The Ficus Tree, also known as the Ficus Benjamina or Weeping Fig Tree, is one of the most popular indoor house plants. The Ficus is common, but it is also somewhat finicky and requires proper care to keep it healthy and lush. The plant is probably best known for the common complaint of the tree suddenly having the leaves turn yellow and fall off, leaving bare trunk and branches. The Ficus is a member of a woody fig tree family that is native to tropical or temperate environments. They are popular not only for their foliage but also for the ability to train them into particular shapes, as can be evidenced by the braided ones that are often available at the large nurseries and super center lawn and garden areas.
The first step in making sure the Ficus is healthy is selecting carefully when purchasing. Avoid any trees that are already sickly looking, whose trunks are scarred, or where the soil in their container is dry. Ficus trees can become stressed easily and the effort of moving one from the nursery to the home or office can have ill effects even on a healthy tree so obviously it can cause harm to one that is already ailing. The owner should not be alarmed if the tree drops a considerable amount of leaves immediately upon being placed in the home or office. This is normal, and the leaves should be picked up and disposed of and any dead or dry twigs pruned back.
Consideration must be given to the need for repotting a Ficus when considering how to care for Ficus trees. Most trees should be transplanted immediately upon purchase and then every one to two years afterwards to prevent them from becoming root bound. When repotting the new pot should be at least two inches wider than the old one to allow for sufficient root growth.
Thought should be put into where the Ficus is to be placed as well. The trees prefer bright sunlight but can only tolerate direct sunlight for a few hours a day. In addition, the temperature should be between 65 and 75 degrees, and not vary much from those. A sure way to cause the tree to go into shock and begin losing leaves is to place it near a large window where the temperature varies a lot during the day, or too close to vents or heaters.
Ficus trees require a lot of attention to be paid to watering and humidity. The trees do best when they are watered to the point where the soil feels moist to the touch. In addition, the trees should be misted twice daily. More water and misting may be required if the trees are living in higher light conditions or at higher temperatures. One of the most common reasons for the characteristic yellowing and dropping of leaves is overwatering. Many people react to the first sign of yellowing leaves by increasing the water. This is usually the wrong decision. Before adding water check the soil with a finger. If it is moist to the touch, stop watering for a day or two and see if the plant revives. If the soil is dry, then add water. Since overwatering is often the problem it may be because more than one person is watering the plant. A checklist or calendar kept next to the Ficus will allow the owner to track when the plant is watered. If lack of humidity is suspected as the culprit, setting up a simple room humidifier will quickly allow you to identify if that is true. Watering should be reduced to once a week during the colder months, again keeping an eye for any indications that the watering is insufficient. As most Ficus owners learn, their care often is a matter of trial and error.
A simple way to prevent the soil from getting too wet is to make a tray designed to allow excess water to drain into it. This can easily be done by placing a layer of gravel into the saucer below the pot allowing the water to collect there and not only prevent root rot but as the water it evaporates it also acts as a humidifier for the plant. Another reason for the Ficus trees to lose their leaves is a sudden change in the environment. Thus, if you are planning on repositioning one in the home, you may want to slowly move them to the new position, changing the plants position only a few feet each day and allowing it to acclimate before moving again.
During the warm months, providing fertilizer to the tree will help it to remain healthy. Use either liquid fertilizer watered down to half strength or a slow release fertilizer used according to the directions. The use of fertilizer should be discontinued during the winter months. Pruning is not necessary to a Ficus's well-being, but if the owner chooses to prune it should only be done when the Ficus is growing wildly and in the spring. The branches can be pruned into the desired shape but should have time to recover before the hot months begin.
On a technical note, the Ficus drops its leaves as a survival mechanism. By reducing the amount of leaves it reduces its need for water and allows it to live on less. According to some sources, the leaf drop is actually caused by the plant generating ethylene internally when stressed. This causes the leaves to fall off the plant. As long as an owner is aware of this tendency of the plant, they will be prepared for it when the plant reacts this way upon arrival at its new home, and when it happens again, they won’t worry about it but will instead examine the conditions to determine what is causing the plant to stress.