Ficus loosing its leaves

Rich vin Zant

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I picked up this bonsai in May and it’s been doing good in my house but recently (last two weeks) it’s been dropping a lot of leaves and the branches are dry and brittle, there is some new growth and even some fruiting. The soil drys out quickly so I’m worried it’s root-bound. I’m in south Alabama in zone 8b. The bonsai is either Tigerbark, Ficus retusa, or Microcarpa at least that’s what I’ve been told. Does it need to be repoted is it the wrong time to report?
 

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Forsoothe!

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There's good news and bad news. First, the bad news is that it appears to be positioned beside the window instead of in front of the source of sunlight, in which position it would "park" instead of grow. Leaves are not forever. They last some length of time, something less than a year for Figs, and would normally be replaced a few at a time by growing new clusters at the branch terminals (ends). Sunlight of some strength is needed for that and the best situation is to be out of the house for the summer, generating a whole new canopy which would last all winter in the house in front of a good window.

Unfortunately, your leaves would seem to be on the used-up side of the scale at the end of this outdoor growing season. The tree should have been put outdoors in April, or when nighttime temperatures are above 50°F, where you are and you would now be starting the process of acclimating it to interior light conditions by moving it from full sun to half day sun to dappled shade to full shade over a 4 to 6 week period so it wouldn't lose all its leaves when finally brought into the house. In fact, the best way to insure that all the leaves are less than one year old and will last one whole winter indoors is to completely defoliate the tree when you set it out in full sun by first cutting all the leaves off at the base of the leaf leaving the petiole attached to the branch, then cutting off the bud at the tips of every branch, encouraging back-budding or new leaves to grow in the interior, making the plant dense and compact and keeping it approximately the same size.

After it grew a whole new canopy of leaves you would re-pot it, in May or June, at least every other year, or every year if you're ambitious. You would feed it at label strength with any liquid fertilizer twice a month in the growing months, only, ~April thru September.

The good news is that you're in Alabama and you still have a little growing season left. Cut off the leaf and the bud in its axil at the ends of every branch and put it outside in dappled shade and bring it indoors any time the temperature will dip below 50°F. That will get you some regeneration of energy and some new, interior leaves. Not enough to look primo all winter, in front of a window, but enough to bridge until next April when you begin the proper, full-tilt boogie regimen. There are lesser methods producing lesser results which other here may outline, but I'm a full-tilt boogie kind of guy.
 

BrianBay9

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Agree with Forsoothe, outside as long as you can. By the way, this is Ficus microcarpa (Genus, species). The variety is Tiger Bark. I think retusa was the old name for microcarpa. Plant people are always changing the names on us.
 

canoeguide

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The tree should have been put outdoors in April, or when nighttime temperatures are above 50°F, where you are and you would now be starting the process of acclimating it to interior light conditions by moving it from full sun to half day sun to dappled shade to full shade over a 4 to 6 week period so it wouldn't lose all its leaves when finally brought into the house. In fact, the best way to insure that all the leaves are less than one year old and will last one whole winter indoors is to completely defoliate the tree when you set it out in full sun by first cutting all the leaves off at the base of the leaf leaving the petiole attached to the branch, then cutting off the bud at the tips of every branch, encouraging back-budding or new leaves to grow in the interior, making the plant dense and compact and keeping it approximately the same size.

After it grew a whole new canopy of leaves you would re-pot it, in May or June, at least every other year, or every year if you're ambitious. You would feed it at label strength with any liquid fertilizer twice a month in the growing months, only, ~April thru September.

I'm not the OP, but this sounds like fantastic advice. My big question is, would you defoliate every spring? And if so, is this a good summary of your overall recommendations for ficus?:
  • In spring, when > 50f, defoliate tree and put in full sun
  • After canopy is regrown, in May/June, repot (at least every 2 years, maybe every year)
  • Fertilize with liquid fert 2x per month
  • 4-6 weeks before temps are < 50f, start weaning tree off of direct sunlight (full, half, dappled, shade)
Thanks!
 

Forsoothe!

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I'm not the OP, but this sounds like fantastic advice. My big question is, would you defoliate every spring? And if so, is this a good summary of your overall recommendations for ficus?:
  • In spring, when > 50f, defoliate tree and put in full sun
  • After canopy is regrown, in May/June, repot (at least every 2 years, maybe every year)
  • Fertilize with liquid fert 2x per month
  • 4-6 weeks before temps are < 50f, start weaning tree off of direct sunlight (full, half, dappled, shade)
Thanks!
Yes, every spring to keep leaves reduced to a good size, and when it gets to a size you want to keep it at, or periodically, cut back to two buds on every twig at defoliation. Over time the trunk and branches will get thicker and thicker and the crown will stay tidy. Warning: you can reduced the leaves to a size even smaller by defoliating more than once in a year, but that's very taxing to the tree. Growth is an important part of life, so the less you depart from some "normal" growth cycle in which the tree is allowed to benefit from the leave's production, the better. This plan only highly taxes the tree once a year, short-cutting the life span of the canopy by some few months which is offset by the new canopy being the most young and productive in the more productive season of June, July, August & September, going into the off season with completely healthy, mature leaves and a root-full of energy.
 

Bonsai Nut

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Excellent advice from @Forsoothe! and I agree with all his comments except one.

Ficus are a lot more cold hardy than people give them credit for being. I have ficus - bonsai, containerized larger trees, and landscape trees - here in SoCal and they can take temps in the 30's without problem. I'm not talking about EXTENDED periods in the 30's - but 30's as a low overnight (with the daytime being in the 50's). I consider ficus like citrus... if it is going to frost overnight might not be too bad as long as the wind doesn't blow. Freezing temps + wind = branch die-back.

Ficus like two things: water and sun. We are very dry (humidity) here in California and yet they grow like weeds as long as you give them water.

In Alabama, that ficus should be outdoors almost every day of the year. Only bring it indoors if there is going to be a HARD freeze.
 

canoeguide

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Ficus are a lot more cold hardy than people give them credit for being.
...
We are very dry (humidity) here in California...

I wonder if lower humidity affects the temperature that ficus can survive without die-back. Everything I read says 45-50F is the low, but I plan on pushing mine a bit. When it's 90% humidity, I wonder if that cold gets transmitted to the plant differently. I can't seem to find any information on that.
 

BrianBay9

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I wonder if lower humidity affects the temperature that ficus can survive without die-back. Everything I read says 45-50F is the low, but I plan on pushing mine a bit. When it's 90% humidity, I wonder if that cold gets transmitted to the plant differently. I can't seem to find any information on that.

I have Ficus in the fog belt of California. Much more humid than BN. I usually bring mine in if the nighttime lows fall below 40F, but that's being cautious. BN is right, they'll handle a quick frost just fine. A week of nighttime temps in the low 30's might be more than you can expect them to handle.
 

Rich vin Zant

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There's good news and bad news. First, the bad news is that it appears to be positioned beside the window instead of in front of the source of sunlight, in which position it would "park" instead of grow. Leaves are not forever. They last some length of time, something less than a year for Figs, and would normally be replaced a few at a time by growing new clusters at the branch terminals (ends). Sunlight of some strength is needed for that and the best situation is to be out of the house for the summer, generating a whole new canopy which would last all winter in the house in front of a good window.

Unfortunately, your leaves would seem to be on the used-up side of the scale at the end of this outdoor growing season. The tree should have been put outdoors in April, or when nighttime temperatures are above 50°F, where you are and you would now be starting the process of acclimating it to interior light conditions by moving it from full sun to half day sun to dappled shade to full shade over a 4 to 6 week period so it wouldn't lose all its leaves when finally brought into the house. In fact, the best way to insure that all the leaves are less than one year old and will last one whole winter indoors is to completely defoliate the tree when you set it out in full sun by first cutting all the leaves off at the base of the leaf leaving the petiole attached to the branch, then cutting off the bud at the tips of every branch, encouraging back-budding or new leaves to grow in the interior, making the plant dense and compact and keeping it approximately the same size.

After it grew a whole new canopy of leaves you would re-pot it, in May or June, at least every other year, or every year if you're ambitious. You would feed it at label strength with any liquid fertilizer twice a month in the growing months, only, ~April thru September.

The good news is that you're in Alabama and you still have a little growing season left. Cut off the leaf and the bud in its axil at the ends of every branch and put it outside in dappled shade and bring it indoors any time the temperature will dip below 50°F. That will get you some regeneration of energy and some new, interior leaves. Not enough to look primo all winter, in front of a window, but enough to bridge until next April when you begin the proper, full-tilt boogie regimen. There are lesser methods producing lesser results which other here may outline, but I'm a full-tilt boogie kind of guy.

Thanks for all the replies. I’ve had a little regrow after putting it outside, and hope to follow Forsoothe! ‘s advice this spring.
 
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