Ficus Akadama Repot Leaf Drop

Ed_Inc

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Hello,

I repot my Ficus Retusa on Saturday (20th), going from a pretty decent nursary soil to an Akadama/lava rock mix. Soil choice where I live (Switzerland) is pretty limited, so I went for this house blend from a good shop. I went for the Akadama mix in the end as also an experiment, just to play around with different substrates as I'm still a newbie with bonsai. Roots were poking out the old soil quite a bit and I wanted it to have some room for growth for the next year.

The ficus has been very healthy but I was surprised at how few fine roots there were, mostly just long roots circling the old pot, that ended in feeder roots. Because of that I thought it would be best to leave most of the roots as they were even though they are somewhat circling. I think the open nature of the Akadama will at least help with creating some nice feeder roots, and then next repot I can remove some long roots.

Since repotting however, the tree has consistently been losing leaves, both new and old. Most of them have come off without really yellowing too, however some are starting to yellow now before dropping. I have heard this is common with ficus in response to stress, but I am still nervous! I am trying not to overwater it, I watered thoroughly on Saturday after potting, and again on monday a moderate amount.

The tree position hasn't changed since potting, its in a north east facing window that gets a lot of light but no direct sun. It has been here since December when I moved here and it responded really well, with a surprising amount of growth through the winter.

The tree has also had a mild scale infestation, which I've kept under control with manual removal and a soap/oil spray, but I think they had an impact too.

I've attached some photos of before and after repotting, and how many leaves it has currently dropped, and how the leaves are looking.

Is this normal? What do I need to watch out for? When should I begin to give it some fertiliser? Advice would be greatly appreciated!
 

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Ed_Inc

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One thing I may have done wrong, was it too early to repot? The weather has become particularly mild here and very sunny, so even though it is the end of Feb I thought it would be good before any major spring growth (I was also excited to get it done too!)
 

RJG2

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It's probably just stress from repotting, ficus like to drop leaves. Give it some time.

That being said, yes, you probably repotted too early. Most people repot tropicals in summer during vigorous growth.

Do a search on here for repotting tropicals.
 

Shibui

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Some species are more prone to leaf drop than others. I think it is a bit early to repot tropicals in Switzerland, even in warm conditions indoors, so that may have some bearing on the problem. We normally repot ficus in summer when they are growing rapidly and can recover quickly.
The good thing is that ficus are generally very resilient and it is likely to only be a temporary issue. watch watering while it has fewer leaves as the tree will, not need as much water for a while. I was wondering whether watering could be the cause of relatively few, long roots.
Keep it in a warm place and cross fingers until it starts to recover. No point fertilizing until it recovers and starts to grow. Feed after new leaves start to open.
 

Lutonian

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It should be ok with good light, warmth and good watering, it is sulking because its winter and then it had its root played with. I repot figs in early summer when the tree is growing well,
 

Ed_Inc

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Thanks for the responses, really appreciate it.

Any rules of thumb for knowing when to water with Akadama? I knew when to water the old soil just by looking at it after a while, but the new stuff doesn't seem to really change appearance except for colour!

That's interesting about repotting around summer time, it feels counter intuitive because it could interrupt the growing in a way. But you live and learn, I'll do that next time.

About the long roots, I was quite surprised, I cared for him well over summer, and the tree did very well in the year I had it. I'll attach a picture of when I got it. Can fine roots tend to die off in winter? Before anchoring one of the pads to the pot to bend it I used to look at the rootball frequently in summer and the roots seemed in better condition.

As I said though, I'm hoping the open nature of the new substrate will really encourage some nice fine roots.
 

Ed_Inc

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Something to add, I know ficus tend to now like being moved around a lot, but would moving it to the other side of my apartment where it gets a good amount of sun be better? Or would the direct (indoor) sunlight be too harsh for it whilst it's recovering?
 

Lutonian

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The more light the better mine are in front of south facing French doors, to check when your figs need watering stick your finger into the akadama to check also the colour will change too
 

Ed_Inc

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The more light the better mine are in front of south facing French doors, to check when your figs need watering stick your finger into the akadama to check also the colour will change too

So several hours of direct sunlight will be okay this soon after repotting?
 

Lutonian

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Figs have waxy leaves to reduce water loss It will be ok. When I repot mine (Summer) they get put back in full sun (outside U.K) just don't let them get bone dry. Figs are tough and can tolerate less than ideal conditions.
 

Colorado

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So several hours of direct sunlight will be okay this soon after repotting?

Yes.

You should also be using a top dressing on the top of the soil. Otherwise the top of the aggregate soil will dry out much faster than the bottom of the container. Top dressing helps keep the entire soil column more consistent.

Its too late for this time around, but I have found that ficus grow much better in my garden (and sunroom) in 100% akadama than they did when I was using a mix similar to yours, 1:1:1 pumice:lava:akadama.
 

Ed_Inc

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Yes.

You should also be using a top dressing on the top of the soil. Otherwise the top of the aggregate soil will dry out much faster than the bottom of the container. Top dressing helps keep the entire soil column more consistent.

Its too late for this time around, but I have found that ficus grow much better in my garden (and sunroom) in 100% akadama than they did when I was using a mix similar to yours, 1:1:1 pumice:lava:akadama.

Oh cool good to know! I have some more general bonsai soil left over, similar to what it potted in before (not enough for the whole repotting though), so I'll take a small layer of akadama off and put some of that over. I've also moved it into the area with direct sun, interested to see how it responds.
 

Colorado

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Oh cool good to know! I have some more general bonsai soil left over, similar to what it potted in before (not enough for the whole repotting though), so I'll take a small layer of akadama off and put some of that over. I've also moved it into the area with direct sun, interested to see how it responds.

I wouldn’t do that. The top dressing should be sphagnum moss.

Definitely would not use anything else. I’d leave it as is (with no top dressing) than use something other than sphagnum.
 

Ed_Inc

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I wouldn’t do that. The top dressing should be sphagnum moss.

Definitely would not use anything else. I’d leave it as is (with no top dressing) than use something other than sphagnum.

Oh bollocks, time to scrape off what I've just put on! 😂

Edit: I used to be a greenkeeper years ago, so top dressing to me is soil/sand!
 

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Lutonian

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Compost will fill the gaps in the akadama and keep soil to wet and it removes air spaces. No top dressing will be ok I don't top dress my figs unless the pot is very shallow or small and is at risk from drying to quick ( I use sphagnum to top dress to hold moisture or pure akadama or lava if the top dressing is for cosmetic reasons
 

Ed_Inc

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I wouldn’t do that. The top dressing should be sphagnum moss.

Definitely would not use anything else. I’d leave it as is (with no top dressing) than use something other than sphagnum.
Compost will fill the gaps in the akadama and keep soil to wet and it removes air spaces. No top dressing will be ok I don't top dress my figs unless the pot is very shallow or small and is at risk from drying to quick ( I use sphagnum to top dress to hold moisture or pure akadama or lava if the top dressing is for cosmetic reasons

How thorough do I need to be in removing the soil I just added? Here's my current progress:
 

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Lutonian

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I would leave it as it is in the last photo for now just keep an eye on how wet the soil stays, checking the drain hole for blockages every so often and wait till next repotting now ( figs are tough a bit of poor soil wont hurt them too bad.) I have a Morten bay fig I'm growing out and its in terrible soil it grew new roots from the trunk and tried walking out of the pot lol, I will repot that in summer
 

Ed_Inc

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I would leave it as it is in the last photo for now just keep an eye on how wet the soil stays, checking the drain hole for blockages every so often and wait till next repotting now ( figs are tough a bit of poor soil wont hurt them too bad.) I have a Morten bay fig I'm growing out and its in terrible soil it grew new roots from the trunk and tried walking out of the pot lol, I will repot that in summer

I topped him up a little bit with some fresh akadama mix as it was a little low after taking out the contaminated stuff, and he's sat waiting for some nice Swiss sun!

If drainage holes get blocked is there an easy way to sort it from the underside? I sifted the soil to remove the dust before potting, so fingers crossed it's okay.

To be fair ficuses grow in anything! But I want mine to be as happy as possible as it's my only bonsai for now. There was a large clump of solid clay in the rootball (I presume from China originally), so surely I can't be giving it worse conditions now!

After some reading around the other day I'm considering an air training pot next year to help with root rammification, presuming it doesn't die over the next few weeks!
 

Ed_Inc

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This is true.. but makes less sense when you consider the entire “earth” portion of the ecosystem it(containerized ficuses) knows is a shallow lil’ pot.

This is also true!

Whilst we're on the topic of ficuses, here's a photo of when I got it in April 2020, hope you'll all agree he's doing a fair bit better than then!
 

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