Issue: March 22, 2003

Weeping fig tree stress

Question:

I have a Weeping fig in my family room. I purchased it after the holidays. It was really full when I purchased it, now the leaves seem to be falling off. Some of the leaves are brown and dried, some are just a darkened color, and some are plain healthy-looking leaves. I don't understand. The tag said it needed lots of light. My family room gets plenty of light, although lately it has been pretty gloomy and cold outside. Does that have anything to do with the leaves falling off? Can you please tell me what I need to do? Darco D.

Answer:

Weeping fig trees often exhibit signs of stress after they are moved from a greenhouse of nursery into a home, especially in the winter. The air inside the home is usually much drier, and the leaves may be injured by this drier air. Some will die; some will exhibit injury but remain and new leaves will form. The new leaves will be better adapted to the new environment since they developed under this environment. If the leaves nearest the ends of the stems are new and healthy, that is a good sign. If you have new growth developing, that is also a good sign. The change in location will also result in a change in light; even a bright room in a home is darker than the greenhouse. It will take some time and loss of leaves for the tree to develop new leaves adapted to the lower light levels in the home. In the meantime, the days will be lengthening and the light levels indoors will be increasing. A factor to consider is that maximum light intensity is not the most important factor to indoor plants; rather, it is the duration of bright light. If the plant receives too much light for a brief period, the leaves formed will be best adapted to bright light. They will function poorly under the lower light levels present when the sunlight leaves the window. Sheer curtains, or moving the plant back from the window in the brightest part of the day, may help. Irrigation is important. When the tree is watered, the soil should be well moistened; the water should then drain from the bottom of the pot. That "leachate" water should not be allowed to re-moisten the potting soil. It contains salts that can damage plant roots. Leachate should be drained or kept at a level below the bottom of the pot so that it is not reabsorbed. When a plant is adapting to a new environment, do not over-fertilize. Once-a-month fertilization with a very low concentration houseplant fertilizer is best. As the plant adapts to the new environment and grows, fertilization may be increased. The dull days may have helped contribute to the problem you described but that is probably not the only factor. Moving the plant from one environment to another is probably the greater factor. During this period, don't over-water and follow the directions listed above.

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Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.