Ficus Houseplant Losing Leaves? (How to Save it)


Why is my ficus losing leaves

Is your ficus dropping leaves all of a sudden? As a season ficus enthusiast, the same thing has happened to me on a few occasions, so I spoke to a plantsman who grows ficus trees commercially and asked what the secret is to not only prevent the leaves from falling off but how to make them regrow…

They told me that ficus plants often lose their leaves due to changes in temperature or humidity. Ficus plants prefer a temperature range of between 65ºF to 75ºF and high humidity. If the air is too dry, the ficus drops its leaves to reduce water loss. If the temperature fluctuates suddenly, the leaves drop as a sign of stress.

As the temperature can easily fluctuate indoors for a number of reasons, most people feel plants do tend to drop off at some point, and this is a. very common pain point I come across for houseplant enthusiasts like myself.

However, I should note that the lower leaves turn yellow and drop naturally as the ficus matures. Ficus leaves can also drop due to overwatering, underwatering, and too much or insufficient light.

The leaves also often drop in Winter or after repotting.

I distilled all the knowledge and experience I have gained by nursing my ficus plants back to full health in this article so keep reading to learn why your ficus is losing leaves and how to implement the solutions to save it from leaf drop…

Losing Leaves Because of Sudden Changes in Temperature and Humidity

It is important that we understand how ficus plants grow in their natural range so we can recreate these conditions in our homes…

Ficus plants are native to warm, humid tropical climates with high levels of humidity and prefer a temperature range of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC) with around 10ºF cooler at night.

Ficus are particularly sensitive to any sudden increases or decreases in temperature outside this range and drop their leaves as a sign of stress.

Due to the ficus plant’s tropical origins, all ficus houseplants prefer higher levels of humidity and need the humidity to remain consistent.

If the humidity is too low, then this saps too much moisture from the ficus’s leaves to tolerate, causing them to drop off.

From what I have observed, the most common reason for temperature and humidity fluctuations are because of:

  • Locating the ficus too near radiators and sources of indoor heating.
  • Draughts from open doors and windows.
  • The ficus has been moved to a different room.
  • Air currents from air conditioning and forced air.
  • A significant decrease in the nighttime temperature compared to the temperature during the day.

How to Save it…

The way I revived my ficus after it dropped its leaves and to mitigate further loss of leaves is to…

  • Increase the humidity around your ficus plant by misting or using a humidifier to counteract dry air. Mist any remaining leaves with water every day. This helps to create a humid micro-climate around the leaves which mimics the conditions of the ficus tree’s native environment, which should help to stop more leaves from falling off. I have also used an indoor humidifier from my other humidity loving houseplants, which I can say worked really well at keeping them. happy.
  • Locate your ficus in a room with a consistent temperature range of between 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC) with around 10ºF cooler at night. I found avoiding any drastic temperature fluctuation is key so avoid any rooms that may have frequent open doors and windows and locate the ficus on the other side of the room from a source of heat that may dry out the soil and leaves too quickly. My ficus is in my bathroom, which has a stable temperature and steamy conditions, which the ficus seems to love.
  • Try to move your ficus as little as possible. Every time you move the ficus it has to contend with a slightly different new microclimate with varying levels of humidity, airflow, and temperature, which can all cause the leaves to drop. So try to decide on a place and keep it there, I know this can be difficult!
  • Keep the ficus out of any direct air currents (from air conditioning, forced air, or draughts). Air currents sap moisture from the leaves and cause the temperature to fluctuate so choose your location for your ficus with this consideration.

When I lived in New York, I had the most problems with my ficus as the indoor heating upset it in the Winter, and the air con dried it out in the summer, so I moved it to the bathroom and found it kept its leaves!

Once the leaves have fallen off, it is essential to maintain stable conditions. Fiddle leaf figs often lose some leaves seasonally, and they can grow back in the Spring and Summer during active growth.

Ficus Dropping Leaves can Indicate both Overwatering and Underwatering

weeping fig losing leaves
Ficus plants (weeping fig) can lose their leaves because of overwatering and underwatering, highlighting the importance of good watering to save ficus plants.

Ficus plants are notoriously fussy about the balance of moisture in the soil.

Overwatering can create damp soil conditions, which exclude oxygen from the soil and prevent root respiration.

If the roots cannot respire, then they cannot transport moisture and nutrients to the leaves, causing them to fall off (often turning yellow before they fall off the plant).

You should consider Ficus leaf loss due to overwatering may not only be because of watering too often, but the soil can also be too damp because of poor drainage from compacted soil or because the saucers or trays underneath the pot are causing water to pool around the base of the pot.

I see pot plants sitting in saucers full of water all the time, which is a really common reason for leaves to drop off.

All of this causes the leaves to turn yellow and drop off and promotes the conditions for root rot, which is the most common reason for dying ficus plants.

However, if the soil dries out too much between each bout of watering, then this triggers the leaves to fall off as a survival strategy to prevent losing any more moisture due to the dry conditions, so you have to find the right balance of watering.

Keep in mind that drought stress can be due to:

  1. Not watering the ficus often enough.
  2. Watering the ficus too lightly so that only the top inch or so becomes moistened and the water does not infiltrate and reach the roots where it is required.

It is essential that the soil is evenly moist after each bout of watering so that the roots can uptake the moisture that they require throughout the potting soil.

As think you would guess, low humidity is often a compounding factor of drought stress and is often the cause of falling leaves.

How to Save it Dropping its Leaves due to Overwatering or Underwatering

To prevent the leaves from falling off your ficus (and to create the right conditions so that they grow back), it is important to allow the top inch of the soil to dry out between each bout of watering.

  • Water the potting soil thoroughly to the extent that excess water trickles from the drainage holes in the base of the pot. Watering generously ensures the water has infiltrated the soil properly and that the potting soil is evenly moist after watering.
  • Wait until the soil top inch of the soil feels somewhat dry between bouts of watering. Use your finger to detect moisture in the soil to inch depth to be precise about your watering, at which point you can establish the optimal frequency of watering for your ficus, according specifically to your condition. Keep in mind that ficus plants should be watered more often during active growth in the Spring and Summer, and watering should be reduced in Winter during the ficus’s dormant phase.

I often pick my ficus pot up periodically to assess the weight, which can be a good way to establish when you should water it. When the pot feels noticeably lighter, my ficus gets a good soak.

Always ensure that saucers and trays underneath the pot are emptied regularly to facilitate good drainage. Give the ficus a good mist (or buy a plant humidifier) to increase the humidity and ensure the growing conditions are favorable.

If you live in a particularly dry climate, like I used to in Southern California, I would recommend that you buy a humidifier to counteract the dry air, as I found that misting alone was not enough to create the right humidity conditions for my ficus.

Once the watering cycle has been addressed and the conditions are right, the ficus should regrow its leaves in Spring and Summer.

However, if the ficus’s roots have been sat in boggy, overwatered soil for too long, then this is likely to result in root rot, which is likely to cause the ficus to die back.

Too Much or Not Enough Sunlight

Ficus plants need a balance of bright, indirect light in the Spring and Summer to grow to their full potential indoors. Too much direct sunlight dries out and scorches the leaves, causing them to drop off to slow down the rate of moisture loss.

If the ficus is in too much shade, then the ficus does not have enough energy for photosynthesis to sustain its leaves, which causes them to fall off.

Ficus plants do not like to be moved too often as the contrast in conditions causes stress, which can also result in dropping leaves.

However, if the ficus is in too much or not enough sun, then the only way to save your plant is to move the plant to find an area of bright indirect light.

The bright indirect light provides the ficus with enough energy to grow yet protects the leaves from being scorched.

Try to move your ficus to a room without draughts or air currents and increase the humidity by misting the plant or using a plant humidifier to mitigate the stress of being moved. I find the leaves should regrow in the Spring and Summer.

I would recommend using a general houseplant fertilizer at half concentration to support the growth of new leaves.

Losing its Leaves in Winter

Now I know it can look quite shocking to see your ficus looking a bit sparse in Winter but I can assure you that ficus plants often lose some of their leaves seasonally in Winter as the cooler temperatures, lower light intensity, and fewer hours of light are contrary to their preferred conditions and are in contrast to the conditions in the tropical range.

I can tell you from my own experiences these leaves grow back in the Spring and Summer if the conditions for your ficus are favorable.

However, there are several reasons as to why the ficus may lose more leaves the normal in Winter.

Ficus needs a stable temperature range with typical room temperatures during the day and around 10F cooler at night. I find bathrooms are a great place to grow and rehabilitate ficus’s with fallen leaves.

In Winter, sometimes indoor heating is used in the evening, which raises the temperatures at night in a cycle that is contrary to the ficus’s preferred temperature cycle.

In this case, you should move the ficus to the other side of the room so it is not directly next to the source of heat and mist the leaves regularly (as heat can lower indoor humidity,) and the leaves can regrow during the active growth of the Spring and Summer.

In Winter, the ficus enters a state of dormancy, where growth slows down significantly. This means the ficus’s demand for moisture also decreases, and the roots uptake water at a much slower rate.

If you water the ficus as often as you do in Spring and Summer (during active growth), then the soil is likely to stay too damp for the ficus’s roots to tolerate, which causes the leaves to drop.

The key is to scale back your watering schedule.

Important tip: It is likely that it takes much longer for the top inch of soil to dry out in Winter, so monitor the soil’s moisture. I feel the soil regularly and lift the pot to assess its weight to ascertain whether the soil is still heavy from water or lighter due to drying out.

I personally only water my fiddle leaf fig (ficus lyrata) every 3 to 4 weeks in Winter, always ensuring the top inch of the soil feels dry. However, it is difficult to give precise advice on watering in Winter due to differences in the maturity of the plants, sizes of pots and climates, etc., so it is important to water your ficus plant according to your conditions to prevent the leaves from falling off.

I water this ficus lyrata (Fiddle leaf fig) around once per month in Winter whilst it is dormant.
I water this ficus lyrata (Fiddle leaf fig) around once per month in Winter whilst it is dormant.

Once you have scaled back the watering, the leaves should regrow in the Spring.

Why is my Ficus Plant Dropping its Leaves After Repotting?

Ficus plants drop their leaves after repotting if they have been overpotted. Larger pots have a greater capacity for soil and, therefore, a greater capacity for retaining moisture.

If you repot the ficus into a pot that is significantly larger than its previous pot, then it is likely it retains moisture for too long for the ficus to tolerate, which causes the leaves to drop as a sign of stress.

It is also best to repot your ficus in the Spring, as the ficus is always more resilient during active growth. Repotting in the Fall or Winter is likely to result in all the leaves dropping suddenly.

Other factors to be aware of after repotting is to not firm the soil too much when replanting as this can reduce the porosity of the soil and slow the drainage.

Ficus plants of all varieties are sensitive to excess moisture around the roots. Therefore the only way to re-pot ficus in a way that mitigates the risk of leaf drop (and any other houseplants) is to:

  1. Choose a pot that is only an inch or 2 in diameter larger than the previous pot. A more modest upgrade in pot size means the soil should dry out at a similar rate after watering.
  2. Ideally, choose a pot that is made of terracotta or unglazed clay, as these materials are porous, which means that the soil can dry out more evenly after watering, whereas plastic and ceramic pots can retain moisture as they are impermeable.
  3. Amend the potting soil with around 25% horticultural grit or perlite (by volume of the pot) to 75% potting soil. This creates a porous soil structure that allows excess water to drain efficiently, thus mitigating the risk of root rot and yellowing, falling leaves.
  4. Always choose a pot with drainage holes in the base and empty saucers, trays, and decorative outer regularly to avoid excess water pooling around the base of the pot, which creates damp, boggy conditions.

Note it is common for ficus plants to lose at least some of their leaves after repotting due to the stress of being moved.

As long as you have created the right conditions for your ficus with well-draining soil, misting the plant to increase the humidity and only watering when the top inch of the soil feels dry, then your ficus should recover and grow new leaves in the Spring and Summer during active growth.

Lower Leaves Falling Off

The lower leaves of most ficus plants turn yellow and drop off with age. This is a natural part of the ficus plant’s life cycle and does not indicate there is anything wrong with your ficus plant.

Ficus plants have to grow and compete for light with other plants in their natural habitat.

This means that your ficus redirects its resources from maintaining the larger lower leaves to growing taller and more leaves that are more likely to be in bright light.

My very mature ficus plants can end up looking somewhat leggy as the plant grows.

To reduce this leggy appearance, I should have. pruned m y ficus more regularly, you can prune your ficus (most ficus houseplants are actually trees) in the springtime.

As pruning plants is better explained visually watch this YouTube video for how to prune a ficus…

Key Takeaways:

  • Ficus plants lose their leaves as a reaction to temperature fluctuations, low humidity, overwatering, underwatering, and too much or not enough sunlight.
  • Ficus plants lose their leaves in Winter due to cold temperatures, fewer hours of daylight, lower humidity, and overwatering during the ficus’s Winter dormancy.
  • To save a ficus that is losing its leaves, recreate the conditions of its native environment by maintaining a consistently warm temperature of between 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC), increase the humidity with regular misting, locate the ficus in bright indirect light and always wait until the top inch of soil has dried before watering thoroughly.
  • The leaves should regrow in the Spring and Summer if the environmental causes of the dropping leaves have been adjusted.

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