House Plants/Weeping fig
QUESTION: We were given a weeping fig as a gift from a florist's shop toward the end of summer 2011. Brought it inside and kept it in a north-facing window over the winter, and it dropped its leaves.
This summer, I took it out of the florist's plastic pot, put it in a pot 1 or 2 inches larger, and put it back out on the south-facing screened-in porch. It leafed out again, but not to the lushness of when we first received it.
Brought it back in this fall, placed it in the same north-facing window. The plant got toppled by the cat a few weeks ago, and I'm sure that didn't help, but now the leaves have curled/crisped or fallen off. Is it dead? Besides getting tipped over, what happened?
Whether indoors or out, I've been keeping the weeping fig watered just enough to keep the soil moist. Is it possible to save it? Please help. Thanks so much . . .
ANSWER: Hi Jean,
Ficus trees are notorious for shedding leaves whenever they are relocated. This is because individual leaves are adapted to the light they receive at the time they emerge. When the light changes due to relocation, the older leaves drop off and new ones slowly come in and they are adapted to the new light.
You didn't provide much detail as to the light your Ficus received in its two locations. A north window will provide minimal light for a Ficus tree as long as it is immediately in front of the north window and the window is completely uncovered and unobstructed during the daylight hours. Screened porches vary in light intensity, so it is possible yours may not have received as much light as it should have on the porch.
One thing I can tell you for sure is that moving it into a larger pot was a mistake. Larger pots rarely improve a plants health and usually leads to root rot when done unnecessarily. From the photo I can see that the pot is too large. The extra soil added to fill the pot stays moist for a very long time and causes the roots to slowly rot. Although the soil on the surface may be barely damp or even dry when you water, the soil around the roots is still very wet.
To see if your plant can be saved, bend the main stems and see if they are brittle or pliable. If brittle, they are dead and the tree is also dead. If they are still pliable, then there is a chance your Ficus will recover slowly. However, you will need to undo the repotting that you did. Remove all the soil you added underneath, around the sides and on top of the original rootball. Look for signs of healthy roots in the original rootball. If they are wet and soggy, the tree will not recover. Otherwise, move the tree back into the smallest pot that the healthy roots will fit into with just enough soil to cover the healthy roots. Do NOT replace all of the soil as that will damage any healthy root hairs that remain. By getting your tree into a small pot, the soil will dry out sooner following each watering and the roots may slowly ecover. In addition, provide as much direct sunlight for your tree as possible.
Under the best of circumstances, getting your tree to recover will require a great deal of patience on your part. You may find it is not worth it.
I have written articles on repotting and on Ficus care that I will email for free to you (or anyone else) who emails a request to me at wcreed@HorticulturalHelp.com.
Please let me know if any of this is unclear or if you have any additional questions.
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Will Creed, Interior Landscaper
Horticultural Help, NYC
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---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thanks, Will. Main stems are still pliable, outer branches still seem brittle. I did put it in a smaller pot just big enough for the root ball and a bit of soil to fill. Most of the roots seem healthy, but I did find and remove a couple of mushy ones. The weeping fig is in a southeast room that gets decent (for the Midwest in late fall) sunlight. Anything else I should do? Thanks again.
You seem to have followed my suggestions very well. Light and watering are critical for your tree. Be sure the tree is close to the window and allow the top 1-2 inches of soil to dry in between waterings.
Be patient, but there are two things for you to monitor. One is the pliability of the stems and the other is the emergence of tiny new shoots at the ends of stems. If these two things happen, you know you are on the right track.