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Common Ficus Tree Problems and How to Solve Them

Charlotte formerly worked as an editor of a garden channel and has extensive knowledge of plant care.

Potted ficus tree.  Photo by Fabinus08 at Dreamstime.

Potted ficus tree. Photo by Fabinus08 at Dreamstime.

If you have ever lived in a dorm or worked in an office, chances are you have seen some ficus trees (as well as a few ficus tree problems). These trees are virtually maintenance-free when cared for properly. However, there are a few problems that affect these trees. From a mass dropping of leaves to bugs rising out of the soil when watered, these problems can perplex their owners. The majority of problems are easy to fix, and only a few simple gardening tools or pesticides are needed. Read on to learn how to care for these attractive plants, both in the home and on the patio!

What Are Some Problems With Ficus Trees?

Most people experience problems with growing plants. Sometimes we are more worried than we need to be. There are 4 problems that many ficus owners experience. It's helpful to know this information prior to buying a ficus.

4 Common Problems With Ficus Trees and How to Solve Them

  1. Leaf Drop: This is the most common problem people experience with their ficus tree. This is usually caused by a change in temperature. If you have a ficus tree that you move from a patio to the indoors, or vice versa, you may have noticed leaf drop. It can also occur in the fall in cooler areas when people begin heating their homes again.

    How to solve it: The ficus tree likes a constant temperature and humidity level. A change in these two factors, even within 5-10 degrees in temperature, will cause the leaves to drop. The only way to care for a plant when this happens is to stabilize their environment and continue to water regularly and fertilize monthly. The tree should recover.
  2. Leaf Spot Fungus: These are also known as cercospora spp. This looks like tiny black dots on the backs of the leaves of the tree. The leaves may turn yellow and fall off. Remove the diseased leaves and spray with Benlate (follow the instructions exactly). Do not mist the leaves.

    How to solve it: Apply sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of disease to prevent its spread. These organic fungicides will not kill leaf spot, but prevent the spores from germinating.
  3. Anthracnose: This shows up as rusty-looking spots on stems and leaves. The plant may also ooze from these spots. Remove the diseased leaves.

    How to solve it: Practicing good sanitation. Picking up and disposing of all diseased plant parts, providing proper light, water, and fertilizer will strengthen the plant’s ability to ward off a fungus attack. Chemical treatment is rarely used.
  4. Ficus oozing sap: This condition is caused by sucking pests, usually caused mealybugs and/or scale. Mealybugs look like small cottony clusters and scale look like bumpy white or black spots on the stems and body of the tree.

    How to solve it: This problem can be treated with Schultz's Fungicide 3, horticultural oil or a soapy solution of 1 tablespoon of soap to 1 pint of water. If the tree isn't treated, it will probably die.

Common Types of Ficus

The following are the common types of ficus trees that you'll find at a nursery or gardening center:

  • F. benjamina (the weeping fig)
  • F. lyrata (the fiddle-leaf fig)
  • F. sagittata (creeping fig)

These trees will provide years of enjoyment when cared for properly. Older trees may grow fruit, but it shouldn't be eaten. These plants can live for decades, and may occasionally outlive their owners!

What Kind of Habitat Does a Ficus Tree Need?

Many ficus tree problems occur as a result of a poor habitat. Before you bring a ficus tree home, consider the following needs of this particular plant:

  • A brightly lit room: These plants prefer bright, indirect sunlight.
  • A humid room: It doesn't have to be like a rainforest, but an air-conditioned room, for example, is not the best type of environment for your ficus tree.
  • Fertilizer: The ficus tree does well if it is fed monthly with a houseplant fertilizer.
  • Water: This plant doesn't need to be kept constantly moist—allow to dry out slightly between waterings. Test the soil with your finger near the base of the tree for moisture, not the edge of the pot.

3 Ficus Tree Pests

All trees have pest problems. Some are better equipped at dealing with pests themselves, and others need more help. Before buying a ficus, it's important that you study up on what pest problems are common to these beautiful trees.

3 Common Ficus Pests and How to Deal With Them

  1. Mealy bugs: These small white cottony-looking clusters are sucking insects (see photo). They may appear after you water the plants, when they crawl to the surface of the soil. They can also be seen in the areas of the plant where the branches meet the main stem. Plants can be treated for mealy bugs in several ways.

    How to solve the problem: First, spray the plant with a fine horticultural oil where the bugs are present, then treat the plant with a systemic chemical in the soil. It is taken up through the roots and will poison the sucking pests on the plant, such as Orthene, Di-Syston, or Safer. Finally, use a soap treatment. Spray the plant with a soap solution of 1 tablespoon of soap per pint of water
  2. Centipedes: They are brown colored, long-bodied with lots of legs (see photo). If your plant has these, the soil probably wasn't sterilized before the tree was planted.

    How to solve the problem: The best way to deal with this problem is to take your plant outdoors, dump the soil out, rinse off any soil from the root system and re-plant the tree in new, sterilized soil (it can be bought at a nursery or garden center). The pot should be scrubbed out as well. While this is an extreme measure, it is the only way to make sure you've gotten rid of these pests.
  3. Scale: They look like small black or whitish bumps on stems and the trunk of plants (see photo).

    How to solve the problem: They can be treated in the same way as mealy bugs.

More Kinds of Ficus Tree

NameWhere Do They Grow?What the ficus needsCost (for a small one)

Audrey Ficus

Native to India

Neutral pH soil, kept in temperatures above 60 F. (16 C.) Fertilize seasonally. The Audrey Ficus won’t grow nearly as tall or wide indoors.

$75-$100

Ficus elastica

Native to India

Appreciates bright, indirect light. Fertilize seasonally to make sure the soil is pH neutral and has a healthy amount of nitrogen. Water must reach a few inches down. They grow to massive sizes in the wild.

$30

Ficus Alii, or Ficus maclellandii

Originally grown in Hawaii

pH neutral soil. Watering approximately once every week and giving it bright, filtered light.

$30

The Weeping Fig, or Ficus benjamina

Native to Asia, but also to Australia

Watering about once a week when the soil is dry a few inches down and giving it plenty of bright, indirect light.

$75

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on August 23, 2012:

Hi oldmanmike - the leaves are probably turning black because they have burst water vessels. This is caused from over-watering the tree. Only water the tree when the soil is dry to the touch 1 inch deep into the soil. If the plant is sitting in a drain pan, be sure to empty it after 10 minutes so the plant isn't sitting in water. Place your tree in a warm, moist area (If it isn't in this type of area already) to recover.

PlantLover22 on August 15, 2012:

I have a beautiful 14' tall ficus tree that I have owned for 25+ years. The tree appears to be very healthy except for the following issue. I am concerned about an oval-shaped "bruise" or "sore" mark has appeared on the trunk, exposing the bare wood. The injury is about 2-1/2" long by 1-1/2" wide, and occurs about 2-feet up the trunk, from its base. We think this spot has been developing over many months time (perhaps 6-10 months). It looks like a branch was cut or removed, but there was never a branch at this spot & there's no growth-ring here. There are no other obvious signs of a problem anywhere else on the tree. Could this be a fungus? ...or infection? Any ideas on what this is and how to treat it? (I have a photo of the spot, but don't know how to post that here.)

oldmanmike on August 14, 2012:

I just want know why leave r turning black on my ficus.PLEASE HELP

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on June 30, 2012:

Hi Shawn, it may have turned brown due to being "disturbed" from its previous pot. They are sensitive if they are moved, but should recover soon in its new home. The best advice I can give is to keep it in one spot now that it has been re-potted, and not move it unless you absolutely have to.

Shawn on June 06, 2012:

I potted a 2.5 ft tall ficus about 2 weeks ago and a few of the leaves toward the bottom have started turning brown...any idea why?

Jason on April 18, 2012:

I noticed that you said the fig tree fruit on this tree should not be eaten, and was curious as to why that is? Also, are some weeping trees not capable of growing fruit?

nanato3_1 on March 12, 2012:

I have just purchased a fiddle leaf fig for inside my home. It was re-potted before I purchased it. Now that I have it home, I have noticed black spots on the back side of some of the leaves on one of the bushes and some of the leaves are brown around the edges. Has this been caused because of the stress of coming from a greenhouse into an indoor environment or do I have some other problem?

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on February 11, 2012:

Hi Kim, No, you don't have to rinse the tree off afterwards - the solution isn't such that you'll have lots of soap suds to deal with. If it is a large tree, and you'll be spraying it a lot, you may want to place a plastic tarp around the tree to protect your floors, rugs or furniture. (You can find inexpensive plastic tarps in the paint section of your local Wal-Mart or other similar stores).

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on February 11, 2012:

Hi Bob, The nurseryman was right - the roots are usually in proportion to the "canopy" or shape of the tree above ground. If you keep it trimmed small and ball shaped, the roots won't have to keep spreading out to keep it balanced.

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on February 11, 2012:

Hi Karen,

Your tree may just need more water, or be kept in a less dry environment. If you have it near a heat source(or there is air blowing on it), try moving it to a cooler area- of course, moving it may cause some leaf loss, but it would be healthier for the tree in the long run.

Kim on February 08, 2012:

I have the oozy issue with my ficus. I would like to try the easiest and safest method of treating the tree with the soapy water. My question is: do I rinse the soap water off the tree afterwards ?

BOB TAYLOR on January 16, 2012:

I BOUGHT A HOUSE WITH EIGHT FISCUS CLOSE BY THEY ARE ABOUT A METRE TALL AND SHAPED LIKE A BALL .BEING CONCERNED ABOUT A POTENTIOL ROOT PROBLEM I ASKED MY NURSERY MAN HE SAID THAT PROVIDING I KEEP THE THIS SHAPE AND SIZE THE ROOT SYSTYM WILL NOT BE A PROBLEM .HIS BELEIF IS THAT YOU KEEP THE CANOPY SMALL YOU KEEP THE ROOT SYSTYM SMALL?,.

Karen on January 15, 2012:

I have a standard ficus that is losing its leaves and some of the leaves are drying up and curled then fall off..It is outside on the back covered area and getts morning sun,I have had it about 15mths..do you know what is going on with it?

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on October 09, 2011:

Hi Michellebee - The growths sound like a fungus growth. Do you see them anywhere else on the tree? Does the tree also have yellowing leaves? Unfortunately, there aren't any fungicides approved for treating ficus trees, though a local nursery could recommend a course of action to treat the tree, especially if you are growing it outdoors in a warm climate (like FL).

Stem or trunk galls should be removed with clean, sterilized pruning tools. Check the soil to see if there are any insects living in it - insects that chew the ficus can cause open wounds that leave them susceptible to fungal growth.

Michellebee on September 12, 2011:

I've had my ficus for only six months. It seems quite happy in its spot but in the last few weeks has sprouted two yellow bulbous growths on the trunk right above the soil. They are a little smaller than a ping-pong ball. Any ideas?

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on September 04, 2011:

Hi Bigby, usually any sticky substance on the ficus means it is oozing sap, and probably has some sucking insects affecting it. Try the following: Ficus oozing sap - This is usually caused by mealy bugs and/or scale. Mealy bugs look like small cottony clusters and scale looks like bumpy white or black spots on the stems and body of the tree. (See photos with the pest section above). This problem can be treated with Schultz's Fungicide 3, horticultural oil or a soapy solution of 1 tablespoon of soap to 1 pint of water.

If you have a large ficus, try the horticultural oil; the soapy water treatment can be messy unless you have a small tree.

Bigby on August 29, 2011:

Our ficus has sticky stuff on the leaves. Otherwise it looks pretty good. Any ideas?

SanFrancisco on April 11, 2011:

Thanks for the tip, Gerber Ink. Will give it a try. I did drag the tree outside and spray it with some green anti-scale lavendar oil concoction. Didn't work. Ready to give the thing away.

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on March 28, 2011:

Hi SanFrancisco, Try Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub (you can find it at any gardening center. It will kill the sucking insects (aphids), and fertilize your plant as well. Follow the instructions exactly so you won't burn the roots.

SanFrancisco on March 16, 2011:

I have a huge indoor ficus, 10 feet tall at least, from the mid 1980s. It has scale or aphids and I've tried spraying it with Safer a few times but the tree is so huge I'm sure I'm not getting all of the leaves and branches. I want something I can put in the soil that will do the trick but not poison my family. Ideas?

Oscar on November 25, 2010:

Hey vivalady,

There's some info on ficus as bonsai on http://www.bonsaiempire.com

Hope it might help, you might try google as well, there's so much written about this!

Goodluck

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on August 08, 2010:

Hi vivalady, Hope you have success with your next go-round with the ficus. My experience is to find a good spot for one, then leave it there without moving it again (not always practical!). The ficus seems to be as finicky a plant as gardenias are, though they're nice plants to keep around if you have the patience.

vivalady on August 04, 2010:

This might just help, mine always croak!!

Steve Andrews from Lisbon, Portugal on April 25, 2009:

There are all sorts of Ficus trees planted in gardens and parks where I live and some like the Australian Banyan become really huge.

I note you include centipedes as a pest - this surprised me as I always thought all centipedes were more of a gardener's friend than enemy as they are carnivores and eat small insects.