Q: I found your Web site while searching for answers to ficus problems. I hope you can help because I’m afraid my tree is about to die. It’s a ficus benjamina corkscrew and is rather large. I purchased it at a reputable nursery in January. When I brought it home, it kept losing leaves. Our house is fairly cool (mid-60s) and the plant is in a drafty location, so I put a humidifier under it and ran it almost nonstop. I also misted it with water almost every day. It seemed to improve and I thought I was out of the woods. About two months ago, I noticed that there were tiny, white bugs crawling all over the top of the soil. The nursery told me they were blind mealy bugs and sold me Safer to get rid of them. They told me that I should apply the Safer only on top of the soil after watering because there were no signs of bugs on the leaves. They said it might take two to three applications to get rid of the bugs. However, I still have the bugs. In addition, about two weeks ago, lots of little brown centipedes came out of the soil after I watered. The tree seems to be drooping, losing lots of leaves and the center of the plant seems dead. I pruned away the dead interior branches and shaped a few of the healthy ones. The runoff water is dirty and filmy and the top of the soil looks white. Is there anything I can do to save the tree? Thanks for any advice you can give. (e-mail reference)
A: Drag the plant outside and dump the contaminated soil. Wash the container with soapy water and rinse well. Wash all the soil off the roots and replace the soil with pasteurized or sterile potting soil. Keep it outside for the rest of the summer in dappled shade. Monitor the plant for any insects that may be considering residency. Most likely, the tree was planted in a nonsterile or nonpasteurized media, which caused all the insect problems.
Q: I have three new ficus trees that are outside in 30-inch planters. They were transplanted after they were delivered. They have been doing very well since they arrived two months ago. I have been watering them once a week 20 minutes with a slope-drip hose. The temperature has been between 70 and 80 degrees. All was going well up until this week. The temperature has been in the 90s for the past two days. Some leaves dropped yesterday. I watered, but more leaves dropped today. The nursery said to water them two to three times a day, so I really doused them today. They said the water isn’t getting to the roots, but I am concerned about overwatering. These plants were expensive and I feel like I am getting mixed messages on watering instructions. I need your advice. (e-mail reference)
A: Stick your fingers into the soil, but not at the edge of the planter, to see if the roots are getting wet. Sometimes the water flows along the side of the planter and out the bottom without soaking the roots completely. Try plugging the holes when you water and keep them plugged for 30 minutes after you’ve given the container a good soaking. The tree probably will recover because they are pretty tough, but ficus doesn’t appreciate the sudden shift in temperatures.
Q: Help! My ficus tree froze. How can I save the poor thing? It was healthy and green, with abundant leaves, when I moved it to a covered porch for fresh air and sun during some uncommon 80-degree spring weather. I was away from home and couldn’t rescue it when freezing temperatures hit. My thought is to prune it back to the braided trunk and hope it survives. What do you suggest, other than tossing it out? (e-mail reference)
A: Wait to see if new growth begins in four or more weeks. If new growth does begin, then prune out anything that isn’t showing new growth.
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