How to Revive a Dying Ficus Houseplant

Why is my ficus dying

A dying ficus plant is usually because of underwatering, overwatering or a sudden change in temperature. If the leaves are turning yellow and dropping off in Winter, this is a normal seasonal cycle and does not mean your ficus is dying.

Here are some of the most common symptoms and causes of dying ficus plants:

Symptoms:Causes of a Dying Ficus:
Leaves Falling Off:Sudden fluctuations in temperature outside of the preferred range of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC). Overwatering, underwatering, low humidity, low nutrients and not enough light all contribute to falling leaves
Leaves Turning Yellow:The ficus’s leaves often turn yellow before falling off which can be due to low nutrients soil, pots that are too small, too much sun and because of overwatering or underwatering.
Leaves turning Yellow and Falling off in Winter:Ficus leaves often drop off in Winter due to lower light intensity, fewer hours of light and cooler temperatures. Overwatering in Winter whilst the ficus is not in active growth can cause root rot with yellowing/falling leaves.
Leaves turning Brown and Crispy:Low humidity, and soil that is too dry between each bout of watering which causes the leaves to transpire too much water, results in brown crispy leaves.
Ficus Dying After Moving or Repotting the PlantFicus plants are extraordinarily fussy about the consistency of their growing conditions and any change to their environment can cause the leaves to drop with a dying appearance.

To revive your dying ficus, replicate some of the conditions of its native environment with higher humidity, a temperature range of between 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC), bright indirect light and only water when the top inch of soil feels slightly dry.

Keep reading to learn how to implement the solutions to revive your dying ficus…

Ficus Plant Dropping Leaves (Overwatering and Temperature Fluctuations)

  • Symptoms. Ficus dropping all of its leaves suddenly, sometimes just the lower leaves start dropping. Leaves can turn yellow before dropping.
  • Causes. Sudden temperature change, repotting, change in humidity and light levels, overwatering and underwatering.

Ficus plants are extraordinarily sensitive to any change to their environment and drop their leaves at the first sign of stress which can be for a variety of reasons.

Usually the reason for a ficus dropping its leaves is because of overwatering or a sudden fluctuation in temperature. Ficus plants need well draining soil and prefer a consistent temperature range of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC). If the temperature changes suddenly or the soil is too damp, the ficus drops its leaves.

However it should be noted that the leaves of ficus plants such as ficus benjamina and ficus lyrata (fiddle leaf fig) often turn yellow and drop their leaves in Winter in response to lower levels of light and cooler temperatures. This is a normal part of the life cycle of ficus plants when grown indoors and is not a serious cause for concern.

The leaves regrow in Spring when the hours of daylight increase.

Fluctuations in Temperature, Humidity and Light Causing Leaf Drop…

Ficus plants such as ficus benjamina (weeping fig) or ficus lyrata (fiddle leaf fig) are native to tropical South Asia and thrive in warm, humid climates.

Ficus Lyrata (Fiddle leaf fig)
Ficus Lyrata (Fiddle leaf fig)

Indoors ficus plants thrive off consistency in temperature (with a preferred daytime temperature of between 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC) with an night time temperature of between 60°F and 70°F (15°C to 21°C) and moderately high humidity.

Sudden temperature and humidity fluctuations that result in your ficus dropping leaves can be because…

  • Indoor heating which can often raise the temperature at night compared to the daytime temperature which is in contrast to the ficus’s preferred temperature cycle.
  • The use of air conditioning, forced air or draughts from open windows and doors which can lower the humidity and cause the leaves to lose too much moisture which causes them to fall off as a sign of stress.
  • Suddenly moving the ficus from one area of the house to another which may have a slightly different micro-climate which can be enough to cause the leaves to drop.

Ficus plants also prefer bright indirect light. Too much sun can cause the leaves to turn brown or drop off whereas with too little light, the ficus does not have the energy to support the leaves, which causes the leaves to drop off.

Overwatering and Underwatering…

Ficus’s prefer a balance of a well draining potting mix that dries slightly between each bout of watering.

If the soil stays damp consistently or is perhaps overly compacted then this can exclude oxygen from around the ficus’s roots which interferes with the roots ability to draw up nutrients and moisture.

If the roots cannot draw up moisture and nutrients the leaves turn yellow and fall off.

Too much moisture around the roots, resulting in dropping leaves can be caused by:

  • Watering too often, which causes the soil to be boggy.
  • Slow draining or compacted soil.
  • Saucers, trays and decorative outer pots which causes excess water to pool around the base of the pot which results constantly saturated soil.

If the ficus is water too lightly or not often enough it can also loose its leaves. A common problem is that the soil has been allowed to dry out to such an extent that the soil becomes hydrophobic and repels water off the surface of the soil, without infiltrating and reaching the roots where it is required.

Leaves Dropping After Repotting or Moving the Ficus

Ficus plants are so fastidious about the consistency of their conditions that they can even drop their leaves after repotting or just being moved to a different spot in the house.

Even if the conditions are all within the favorable range for ficus plants including humidity, temperature etc. the leaves can drop due to the contrast of conditions.

Sometimes a change in the potting soil after repotting can also be responsible if the new potting soil retains moisture for longer then the ficus is used to.

Larger pots also contain more soil and therefore dry out more slowly, so avoid repotting to a much larger pot and use a pot that is just one size up.

How to Revive a Ficus That is Dropping Leaves

To revive a ficus with falling leaves it is important to recreate the conditions of its native environment with high humidity, temperatures between 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC), bright indirect light and watering when the top inch of the soil has dried. New leaves can emerge in the Spring.

  • Mist the ficus as often as everyday in dryer climates or to counteract dry air currents. Mist any of the remaining leaves and branches, even if all the leaves have fallen off as the goal if to create a humid micro climate that replicates the conditions of the ficus’s native environment. You can also use a special plant humidifier (available online and in garden centers) which are particularly helpful in very dry climates and can maintain humidity without having to mist everyday. Grouping other houseplants that have a preference for humidity close together can also help to create the right environment.
  • Maintain a room temperature of ideally between 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC) and avoid any sudden temperature fluctuations. Consistent temperatures is the most important factor to reviving ficus’s with dropping leaves so avoid any draughty areas from open doors or windows and locate the ficus away from air currents such as air conditioning or any other source of heat.
  • Always water the ficus so that the potting soil is evenly moist. It is important to water generously, so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot, to ensure the moisture has infiltrated the soil and reached the roots where it is required. If the soil has dried out completely it can repel water so scratch back the first inch or so of potting soil and use your finger to detect if the soil has moistened or not. If the soil feels dry submerge the ficus in a basin of lukewarm water for 15 minutes or so to properly re-hydrate the potting soil and addressed the drought stress that has caused the leaves to drop off.
  • Wait until the first inch of the soil has dried before watering the ficus again. There is no universal advice for watering ficus’s as the frequency of watering can depend on a number of factors such as climate, size of the pot and the maturity of the ficus. To ensure the optimal balance of watering, feel the top inch of soil with your finger periodically after watering and time how long it takes for the first inch of soil to feel somewhat dry before watering. This method helps you to establish the right frequency of watering for your ficus in your environment.
  • Place the ficus in an area of bright indirect light or find a way to shade the ficus from direct light. Too much sun scorches the leaves and contributes to them falling off whereas too little sun denies the ficus of enough energy to supports its leaves and also results in the leaves dropping. Moving the ficus can also contribute to the leaves falling off due to shock, but if it is not getting the light it requires the ficus eventually dies back, so find a nice bright area for your ficus.
  • Use a half strength all purpose houseplant fertilizer in the Spring to revive the ficus. Once you have adjusted the conditions and create the optimal environment for the ficus the leaves can regrow. However it takes a lot of energy and nutrient to regrow leaves. Use a fertilizer at half strength (ficus can be sensitive to too much fertilizer so always use half strength) in the Spring to provide the ficus with all the nutrients it requires to regrow its leaves. Do not use fertilizer at any other time the Spring or Summer as ficus can enter a state of dormancy in Winter and fertilizer is likely to be harmful for the plant.

With the preferred conditions, the ficus should be able to recover and regrow its leaves in the Spring and Summer in response to more hours of bright light.

Consistency is key for ficus plants so avoid moving, repotting or changing the environment in anyway (creating air currents from air conditioning or open windows for example) whilst the ficus is regrowing leaves.

If the roots have been in damp soil for too long or it has been exposed to extreme cold, the ficus is unlikely to recover.

Ficus Leaves Turning Yellow and Dropping Off

  • Symptoms. Ficus leaves turning yellow, and eventually falling off.
  • Causes. Usually the potting soil is low nutrients, the pot is too small, cooler then preferred temperatures, too much sun or because of overwatering. Contributing factors to leaves turning yellow are underwatering, low humidity or too much air flow from indoor air currents.

Ficus leaves turning yellow is most often because the ficus roots have exhausted the potting soil of nutrients or due to overwatering. Ficus need the first inch of the potting soil to dry slightly between bouts of watering. If the potting soil is consistently boggy, the ficus leaves turn yellow and eventually drop off.

Low nutrients and small pots and too much sun causing ficus leaves to turn yellow

In my experience, ficus growers keep their indoor ficuses in the same pot, and in the same place for a long time to avoid disrupting the notoriously sensitive ficus which is a sensible precaution.

However if they are in the same pot for a very long time, the roots can completely exhaust the potting soil of available nutrients which results in drooping, yellowing ficus leaves with poor growth.

It is also worth scratching some soil back to check if the roots are pot bound, in which case the ficus may also be struggling with a lack of moisture in the soil, which can compound the problem of yellowing leaves.

All ficus houseplant tend to grow best in bright indirect light. If they are in direct sunlight, particularly in Summer, the leaves can scorch yellow.

Temperatures below the optimal range can contribute to yellowing leaves…

Ficus plants are native to tropical South Asia and prefer warm and consistent temperatures of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC) and around 10ºF cooler at night as this replicates the natural cycle of temperatures in their natural environment.

If your house is on the cooler side of these temperatures, then the ficus leaves can start to turn yellow as a sign of stress.

If temperatures decrease suddenly then the ficus is more likely to drop its leaves entirely.

Overwatering and slow draining or compacted soil can cause yellowing ficus leaves

Ficus plants are particularly sensitive to too much moisture around the roots due to overwatering or slow draining soils. If the first inch of soil does not have a chance to dry between watering this can cause root rot which causes the ficus’s leaves to turn yellow.

Ficus plants need porous aerated potting soil (typically amended with some grit or perlite) to allow for oxygen to reach the roots so they can respire.

If the soil is constantly saturated, then the water can exude oxygen from the soil which prevents root respiration. If the ficus roots cannot respire then they are unable to draw up moisture or nutrients to transport around the plant, which results int the leaves turning yellow and eventually dropping off.

Too much moisture around the roots can be cause by overwatering, slow draining soils or saucers, trays and decorative outer pots that cause water to pool around the base of the ficus’s pot which keeps the soil consistently boggy.

How to Revive a Dying Ficus with Yellow Leaves

Reviving ficus plants with yellowing leaves due to low nutrient soil, small pots and too much sun…

  • Inspect the roots to see if they are pot bound and repot the ficus if necessary. Scratch away the top inch of soil to check the roots. If the are all pressed against the side of the pot them the ficus has likely exhausted the soil of nutrients and there may not be enough soil around the roots to properly hold moisture (which also causes yellow leaves). Repot the ficus into a pot just one size up from the previous pot (another inch or so in diameter). If the pot is too large the soil dries out too slowly for the ficus to tolerate which causes yellowing leaves.

If it is Winter, wait until Spring to repot as this is the time of year the ficus is more resilient to a change in conditions.

  • If the ficus roots are not pot bound then use a general houseplant fertilizer at half strength in the Spring and Summer. An all purpose houseplant fertilizer contains all the nutrients the ficus needs to avoid any green leaves turning yellow. Yellowing leaves due to low nutrients can turn green again if the roots can access the nutrients before the leaves turn completely yellow and start to fall off. Dilute the fertilizer to half the strength recommended on the instructions as ficus roots are particularly sensitive to excess fertilizer.
  • Move the ficus to an area of bright indirect light if the leaves are in full sun. The individual scorched yellow leaves do not recover and are likely to fall off in the short term. Moving the ficus is also likely to cause the leaves to fall off, so maintain an even temperature range and mist the plant the create a more favorable environment to mitigate the tress of transplant shock.

Scorched yellow leaves do not recover, but yellowing leaves due to a nutrient deficit can revive their appearance. Due to the ficus’s sensitivity the ficus is likely to loose some leaves after any intervention that results in even a slight change to its environment.

As long as you follow the best practices of care for ficus plants with the right balance of light, watering and temperature the ficus can regrow its leaves in the following Spring and Summer.

How to revive yellowing ficus leaves due to temperature stress

  • Ficus plants prefer a day time temperature range of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC) with around 10 degrees cooler at night. The only way to save the ficus is to replicate its preferred temperature cycle by maintaining consistent temperature during the day and ideally a slight temperature drop at night. Practically speaking, this means locating your ficus on the other side of the room from any sources of direct heat and avoiding areas where there is likely to be a draught from air conditioning or open doors and windows. Ficus plants do not like any sudden temperature fluctuations.

How to revive a ficus with yellow leaves due to overwatering or underwatering…

  • Only water the ficus when the top inch of the soil feels somewhat dry. Ficus plants grow in well draining soil and do not tolerate saturated potting soil around their roots. Feel the soil to a fingers depth to determine when it feels slightly dry, the give it a good soak.
  • Water ficus plants less often in Winter during its dormant period. Ficus plants need less water in Winter when they are not actively growing. With lees light the ficus is not actively growing which means the roots draw up less water and the soil typically stays moist for longer. Moniter the soils moisture to ensure that the top inch of soil has dried before watering and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
  • Empty any saucers, trays and decorative outer pots regularly to prevent excess water pooling around the base of the pot. Good drainage is essential for ficus plants to avoid root rot and yellowing leaves.

Once the ficus’s leaves turn yellow they do not typically turn green again and usually drop off, even if you have addressed the environmental problem that caused the leaves to turn yellow in the first place.

However, given more favorable conditions the ficus should be able to recover and regrow new, healthy green leaves in the Spring and Summer, when the plant is actively growing.

Ficus Leaves Turning Brown (Low Humidity, Underwatering and Hydrophobic soil)

  • Symptoms. Leaves turning brown at the edges or drying out and wilting/falling off.
  • Causes. Low levels of humidity due to air conditioning, draughts and dry indoor air. Not watering often enough or with enough water and water resistant soil.

The reason for ficus leaves turning brown is usually because the leaves are losing too much water due to dry indoor sapping moisture from the leaves causing them to turn brown and crispy. A lack of water at the roots due to underwatering and overly dry water resistant soil can cause drought resulting in brown leaves.

Low Humidity

Ficus are subtropical plants that prefer around 40% humidity, whereas the air indoors is typically around 10% and can fluctuate due to indoor heating, air condition and even draughts from opening and closing doors or windows.

The discrepancy between preferred humidity and indoor dry air usually results in the leaf edges turn brown, dry and crispy.

Prolonged exposure to low humidity or perhaps if you live in a particularly arid climates (such as Arizona) usually causes the leaves to fall off as the ficus is losing too much moisture from the leaves.

The solution is to:

  • Mist your ficus every day if the leaves are turning brown. Misting helps to recreate a humid micro climate and reduces water loss from the ficus’s leaves which prevents them from turning brown. If you cannot mist your leaves everyday, then grouping other humid loving houseplants (ferns, peace lilies etc.) together can also create a more humid environment. There are also specific plant humidifiers available online which can help create the right conditions for your ficus to recover.

Underwatering and Hydrophobic Soil

Sometimes people make the mistake of watering their ficus plants with the right frequency, but they do not use enough water, which means the the moisture does not infiltrate all the soil and reach the ficus’s roots where it required.

If there has been too long between each bout of watering the soil can dry out too much and become hydrophobic, which means it repels water off the surface of the soil and down the side of pot without infiltrating the soil and reaching the roots.

You can often tell if the soil is hydrophobic if you scratch back some of the soil after watering and the underlying soil is still dry.

The resulting drought causes the ficus’s leaves to turn brown and drop off.

The solution is to:

  • Always water your ficus with a generous soak. Whilst it is important to wait for the top inch of the soil to dry, it is imperative the the soil gets a really good soak when it is watered, so that the soil evenly moist.Use enough water so that excess water trickles from the drainage holes in the base to ensure the moisture has infiltrated properly.
  • Place your ficus in a basin of lukewarm water for around 10 minutes, ensuring that the root ball is submerged. By submerging the ficus’s root ball, the soil has a chance to absorb water properly, so that it can reach the roots and alleviate the drought stress.

Once the soil has had a good soak in a basin, the structure of the soil should improve, so that the water can more readily infiltrate properly, the next time you water your ficus.

(Read my article, How to Revive a Dying Fiddle Leaf Fig).

Key Takeaways:

  • The reason for a dying ficus, is often because of a sudden fluctuation in temperature or overwatering. Ficus plants prefer a daytime temperature range of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC) and require the first inch of the potting soil to dry slightly between bouts of watering. If the temperature changes drastically the ficus drops its leaves.
  • The leaves of ficus plants turn yellow and drop off in Winter in response to cooler temperatures, fewer hours of light and a lower light intensity. This is a normal seasonal cycle for ficus’s grown indoors. The ficus should regrow its leaves in Spring.
  • Ficus leaves turn brown and crispy at the edges if the humidity is too low or the soil has dried out completely between bouts of watering. Dry air indoors saps moisture from the ficus’s leaves, turning them brown and crispy.
  • To revive dying ficus plants, recreate the conditions of their native environment by increasing the humidity, maintain an even temperature range of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC) and wait until the top inch of the soil feels dry before watering generously.

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