Why is My Ficus Tree Dropping Leaves?

If your ficus tree has suddenly shed all its leaves, don’t think you’re a black thumb or you’ve killed the plant. Houseplant expert Madison Moulton explains the causes of this common issue and what you can do to prevent it.

A close-up of a Ficus tree leaves, its vibrant green hues reminiscent of an emerald treasure. Its surface gleams like polished jade, while its veins, like delicate brushstrokes, trace a captivating pattern across its expanse.

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Ficus trees are highly sought-after houseplants. The lush fiddle leaf fig is one of the most well-known, but other species, like the weeping fig or rubber tree, are often featured in indoor gardens.

Unfortunately, as stunning and popular as these trees are, they do come with a common issue that even experienced houseplant parents struggle with – leaf drop. Weeping figs and fiddle leaf figs are notorious for this issue (have you seen the video of a gardener taping the leaves back onto their fiddle leaf branches?). However, most ficus species grown indoors share the same issues.

There are several causes of leaf drop in ficus trees, but most are not the end of the world. With a better understanding of what makes these plants tick, you can avoid potential leaf drop in the future to ensure your plants always look lush.

Changes In Conditions

A Ficus elastica plant, commonly known as a rubber plant, showcasing its vibrant green leaves and contrasting yellow tips. Bathed in natural sunlight, the plant stands gracefully against a pristine white wall, casting a distinct shadow accentuating its intricate details.
Ficus trees may drop leaves in response to environmental changes.

One of the most common reasons for dropping leaves in ficus trees (and unfortunately, one of the hardest to avoid) is changes in environmental conditions.

Ficuses are not fans of change. This is especially true regarding temperature and humidity but applies to any environmental conditions. Accidentally leave a window open over winter where the cold air brushes through the leaves? Leaf drop. Move the plant to another room to change up your interior design? Probably leaf drop!

Any sudden changes in environmental conditions lead the tree to drop leaves as it would in its native habitat. This usually happens first when you bring the plant home, but it has the potential to happen at any point in care.

Fixes and Prevention

Once your tree starts dropping leaves due to changes in conditions, there unfortunately isn’t much you can do to fix the problem. It needs time to adapt to the new position before it can start producing new green growth again.

To prevent leaf loss throughout the year, try to keep conditions inside your home as consistent as possible. Temperatures of around 75F are ideal, along with moderate to high humidity. Also watch light levels and avoid positions where the light changes drastically throughout the year.

Repotting

A small Ficus plant, freshly unpotted, reveals its roots encased in a ball of soil. Scattered soil on the table suggests the recent upheaval. Undeterred, the plant stands ready for a new chapter.
Ficus trees react to root disturbance during repotting, resulting in stress.

Another thing fussy ficuses don’t appreciate is root disturbance. When their roots are manhandled and exposed to the air when repotting, they become stressed and may respond by dropping their leaves.

Any changes in soil conditions (if you’re using a different potting mix, for example) can also exacerbate the problem, only returning to normal once the roots have settled and adapted to their new container.

This issue is tough to avoid. You can’t forego repotting altogether to prevent dropping leaves, especially if the plant has seriously outgrown its current container. However, you can take a few steps to limit the chances of shock when repotting, preserving as many leaves as possible.

Fixes and Prevention

Like changes in conditions, leaf loss after repotting can’t really be fixed. The key lies in prevention, managing conditions before you actually start repotting by following these steps:

  • Choose your container carefully: While they are large trees, avoid choosing a container that is much larger than the current pot. It should also have drainage holes.
  • Match the soil mix: Take a look at the texture of the soil currently and try to match conditions as best as you can.
  • Repot quickly: Don’t leave the roots exposed to the air for long periods when repotting.
  • Water immediately: Hydrating the roots helps them quickly settle into their new home after exposure.
  • Replace in the same spot: Don’t move the plant to a new home after repotting. Keep conditions as consistent as possible to limit stress.

Incorrect Watering

A close-up of a rubber plant softly misted by a small blue plastic sprayer. The leaves have a deep green color and are large and glossy. Water droplets glisten on the plant's glossy, deep green leaves, creating a mesmerizing contrast.
Inconsistent watering, whether too much or too little, triggers ficus leaf drop.

The next reason for leaf drop is much easier to control – inconsistent watering. I have found that my ficus trees (Ficus elastica in particular) handle dry soil quite well. But they can’t handle inconsistencies in watering, where the soil stays moist one month and is completely dry the next.

Issues with under or overwatering can also cause the leaves to turn yellow and drop off the stems, as in many other houseplants. Lack of moisture means the cells lack the water required to hold their structure, leading to wilting and possible leaf loss. Excess moisture damages the roots and limits airflow in the soil, again causing the leaves to drop.

Fixes and Prevention

Careful attention to your watering routine will help prevent this problem. If you’re a forgetful waterer, set a reminder to check the soil every couple of days. The right time to water will differ depending on conditions and the size of the pot, but it’s generally best to water when the top half of the soil has just dried out.

If you suspect you have underwatered, place the pot in a bath or sink to water, allowing the soil to soak up moisture from the drainage holes. In cases of overwatering, allow the soil to dry out significantly before you consider watering again. In cases of root rot, you will need to repot and trim the affected roots.

Low Light Levels

A close-up of a Ficus leaves under sunlight. The leaf is glossy, leathery, and deep green with lighter green edges.  A translucent effect is produced by sunlight shining through the leaves, exposing their intricate vein pattern.
When there is not enough light, ficus leaves fall, especially in dimly lit rooms.

Ficus trees often appear on ‘low-light friendly’ houseplant lists. Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite match up to conditions in their native habitats. While they are accustomed to dappled shade outdoors, they can also grow happily in moderate full sun. In other words, they appreciate higher light levels more than low ones.

If you place your ficus in a dark room with small windows or only north-facing windows, you may see them slowly drop leaves over time. Even keeping them in a bright room but far away from the light source can lead to dropped leaves. If you notice the stems stretching and new leaves looking small and diminished, light is probably the cause.

Fixes and Prevention

The best spot for your ficus tree is in front of an east-facing window. They will appreciate some gentle, direct morning sun with bright indirect light for the rest of the day. Avoid placing them in low-light areas, especially if you want new growth to look dense and lush.

When you first move the tree to a brighter area, leaves may continue to drop off due to changes in conditions. However, with a bit of time to adapt, new stem and leaf growth should be much stronger going forward.

Pests and Diseases

A close-up of a cluster of tiny, pear-shaped white aphids, feasting on the vibrant green surface of a leaf. These microscopic, soft-bodied insects are closely gathered beneath the leaf, actively extracting their nourishing juices through their feeding process.
Ficus leaf drop can be a warning sign of sap-sucking pest infestation.

The final issue is a little harder to avoid. If your ficus trees encounter any issues with pests and diseases, they will often respond by dropping their leaves.

Mild infestations are usually not a concern, but if sap-sucking pests start to damage the internal structures of leaves or stems, those leaves will likely become discolored and drop off the plant. Diseases are less common indoors but can still negatively impact growth, leading to leaf drop.

Fixes and Prevention

Common pests like spider mites, scale, and mealybugs can usually be managed with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Avoid spraying the plant to remove the bugs with strong water streams, as this can cause even more sensitive leaves to drop off the plant.

Isolate the tree during treatment, following up with applications every couple of weeks until you’re sure the problem is gone. With a bit of time to recover, new growth shouldn’t struggle.

Although there is no surefire way to prevent problems with pests and diseases, the correct care and environment can make problems less likely. Check your plants regularly for signs of concern to catch them early.

Final Thoughts

Leaf drop is one of the most common gripes ficus owners have. But with a little more understanding of the causes, you can prevent these problems in the future.

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