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Anna, Teacher, writer, biologist
Category: General
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I purchased a ficus benjamina tree recently for an indoor plant.

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I purchased a ficus benjamina tree recently for an indoor plant. I live in Utah and the weather is just beginning to get warmer so I put it close to an east window where it does get lots of morning light. It is about 21/2 feet tall and is losing its leaves. The leaves are also getting yellow and brown before dropping off. I am seeing very minute drops of white liquid on some leaves. What do I do to keep my tree from getting any worse?

I'm sorry to hear your new tree is having trouble. Ficus benjamina tends to drop leaves whenever it is under stress or is placed in lower light conditions than what it was accustomed to. If the tree was grown in a greenhouse before you bought it, it probably had full sun. With only morning sun from an east window, it will drop leaves in just the way you've described. Eventually, it will reach the point where it has fewer leaves, but they will stay green. If you want the tree to stay as full as it was when you bought it, it will need sunlight all the time. A south window would be better, but even with that, you'll see some leaf drop. I've raised many Ficus from cuttings as well as purchased them. I always get bets results indoors with a south window. I have put them outdoors in the summer, where they put out many new leaves and become quite full, but as soon as they are brought back in, the leaf drop begins again. Too much or too little water will also cause leaf drop. Let the top of the soil dry out before watering, then water throughly, but be sure the pot has good drainage. Excess water should be poured out of the saucer.

If the leaves actually become spotted with yellow dots before they fall, that can indicate a fungus problem. That's uncommon, but if you're seeing that, let me know and I'll tell you what to do.

The sap of ficus is a milky white substance, and that may be what you're seeing on the leaves. Tear open one green leaf and compare the sap to what you're seeing. If the liquid is more sticky and is on many leaves, especially if it's the consistency and color of honey, that indicates an insect problem. That can be cleared up by spraying with an insecticidal soap (available in garden centers and nurseries). Most of the time, however, leaf drop-with leaves turning yellow, then brown- is the result of a change or stress in the tree's environment. It's one of the downsides of these beautiful trees. If you have more questions, let me know by clicking on REPLY. I hope the leaf drop will quickly resolve.


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