Sick Ficus?

ml_work

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Golden Gate Ficus / Ficus microcarpa

I am not sure what is going on with this ficus. I purchased it in 09 from Brussels and it listed as 10 years old. It has lives inside in sun room year around. It has lost leaves in the past, mostly due to me over water or under water as I learned it's pattern. But as leaves go, new ones come back pretty quick. It did well all summer, direct light all day. When it turned cool as winter came I noticed the leaves dropping more than usual but saw new leaves/buds come back. I figured it was due to the window being cooler (solid double pane) and sun angle. So far it has continued to loose leaves and the new ones have not opened. I noticed today that one of the limbs does not have any new leaves and could be dead.
Two things come to mind,
1-my wife had a plant that go "milie" bugs and was kinda close to my trees. We moved it out side (to the fire pit) and although I did not see any sign of the bugs on my trees I sprayed them with nem oil.
2- it is had to check the moisture of soil as it seems packed / root bound ? I am at the point I want to do "something" but know that sometime to best thing is to do "nothing". Would it hurt to re pot this ficus at this time of year? and if it is safe this time of year could it be dangerous to this one since it is weak right now?
I have other ficus on both sides of it that are doing fine, not 1 leaf dropped.
The pictures show how bare it is getting and the second picture shows the new leaves that should have opened by now.
Thank,
Michael
 

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Brian Van Fleet

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Looks pretty much like a ficus in the winter outside of it's climate "comfort zone"...

Usually scale is a culprit, but I can't see any in the close-up. if the leaves are shiny and sticky, it's a good indication of scale.

If it's not scale, don't "do anything" but limp it along until you can move it outside in a few weeks.
 

jk_lewis

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When was it repotted last? If recently, how much root work?

If the soil is hard, I suspect the answer to the first question is "not recently" and it probably should be repotted. Whether you do it now or wait until summer depends on how warm it is in your sunroom. If it is in the upper 60s to 70s, you can repot. If not, wait.

The top of this tree is out of control. Too many small, straight twigs going off in every direction. I'd suggest summer defoliation and removal of at least half of those twigs.
 

ml_work

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Thanks for the replies!
Brain, I wish it was just out of its zone for the winter. This one stays inside, same place year around. (maybe a good vacation outside this summer may do it some good, but I am afraid it may not make it till then) I have small walmart ficus to the right of it that have not lost a leave since they came in for the winter and another ficus to the left that has not lost any leaves. No shiny or sticky leaves that I can see on the sick one.

JKL and Steve, I think the roots may be the problem. I owned it 2 years, not re-potted yet, the sun room is part of our home, open to rest of the house. I have the air vents closed it there but the temp is mid 60 and higher during day.
After posting I noticed some of the small leaves that had not opened (at least a month now) have turned black! This is something new as the mature leaves that have fallen off just turned yellow and fell. Also a couple of the small branches have dried up/dead. I think maybe re-pot now and wait to cut back "The top of this tree is out of control" to keep from too much stress at one time?
Thanks,
Michael
 

treebeard55

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Michael, one problem in US homes in winter is that the air gets dried by our central heating systems. I strongly suspect your tree needs higher humidity.

But also: from a) what you've said about the soil, and b) the continuing decline of the tree, I think a repot may be in order; if it were mine, that's what I'd do given the situation.

Be as gentle as you can with the roots. Remove any dead ones, and get as much of the old soil off as you can, but preserve as many feeder roots as possible. (This isn't the time for serious root pruning.) Make sure your new mix contains no particles small enough to go thru ordinary window screen. Once the repot is done and the tree is thoroughly watered, enclose it in a clear plastic bag and put it in the brightest spot you have that's not in direct sun. Keep it warm; 70's and 80's F will make it happy. F. microcarpas are tough buggers, and I think your tree will pull thru.

(BTW, you may already know everything I said in the last paragraph. Since I don't know your level of experience, I'd rather repeat what you already know than leave out something you haven't learned yet!)
 

ml_work

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Thanks for the advice Steve. I will go easy on the roots, had not thought about the bag to keep it humid. I do mist 2 times a day, but as you said the heat dries the air all day. I may give the bag a try for a few days...weeks...?

Thanks,
Michael
 

Redwood Ryan

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Try an aquarium :D

001-61.jpg
 

ml_work

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Ryan, their is one in the room with my trees, has fish in it. My wife would not be too happy to find her fish moved out. For some strange reason she thinks I moved all her house plants from the best spots in the sun room to put my trees there. Don't know where she got that idea from.
Michael
 

ml_work

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Did the re-pot on Saturday, not sure if this was root-bound or not, but once I had it out I did remove old dirt and re-pot. The few trees that I have potted that were root-bound had many roots wrapped round and round in the pot. So when this one did not appear that way I questioned if that was the problem. I have a picture with and without soil, also one were it has some white "powder" (powder is not really the right word) on it. When I saw the white it brought to mind how the soil looks between watering. The top gets a white look to it as if were salt, but I use only rain water for these trees. I did notice some white deposit on the aluminum wire at the bottom of the pot. This sits in a tray with rocks and water. At times I have put a drop of bleach in the rocks to keep from mold growing. Could the wire have touched the water and acted as a wick? I did not cut any leaves at this time, did remove some dead limbs. Did not want to stress it at this time.
Thanks for Advice,
Michael
 

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Brian Van Fleet

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Michael,
Looking at those roots, I stand by my diagnosis...they're fine, but look a little dry; typical winter conditions for a tree inside. I'd avoid bleach, but wire won't wick...it isn't absorbent. Keep it humid until you can get it outside.
Good luck!
 

Dustin Mann

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I agree with treebeard post. Re-pot immediately in course mix(prefer little organic), not much root trim except dead hanging stuff. Could be so many possibilities if all your other trees are fine. Old soil has eggs of some sort, hopefully not early stages of root nematodes. Brussels imports figs/elms so orig. soil particles on root hairs has 'God knows what' I hose off roots on new trees Dustin Mann
 

ml_work

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Thanks for the replies.
Brain, I hope your diagnosis is correct too! As I said once I got it removed from the pot I figured go ahead. I know if sounded crazy about the wire/wick, but with the soft aluminum I was grabbing for something.
Dustin, I used new bonsai soil from Brussels to pot in, so now I will see what happens.
Thanks,
Michael
 

ml_work

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Better but not good

The tree did not die but it has lost the top. After the re-pot more leaves fell off, closer look I found many dead dry branches. All the top died off and broke or I cut. this week all of the small leaves that had been there for months opened. Which is good but now it has no top, I scratched the top apex and found just brown dry, no green and 2 of the lower limbs died too. I am going to cut most of this off in a few weeks and put it outside for the summer.
Thanks of the help with this.
Michael
 

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bonsapien

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Looks dry to me. It's is probably a water issue. Definitely repot into an open soil mix now. Don't let the soil dry out completely.

:D
 

ml_work

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All the leaves are open now with nice shine and color. I will move it outside as soon as the nights get a little warmer. Cut back all the long growth and let it start new branch and leaves. As the picture shows the top is dead. Would it be too much stress to try and graft a new top. Using a branch from another ficus of the same species? or should I let it grow this summer and graft next year? I have never done any grafting but thought this would be a good time to learn.
thanks,
Michael
 

treebeard55

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Definitely looking better!

If it were mine I wouldn't graft a new top. I'd do one of two things: change the planting angle and develop one of those big upper branches into a new apex; or simply wait! The tree will break new buds in the top zone this summer, and Ficus grow fast enough that you will probably have a new branch ready to become the apex within two years, maybe three.
 

ml_work

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Thanks Steve, I don't know about the new angle option. This is S trunk, not sure how that would do. I did not figure anything would come out at the top where the dead (apex) branch is. A close look shows where the top was cut and did not heal over completely. I think I will just cut the long runners back and let it have the summer outside this year. It has been inside the past 24 months which could be some of the problem.
Have a Great Weekend!
Michael
 

treebeard55

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Ah, the infamous S-curve! I've been dealing with that on one of my Ficus microcarpa 'Tigerbark.' I'm not done, but I've gotten several decent daughter trees along the way as I sliced and diced!

Here are two ideas that you may want to play around with.

First virt: tilt the tree about 25 degrees or so to the left; wire the right-hand branch (now the highest) up to become your new leader; wire the left-hand major branch down some and let it develop into a semi-cascade branch; the lower-right branch is removed or wired down. Could be quite dramatic, I think, if you like drama in your bonsai.

Second virt: chop at the orange line, and develop your tree from there; chop further at the blue line or the green, and you now have two nice thick cuttings to stick. This is, with modifications, what I've done with my 'Tigerbark.'
 

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