Ficus tree losing leaves

How to Revive Bonsai Tree with Leaves Falling Off

Taking care of a bonsai tree is a profound pleasure that cannot be put into words. However, facing challenges on your way of becoming a better bonsai tree gardener is inevitable.

More importantly, any of the issues you may need to resolve in order to help your bonsai reach its fullest potential are merely a part of the learning process.

Without any doubt, though, no bonsai enthusiast wants to see his/her miniature masterpiece suffer.

If you are stressed out and wondering how to revive bonsai tree with leaves falling off, it’s best to take appropriate actions as soon as possible.

Keeping in mind that there are different factors that can lead to leaves falling off, you need to start the process of healing by first identifying the very cause of the issue.

Factors that can Make a Bonsai Tree Lose Leaves (+ How to Fix the Issues)

Wang Xiang’s Taiwan West Indian Cherry Bonsai – Image Source

1) Overwatering or Under-watering

Both overwatering, as well as under-watering, can lead to leaves falling off with (seemingly) no reason at all.

As a rule of thumb, regardless of whether it comes to an indoor or an outdoor bonsai, you want to water your tiny tree only when the soil feels slightly dry to the touch (about an inch deep).

One of the most common reasons for over- or under-watering is not the absence of a well-working watering schedule but dealing with poor-quality soil.

The soil is a critical factor for the well-being of any bonsai tree. If it retains too much water, then it may seem as if the upper layer is fairly dry while the roots are actually soaking wet for a prolonged period. This can further exuberate the issue due to the increased possibility of root rot.

According to a research article titled Control of Root Rot Disease Using Plant Powder and Essential Oil from Artemisia Monosperma, root rot disease caused by a specific type of morphological species known as Fusarium solani, can be addressed successfully with the application of essential oil or plant powder.

However, when it comes to dealing with bonsai losing leaves and suspecting that poor-quality soil in combination with overwatering may be the cause for the issue, your wisest move is to start by letting the soil dry out (but not completely).

Next, you want to significantly decrease the amount of water you typically feed to your bonsai tree and let it take the time to recover. It’s better to stick with more frequent watering using less water as to make sure you won’t make your bonsai suffer from under-watering.

Once the recovery process shows visible signs of improvement, you need to repot your bonsai in high-quality soil.

If you suspect that under-watering is the cause for leaves falling off (maybe you often forget to water your bonsai?), then you want to re-hydrate your bonsai but skip the rush. Water the tiny tree using a small water can. Imagine you are mimicking rain.

Keep watering until you notice water flowing through the drainage holes. Let it drain for about 30 minutes and repeat the procedure. Hopefully, in the case the roots haven’t dried out and died off completely, your miniature tree will gradually start to recover. It’s a great idea to regularly mist the leaves and stem, too, to help the tree transpire water better while roots are recovering.

Do not make the mistake of compensating under-watering with overwatering.

This can lead to water stress which can be lethal to your bonsai tree. Then again, letting your bonsai take the time to recover is crucial. Keep monitoring it frequently and stay persistent.

Video by: Continuing Education – New Frontiers School Board – How to water a plant…. the right way!
Source: youtube.com

2) Exposure to Higher/ Lower Temperatures than Needed

As a rule of thumb, you need to keep indoor bonsai trees at room temperatures that do not fall below 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) and do not exceed 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit).

For outdoor bonsai trees, it is imperative to understand the requirements of the specific plant specimen you are dealing with. To illustrate this better, deciduous bonsai varieties will inevitably lose some or all of their leaves during the autumn-winter season, so there might be no reason to worry about leaves falling off.

3) Stress

Environmental stress can also cause your bonsai to lose leaves. Remember that trees are creatures of habits. Changing their position frequently can easily stress out the plant because of variables such as cold or strong air penetrating through the window/door, exposure to direct sunlight or a shady spot that is not suitable for the type of tree you are growing, etc.

For indoor bonsai tree gardeners, keep in mind that the natural access to indoor light might not be sufficient to help your bonsai thrive. Consider opting for an artificial indoor grow lighting system.

Above all, you need to find the perfect spot for your bonsai tree and stop stressing it by moving it around. Then again, let your bonsai masterpiece take the time to recover and don’t rush with additional treatments if you believe that environmental stress is the cause for leaves falling off.

4) Wrong Fertilization Routine

Are you using slow-release nutrients or fast-acting fertilizers? Or maybe you are using no fertilizer at all? In any of these cases, wrong fertilization might be to blame for your bonsai losing leaves.

Check out the label of the fertilizer that you are using and do your research according to the type of bonsai tree you are growing.

5) Pests or Disease

Last but not least, pests or disease can make the leaves of your bonsai rapidly fall off. On the bright side, pests or disease-related issues are effortless to spot and hard to confuse with any of the factors we discussed above. Inspect your bonsai thoroughly (use a magnifying loupe if needed), and use the right type of solution to get rid of the pests or disease-caused troubles.

Video by: sweetirisfarm – 11 Common Garden Pests – Garden Pest Identification
Source: youtube.com

The Takeaway

Image Credit: @cascadiabonsai

Anyone can learn how to revive bonsai tree with leaves falling off in a breeze, as long as you are patient, consistent, and determined to help your miniature tree recover. Skip the rush and let your plant “speak” to you, as it will always send you the right signs – just stay calm, interpret them, and act accordingly.

Ligustrum Bonsai Care

Download these instructions

Location:

Ligustrum will tolerate indoor growing conditions as long as humidity levels remain reasonably high, a humidity tray will help a lot. A Ligustrum that’s been inside shouldn’t be put outside in the winter without going through the gradual cooling of fall weather. Give it lots of light but not direct afternoon sun.

Ligustrum are very tolerant of both full sun in the summer and deep shade. They are cold hardy and can handle temperatures in the 20s but should be brought inside if it gets below 20° F. The colder the temperatures a Ligustrum are exposed to, the more leaves they drop. This is a natural reaction and causes no permanent damage even when specimens lose all their leaves in severe cold. New growth comes back quickly in the spring. Ligustrum that are left outside during the winter must have spent the autumn outside in order to acclimatize to the cold.

DO NOT PLACE TREES THAT HAVE BEEN INSIDE STRAIGHT OUTSIDE IN THE WINTER. It is better to leave them inside until spring.

Watering:

Bonsai trees live in small pots and their world dries out much quicker than plants in the ground or in bigger pots, so close attention should be paid to watering. Check and water your bonsai every day. Striking a balance between not enough water and too much water can be a bit tricky but is very important. Give it enough water to keep it from drying out and remaining dry. A Ligustrum will tolerate over watering well and will wilt if it gets too dry for too long.

Water thoroughly and deeply when it needs water and let it catch its breath before watering again. An old bonsai watering trick is to place the entire pot in a sink of water an inch or two deep and let the water absorb from the holes in the bottom of the pot. Another favorite way to know if it needs watering is to lift it. You can get a sense for whether it needs watering by its weight.

An inexpensive moisture meter takes the guesswork out of watering. We sell them. Water slowly so it absorbs into the dirt, otherwise the water will run all over your table. Mist occasionally with a spray bottle too. It helps take the burden off of the roots especially when it’s very hot and dry out. We pot our bonsai trees specifically to drain well, so it’s almost impossible to over water.

Misting:

Leaves want humidity to keep them green and healthy. Any time your tree is inside, the air is very dry. Mist often during the day. Avoid putting your Bonsai near a draft or vent, which dries out the foliage. A humidity tray is a great way to increase humidity. These shallow trays filled with small stones have water in the bottom of the tray. Make sure the water does not reach the bottom of the Bonsai pot. As the water evaporates, it creates a moister environment.

Fertilizing:

When new growth appears in the spring it’s time to start feeding your bonsai. Use an organic liquid fertilizer or a chemical fertilizer diluted to one half strength. Fertilize every two weeks during the growing season and once a month in the winter.

Pruning:

Trim to shape through the growing season; remove overlarge leaves and shoots with overlong internodes. Heavy pruning should be done during the late winter or early spring before new growth starts.

Wiring:

Good wiring techniques are used to train Bonsai trees into different shapes and styles. Use the thinnest training wire that will hold the branch in the desired position. Wiring can be carried out anytime, though spring-summer is best. DO NOT WIRE A BONSAI JUST AFTER REPOTTING. Wind the training wire in the direction the branch is bent in order to keep the wire from loosening. Wrapping the wire too tightly will cause scarring. Wrap just tight enough to get the job done. Begin at the base of the Bonsai tree and slowly wrap the wire around the trunk to anchor. Continue along the branch you wish to train. Repeat the process as needed. After about 6 weeks, the branch should be able to maintain the shape on it’s own, and the wire can be removed. Cut the wire carefully from the branch. DO NOT UNWIND WIRES. This could cause the branch to break.

Repotting:

You should repot your Ligustrum annually in the spring (as new buds extend) using a basic soil mix. After repotting, water thoroughly and place Ligustrum in a shady location for several weeks so new roots can grow.

Insects and Diseases:

The usual minor stuff can bother a Ligustrum, like Aphids, leaf spot, scale insects, spider mites, whiteflies and root rot. These can be attacked with the use of insecticides and fungicides in the form of sprays, soapy rinses, or systemic poisons. Use standard insecticides at half the dilution rate.

Spraying your Bonsai once every month or two with a non-toxic insect spray is recommended. Soaps should be rinsed of the next day. DO NOT SPRAY WHEN SOIL IS DRY.

Aphids are soft-bodied insects with pear shaped bodies. They cluster on buds, leaves and tips of shoots. Aphids feed on plant juices causing poor plant growth and distorted leaves. Most products used for aphid control work as contact insecticides. The aphids must be hit directly with spray droplets so they can be absorbed into the insect’s body. Insecticidal soaps work well against aphids.

Mites also like to infest the Ligustrum. Identified by small moving pinpoints of red or brown on branch tips, severe infestations leave “spider webs” on branch tips and yellow leaves all over the tree.

Whiteflies resemble bits of ash and suck juices from leaves. Infested leaves turn yellow, die or drop off and are covered with a sticky substance.

DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Bonsai Outlet. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. Happy bonsai gardening.

Download this care sheet as a PDF

Autumn is already leaving its mark, and there are always many doubts about how to prepare our bonsais for the arrival of the cold. It is wonderful to see the passing of the seasons on our bonsais, and autumn has its own particular charm. In this article we tell you what happens to our trees and what we should do to get ready and enjoy this time of year.

What happens to our bonsai in autumn?

The heat is already starting to move away and the temperature is going down. It is an unequivocal symptom that autumn is already knocking on the doors of our garden. In spring and summer, we have been fertilizing our bonsais and they grew healthy. When the temperature increased, they stopped growing and the process of energy accumulation began. That process will continue until almost the end of autumn. This will help our bonsai to resist winter.

The food collected from the sun is transformed and treated to produce sugars and other substances necessary for their life. This is known as elaborate sap. Trees break down chlorophyll into different elements and store them together with sugars in the roots and the trunk. These reserves will be used in spring.

At this point, when the chlorophyll decomposes, the leaves begin to lose their green color and, according to the existing pigments, they change to red, yellow or orange. Once the substances of the leaves have returned to the trunk, a layer is created that closes the union of the branches with the leaves, and they fall off.

Once they have reached the peak of storage, photosynthesis begins to be unnecessary, and the leaves begin to be dispensable for many deciduous trees. It is at this moment, that we begin to observe the fall of the leaves of the trees.

Not all trees lose their leaves. Perennial bonsai use other methods to prepare for winter. Conifers use their resin as an antifreeze, covering the surface of their leaves with that wax and forming a hard skin with deep stomata. This cover help them avoid water loss and better protect themselves from the elements of winter.

What works can I perform on my bonsai in Autumn ?

Autumn is a time of little growth for our bonsai, that is why we must take advantage to do some work that will improve our tree substantially. We can perform a detailed wiring, work on or clean dead wood, we must continue fertilizing, and even, if necessary, transplant. I explain all of this below.

  1. Watch the already wired trees. At this time of year, they will swell a little more to store the substances produced in their trunk, branches and roots. If the wire is sinking, it is better to remove it.
  2. In deciduous trees, once the leaves have fallen naturally (we cannot fast forward the process through defoliation), we can take this opportunity to cut the branches that do not match with the design. Avoid large or major cuts (these will be done in spring, with sap circulation).
  3. If you have not wired your bonsai yet, take the opportunity to completely wire the deciduous trees and so the branches will be positioned for the next growing season.
  4. You can also wire the perennials, but only the branches that do not require a drastic change of position, since these will be less flexible than in spring.

Dead Wood:

  1. This is the ideal time for updating the dead wood of your trees. First clean it with water and a plastic bristle brush.
  2. Then you can use the aluminum or copper bristle brush for deeper cleaning.
  3. To work the dead wood, you can use the gouges, the chisel and the hammer, and go carving the wood little by little, or you can use the machines for carving the wood. If you use machine, remember that less is more. Try to make it as natural as possible.
  4. Finally, you can sand the work and give it a smoother and more natural finish.

Example of dead wood work done by Tatsuya Terasawa :

Before

After

Details

If you want to deepen your knowledge on dead wood and the different techniques, don’t miss the special issues of Bonsai Pasión magazine No. 77 and 78 (Spanish) or France Bonsaï magazine n°105 and 106 (French).

Fertilization:

As you’ve been doing all year, in this period you must continue to fertilize your trees. But you have to change the type of fertilizer you provide. We provide fertilizer when the tree grows. In consequence, in the first weeks of autumn we will continue fertilizing, since it is the final straight of the fertilization before winter. As we can see in the diagram, the tree will no longer grow from December, so we will not fertilize more until the end of February when growth is reactivated.

This autumn fertilization serves to charge the trees with energy, so that they can sprout strongly in spring. Trees begin to sprout consuming the energy they accumulated during the previous season. In this season it is very appropriate to use an organic in-depth fertilizer.

Choose a fertilizer that has phosphorus and potassium, but with low nitrogen. A greater contribution of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in autumn gives the tree the opportunity to collect energy and reserves for the next spring sprouting.

Our autumn fertilizer has to be:

– Low nitrogen (N); We do not want to stimulate very strong growth at this time, nor unnecessarily lengthen the distance between knots.

– High in Phosphorus (P); that strengthen the root system, as well as balancing tree growth and cell regeneration, which is what we are looking for.

– High in Potassium (K); To regulate the respiratory processes of the plant (gas exchanges = CO2 absorption, essential for the realization of photosynthesis); Assist in the osmo-regulation process; Give greater resistance to water and thermal stress (thus we prepare the tree to face the low winter temperatures approaching).

Therefore, what you should do is:

Find the fertilizer that has these characteristics and continue providing it until the end of the autumn growth.

Recommendations: Biogold, fall hanagokoro and Joy tamahi are specific for this time.

Transplant:

At this time, a transplant (emergency or pot change only) can be performed, only if the tree cannot wait for spring. For this transplant, I recommend removing the minimum of the roots and not cutting any very large roots . Leave the rest for the other transplant in spring.

Redesign:

Autumn is a good time to redesign your bonsai. Plan what branch you are going to cut in spring or what new trunk position you are going to use. You can make use of pencil and paper and draw your new design. Since the tree is devoid of leaves (deciduous), design will be easier.

As we have explained in the article, autumn is not only a beautiful time, but is also very important for works and care for your bonsai. So, go preparing your wires, wire cutters, gouges and your autumn fertilizer, since there is still a lot of work to be done at this time of the year.

Enjoy automn and your bonsai in this wonderful time !

About the Author

Luis Alejandro Herrera

Spreading the art of bonsai is his passion. As a reference in the Latin American bonsai world, Luis studied and participated as an instructor for more than 15 years within the Venezuelan Bonsai Society. He had the opportunity to expand his knowledge with great masters from the world of bonsai like Pedro Morales, Nacho Marín; and within the European school with the Italian teacher Salvatore Liporace. He managed to be in the first place of the Caracas 2016 New Talents Contest and successfully completed the master class of the European School of Bonsai in Puerto Rico. During his career he has been a permanent instructor of the Venezuelan Society of Bonsai.

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How to Manage Pests

Ficus canker—Neofusicoccum mangiferae (=Nattrassia mangiferae) and Botryosphaeria spp.

Indian laurel fig, or Chinese banyan, Ficus microcarpa =F. retusa, when stressed, is highly susceptible to ficus canker. The disease, also called ficus branch canker, bot canker, or sooty canker, is caused by a complex of fungi.

Identification

Apparently healthy branches are often interspersed with diseased or dead branches. New shoots often sprout on the limb or trunk below dead branches.

The main symptoms are branch dieback, crown thinning, and, if the disease progresses to the trunk, eventual tree death. The entire tree can die within 2 or 3 years after the initial symptoms.

Life cycle

The fungi infect Indian laurel fig through mechanical injury or pruning wounds and cause disease when trees are stressed. Disease generally progresses from leaf fading or yellowing, to premature leaf drop, canopy thinning, and then branch death.

Advanced age (which reduces tree vigor) and unfavorable growing conditions (e.g., the root zone compacted or paved over) make Indian laurel fig highly susceptible to disease. Dying trees also commonly received inadequate irrigation, excessive canopy pruning, or root pruning to repair pavement.

Solutions

Provide proper cultural care to minimize tree stress. Avoid severe pruning of ficus and conduct needed pruning during dry weather. Prune off cankered or dying limbs at least 6 inches below any cankers. To avoid spreading the pathogens, scrub cutting blades clean and disinfect them between cuts and avoid using chain saws.

Identifying Ficus Tree Diseases and Their Precautionary Measures

Figs are popular decorative houseplants, especially for their rich foliage and modifiable canopy. Nevertheless, one should be very attentive regarding the diseases that can afflict these trees, such as crown gall, leaf infection, and leaf and stem spots.

Ficus trees are decorative indoor plants, and every gardening enthusiast prefers to have at least one at their home. Despite their lustrous foliage, drooping branches, and attractive canopy, they require minimal maintenance as compared to other houseplants. So, people who have a hectic schedule can even grow and maintain wonderful figs. Among the several species of the genus ficus, Ficus benjamina (weeping fig), Ficus elastica (rubber tree), and Ficus lyrata (fiddle-leaf fig) are the ones most popular.

Similar to any other plant, figs are also susceptible to various problems. The most common complaints regarding these plants are leaves turning yellow, leaf drop, and root rot. These problems develop basically due to over watering and exposure to cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time. Since these evergreen trees are native to tropical and subtropical climates, they require optimum light, high temperatures, and humidity for a healthy growth.

Diseases of Ficus Trees

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Ficus tree diseases usually develop due to unfavorable growing conditions. Low temperature (below 60°F) and excess watering are the major causes for this. Effective tips for maintaining healthy figs are using a pathogen-free planting soil and container, and a disease-free plantlet. Whether you have a regular sized fig or a bonsai, you can refer to the following information for identification and timely control of the diseases:

  • Crown Gall:
    Crown gall, as the name signifies, causes swollen areas on the leaves (in the major veins), stems, and at times, roots. Swollen areas may also form near the stem cuttings. It is caused by a bacterium called Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Over a period of time, the swollen areas turn hard and corky. Destroy the affected plant parts to prevent spreading. Using plant sprays containing copper is an effective method for treating this condition.
  • Leaf Spots:
    Black spots of very small size usually develop on the back of the leaves. This is nothing but fig leaf spots caused by Cercospora fungus. Under very heavy infestation, the leaves turn yellow and eventually fall off. Pluck the diseased foliage and collect fallen leaves (if any) to prevent further spreading of the disease. To kill any existing fungus, spray the trees with the proper fungicide.
  • Leaf and Stem Spot:
    Spotting in the leaves and stems can also be caused due to canker infestation. The spots may appear rusty in color, and at times oozing of sap occurs from the stem spots. Gently remove the affected leaves, making sure that you are not spreading the fungus to other parts of the tree. Then, you can spray the trees with appropriate concentration of fungicide solution.
  • Leaf Infection:
    In ficus trees, leaf infection by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris is manifested as tiny water-soaked areas. If not treated in the early stages, the affected areas will enlarge and turn brown. In some cases, a yellowish border surrounds the leaf patches. The diseased leaves fall within a few days of infection. Apply bactericides in proper concentration to control this disease.

In addition to the above diseases, check for occurrence of pests like scales, mealy bugs, and centipedes. In case of infestations by mealy bugs and scale, you may notice oozing of the plant sap. Spray the trees with the correct horticultural solutions to kill the pests. If left untreated, these can lead to death of the fig tree. To prevent pests and diseases, regulate the growing factors in such a way that they meet the native environmental condition.

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Ficus Benjamina Disease

ficus benjamina image by Unclesam from Fotolia.com

Ficus benjamina is also known as the weeping fig, Benjamin fig or simply as a ficus plant. It is an evergreen species that can grow into a tree up to 100 feet tall, but is most often grown as a house plant. While mostly problem free in cultivation, it is vulnerable to several pests and diseases that are easiest to treat if recognized early. Many diseases of ficus plants are due to the plants growing in conditions that are not suited to the species. Avoid watering ficus plants from above as they are vulnerable to fungal disease caused by wet leaves.

Fungal Disease

Ficus plants are vulnerable to fungal diseases such Botrytis cinerea, which is most common on grape vines. Infected plants will have brown or black spots on the leaves. Any infected leaves must be removed and the whole plant treated with a fungicidal spray. Infected plants should also be isolated to prevent the disease spreading to other plants. Ficus plants that are over watered or kept in damp conditions are most vulnerable to fungal disease.

Crown Gall

Crown gall, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, is a bacterial disease that causes swollen stems, leaf veins and roots that become “corky” with time. The main point of infection is often the crown where the main stem joins the roots. While the disease is not fatal it can cause serious disfigurement of ficus plants and can be spread to other plants by dirty cutting tools.

Phomopsis

Phomopsis is a fungal infection that causes ficus plant leaves, roots and stems to die back and can even kill whole plants. A ficus plant infected with phomopsis will have dead drown leaves and twigs that do not drop off the plant. Plants that have been extensively pruned are most vulnerable. The infection can be passed from plant to plant by hedge trimmers or dirty garden knives or scissors, according to . Isolated infected plants and sterilize all garden tools before using them on other plants. Phomopsis can be treated by pruning any infected parts of the plant with sterile tools.

Anthracnose

Anthracnose is a fungal infection of ficus leaves caused by the fungus Glomerella cingulata. It manifests as yellow spots on the leaves that turn brown and become sunken. Infection eventually covers and kills whole leaves. Move infected plants to a dry location and reduce misting and watering. A copper-based foliar fungicide will prevent the disease from spreading.

Xanthomonas

Ficus plants are susceptible to infection by Xanthomonas campestris bacteria. The first symptoms are the appearance of tiny wet paches on the leaves which grow and turn brown with a yellow fringe. Tretament is with a copper-based bacteriocidal spray and the removeal of branches with infected leaves.

Insect-borne Disease

Scale insects are small, immobile insects that tend to cluster on the undersides of leaves or on new growth stems and shoots. They are up to 1/8 inch long and look like small, brown or yellow bumps. Mealy bugs are similar to scale insects but protected by a coating of fluffy white threads. Both types of insect pests are vectors for viruses that can infect and disfigure ficus plants. They alse exude a sweet liquid onto the surface of their host plants which can encourage the growth of sooty mold.

Why Your Ficus Tree Just Dropped Its Leaves

Photo: Steve Bender

There’s a good reason why another name for a ficus tree is “weeping fig.” That’s because if you own one, sooner or later it’s going to make you cry.

The scenario goes like this. You go to bed with your healthy-looking ficus tree sitting happily in the living room. You wake up to find half of its leaves sitting miserably on the floor.

Why?

Because out of all the houseplants you could have picked, weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) is probably the most finicky. The question is not if it will drop leaves. The question is when?

Image zoom emPhoto: Steve Bender/em

Here is a list of common reasons a ficus tree drops its leaves.

1. You bought it at a greenhouse and brought it home. See, a ficus tree hates change. And in your house, it finds dimmer light and lower humidity than in the greenhouse. It also misses that hot, new ficus that was sitting next to it. Could have been some possibilities there. So in a fit of pique, it drops leaves.

2. You kept it in one room for a while and then you moved it somewhere else. Didn’t I tell you this plant hates change? It noticed the different light and temperature. And it’s still mad from being abducted from the greenhouse. Result? Dropped leaves.

3. You let it dry out. This plant likes moist soil that drains well. If the soil gets too dry, it drops leaves, usually while they’re still green.

4. You overwatered it. When this happens, the leaves often fall off yellow like those above.

Solving the Problem The easiest solution to a sickly ficus tree like this is to throw it out and replace it with one of its easy-to-grow relatives, like fiddleleaf fig (Ficus lyrata), rubber plant (Ficus elastica), or “Alii’ banana leaf fig (Ficus maclellandii ‘Alii’). These plants are carefree, happy campers. And they’re all readily available.

But if you’re determined to keep weeping fig as a houseplant, cater to its whims. Give it bright, indirect light — no hot sun. Don’t let the temperature drop below 60 degrees. Keep it out of wind and cold drafts. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Mist the foliage to raise humidity. Don’t move it from room to room — find a place where it can live undisturbed.

Falling leaves don’t mean the plant will die. If you meet its requirements and give it time to adjust to a new location, new growth will follow. But don’t cry when you see a couple of fallen leaves on the floor beneath it practically every day. Hey, that’s just what it does.

Q. I have a Ficus benjamina that’s thriving but it’s been in the same pot for many years. I believe that it is now pot bound and needs to be transplanted into a larger container. What do I need to know about repotting this plant?

A. Ficus benjamina is sensitive to changes in location and temperature. Leaf drop of healthy green leaves is the primary indicator of these problems. Once a ficus has acclimated itself, you don’t want to change the environment.

I would look to transplant them after 24 to 36 months, or when you see roots coming out of the drainage hole. The general rule of thumb is to move them into a container no larger than two sizes bigger than the current pot.

Slide the ficus carefully out of the old pot. You may need to run a knife between the root ball and the side of the pot to release it. The root ball should be a solid mass of roots. With your fingers or a sharp knife, loosen the roots and break the circular pattern of the root ball.

Next, set the plant into the new pot to check the planting depth. You want to leave an inch or two between the rim of the pot and the surface of the soil so that you have plenty of room for water. Adjust the height of the plant by adding or removing soil from the bottom of the new pot.

Once you have determined the correct planting depth, set the plant in place and fill in around the root ball with fresh potting soil. With some type of blunt tool press the soil into the empty spaces, removing the air space. After adding the new soil, water the plant and add more soil if necessary.

It’s normal for ficus to shed some leaves after transplanting so do not be overly concerned if this happens. Finally, hold off feeding it until you see some new growth.

Q. Is there a right or wrong time to prune back Mexican sage?

A. Mexican sage produces all of its new growth from the base of the plant. There are no lateral branches on this plant. It is always cut to the ground to allow the new growth to develop. It usually burns or turns brown with the cold winter temperatures, so it will look bleak and unattractive by the end of winter.

My preference is to wait until the end of February or the beginning of March to prune this plant, but it can be done at any time now, weather permitting. I would also clean out the fallen debris that has gathered during the past growing season.

Buzz Bertolero is executive vice president of Navlet’s Garden Centers. His Web address is http://www.dirtgardener.com. You can e-mail him at [email protected] or write to 360 Civic Drive Suite D, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523.

Ficus trees (Ficus benjamina) are one of the most common plants found adorning home interiors around the world, but this finicky species can cause many owners to wring their hands in frustration. While it is an easy to care for, attractive plant, it’s known to drop its leaves for seemingly no reason at all. The good news is that once you know the reasons for your ficus dropping leaves, there is a lot you can do to prevent and treat it.

Why is my ficus dropping leaves? There are many reasons but they all occur as the ficus adjusts to maintain performance when conditions vary, through a process of acclimatization. These conditions include underwatering, overwatering, too little light, change in season, fertilization, pests, and fungal problems.

Read through the following common causes of leaf drop to get a better understanding of why your ficus may be dropping leaves, and how to minimize future occurrences. See also my complete guide to ficus tree care.

Common Causes of Leaf Drop

The ficus tree, (Ficus benjamina) is native to Asia and Australia, typically grown as an outdoor tree reaching upwards of fifty to one-hundred feet tall depending on the locale. In temperate areas, it is been adapted and frequently grown as a houseplant because of its stately growth and glossy green foliage.

Problems arise when growing ficus trees indoors since they originated in subtropical areas with very distinct wet and dry seasons. Changes in their native climate signified the plants needed to prepare for an upcoming dry season when water would be scarce. They acclimatized to this impending water scarcity by dropping leaves to reduce the amount of foliage the plant would need to support.

Now, when grown indoors and faced with fluctuations in care or climate, the plants drop leaves as a survival mechanism, brought on by their natural evolution and adaptation to outdoor growing conditions. It’s not unusual for plants to drop upwards of 20% of their foliage when trying to adjust to changing conditions brought on by abiotic or biotic stressors.

Variations in watering, light exposure, and temperature, as well as pest and disease problems are the most common stressors triggering leaves to drop from ficus.

Inconsistent Watering

Figuring out a good watering schedule is a tricky task when growing a ficus indoors and the primary reason most owners see leaf drop. Too little water will cause leaves to drop. Too much water will also do the same. The best thing to do is to maintain a consistent, even watering schedule during the active growing season in the warmer months and a reduced, albeit still consistent, schedule in the cooler winter months.

Underwatering

One of the most common reasons for a ficus to drop leaves is not receiving enough water. These finicky plants do not like to hang out in wet conditions but instead, prefer to be planted in well-drained growing media when grown in containers. However, there’s a fine line between letting them get dry enough between waterings and getting overly dry.

The reason your ficus drops leaves when underwatered is related to its evolution. It drops leaves to prepare for the dry seasons that occur in its native habitat, to reduce foliage that needs moisture to live. When they don’t receive enough water when indoors they think a dry season is coming and drop leaves in response.

Ficus are quick to react if you let the growing substrate in their container get too dry. Never let more than the top couple of inches dry out between waterings.

Overwatering

Just as damaging as underwatering, overwatering your ficus tree can cause significant leaf drop especially in the winter months. When plants are overwatered it prompts a condition called root rot to develop. Soggy, oxygen-depleted soils encourage the growth and multiplication of Pythium, Phytophthora, Rhizoctonia, or Fusarium fungi which spreads into the roots, infecting plants. Healthy roots begin to turn brown and mushy as they perish, unable to take in nutrients needed for growth.

The challenge with root rot is that it often goes unnoticed because it occurs beneath the soil surface and out of sight. Symptoms will show first on the roots causing them to turn brown and mushy — classic signs of rot. As root rot progresses leaves turn yellow, wilt, or droop and then become mushy as well.

Once symptoms are visible in the leaves the problem may be past the point of rectifying, endangering the entire plant. In extreme cases when conditions are perfect, i.e. in pots without drainage holes, root rot can kill the whole plant within ten days.

If root rot is caught soon enough remove as much of the soggy soil as possible adding in fresh, clean potting soil. If root rot has spread significantly, dissect the plant, keeping only the healthy portions. If the whole base is affected, it may be best to dispose of the entire plant.

Changes In Environmental Conditions

Environmental variations are another major reason your ficus tree may drop leaves. As the temperature changes and day lengths shorten your plant will gear up for what it thinks is an impending dry season, triggering survival mechanisms.

Change In Season

The normal transition from one season to the next will also cause your ficus to drop leaves as it adjusts to differences in sunlight, temperature, and relative humidity. These conditions vary less within the home than outdoors but still enough the plant feels the need for acclimatization.

Leaf drop will be the most extreme as homes move from fall to winter. Day lengths continue to shorten, temperatures drop in response (most homes are kept cooler in the winter than the summer), and the relative humidity levels plummet as winter takes hold. This is when the plant naturally thinks the dry season is approaching and drops leaves to use resources such as water more efficiently.

Too Little Light For Your Ficus

Native to tropical areas, ficus trees thrive in full sun locations and require high amounts of sun exposure when grown indoors. Reduced lighting as the days get shorter will result in leaf drop, as well as limited exposure to the sun in your home in general. Make sure to keep windows clean to allow as much light in as possible and watch for curtains or blinds that may be obstructing light coming in through the windows.

In the summertime, if possible move your ficus outdoors to allow access to maximum sun exposure. Keep in mind though that when you bring it back indoors at the end of the summer you will see leaf drop then as the plant works to acclimatize.

Ficus Trees Don’t Like Drafts

Many houseplants are sensitive to the drafts in homes coming from leaky windows, or register vents blowing heat in the winter and cool air in the summertime. These drastic swings in temperature trigger that survival mechanism in plants, resulting in the dreaded leaf drop. Try to maintain as even an ambient temperature as possible with no more than a 5 – 10℉ swing in temperature.

Insect Pests

Encountering trouble with pests is a sure bet your ficus will start dropping leaves, as a stress response to the infestation. The three most common insect problems are scale, mealybugs, and spider mites — all problematic in most, if not all, houseplants. Pest problems tend to rise as you turn your heating system on as temperatures drop in the fall.

Regardless of the type of insect problem mechanically removing insects by hand is an appropriate treatment option when dealing with smaller sized ficus plants grown indoors. Heavily infested stems or branches should be pruned off the ficus tree and discarded to prevent the spreading of the infestation. Trees can also be sprayed with neem oil, a naturally occurring pesticide.

Scale

Scale is a threat to most species of shade and fruit trees and ornamental shrubs. The pests pierce leaves, stems, branches, and tree trunks to feed on the sap within these plant tissues, damaging the plant overall.

There are two different types of scale insects that infest ficus trees: soft and armored scale. Both appear as little brown bumps on ficus leaves with soft scale being more prevalent. Insect sizes range from ⅛ to ½ inch in length; color, shape, and texture vary amongst different species.

Soft scale insects do not possess a hard, protective coating so they generate either a thin, powdery, cotton-like or waxy layer over their bodies for protection. These layers cannot be separated from the insect body. Armored scale, on the other hand, create a hard shield-like layer from shed skins and wax to protect themselves from natural predators and chemical insecticides. This layer can be separated from the insect body and tightly adheres the scale to the plant forming a waterproof seal.

Besides the notorious left drop, ficus plants infected with scale exhibit yellowing leaves. The yellow spots appear on the tops of the foliage while the insects suck sap and chlorophyll from the bottom. Leaves may wilt, become stunted, and you may see decreased vigor overall in the plant. To tell the difference in types of scale look for honeydew secretions; soft scale secrete a large amount of honeydew, armored scale do not.

Mealybugs

These pink, soft-bodied insects are covered with a white, waxy, almost cottony-like material. The cottony fluff protects them from moisture loss and excess heat. Mealybugs are usually found in colonies in somewhat protected areas of the ficus such as on the leaves close to the crook of the branches.

Mealybugs are similar to their relatives the soft scales but they lack the scale covering and retain legs throughout their life cycle allowing them to move around.

Symptoms show as stunted or deformed leaf growth, especially on new foliage as mealybugs inject a toxin into leaves when they feed on the plant’s fluid. They also excrete honeydew as they feed, encouraging the growth of sooty mold.

Spider Mites

These tiny sucking pests are found on the undersides of leaves, wreaking havoc on indoor houseplants. Spider mites feed on the fluids found inside the leaves of ficus plants, piercing the waxy coating to access the internal fluids.

One of the biggest challenges with spider mites is their prolific nature; often times a heavy infestation will occur, unnoticed, before plants begin to show physical symptoms of damage.

With an infestation of spider mites, leaves may be stippled with discoloration or turning yellow overall. Plants may also exhibit a fine, spider-like webbing between the leaves or at the base of the plant.

Bacterial Diseases & Fungal Infestations

Stress from bacterial diseases and fungal infestations will cause ficus leaves to drop too. Crown gall, leaf spot, anthracnose, and southern blight are the most common problems.

When your ficus is infected with crown gall, tumor-like lesions commonly known as galls, form on the surface of stems or internally within the stem tissue. Often times a simple wound on the plant will allow entry of the infestation into the plant but is dismissed as many think the initial swelling is simply a callus forming as the plant heals itself. As the infection progresses the swelling becomes irregular in shape and begins to turn dark brown or black as the plant cells perish.

If plants show symptoms of crown gall, the affected plant tissue must be removed using sterilized equipment a couple of inches below the gall. There are no known, effective, chemical treatments.

Leaf Spot

There are a number of different species of leaf spot that ficus plants are susceptible to. Pseudomonas Leaf Spot, Xanthomonas Leaf Spot, Corynespora Leaf Spot, and Myrothecium Leaf Spot are the common forms. All of these pathogens favor warm, humid conditions and cause circular or angular water-soaked lesions on foliage.

To prevent leaf spots avoid getting foliage wet when watering ficus plants; treat with a copper-based bacteriacide or remove infested leaves once symptoms appear to minimize plant damage and spreading to neighboring houseplants.

A fungal disease, anthracnose is characterized by necrotic spots on the leaves and commonly causes tip dieback in ficus plants grown indoors. This disease occurs more frequently in warm, humid conditions like leaf spot, but often follows tissue damage from other causes.

There are a number of fungicides that can be used to effectively treat ficus plants once anthracnose is observed.

Southern Blight

Like the other diseases and fungal problems, the southern blight fungus grows rapidly when soils are wet and temperatures are hot. Symptoms start off as a fine, feathery white or brown (depending on the fungal variety) mycelium mat on the surface of the growing media that then make their way onto plant parts. Eventually, the mycelia form small seed-like, brown structures called sclerotia. The sclerotia are used by the fungus as protection to survive unfavorable conditions such as lack of moisture and heat and are resistant to penetration of fungicides.

Once southern blight symptoms appear in plants it’s best to dispose of the ficus entirely and treat any neighboring, unaffected plants with a fungicide drench as a means of prevention.

Fertilizing

Lastly, fertilizing can cause severe leaf drop in indoor ficus plants. While most houseplants appreciate a dose of all-purpose fertilizer every four to six weeks during their active growing season, ficus trees don’t like being fed regularly. If you do want to give them a dose of fertilizer make sure to feed plants early in the spring as they begin growing again after the cooler, winter months. Mix an all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer at about one-half the strength recommended on the label and apply when the ficus needs water.

Caring For A Ficus

Now that you understand the common reasons why your ficus may be dropping leaves, let’s touch on the basics about caring for your plant to help minimize future occurrences. If you want a complete guide you’ll want to check out my comprehensive article to ficus tree care (Weeping Fig/Ficus benjamina).

  • Water consistently. Adjust moisture levels to the season but then maintain an even watering schedule even the next seasonal change. Give your ficus more water in warmer months when the plant is actively growing and less water in the winter when the plant is growing at a much slower rate.

  • Light exposure is critical. Native to outdoor locales, a ficus will soak in as much sun as you can provide it. Try to find a location within your house that has bright, albeit indirect light for as much of the day as possible. Avoid direct sunlight as it can scorch leaves.
  • Pruning is needed to keep plants from getting unruly and taking over space within your home. Remember, these plants are known to grow to towering heights when outside; if growing conditions are optimum these beauties will take off and grow, grow, grow. Prune in the spring as new growth is occurring to reduce stress on the plant.
  • Repot frequently to prevent roots from becoming rootbound within the container. Prolific root growth occurs when ficus are given sufficient sunlight and the proper amount of water.

Can you be allergic to ficus trees?

Yes, ficus plants are a common allergen within homes, especially irritating to those with asthma or other pulmonary complications. People allergic to latex should also be wary of ficus plants as they are related to rubber plants.

This website is filled with useful tips for growing and caring for your houseplants. If you want to find out about some great resources that can help you look after your indoor plants, check out my recommended resources section. This will help you choose the best books, tools, and resources to help you develop your green thumb.

What is a normal amount of leaf loss on an indoor Ficus tree?

A healthy tree should have more or less ‘opaque’ densities of leaves on the branches. If you are consistently losing leaves, and are not seeing new growth, that means the plant is probably struggling in the roots or just not getting enough sun. Short term loss would just be shock related where the plant isn’t getting enough light so some marginal leaves are de-prioritized and dropped, or some roots died, and the plant isn’t able to uptake enough water to sustain
The basic ingredients here for the plant to thrive are:
1) Sufficient sun
2) The RIGHT amount of water – not too much – not too little – don’t let the soil get soggy, and don’t water when top inch is wet… And plant in well-drained soil.
3) Coming back to above, good soil.
Note that a tree over time will match it’s foliage density to it’s root efficacy, so if you cause a bunch of root damage, a bunch of leaves are going to drop, and roots are going to regrow, before more leaves show up. Additionally, if you suddenly drop the amount of carbohydrates being generated, a bunch of roots are similarly going to first go dormant and then die off and while dead, rot, and put more stress on the tree. This all gets managed better through ideal growing conditions (sun, correct amount of water)
Last hint — it’s very easy to screw up the nutrient and salinity balance inside a potted plant. I would follow fertilizer instructions very conservatively, and consider flushing the pot outside HARD every few months on a very sunny day in the morning to clear out built up salts, then chase with a fresh dose of fertilizer, and then let it soak in the sun inside. The reason you need to do this is even if you are only lightly fertilizer, various salts the plant DOESNT need will gradually build up if you aren’t flushing, and tap water itself has a lot of minerals in it. For example, in SoCal we have like 200-500 ppm solutes, which means that if you are watering maybe a dozen or two times without drip through, you could start to create a salt challenge from all the calcium and chlorides and whatever to a potted plant, which will kill off roots, and thus cause leaf drop.

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