Few people who have ever bought a Ficus tree (weeping fig), 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 houseplant tools list!
Even though people know the Ficus is going to drop leaves when it is brought home, it has remained one of the most popular trees for use indoors.
So “Why does a Ficus tree lose leaves all of a sudden?”
Ficus drop leaves usually for 3 possible reasons:.
- Change in environment – including lighting, water & fertilizing
- Over or under watering
- Insect or pests
Ask most plant professionals as to “Why” 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.
When the term “acclimating” is used, most people refer to a plant 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 ficus leaf drop.
The Ficus Dry Season – Environment
Just as birds migrate, Ficus benjamina comes from an area with very distinct seasons – wet and dry.
How Does A Ficus Prepare For The Dry Season?
To survive in the dry season, Ficus shed their leaves to reduce the amount of leaves, because the plant will not have enough water to support the leaf canopy during the dry season. When rains return, the canopy returns with new growth.
The Ficus benjamina survival mechanism is leaf drop… it is a creature of habit and does not like change.
Winter Leaf Drop On Ficus
Lighting is very important in growing Ficus. Every year when winter hits and lighting is reduced indoor Ficus often lose some leaves. They turn yellow and drop.
A Ficus 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 plant has summered outdoors, dropping leaves (greater than 20% is expected) as it acclimates to its new indoor environment. If your plant is inside all along, leaf drop can come from the reduction of light and drier conditions indoors from heat.
Place your Ficus in your brightest window, they love light and helps with a multitude of Ficus problems.
Ficus Watering Adjustments
Generally, when watering Ficus, if the plant gets a lot of light – water more, less water if less light is available. My best success with Ficus indoors is when the plants have been grown on sub irrigation.
Why Less Water?
Less light means less growth and reduced water requirements. Ficus have aggressive root systems and can quickly fill a pot with roots making watering difficult.
If your plant is 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 yellowing leaves can be caused by the common insects of scale, mealybug and spider mites.
Once a Ficus tree is stable and actively growing care is minimal, usually all that is needed will be a weekly check of the soil moisture and watering if needed.
Over time as the Ficus tree grows, pruning and shaping may be required, 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, same amount of water and stay on the same schedule. In case I didn’t mention it, if you throw on some fertilizer you can also expect some leave 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.