Ficus Tree Losing Leaves? The WHY

If you have grown a Ficus tree indoors you have experienced your Ficus losing leaves.

Few people who have ever bought a Ficus tree (weeping fig tree), especially Ficus Benjamina, have not needed to pull out a broom, get down on their knees or get out the vacuum to clean up all the leaves that have dropped. Sorry, those items are not on our ficus plants tool list!

Our Favorite “Tools” For Ficus Plant Care

Even though people know that when a Ficus is brought home it is going start dropping leaves, it has remained one of the most popular indoor plants.

So “Why does a Ficus Benjamina or Rubber plant start dropping leaves all of a sudden?”

3 possible reasons cause leaves to drop on Ficus trees:

  • Change in the environment – including lighting, water & fertilizing
  • Water stress – too much water or not enough water (too wet or soil is dry)
  • Insect or pests

Ask most plant professionals the question as to “Why a weeping fig loses leaves” and you’ll get a short simple answer – it’s acclimating. That’s true, but a more complete answer will help you understand what is happening to your indoor ficus.

When the term “acclimating” is used, most people refer to plants moving to different light levels – high to lower or low to higher. However, with Ficus trees knowing a little about where they come from and gaining better insight into this “creature of habit” can help understanding a ficus dropping leaves.

NOTE: Schefflera arboricola can also suffer extensive leaf drop when acclimating.

The Ficus Dry Season – Environment

Just as birds migrate, benjamina ficus comes from an area with very distinct seasons – wet and dry.

How To Care For A Ficus Tree in Dry Season?

Ficus standard growing as a standard spiralPin

To survive in the dry season, Ficus plants drop leaves. This reduces the number of leaves the plant needs to support. During the dry season, the Ficus does not have enough water to support the leaf canopy. When rains return, the canopy returns with new growth.

Ficus tree dropping leaves is a survival mechanism… it is a creature of habit and does not like change, unlike other ficus species.

Winter Leaf Drop On Ficus

Lighting is very important in growing Ficus. Every year when winter hits and lighting is reduced indoor Ficus trees often lose some leaves. They turn yellow and the yellowing leaves drop.

A Ficus plant losing leaves is all part of a normal process in learning to care for them properly. It is not uncommon for a tree to lose 20% of its leaves during the acclimation transition.

If your plants summer outdoors and move inside for winter – dropping ficus leaves (greater than 20% is expected) as it acclimates to its new indoor environment.

If your plants are inside all along, leaf drop can come from the reduction of light during winter, low humidity, and drier indoor conditions from heat.

Place your Ficus houseplant in your brightest window, they love light and light helps with a multitude of Ficus problems.

Ficus Watering Adjustments

Generally, when watering Ficus, if the plants get a lot of light – water more, less water if less light is available. My best success with Ficus indoors is when the plants were grown on sub-irrigation.

Ficus benjamina spirals growing in shade housePin

Why Less Water?

Less light means less growth and reduced water requirements. Ficus tree roots have aggressive systems and can quickly fill a pot with roots making watering difficult.

If your plants are dropping lots of leaves, check to make sure it is not rootbound, if so, consider repotting into a slightly larger pot, or trimming the canopy to reduce the amount of leaves. In general, keep the soil moist, but never soggy wet.

Ficus Pest & Insect Problems

A happy, well-grown Ficus has few insect or pest problems but leaves turning yellow can be caused by the common insects of scale, Ficus mealybug, and spider mites.

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Once the Ficus is stable and actively growing, care is minimal. Usually, all that is needed is a weekly check of the soil moisture and watering if needed. Rotating your Ficus tree a quarter turn each week is recommended to give the plant even lighting.

Over time as the tree grows, your Ficus will need pruning and shaping, typically every spring, depending on its speed of growth.

Once you have decided where you are going to place your Ficus (the more light the better), give it the same lighting, the same amount of water, and stay on the same schedule.

In case I didn’t mention it, if you throw on some Ficus tree fertilizer you can also expect some leaf drop – again it is a change Ficus dislikes. Using a liquid food at 1/2 strength is probably a good recommendation.

A well-maintained ficus tree can be a stunning addition to any home for years. This includes the Ficus elastica rubber plant varieties.

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