I add "liquid Houseplant Food" to the water (8-7-6). To be exact, I did it twice ever since September. Also, about once a month i bring the tree to the shower and sprinkle it with room temperature water, and make the soil soaking wet to drain any remaining salts in it. Wow! Now that I described it all, maybe I do too much to my tree, and all this intensive care makes it lose it's leaves? Please help me figure out what am I doing wrong and how to save my tree. Thank you!

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Liudmila78, it does not look promising. The plant appears to be dying from the tips but I cannot decide if all the dead twigs are associated with one of the braided stems. If they are, then removal of the one stalk would be a first step... if you can bear the sight of what is left.
I think that there is a problem at the roots; and it may have been caused by watering and placement indoors at about the same time. It is quite resilient, however, and if left to itself to dry out, it might eventually leaf out - but on a much reduced scale.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2012 at 8:36PM
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Thank you ronalawn82 for your post. It's quite upsetting for me to realize that my tree is dying, but I still hope it'll come around. Seems like 2 stalks dried out, and one is still having green leafs. If you are saying there is a root problem, is there anything I can do to treat it? Maybe the plant needs to be repotted?

    Bookmark   January 10, 2012 at 9:05PM
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Liudmila78, I cannot tell if the problem is getting better or worse; but you can.

  1. Is the plant still dropping lvs? YES......NO
    If NO, go to 6.
  2. If YES; are leaves green & lush? YES......NO
  3. If NO, go to 5
  4. If YES; the plant is showing its displeasure. It might be too moist; it may have been moved to a location of less light; or both. A probe will indicate 'moistness' of soil.
  5. If dropped leaves are yellow(ing), tending to crispines the plant may be drying out; or insect activity (usu. hard scale). Check underside of leaves and along stalks, container and floor, for honeydew (stickiness).
  6. If the plant has stopped dropping leaves, perhaps it is on the mend. Starting at the top of a bare twig, gently scrape the bark with a blunt edge (back of a key). If you see green, the tissue is alive. Brown or black indicates dead; move lower down the stalk and repeat. Continue until you do see green. From there downward the stem is alive. You can cut away the dead top portion of the stalk and watch for buds below the cut to swell and emerge within the next two weeks.
    If you feel you must fuss with it every day, that is only natural. But the plant will recover on its own given half a chance. Pretend that you are a Plant Technician and your next scheduled visit is 2 weeks from now. At that time you will make a better assessment. Trust me.
    It is very likely that you will want to replace the plant because it might not be "aesthetically pleasing". Whatever you decide, hopefully, you will have acquired a renewed admiration for the Ficus spp.
    Bookmark   January 11, 2012 at 7:28PM
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The plant is still dropping leaves and they are green & lush (even though there are not much left, as you saw on the picture). I don't see any signs of the insect activity there. I am assuming I've been overwatering it, so I'am going to leave it alone and wait for the soil to dry out, before my next watering. Do you agree? I am determined to bring this plant back to life. As you suggested, I scraped the bark, and I see green tissue coming through on all 4 stalks. I believe it's a good sign, right? The question is: if the tissue on the stalks is green, then why all the branches are bare? Should I cut away all of the branches? They are soft to touch. The tips are dry, so when I bend them, they snap off. Thank you for all your guidance!

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 5:06PM
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Liudmila78, OK, print the following declaration and post it in or near the plant for you (and everyone else)to see.
"I am determined to bring this plant back to life."Size>
First thing: I forgot the most elementary test. If a twig snaps off cleanly, it is dead and you can continue this test downward until you cannot snap it off any more. You may conclude that the tissue from here down is alive.
Now back to the present. You say "The question is: if the tissue on the stalks is green, then why all the branches are bare?" I do not know the full answer. Dropping of green leaves is a general symptom that a plant is upset; and one has to review its recent history to pinpoint the cause. One of the reasons why I like the "Benjamin" is that it quickly shows its displeasure. A lesson it has taught me is Never! Ever! Change more than one condition at a time. It has been said that the plant drops the existing leaves because they cannot cope with the increased water. It then proceeds to push out new leaves which are adapted to the their environment. That explains the dropping of lush green leaves although the cambium layer remains green.
Back to the present, you say.
"I see green tissue coming through on all 4 stalks."
"They are soft to touch."
These two symptoms cannot coexist on the same part of the stem; but you can prove me wrong.
Cut away all brown and brown-turning-black tissue and all soft tissue. Snap off all parts which do so easily. Sterilize the pruning tool after each cut. A pain; I know; but necessary.
What you should now have is a clean plant; and from here on, keen and regular observation will tell you whether it is getting better or worse. Increase air circulation at floor level to aid the drying out process.
Sniff close to the base of the plant. If you detect ANY bad odor, it means that there is a rot among the roots and the plant we will have to "drain the swamp".
In the course of writing this, I learned that, "It is the official tree of Bangkok". (Wikipedia)
I did not know that before. Thank You very much.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 5:50AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

L - I just happened to be passing through and spied your post. In almost all cases, tropical Ficus shed their foliage either in response to decreasing light or as a drought response, which can almost always be traced to one of three factors - a high level of salts in the soil, under-watering, or over-watering.

Based on the where the plant is sited in the picture, I don't think we can eliminate the probability that you're plants condition is a reduction in light, which has a reputation for causing a loss of foliage in all species of Ficus, as well as most other tropical trees. The first picture is probably soon after you acquired the plant, and the second is obviously a recent one?

Light reduction in this plant reduces the amount of a growth regulator (auxin) produced primarily in apical meristems (growing branch tips) and newly forming leaves. There is an abscission zone at the base of each leaf, and a steady flow of auxin is required to keep an abscission layer from forming. Reduced light = reduced auxin flow = abscission layer forming = eventual leaf loss.

I'm almost certain this is the primary cause of your issue, but as mentioned, under/over-watering issues and a high level of salts in the soil (solution) can cause a drought response that triggers the same mechanism for shedding leaves.

I'm going to suggest that you read a contribution I left over at 'Houseplants'. It covers all the high points of how to care for Ficus b. If you have more questions you think I might help you with, you can ask there, as I rarely make it to this forum.

Take good care ..... and best luck!!


Here is a link that might be useful: Lots more about Ficus culture if you click me!

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 10:13AM
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I live in Southern California, and have planted a row of about 30 ficus nitida plants (15 gallon) earlier in the summer. They grow like weeds out here, and were doing great for a while. Just recently, I noticed that about 6 of them, roughly grouped together, developed very dark brown leaves and dropped them, all within a few days. Notice I didn't say they turned yellow, dried out, and dropped them. They turned dark brown (while still maintaining the feel/wetness of a normal leaf) and then dropped off, very quickly. A couple of the trees are totally bald now. It's a mystery to me. Some specifics, and variables:

1. It was VERY hot at that time, for the week, over 100 degrees every day...which is unseasonable, and strange weather for us. But again not every tree effected, so not sure if there is a link.

2. I water on a timer for 7 minutes, 3 times a week.

3. I had fertilized all of the trees about 5 weeks earlier, with Miracle Grow slow release pellets. No trees saw any adverse effects in the following days/weeks. But that could be a reason if I put too much?

If anyone has any follow-up questions or answers, please let me know!

Tony George

    Bookmark   September 20, 2014 at 7:30PM
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