Almost everyone that has ever purchased a Ficus tree (benjamina that is) has had to drag out the rake, broom or whatever to clean up the leaves that have dropped.
Generally, when you ask an interior plant professional “Why do Ficus lose leaves?” you’ll usually receive a short but simple answer – “It’s acclimating”. This is true, but a more complete answer will help you understand what is happening.
Acclimating in the world of plants is normally pigeon holed as a matter of going from high light to lower light or vice-versa. With Ficus as you learned yesterday comes from an area which experiences seasonal changes.
It sheds its leaves and reduces the amount of foliage to survive because it will not have enough water to support them during the dry season. When the rains return, new growth comes out and the canopy returns.
Leaf drop is the survival mechanism for Ficus benjamina. They are truly a creature of habit. Ficus just don’t like changes.
Here’s the Technical Stuff…
“What really happens is that ficus’ generate internal ethylene when exposed to moisture stress. The plants think the dry season is coming, and leaves are shed. Exposure to ethylene causes leaf loss, as does low-level exposure to mercury from paints. Moisture-stressed ficus’ tend to drop yellow leaves, whereas green leaves are shed when exposed to ethylene, low-light stress, or mercury.”
-Tropical Growers Guide
Once you have decided where you are going to place your Ficus (the more light the better), give it the same lighting, same amount of water and stay on the same schedule.
Consistency – is the best key to keeping leaves on the tree and your plant looking good.
The Ficus family is a diverse one with over eight hundred species and thousands of varieties. Most of these species originate in the Old World tropics. Ficus benjamina, commonly known as the “weeping fig” can originally be found in India, northern Australia, and Southeast Asia.
The Ficus benjamina can grow very large 30-40 feet high or more and is found growing both in full sun all the way down to the heavy shaded dense forest.
As far as light goes – Ficus is a very versatile plant. Growig in full sun it will develop a thick canopy of leaves. But, in the dense forest it will grow very open with fewer leaves and thin weeping branches. This explains some of the leaf loss when plants move from a higher light level to a lower light level.
Just as birds migrate south for the winter season, the benjamina comes from an area that has very distinct seasons. The exception is that the seasons are wet and dry.
How does a benjamina prepare for the dry season?
It sheds its leaves. It reduces the amount of leaves to survive since the plant will not have enough water to support the full leaf canopy during the dry season. When the rainy season returns, new growth comes out and the canopy returns.
This offers another reason for leaf drop. When plants move to a new location – Is it the wet or dry season? The survival mechanism for benjamina is leaf drop.
Strolling into just about any garden center or nursery which handles indoor house plants you’ll find the Ficus benjamina.
There probably isn’t another indoor tree that is more popular than a Ficus benjamina. The flipside is – there probably is no other plant that causes more grief, headaches, agony or frustration then the Ficus benjamina.
Ficus benjamina is also commonly known as the “weeping fig.” There are probably a few reasons for that name. The Ficus does come from the fig family and indoors shows a “weeping” habit with branches that hang or “weep” down. But for many Ficus owners the name “weeping fig” may come more from the leaves raining down on the floor or the way this tree can make you cry.
A Ficus “weeping fig” can shed its leaves very easily – you just need to learn the conditions and reasons why!
Ficus trees, believe it or not, are tough characters, unfortunately many Ficus trees are thrown out, discarded, given away and dumped prematurely.
You may ask yourself – How can a plant that looks so great at the nursery seem to fall apart so quickly once it reaches home?
Is a Ficus really a tough plant for indoor use?
Let’s look at – Where Ficus trees come from and how this information can help answer many care questions.
Question: I have a ficus tree that is dropping leaves rapidly from all over the tree not just the old growth and I do not see any new leaves coming. I have not changed the way I water it and have had in for about five years and this has never happened before. In fact it has been growing great until about 2 weeks ago.
A couple things come to mind. First, from my experience of growing 100’s of 1000’s of Ficus one thing always seems to hold true. Ficus drop their leaves because of change. They absolutely do not like change!
Here’s a couple of possibilities that come from the eBook How To Care For Your Ficus.
I don’t know where you live but has the air from heater been turned up… could the plant have dried out? – (Page 19)
Did the plant get moved for the holidays? Less light – new leaves – (Page 20-22 and 38)
Unexplained leaf drop? (Page 24)
Possible too many leaves? (Page 37) Ficus wants and hates!
Have a party or any possibility of someone "emptying their glass" in the soil? Ficus and Alcohol do not mix!
Since you’ve had the plant so long it is also possible that the root system is so compact that you have some dry areas which just cannot get wet. When that happens a small change can make leaves drop severely. (Page 45)
The Ficus is one of the most commonly grown indoor plants. There are over 800 species and 2,000 varieties most of which are native to the Old World tropics. It belongs to the mulberry family Moraceae and grown in many different forms, from the small vining ‘pumila’, the broadleaf ‘robusta’, the giant ‘strangler fig’, and a host of others in between.
In their native habitats Ficus can be found growing in full sun and dense forest.
Ficus trees were introduced into the foliage trade in the late 1950’s. Today we see them grown all over the world in pot sizes as small as 3″ to large towering trees in 200-300 gallon pots.
The most commonly known Ficus is the variety called ‘benjamina’. It is grown outdoors in bush form for hedges in the south Florida area and acclimated for indoor use throughout the US, Canada and Europe.
New varieties are being developed, carefully selected and introduced which have helped improve the use and durability of this versatile indoor plant.
Ficus as with most tropicals will flourish in almost any well drained soil. Most growers use a mixture containing peat moss, bark and sand. Most plants can grow in relatively small containers. Heights of 4-5 feet are not uncommon in a 10″ pot.
This is probably the area where Ficus causes the most problems. Ficus generally can adapt to a wide range of moisture levels. What they want as much as anything is a CONSISTENT environment. Many people overwater the plant keeping the soil soggy. Soil should be kept moist but not soggy. The soil should not dry out between waterings. Ficus grow very well with sub-irrigation.
Ficus can survive low interior light but would prefer bright filtered light. Position Ficus near or opposite a curtained southern window. Ficus has been used by interior plantscapers for many years, the plants must be acclimated to their location and drop leaves as they go through the process.
When grown indoors Ficus have almost no need to be fertilized. If you must fertilize any well balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20 will maintain growth. Pelleted fertilizers also work read instructions carefully. Indoors plants grow slower and therefore have lower requirements for food.
Ficus enjoy warm conditions between 68-85 daytime temperature. Cold, and drafty conditions in the 40’s and 50’s will slow growth considerably.
Humidity and Air Circulation
Humidity above 25-30% is best and some new introductions will tolerate long periods down to 10-15%.
Insects and Disease
Mealy bugs, aphids and scale are probably the most common insect indoors. Because of the wide leaves that most Ficus have cleaning the leaves regularly with a damp cloth to remove dust will help not only in appearance but also in removing of some pest which tend to gather under the bottom of leaves.
Most Ficus root easily from cuttings, usually under mist. Rooting hormones are generally not needed. Commercially Ficus are produced from air-layers that are taken from stock plants. Generally, 24-36″ branches are wrapped with moss to help induce rooting. The air-layers are then cut off after a period of 3-4 weeks and planted up. Many of the new varieties are being produced from tissue culture.
There you have it…. Some basic care instructions for your Ficus.
In caring for a Ficus one of the first things to remember is … Ficus don’t like changes. Understand that and you will be well on your way to having a great looking indoor tree.
The care of a Ficus tree is boring… they don’t like changes to their environment. The first thing to pay attention to is the temperature, the amount of light and the volume of water to apply to your Ficus tree.
Keep the temperature above 55 degrees F, although will survive freezing temps for very short durations. The optimum temperatures, for best possible growth would be 75 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night. Ficus trees can tolerate extreme differences in light levels as well as temperature variations.
A Ficus tree can do well growing in relatively low light and thrive in very high sunlight levels, too, provided they acclimate to the new surroundings – not suddenly moved from one extreme to another to quickly. One should slowly acclimate your Ficus tree for the best care.
Let’s look quickly at Ficus trees and watering. The higher the light levels and temperatures are, the more water your Ficus tree will require or use up as it grows and transpires and produces food for roots and shoots to thrive. Adjustments should be made until your tree is acclimated in its final resting spot. Of course, the opposite is true also as light levels and temperatures decrease the Ficus tree will require less and less watering and feeding as the growth will subside with reduced environmental pressures.
With a Ficus tree many of the care methods are learning by trial and error, that’s how I learned (and you can learn about Ficus tree care the easy way) and is always a place to start, but may not be the best place to start. When a Ficus tree starts to drop its leaves you must find out the reason and adjust your care of Ficus tree accordingly.
Perhaps your air conditioner is blowing cold air on your tree or another family member has been watering the tree after you already watered it. The window blinds may keep the room very dark and not supplying enough light to your Ficus tree. The foliage may begin to fall off after any one of these scenarios.