Updated: May 30
The Ficus benjamina or ‘Weeping Fig’ is a fast growing tree that is commonly grown as a potted houseplant due to its ability to adapt to a variety of different growing conditions. The Weeping Fig can be temperamental when there are changes to its growing environment which results in leaf shedding. Although leaf shedding can be alarming, especially when many fall from your tree at once, it does not necessarily mean your tree is sick and new leaves will grow in place of the old ones. Our tips below will help in reducing the amount of leaves your Weeping Fig will shed throughout the year.
The Weeping Fig is native to the tropical rainforests of Asia and Australia where it can grow up to 60 feet tall and 70 feet in diameter. These trees can grow to be so large and so thick that not many plants can survive under its canopy because the thick growth blocks out sunlight for understory plants. Along with thick branches and leaves, the Weeping Fig also produces red, berry-like fruits or ‘figs’ in the wild. These fruits rarely develop when the tree is grown indoors due to a lack of sunlight and stunted growth.
The most common cultivar of the Weeping Fig has solid, green leaves, but there are variegated cultivars such as ‘Golden King’ which have variegated white and green leaves. The trees are commonly sold as either a single trunked tree or multiple trunks braided together in the same pot. As the Weeping Fig’s branches mature, they develop an arched ‘weeping’ form. When young, the wavy leaves are soft and light green in color, but thicken up and turn a darker green with age.
Although the Weeping Fig is a pretty easy plant to grow in the home, changes to their environment can cause them to lose their leaves as a stress response. Even minor changes such as shorter day lengths during the winter or drafts from an open window can cause the plant to drop its leaves. Leaf drop can also be related to inconsistency in soil moisture levels, diseases or pests so it is important to diagnose any problems right away to prevent further leaf loss or the spread of a disease or pest infestation.
Minimal leaf drop occurs naturally throughout the year as the plant makes room for new growth, but a large amount of leaves dropping at once means the tree is not happy with its current growing conditions.
Watering Amounts & Frequency
The most important part of watering your Weeping Fig is first ensuring that it is potted into a high quality potting soil that has added pumice and wood bark that allows for proper drainage and added oxygen. A well draining potting soil is necessary for plants grown indoors because their soil does not dry out as quickly as outdoor potted plants. Compact soils that contain mostly compost and perlite do not always dry out quick enough in the home environment. Depending on the size of your plant’s pot, the soil should be drying out about every 1-2 weeks. If you find that the soil is still very moist after about 2-½ to 3 weeks, your plant’s roots are at risk of rotting from excess moisture and a lack of oxygen.
A lack of oxygen and excess moisture is a recipe for bacterial growth in the soil which feeds on roots and other organic material in the soil. If left untreated, root rot will spread throughout the entire root system and eventually up through the trunk. Once a Weeping Fig’s roots have all died, the tree is not salvageable. Prune back any roots that are black or mushy and can easily be pulled away. If your tree still has healthy roots, new roots will generate from the existing ones.
Ensure your Weeping Fig’s soil is about 75% dry before watering again. The soil moisture level can be determined by simply sticking your finger a couple of inches down. If the soil feels very dry, you can water your tree. Moisture meter probes can be used for larger pots where testing only the first couple of inches will not give you an accurate picture of the moisture level deep in the pot. Potting your Weeping Fig into a pot made out of a porous material such as clay or ceramic will help absorb any excess soil moisture. Plastic pots tend to allow the soil to hold onto much more moisture.
Below are some signs to look out for when your Weeping Fig is either underwatered or overwatered.
Signs of an underwatered Weeping Fig:
Dry, curled leaves
Dry stems that can easily snap in half
Significant leaf drop
Signs of an overwatered Weeping Fig:
Yellowing leaves that are not dry
Blackening of the tips of the stems
Mold growing on the top of the soil
Sunlight should be viewed as the best food for your Weeping Fig. All plants need sunlight to thrive, especially trees. The Weeping Fig needs bright light coming from a window a majority of the day to thrive. Place your tree close to a window where the tree can get dappled or at least very bright light most of the day. Rotate your tree about every two weeks or when you water it to promote even growth and to prevent some parts of the plant from getting shaded out. If you have little to no natural sunlight in your home, it will be necessary to install a grow light. Grow lights can be purchased on Amazon or from Soltech Solutions. Grow light timing should double that of natural sunlight. For example, the Weeping Fig should receive at least 6-hrs of natural light a day therefore a grow light should be kept on for 12-hrs per day.
The Weeping Fig grows to be about only 6 feet in height when grown indoors, but can often outgrow its space as its canopy becomes larger. If your tree has outgrown its space by touching the ceiling, is obstructing living spaces or simply is growing unevenly, it can be pruned back. Pruning cuts should be made right after a node. Nodes are notches along the stem where new growth develops. Making your pruning cuts right after a node will encourage the new growth to form at that point.
Any stems that look or feel dry and can easily snap in half when bent should be cut all the way back to a thick, healthy point to encourage healthier growth. The healthier your Weeping Figs stems are, the healthier the new leaves will be. Ensure you are wearing gloves when pruning a Weeping Fig or any other type of Ficus because these plants produce a latex sap that can irritate the skin or cause illness if ingested. The sticky sap can be easily cleaned up with rubbing alcohol and a cloth or paper towel.
A Weeping Fig can easily be propagated by cuttings. Taking cuttings from the new growth that is still flexible will produce the best results. Follow the below steps for the best results.
Prune off a piece of the stem that has at least three nodes on it. Make your cut right below one of these nodes.
Remove the lower leaves from the stem, leaving only leaves at the top. (This prevents the leaves from resting in the propagation water and allows the cutting to put its energy towards root growth.)
Dip the end of the stem and node into a rooting hormone.
Place the end of the stem with the rooting hormone into room temperature water.
After roots have grown to be about 2-3 inches long, the cutting can be potted into a planter with fresh potting soil.
Since Weeping Figs are such fast growing trees, they consume a lot of nutrients. Feed your tree regularly throughout the growing season between March and September with a liquid houseplant fertilizer such as Arber All Purpose. This plant food will not only feed your Weeping Fig, but will help keep your tree’s soil and roots alive and healthy. Even if your tree looks fine, continue to regularly fertilize it throughout its life. Oftentimes these trees can quickly degrade if the roots are no longer healthy enough to sustain its fast growth.
Weeping Figs should be repotted every few years to freshen up the soil or when the tree has outgrown its pot. Over time, the living microbes that naturally live in soils and help the tree develop strong roots, die off. Potting soil also loses its structure over time and becomes very compact or doesn’t hold onto moisture any longer. If your Weeping Fig is in a large pot and repotting it cannot easily be done, removing ¼ of the existing soil and replacing it with fresh soil is fine.
If you see large roots growing up over the soil line or through the drainage holes, the roots have run out of space to grow in the pot. To avoid a root bound tree, upgrade the pot size to no more than 4” larger in diameter. If you would like to keep your tree the size it is and in the same size pot, prune back ⅓ of the roots. This will prevent the roots from becoming bound and keep the tree smaller in size.
Pests & Diseases
Insect infestations can occur on a Weeping Fig, even when grown indoors. Insect larvae can go dormant in the soil and plant parts for long periods of time before they become a problem on the plant. The most common pests include aphids, mealy bugs, mites, scale, and whitefly.
These insects often live on the underside of leaves so they can be hard to spot. Common symptoms of insect infestations are webbing, white speckling on the leaves, sticky residue on the top of the leaves (insect secretions) and black or white cylindrical looking particles on the underside of the leaves (larvae).
The best treatment for insects and bugs on your weeping fig is an insecticidal soap. Spray down the entirety of the tree ensuring you are also spraying the underside of the leaves where the pests hide.
Aside from insects and bugs, the Weeping Fig can be prone to fungal infections. The most common causes of fungal infections are excess moisture in the soil or on the leaves, honeydew excretions from insects or cross contamination from other plants. Fungal spores naturally live in the plant’s potting soil and can spread to the foliage where the spores suck the sap out of the leaves much like insects do.
The most common types of fungal infections in plants are anthracnose leaf spots, rust and powdery mildew. Anthracnose leaf spots often look like dry, dead spots with a halo around them, rust spots look like small, rust colored powder and powdery mildews look like a fine layer of white or black dust. Applying a copper fungicide to the entirety of the tree, including the underside of the leaves will kill the existing fungal spores and prevent them from spreading.
If you need help identifying pests or diseases on your Weeping Fig, our plant specialists can identify the symptoms you are seeing and recommend the right treatment for your tree.
If you have any questions about how to care for a Weeping Fig, we will be happy to assist you in a virtual telehealth appointment with one of our Plant Specialists. Please click on one of the options below to book an appointment.