Newly Registered
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Jul 18, 2011 11:12 am
Location: Southwest CT

HELP - My Banyon ficus looks like a withered husk; 0 leaves!

I think I've somehow killed my ficus bonsai.

I bought it at a bonsai store in a Long Island, NY mall last year around this same time, perhaps a month or so earlier. It was labeled: "Banyon tree, 15 years old, 6 years in training". I bought it for my mother in law, who was going through chemotherapy - she joked with me that it was my responsibility to take care of it. Well, when she passed a month later, her husband gave me the tree. My point, I guess, is that I'm rather emotionally attached to this tree, so I am desperate to figure out where I went wrong and how to salvage this little guy.

The tree is about 10 inches tall from the base to the top. It's in a rectangular dish about 8 inches in length. The trunk is about 1.5" in diameter. The soil smells healthy (is that even a thing??), but is covered by a thin layer of moss. There are very few little pebbles on one short side of the dish. And when I touch the soil/moss area, I feel a bunch of wires or staple type things.

I've kept it indoors.

I've regularly submerged it in the kitchen sink with some blue fertilizer powder the store gave me and let it drain before putting it back on its little tray.

I've changed it's location from time to time (which I now understand can shock the leaves to fall) - trying to keep it away from cats who aren't kind to plants, and trying to give it a place where I could still enjoy it but it could also get some window light.

There is one main trunk and primary branch that has nothing on its 3 thick stubby branches. On a secondary offshoot there are about 4 long thin empty branches. And then there's a single new growth shoot coming up off the trunk from a lower area. (I haven't known what is god to trim or keep, so have prob done it a bit of a disservice by letting it mostly do its own thing.)

There's a bit of a dark green coating on the trunk about 2 inches up from the base that takes up about an inch of space. (Is that a fungus or is it normal/ok?)

As of right now, there are ZERO leaves. And the new growth areas have turned dark and shriveled up.

It seemed to do the best a few months ago when it was in our tiny south-facing master bathroom (which we don't use to shower, but has a window), sitting on top of the toilet bowl tank (it was the only large enough surface). It had great waxy looking beautiful green leaves then. I moved it to my bedside table eventually where it would have more space and where I would get to see it more often.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize that drafts were bad for ficus trees. Apparently they're super sensitive to changes, from what I'm reading. I had our whole house attic exhaust fan on for a couple hours in the mornings and the ficus sat in front of a cracked window shaking from the intake of air. I think that started this downward slide, because that's when it started dropping leaves frequently. :(

I moved it 2 weeks ago and started seeing a couple little leaf shoots start, while some of the larger leaves still continued to fall occasionally.

And then a few days ago, the 4 clusters of leaves that this poor tree had, ALL suddenly pointed downwards. 2 days later, they were all curled and dropped. And the 2 little new leaf shoots that were barely a 1/4" in size turned brown and withered in place. Even the new 3" green trunk offshoot of a new branch is now brown and shriveled.

My bonsai is now a brown husk!

I have no idea what to do. I am desperate to help this little tree, but don't know if I should be buying something to feed it or apply, or placing it outside where it can get more sunlight, or letting it dry out, or cutting back these dead looking branches so it can focus its efforts on the main trunk right now...?!?!?! I have no clue.

Please help. I don't know how to go about trying to give this little guy a fighting chance to bounce back, but desperately want to try. I just need some direction.

Newly Registered
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Jul 18, 2011 11:12 am
Location: Southwest CT

The store owner I bought the bonsai tree from a year ago told me via phone just now to put the tree outside, in the shade, under a tree, and give it a week to start shooting off new leaves. He said no more of the blue fertilizer, but soak it with a hose often.

So, as of a few minutes ago... My bald little ficus tree (tray and all) are on the north side of our house, under a large holly, a few feet from the house.

Please advise if you think there is something better I could be doing for this tree.


Green Thumb
Posts: 469
Joined: Sat May 22, 2010 1:15 pm
Location: NJ

The seller gave you good advice about putting it outside except I will rather pick a south facing side instead of north. Pick a place with good filtered or indirect sun and protect it against direct early afternoon sun. Without a picture it's hard to tell if its still alive. Try to clip off some dead looking branches from the top of the tree to see if you still get the white milky sap in there. If they are brown and dry inside they're dead. Scrape off some bark on lower part of the trunk and see if it's still green under neath. If it's all brown it's too far gone. You can only hope that the lower part of the tree is still alive so even the top is dead it can still regenerate itself. The bark should be smooth looking. If it seems wrinkled and shrinking, it's a sure sign that it's dead in that section. Ficus doesn't like to have wet feet. I'm not sure how you've been watering it but a leafless tree will take in water much slower so wait until the soil is 2/3rd dry before watering again. Look up the chopstick method on this site on how to water properly. The glued on rock and moss should have been removed from day one.

I understand the emotional attachment and hopefully it bounces back, but if it doesn't, it's one of those beginner trees that doesn't cost much to buy and easy to propagate if you want to try your hands on more of them. They grow faster than other bonsai material too =) GL!
ficus, maple, elm, juniper, pine

Greener Thumb
Posts: 1436
Joined: Thu Mar 06, 2008 7:07 pm
Location: Airmont, NY Zone 6/7

I'm a little pressed for time, and this is going to be a fairly long repl, so I skimmed your post about halfway down, and skipped the reply, but I think I got all of the important points and didn't see what I'm about to say mentioned, so here goes:

A tree that has blackening twigs and branches is almost always a victim of root rot. First step, let the soil dry out completely. Second step, scratch the bark off near the base? Is it green underneath? If it is, good, keep going up and scratching until you don't see green underneath the bark any longer. If you make it all of the way up the trunk, great, then do the branches. The points ast which the tree is no longer green beneath the bark, chop it before that point, but only just. Those areas are dead and will never come back. Third step, check the roots. Unpot it gently, wash away any excess soil. Is the soil black and loamy like potting soil? Or is it mostly crushed lava rocks or something similar? If the former, bad, real bad, and could be the reason for your tree's demise. If the latter, good, and you can re-use this bonsai soil. Now, check the roots. Are they solid and flexible and healthy? Or do some looke like they've been chopped off? Are any of them mushy and sulphur-stinky? Any mushy ones, cut above that area leaving only healthy roots. Repot the tree. Outside is okay, but inside is okay too. I have to say this, putting a tree outside is NOT a cure all. It's the bonsai answer to everything kept indoors, and that's unfortunate because Ficus CAN be kept indoors, tear round, without any problems whatsoever. Anyway, keep the tree wherever it is now. Moving it around all of the time may seem nice to you, but, in itself, just moving it from here to there, well, that can create stress after stress that could have caused this. Cats? Train them. It's not all that difficult. Start on weekend, lock them in the room with the tree. Every time they go near it, give them a PFFT and a healthy squirt with a good water gun, then yell. Now, I undersand there are a lot of crazy cat ladies out there who would call this "abuse". IMO, they can come over to my house and start lecturing me. I've got a nice jet on my garden house, and it works for people, as well as cats. :) Seriously. BTDT. It's an animal. You provide for its health and well-being. You GIVE it its cozy, comfy, 0 responsibility life. The least it can do is respect YOUR home and learn YOUR rules. It probably won't take more than a single weekend for all but the dumbest of cats to get the idea. My daugter's cat ate a rare Belizean tree, a Calliandra, some dwarf Papyrus, etc. My daughter laughed. I was MEGA-p'd. A $200 dollar rare tree, a 4 year in training bonsai? C'mon. Anyway, teach the the rules and they'll learn and obey them. Then, find a nice sunny, southern window for the EVENTUAL placement of this tree i the fall, should it recover. DON'T move it around any more, and ONLY water as needed.

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