Tajia
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Joined: Tue Jan 02, 2007 6:48 pm

unhealthy indoor ficus

Hello! This is my first post to this forum - I'm sorry if it's in the wrong spot.

I'd like to ask you all for some advice for my poor ficus. It was given to me by some friends when they moved, and while it did well for a few years, lately it seems to be having some hard times. I know it's lost at least half of the leaves it had before I left for school. Since I've been away at college, someone in my family has been watering it - I have no idea how often, or how much.

A few questions:

How often should I repot? What sort of soil mix should I use? Would it be a bad idea to include some slow release fertilizer? If I'm supposed to repot more frequently than once every couple of years, I'm overdue -- should I wait until it looks a little better, or go ahead and repot now?

How much water does it need, and how often? Even between long breaks in watering (over a week and a half) the bottom of the trunk looks damp. I know no one here would water it to a "soggy" point, but perhaps they are watering it frequently in small quantities - it's hard to tell since multiple people might be doing it. There are roots right above where the soil meets the trunk - those seem to have grown recently - should I cover those with soil, or leave them bare?

Is salt accumulating in my soil? I see a little stuff crusting a tad on top -- is that salt, or a mineral, fungus, something else? Should I do something about that?

Can I root a cutting by air layering?

Sorry for making this such a long post, but I'd really be thankful for any help you can offer. Thanks for reading!

Newt
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Posts: 1868
Joined: Wed May 26, 2004 2:44 am
Location: Maryland zone 7

Hi Tajia,

Welcome to The Helpful Gardener. Don't fret about long posts or lots of questions. Let's see if I can answer them for you.
How often should I repot?
This can be a difficult question to answer if you are looking for a time line. Repot when necessary, which would be when it starts to become rootbound. Things that will effect how often are the type of pot it grows in (clay breathes and roots tend to grow a bit faster as they get more O2), the smaller the plant the more often it seems to need repotting as it often grows faster, fertilizing on a regular basis can cause more frequent repotting, the plant's growth habit can also determine this. For a tree that is 5' or taller and healthy, once every 1 to 2 years should do it. If you need info on how to do this just lmk.


What sort of soil mix should I use?
I prefer a good organic potting mix that doesn't contain any synthetic fertilizers. Most mixes don't have enough perlite (to add grit for drainage) in them, so I purchase a bag of perlite and mix it into the potting mix. It helps with drainage. DO NOT breathe the dust when adding it to the mix. Here's what a good ratio should look like.
https://www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/YGLNews/images/soil.jpg

Would it be a bad idea to include some slow release fertilizer?
Slow release fertilizers are synthetic and I prefer organic ones. They only last about 3 months anyway and you'd still need to fertilize from time to time. I like fish emulsion or fish emulsion mixed with sea weed. The fish emulsion has an unpleasant odor but it dissipates after mixing with water. Synthetics also leave behind residual salts (more on this later) and can cause a flush of lush growth that attracts insect pests, even in the house.
If I'm supposed to repot more frequently than once every couple of years, I'm overdue -- should I wait until it looks a little better, or go ahead and repot now?
If it needs repotting it won't look better by waiting. I'd say do it now.
How much water does it need, and how often?
This also depends on the type of pot (clay pots allow air penetration and dry out more quickly then plastic, glazed ceramic or fiberglass), how much sun hits the pot and dries it, how many roots are in the pot to drink up the water, etc. Water needs should be determined by the plant's preference and can be determined by sticking your finger into the soil. With my ficus I water when the top 2" of soil are dry - up to the second knuckle of your finger. After a while you'll know by looking at the soil.
Even between long breaks in watering (over a week and a half) the bottom of the trunk looks damp. I know no one here would water it to a "soggy" point, but perhaps they are watering it frequently in small quantities...
Could it be possible that water remains in the saucer? If not, then your suspicions could be correct that there is frequent and shallow watering going on, keeping the top of the soil moist.
There are roots right above where the soil meets the trunk - those seem to have grown recently - should I cover those with soil, or leave them bare?
Leave those alone. It's the nature of the tree to have surface roots and covering them could harm the tree.
https://mgonline.com/ficusbenjamina01.jpg
Is salt accumulating in my soil? I see a little stuff crusting a tad on top -- is that salt, or a mineral, fungus, something else? Should I do something about that?
It could be salt accumulation you are seeing, but since you mention that the trunk appears damp at the soil, it could be fungal. Remove the soil with the white stuff and repot. You could also flush the soil to flush out the salts. You can do this a couple of days before repotting. If the pot is large then put it in the bathtub and let the water run through for a few minutes to flush out the salts.
Can I root a cutting by air layering?
Yes, but you don't say which Ficus you have and some are easier to air layer then others. Do you know which one you have?

Newt

opabinia51
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Posts: 4659
Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2004 9:58 pm
Location: Victoria, BC

Hi Tajia,

you may wish to repost this question in the bonsai forum, there are a lot of very knowledgeable experts up there that can also give you great advice.

Newt
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Posts: 1868
Joined: Wed May 26, 2004 2:44 am
Location: Maryland zone 7

Opabinia, did I miss something? I didn't think this was a bonsai. If it is we could just move it to the bonsai forum.

Newt

opabinia51
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Posts: 4659
Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2004 9:58 pm
Location: Victoria, BC

Hi Newt,

It's a tree, it's in a pot therefore it can be considered a bonsai. :wink: Bonsai is really a lot simpler than people think that it is but, it can a lot more complex than the above description (just with pruning, shaping, wiring and so on).

Let's wait on the orginal posters response, perhaps she may wish to just repost in the bonsai forum.

Tajia
Newly Registered
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Jan 02, 2007 6:48 pm

Thank you for the help, Newt.

I've repotted other things before (including this tree) but I'd love to hear your advice on it anyway - maybe I'm missing something? It's always nice to get another perspective. If it's a bother though, don't worry about it - I should be fine.

I'm really not sure what type of ficus it is, but I can make a guess by looking at some pictures, so let's see, hmm. Oh, are a weeping fig and a ficus benjamina the same thing? If so, then I think that is what I have. I've done rootings with stems and leaves of plants before, but if you think air layering might work with this plant, it would be fun to try.

Opabinia, thank you for the reposting suggestion, but I think I'm set with Newt's help.

Newt
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Posts: 1868
Joined: Wed May 26, 2004 2:44 am
Location: Maryland zone 7

Tajia, you are so very welcome! Yes, Ficus benjamina and weeping fig are the same. I have one too. Mine has been in the same large pot for about 2 years now and I'll either have to prune and rootprune to keep it in that pot or transplant it in spring.

From Al at GW:
Branch cuttings root easily. Take cuttings 5 nodes long from 1/8 inch to pencil thickness. No rooting hormone necessary. Prune off side branches, but leave a short stub. Remove all but 1 or 2 top leaves. Stick cuttings in perlite or very coarse sand or fine gravel (little smaller than BB's) with 3 nodes covered to root. Bright light but no full sun. Tenting to increase humidity helpful. Fastest strikes between 70-75* F. soil temperatures, so a propagation mat is very helpful.
Since you've repotted before this will probably be unnecessary for you, but take a look anyway. If it's severely rootbound you may have to tease the roots so they don't keep circling.
https://www.dirtdoctor.com/view_question.php?id=70
https://www.ourgardengang.com/containerpotting.htm

Newt

opabinia51
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Posts: 4659
Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2004 9:58 pm
Location: Victoria, BC

Hi T,

your are more than welcome. You are in good hands with Newt, just thought that you might like to have some different opinions.

Tajia
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Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Jan 02, 2007 6:48 pm

Oh, bother - I seem to have more of a problem than I first thought. When I was getting ready to move the pot outside, I noticed some little bugs in the soil. Small, white, and plentiful. I used a plastic fork to poke around a little bit, and they seem to be pretty evenly distributed. I haven't seen any larva or grubs, just little things with legs... very, very small. Not spider mites. I can't spot any on the leaves or branches. What should I do about these?

opabinia51
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Posts: 4659
Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2004 9:58 pm
Location: Victoria, BC

Quick fix: Neem Oil.

I think that they might be aphids, the larvae were probably in the soil to start with.

What does everyone else think?

Anybody know of other organic ways to be rid of insects in a container?

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