Why is My House plant losing leaves?

Hi Judy,

I got this house plant at Home Depot back in September. The sales lady was eager to sell it to me because it was sitting outside and she told me it was getting way too much sunlight and the leaves were burning. I brought it home, potted it and put it in a corner that gets very little light because I was told it didn’t need much light.

The leaves have started shriveling and falling off in large amounts and now that I’m worried about it dying, I can’t even tell what kind of plant it is to find a remedy. I kind of think it may be some sort of ficus, but the leaves don’t look quite pointy enough at the end. Do you have any idea what kind of plant it is and do you have any suggestions for saving it?

I’m thinking I should give it more sunlight and possibly mist it. I live in a basement apartment, which means it should be humid enough. But, possibly winter is dehumidifying the house. We also typically keep the temperature in the house around 65-70. Is that possibly too cold?

Any advice is appreciated!

Best,
Erik

Hi Erik,

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Your plant is a Ficus Benjamina. These plants are very sensitive to a change in their location, lighting, temperature, etc. and can quickly lose almost all of their leaves. It sounds like your basement is a tremendous change from where it was sitting outside. I would recommend using a product called superthriveSuperthrive combines vitamins and hormones to encourage plant growth both above and below the soil line. It's not a plant food so it needs to be used in addition to your regular plant food; the two can be used at the same time. Just put a few drops into your watering can & that's all that's needed to improve the health & appearance of your plants. If your plants are in real trouble, add about 10 drops per 2 gallons of water. SuperThrive works best when the soil is dry.     every time you water for the next few months. You can read about superthriveSuperthrive combines vitamins and hormones to encourage plant growth both above and below the soil line. It's not a plant food so it needs to be used in addition to your regular plant food; the two can be used at the same time. Just put a few drops into your watering can & that's all that's needed to improve the health & appearance of your plants. If your plants are in real trouble, add about 10 drops per 2 gallons of water. SuperThrive works best when the soil is dry.     in the Glossary of the website. Here are some care instructions for a Ficus Benjamina.

Light
Ficus Trees, especially Benjamina and Wintergreen, need very bright indirect lightVery few houseplants should be placed in direct sun. High light refers only to bright indirect light since direct sun often burns the leaves of indoor houseplants. An area that is too hot and dry encourages Spider Mites and causes blooms to quickly fade. A northern exposure really doesn't provide enough light for high light plants. These plants need to be placed directly in front of an east-facing window, within 1-3 feet of a west-facing window, and within 5 ft. of a south facing window. A high light area has over 300 ft. candles of light.. New varieties of FicusTrees called Ficus of the Future can survive in medium and even low lightWhen you select “Low Light” a list of the most adaptive plants in our database appears. These plants can live in lighting conditions too low to support any other plants in our database, but will grow faster in medium and high light. Variegation (color) in the leaves is often lost in low light. A plant in low light needs less water and fertilizer than the same plant in better light. Place a low-light plant within 2-3 ft. of a window with a northern exposure, 3-5 ft. of a window with an eastern exposure, 4-10 ft. of a window with a western exposure, and 10-18ft. of a window with a southern exposure. A low light area has between 50-150 ft. candles of light. The best low light house plants are: Chinese Evergreen, Dracaena Janet Craig, Peace Lily, Heart leaf Philodendron.. Examples of Ficus Trees of the Future are the Monique Ficus tree with ruffled green leaves, the Midnight Ficus Tree with green/black leavers, and the Ficus Alli with elongated leaves. Direct sun burns the leaves of all Ficus Trees.

Water
Allow the top 25% of the soil of a Ficus Tree to dry out before watering. Under-watering causes leaves of a Ficus Tree to turn yellow. Over- watering a Ficus Tree causes green leaves to fall off and new growth to turn black. Ficus Trees grow better if you follow a consistent watering schedule.

fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.
Fertilize a Ficus Tree monthly in the spring and summer when the tree is actively growing with a balanced houseplant food at 1/2 the recommended strength.
Temperature
Ficus Trees like temperatures between 65-85 degrees. Keep Ficus trees away from cold drafts, air conditioners, and heaters or they will lose leaves.

Humidity
Basic household humidity above 30% is best for a Ficus Tree.

Pests
Ficus Trees are susceptible to houseplant pests such as spider mitesSpider Mites, members of the Acari family, are small insects about 1mm in size. The most common indoor plant mite is the red spider mite (also called the two-spotted spider mite.). These pests lay their eggs on the under surface of leaves and produce fine webbing especially where the leaves are attached to the stem. Spider mites are hard to see with the naked eye, and may appear only as small red dots. They are more often recognized by the gritty feel of the leaf when you run your finger down it’s length, or by the appearance of discolored leaves due to the sucking action of the mites. The best way to prevent spider mites is to keep your plants clean and dust free. Treat spider mites by spraying every ten days for a month with a product such as Safer Insecticidal Soap., scaleSoft Brown Scale is the most common scale that attacks indoor houseplants especially ficus, ivy, spider plants, ferns, aralia, and schefflera. It appears as small bumpy brown spots that appear to move. As the scale sucks on the sap of the plant it secretes a sticky substance called honeydew. The honeydew attracts black mildew. Because of the shell-like exterior, sprays are only partially effective against scale. Wipe off the lines of brown oval bumps with your finger, a cloth, or a child’s toothbrush then spray the plant with Neem Oil. Use the Green Solution to clean off the black mildew., and Mealy BugsSee a picture, learn to identify and treat Mealy Bugs, a houseplant pest that leaves sticky,white, cottony residue on houseplants.. Spraying your Ficus Tree with the green solutionIf you don't want to use a commercial chemical product to treat plant pest problems try the “Green Solution.” This is a mixture of water, alcohol, biodegradable liquid soap, and mineral oil. Always test any spray on one or two leaves to be sure it won’t damage the plant. Depending upon how severe the infestation is, you can use these ingredients in varying proportions. If there are only a few pests, dip a Q-tip in alcohol and gently swab them off. For a more widespread problem, start by using a spray of warm water mixed with a few tablespoons of biodegradable soap. If that doesn’t cure the problem, make a solution using 8oz. water & 8oz. alcohol, add two tablespoons of biodegradable soap and two tablespoons of mineral oil. Spray all areas of the plant. Use this solution on leathery leafed plants (except palms), never on fuzzy leafed plants like African Violets or Begonias. For palms, omit the alcohol from the Green Solution. Never spray a plant that’s sitting in the sun or one with very dry soil.     usually gets rid of Houseplant pests. Use a child’s toothbrush to scrape brown scaleSoft Brown Scale is the most common scale that attacks indoor houseplants especially ficus, ivy, spider plants, ferns, aralia, and schefflera. It appears as small bumpy brown spots that appear to move. As the scale sucks on the sap of the plant it secretes a sticky substance called honeydew. The honeydew attracts black mildew. Because of the shell-like exterior, sprays are only partially effective against scale. Wipe off the lines of brown oval bumps with your finger, a cloth, or a child’s toothbrush then spray the plant with Neem Oil. Use the Green Solution to clean off the black mildew. off of Ficus Plant leaves.

Diseases
Anthranose and Leaf Spot are the two main houseplant diseases that affect Ficus Trees.

Soil
The best soil for a Ficus tree is a rich quick- draining potting soil that contains sand, peat moss, and a little bark.

Pot Size
Ficus Trees like to be a little root-bound in smaller containers. You can easily keep a five foot Ficus Tree in a 10” pot.

Pruning
The best time to prune a Ficus tree is in the late summer or early fall after it has stopped growing for the year. You can prune dead or broken Ficus tree branches at any time.

propagationRead how to propagate houseplants by Plant Division at HousePlant411.com
Propagate a Ficus tree using stem cuttings or by air- layering.

poisonousPlants are a great addition to homes and offices, but it’s important to know whether your plants are dangerous to children, pets, or even adults. Some plants contain chemicals such as oxalates, solanine, glycosides, or alkaloid lycorine that may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, swelling and redness of the mouth, throat, and lips, and trouble breathing. Touching parts of certain plants, especially the sap, may cause various skin irritations. The weight and age of the human or pet involved, and the part and amount of plant eaten determine how severe the reaction to the toxins will be. Although plants may be listed as non-toxic, they can still cause individual allergic reactions. If there is any question after a houseplant has been ingested or touched immediately call the Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222 The Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants [Paperback]is an excellent reference to keep around if you have young children and pets. Plant Info
A Ficus has a levelThese are general guidelines that describe how poisonous certain houseplants are. It's possible for an allergic reaction to occur from contact with any houseplant, toxic or non-toxic. If there is ever a concern, call: Poison Control Center: ******1-800-222-1222****** Level #1: Houseplants with low toxicity, may be mildly irritating, especially the sap of the plant. Level#2: Houseplants with medium to severe toxicity. Eating parts of these houseplants may result in vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, skin irritations, and breathing difficulties. Level #3: These houseplants are  very poisonous. When eaten, especially in large quantities,  severe vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, skin irritations, and breathing difficulties can occur. Level #4: These houseplants are extremely poisonous. Eating parts of these houseplants can be be life threatening. Every plant listed in our Popular HousePlant guide has a section explaining whether or not it is poisonous and, if so, how poisonous. Amaryllis, alocasia, dieffenbachias, crotons, ivies, azaleas, lilies, and philodendrons are just a few of the highly poisonous plants we use in our homes and offices all of the time. If you don't know whether your houseplant is poisonous, go to Ask Judy on the HousePlant411.com website, send her a picture of your plant, and she'll let you know if the houseplant should be kept away from small children and pets. See colorful pictures and get more information about poisonous houseplants in Don’t Feed Me To Your Cat! A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants   #1 toxicity.