Please help save my ficus benjamina!

Discussion in 'Indoor and Greenhouse Plants' started by genywilly, Nov 22, 2020.

  1. genywilly

    genywilly Member

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    Dear forum experts,

    I'm reaching out for your help with my ficus benjamina. I bought it from Home Depot around July 2020 with a decent amount of foilage but also signs of leaf loss (withering and falling leaves), though nothing alarming. At home it continued to lose leaves, and I kept hoping it would eventually habituate to its new surroundings. Instead the leaves continued to fall, and I observed both green leaves falling, as wells leaves that first withered and then fell as dried, dead leaves. I could see new leaves starting to grow, but the green tips would turn brown and dry before actually growing into a leaf. Then the branches also began to die, with the bark becoming papery and seeming to separate from the wood beneath. I've been pruning off dead branches as I go along, but now the "dieback" has progressed to the main trunk and I think something more needs to be done to save my tree!

    Note that I have also observed a few scales (black round circles on leaves) and also mealybugs (white and powdery with scaly/shell-like back) which I remove promptly and I believe I've kept this under control, i.e. right now there aren't any of these pests on the plant. I've also found a single centipede in the soil before and a couple of ants as well, but no infestation. I've checked the soil and the plant is not rootbound. I have been very careful not to overwater -- the tree has never sat in water, I use a skewer inserted in the soil to check humidity and water as needed, and the roots look healthy and are pretty much unchanged from when I got the tree. The tree's water uptake seems to be decent as well, as the soil doesn't stay wet after watering.

    IMG_3705.JPG
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    Dead leaves

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    New leaves that were trying to grow but have started turning brown and will probably die

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    Dead branches - notice the ripples on the bark, those sections are all papery and the outer bark feels separated from the tree beneath.

    IMG_3713.JPG IMG_3710.JPG
    The point of progression of branch/trunk death (i.e. ripples on the bark, papery-feeling), and the transition to firm and healthy-feeling trunk. The skewer in the photo is pointing to an area of papery bark. Note that those black lines/spots were present on the tree since purchase and haven't really changed; they emerge close to the end of the main trunk (4/5 of the way up) and extend to the end of the three main branches, and are not present on the newer/younger branch shootings.

    IMG_3711.JPG

    Thank you for your help!
     
  2. wcutler

    wcutler Esteemed Contributor Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout 10 Years

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    I just have two things to comment on, which are not helpful in the most required way. I can't actually tell if this plant is alive. Shouldn't we be seeing some green under the bark? Someone else needs to answer that and the questions about the loose bark.
    My two comments are:
    The block dots are lenticels, breathing holes. I only see a photo of them in a video, but the closeup of the trunk is right at the start:
    Braided Ficus benjamina - YouTube
    No need to worry about those.

    These plants are notoriously unhappy about being moved. Losing leaves is what they do best. So if it is alive, you just have to tough it out until it recovers from the move and resigns itself to its new living arrangement.
     
  3. Sulev

    Sulev Active Member

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    Looks like serious fungal damage to me.
     
  4. genywilly

    genywilly Member

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    @wcutler - Thanks for the response! The area where the trunk is firm and the bark is not papery (e.g. the main trunk), there is definitely still green when I scrape the bark with my fingernails. Where the bark is papery, underneath is darker and brown with a green tinge.

    Thanks for answering about the breathing holes!

    I keep waiting for it to habituate since it came to my home 5-6 months ago, but with the branches dying towards to the main trunk, I'm worried that I need to do something more for it.

    @Sulev - Oh no! Would you mind sharing how you can tell it's fungal? And more importantly, what could I do to save it? I've considered cutting (sawing) the trunk at the point where it's still firm and healthy as I've seen some ficus come back like that (online). Where has the fungus infested, and would cutting the top off the tree remove the disease?
     
  5. Sulev

    Sulev Active Member

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    1. wrinkled bark in damaged areas
    2. darkened lenticels in damaged areas
    3. some dark pycnidia in damaged areas
    4. the sick look of snags in damaged areas
    5. distinct border between damaged and healthy bark
    etc

    Possibly Phomopsis cinerascens or Neoscytalidium dimidiatum (not sure though).
    Don't have any solutions to offer.

    Maybe you'll find something from here:
    Dieback and Sooty Canker of Ficus Trees in Egypt and its Control
    http://phytopath.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/cpds-archive/vol61/CPDS_Vol_61_No_1_(3-6)1981.pdf
    http://www.scielo.org.mx/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1027-152X2017000300203
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2020

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