Questions on: Fig
Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service
Q: We have a fig tree in our living room. During the years, the leaves have become quite dusty. I began the task of taking a damp cloth and wiping each leaf individually. Cleaning the leaves this way will take quite some time. Do you have any helpful hints on how to clean the leaves? (e-mail reference)
A: If it is moveable, take it into the shower and rinse it with tepid water. Otherwise, I know of no shortcut to cleaning the leaves other than one at a time. Hire a young teen to do the job for a couple of dollars.
A: Thanks for the informative letter and photos. The tree will recover where it is, but would do better if you could provide artificial light until you can move it back to a sunnier location. As for pruning, I'm certain that some will be needed, but you can decide on that later this year. At that time, you will need to decide if the plant is worth keeping based on what it may look like after all the dead branches are removed. As I have said in previous responses on this subject, usually the first nip of cold damages the foliage, but the foliage protects the cambial tissue for the most part. In a defoliated state or with the leaves dead, there is no transpiration taking place around the foliage that could act as any kind of protection. Consequently, the cambial tissue and leaf buds are killed. In summary, you have not lost your heirloom, just shook it up a little.
Q: Many years ago, I was given a large fiddle leaf fig. It did not get enough light because it was in a house we only went to on weekends. All the leaves dropped off, so it was just a potted stalk. We put the pot outside and little by little it started to grow leaves and became healthy. We moved the plant to the city, where it had lots of light. The plant thrived and became quite spectacular with huge, shiny leaves. The room has southeastern exposure and the plant was set back in the room, so it did not get direct sun. The only change that I can think of is that we put on shades to block out some of the light during the summer. The plant became unhappy and started to lose leaves. We tried repotting, but that didn't help. We moved the plant to another room that has a northern orientation, but strong, filtered light all day. We are careful not to overwater and we have given it fertilizer and nitrogen during the spring and summer months. New leaves appeared, but they are very small and sparse. Is there anything we can do? (e-mail reference)
A: It might be that the pot the plant is in is not free-draining. It’s just a guess because it sounds like you have done everything I would have suggested.
Q: I just inherited a fig tree that has waxy buildup. If I take the leaves off, will they regrow? Is that a good way to fix my problem? I am allergic to chemicals, so I would like to use a natural ingredient. (e-mail reference)
A: I have no idea what you are referring to when you say waxy buildup. If you can find it, Schultz's Fungicide 3 is a natural (neem tree) product that has fungicidal, insect and mite control. If you pick off all of the leaves, there may or may not be a regrowth. It all depends on how much vigor the tree has. In most cases, it will grow new foliage in four to six weeks using grow lights set at 12 hours plus per day.
Q: I have had a weeping fig tree in my house since 1979. I need to trim some of the overgrown branches, even though they are beautiful and healthy. Will the branches root if they are planted in a pot of dirt and kept moist? Thank you. (e-mail reference)
A: Only with great luck. Cuttings are possible under greenhouse conditions using a mist system, but only if the branches are no more than 10 to 12 inches long.
Q: Is there a proper way to move fig trees? I have one that is several years old and is well established. I want to move it to a new home. I was told that fig trees don't even like to be moved across the room! Is there a way to move it without putting it through stress and hurting it? I enjoy your articles every week. (Starkweather, ND)
A: Get some old, dry cleaning bags and double-wrap the tree. Try to move the tree when the weather is as mild as it is going to be. Place the tree in an area of the new home that is as environmentally close to where it presently sits. Be sure the plant is well-hydrated before wrapping and moving. Uncover the tree as soon as possible after moving it. There is no guarantee, but this is the best recommendation I can come up with. If it starts dropping leaves at the new location, don't panic. Allow the tree to go through the process of readjustment. It will releaf in four to six weeks. Treat the tree as you normally would through the whole process.
Q: My sister-in-law’s fig tree has small, black, sticky egg like casings on the stems, but not anywhere else. She did find a web hanging from one of the stems. Can you tell me what is on her fig trees stems? What can she do to get rid of it and keep it from coming back? (e-mail reference)
A: Your sister-in-law has a fig tree that is infested with scale and spider mites. If it is as bad as I think it is, she might be better off dumping the plant. Sprays and wipe-downs, along with the possible use of systemics may be needed to bring everything under control. However, very few people will give up without a fight, so I have a few suggestions. Take a cotton swab or cloth that is soaked in rubbing alcohol and wipe the scale spots off the stem. Purchase some Fungicide 3, which is an insecticide, miticide and fungicide. Spray all the surfaces of the plant. If that doesn’t work, then bring in the heavy artillery, which is Orthene. This is a system/contact product that kills on contact through internal absorption into the vascular system of the plant. For step 3, I suggest having the plant outdoors for the summer, if possible. If not, then just the application of the systemic material.
Q: Have you heard of a weeping fig going dormant? Would Superthrive help bring the plant back to life? (e-mail reference)
A: It could go dormant, but that usually only happens when they are in their native tropical or subtropical habitat. Because they were treated as houseplants, the likely cause of the leaf drop is overwatering or a cold/hot, dry draft. Superthrive, or any fertilizer for that purpose, only works when the plant is in active growth phases. Otherwise, “bringing it back to life” would be like trying to feed a cadaver a meal to resurrect it.
Q: I have a brown knot growing between two limbs of my fig tree. I have been told it’s a gall, something like cancer. I have cut off the knot but it’s growing back bigger than before. What can I do about the knot? (e-mail reference)
A: Most galls are nonlethal to trees, but are disfiguring. Total removal is necessary to keep it from regrowing. I don’t know the cause of the gall on your fig tree, but it is usually a mite or psyllid that has “stung” the vascular tissue and laid eggs. It causes irrational cell proliferation, which is analogous to cancer in mammals, but in most cases is nonlethal. If the gall cannot be cut out without extensively damaging the tree, I would suggest leaving it alone to see what eventually happens.
Q: My fiddle fig leaf has been with me for many years. I have fought off spider mites with alcohol and cotton but lately brown spots have developed on the leaves and a lot of leaves have fallen off. What is the cause and what can I do about it? (E-mail reference)
A: I suspect scale insects. Look carefully on the stems near their tips and along toward the main trunk. These pests will appear as little bumps that may be the same color as the bark. If the infestation is light (not likely from your description) you can rub them off with a swab soaked in alcohol. If the infestation is heavy, then you are better off getting rid of the plant.
Q: My friend has a well-established and very healthy looking white fig tree. However, when the fruit ripens (green to yellow) the fig is all dried up inside. (E-mail reference)
A: Unfortunately I have no experience growing figs,. I would love to be able to as I enjoy the fruit so much. Sorry!
Q: We’re an eighth grade class at Platte Colony School and we’ve been studying plants in science. Our teacher brought a "Blackie" fig to school after having it outside all summer and it appeared very healthy. It now looks sick. It gets new, healthy-looking leaves, but when the leaves are full grown they get diseased looking, after which they shrivel up and die. We are enclosing a sample of the diseased leaf. Can you tell us what is wrong with this plant, and perhaps suggest a way we might treat it? (Platte, S.D.)
A: Your plant sample arrived in pretty poor condition. A lot of secondary decay had begun, so diagnosis was difficult. When sending plant leaf samples be sure to send them dry, in a zip-lock bag. I have no listing in my references for a "Blackie" fig. However, based on what you have told me and knowing what typical care is given houseplants, I suspect that the fig is being infected with one of the water molds, either Pythium or Phytophthora. These typically develop in containers that are poorly drained or where water is splashed on the foliage at the time of watering. I suggest repotting the plant in soil that is not as water-retentive in a container that is free-draining. Try to locate the plant in a bright but indirect light location, and increase the air circulation around the plant. Allow the soil surface to dry completely before watering again, and try hard to not splash the water on the foliage. I don't like to recommend pesticides for houseplants, especially when they involve young people like you.
Q: While paging through some new garden catalogs, I read that fig trees can be grown in pots, then moved inside for the winter. Will this really work? That is, will the tree actually produce figs? What variety would be best? And what kind of care--fertilizing, "rest" during winter etc.--would it need? (My husband loves fresh figs and would be thrilled to grow his own.
Also in the catalogs, I saw an ad for a product called "Sluggo," which is advertised as an organic slug bait that is nontoxic to pets. The active ingredient is iron phosphate. I'd like to try it, but it's fairly expensive, so I wonder if you've heard any reports on it.
Finally, I should tell you that I'm the person who wrote late last summer with the hornets in the compost pile. You had some spray recommendations, but I finally broke down and called a service, and I'm glad I did. The service guy removed a nest in the pile the size of a softball. I doubt I would have had the nerve! (Bismarck, N.D., e-mail)
A: I have not heard of moving figs inside to get them to produce. I did know an Italian/American gardener when I was living in upstate New York who successfully grew figs that bore fruit by planting them against a wall that faced the sun most of the day. When winter came, he would carefully cut the branches back, and wrap the top part of the plant with water proof paper and shredded newspapers. He would then dig a trench along the side of the trees and lay them down, covering them with topsoil.
I have no experience or data with iron phosphate or the Sluggo you refer to for slug control. I cannot give you any judgement on its effectiveness.
I, too, am glad that you called a service to remove the wasp nest! I have been stung by those characters and the thought of that many being there makes my skin crawl!
Q: Enclosed is a leaf from one of my plants. Can you tell me what kind of plant it is and why the edges are turning brown? (Doland, S.D.)
A: Your plant is a fiddle-leaf fig. The frying along the edge of the leaves is not uncommon at this time of year. It is an indication of salt accumulation and dry air. I suggest watering with either distilled or reverse osmosis water for about 6 weeks. The new growth should then be free of the fried edges.
Q: What are the waxy deposits at the base of leaves on an indoor fig tree? They appear periodically and I pick them off and occasionally spray the tree with a chemical, but I assume we are not treating it correctly because they reappear. If they are left long enough on the leaves there is almost a sap that comes off the leaves onto the carpet. What is it and what do we do about it? The plant has been in our home for about 20 years. (Moorhead, Minn.)
A: The waxy deposits are actually scale insects, and their feeding does cause "sap" to be deposited on leaf and other surfaces.
The best control is exactly what you are doing—wiping them off. Insecticides are not very effective as their waxy covering gives them protection.
How they got into your home is anyone's guess. Perhaps you received some plants or flowers as a holiday gift? It doesn't take much to get an insect infestation started and out of hand, so I encourage your vigilance!
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