It happens all the time: you see a beautiful weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) on sale at a really good price, you buy it, bring it home, install it in your living room… and the leaves start to turn yellow and drop off, first just a few, then hordes of them, until the poor indoor tree has more bare branches than leaves. This happens so often I sometimes wonder if the name “weeping fig” refers not to the plant’s somewhat arching branches, as we are told, but to the fact it weeps leaves by the ton! It’s unpleasant, disconcerting… and can scare a beginning gardener into believing they don’t have a green thumb.
The truth is, though, this massive leaf loss is not your fault… and you can prevent it once you understand what is really going on.
You see, weeping figs don’t like the radical changes in their growing conditions! And the move into your home was more of a shock than you thought!
The typical weeping fig sold in North America just went through a truly tough move! It probably grew for most of its life outdoors for several years under the intense Florida sun, then suddenly it is dug up, stuffed into a pot, dumped into a dark truck, and shipped north. If it’s on sale at such a great price, it’s because the store knows the plant is about to fall apart and wants to get rid of it while it’s still saleable. You buy it, bring it home, install it in your living room or dining room… all within 2 or 3 weeks of it being dug up and moved to a radically different climate. Talk about trauma! Unable to cope with such a sudden change, the plant shows its distress by massively losing leaves.
But is doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a way of helping a weeping fig transition from the tropics to your living room with a minimum of stress.
Plastic Bag to the Rescue
To acclimate a weeping fig, seal it inside in a large transparent bag (a dry cleaning bag or large transparent garbage bag will be necessary for larger specimens) as soon as you bring it home. Place it in bright light at first, but out of full sun, otherwise the plant will cook inside its “temporary greenhouse”. This closed environment will provide extra high humidity and humidity is like a spa for plants: soothing and healing. Essentially, you’ll be letting your plant recover from the shock of its unexpected move under the best conditions possible.
After two weeks, move the plant to its final place of residence if that is darker (a well acclimated fig tree can tolerate almost any lighting, even a very dark location). But keep it under wraps.
After two more weeks (that is, a month after you first placed it inside the bag), the plant will have largely adapted to the lower light. Now it’s time to start getting it used to open air.
The air in your home will be much drier than humid air to which the fig tree grew accustomed during its stay the bag, so acclimate it gradually. Every morning, poke a hole in the bag with a pencil. Over time, as the bag becomes fuller and fuller of holes, the plant will become more and more acclimated to drier air. By the time the bag is in shreds, your fig tree will be perfectly well acclimatized and you can remove what remains of the bag.
And there you go: a perfectly acclimated fig tree that will not lose its leaves.
Bag Other Houseplants Too
This same technique also works on other large indoor plants you want to acclimate to your conditions, particularly the croton (Codiaeum variegatum), also known for the massive leaf drop when it changes locations. Stuff them into a transparent bag until they’re used to the new light conditions, then starting shredding the bag so they can slowly adapt to indoor humidity too. It couldn’t be simpler!