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Anna, Teacher, writer, biologist
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HORTICULTURE QUESTION: Have a tree that began to shed leaves,

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Have a tree that began to shed leaves, more quickly than I thought was healthy. So I moved the tree from our lobby, moved it out onto the sidewalk where it got a lot of sun. Seemed to strengthen the leaves considerably in just two days. But then I found that most of the roots had been severed: about half of the pot contained soil with broken roots, while the other (upper) half was actually connected to the tree. Don't know the name of the tree, but I posted the leaves on the following webpage:

What I would like to know is what to do with the soil as well as anything else I shoiuld do to help the tree back to health. The roots had been severed for at least a year. I suspect I will at least need to add some new soil. But in what combination? And is there any particular kind of soil? Also, what about the light factor? The tree gets indirect light in the lobby. Is shedding leaves normal? So many? Now that I've given it a little sunlight (2 days) the leave no longer shed. So should I set it outside once a week, a month, a year? Are there any other things I should perform to optimize the health of the tree. (There are two other similar trees in the lobby with similar shedding problems, just not nearly as much.)
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: General
Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.

I looked at your photo. The tree is ficus benjamina, commonly known as the weeping fig. It is normal for it to shed a lot of leaves in the fall as the days shorten, and it continues through the winter months. I've grown this species for many years, and sometimes they become almost bare of leaves in the fall. Putting the tree outdoors allowed it to get more light despite the shorter days, and may have temporarily helped. However, the leaves will probably continue to fall.

While the leaf fall is normal for this species, the severed roots complicate the picture. When that many roots are severed, most trees will gradually die, and there won't be anything you can do about it. With most trees, I would advise you to give up, but ficus trees are tough, so you may be able to save it. It does fine with ordinary potting soil. I would fill in with the soil you have, water the tree, and mulch it. After that, keep it evenly moist, but do not over water it. It may be able to grow new roots, but there is no way to be certain. All you can do is try.

It's not a good idea to put weeping figs outside for a day here and there. That just confuses the tree. I have put mine outside for the entire summer, and they grow thick and lush. As soon as they are brought in, the shedding of leaves begins. That's just the normal cycle for them. The more light they can get through windows, the better.

The trees can be fertilized when new growth appears. You'll see tiny leaf buds appearing. Don't fertilize while they are not actively growing. If the one with severed roots begins putting out new growth, that will be an indication that it will survive.

If you have more questions, let me know by clicking on REPLY. I hope the damaged tree will survive.

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