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Ask Dr. Hort: Figuring out why ficus tree is losing its leaves

Figuring out why ficus tree is losing leaves

Q: I have a ficus tree in my front yard that was 3 feet tall five years ago. It is now almost 20 feet with a canopy of nearly 12 feet in diameter. Until a few weeks ago, it appeared quite healthy. In the past two to three weeks, all the leaves have fallen off with the exception of a few on the tips. I have not applied any type of chemical or fertilizer to the roots and the water supply is more than adequate. No external surrounding conditions have changed for the past five years. Prior to the leaf drop, they were all bright green, with no bugs or any type of insect infestation or fungus. What happened? Mark G. Naedel

A: I am assuming that you are talking about weeping fig, which can be awfully temperamental, but the rest of the genus is hard to kill, even with a freeze. You mentioned that you saw no insects, however thrips were awful this year, causing severe leaf drop. They are very small black insects, just 1/8-inch long. Check again. If you see them, consult a pest control company.

In terms of moisture, we went from very wet to very dry, with a dry wind, enough to cause leaf drop on weeping fig. And after a long summer of consistent temperatures, we also experienced a welcome drop. Any of these factors could contribute to leaf drop.

Finally, another cause, a slim chance, could be a root disease. Dig up some surface roots a few feet from the tree. They should be whitish to tan with a milky sap. If you find this, your tree's leaves should return. If the roots are brown and slimy, your tree has a root-rotting fungus, which is terminal. The tree will die.

The larger question that still remains is do you really want ficus trees? The ficus can potentially grow to 60 feet with dangling aerial roots and loads of surface roots, which may lift and crack sidewalks and driveways.

Orchid trees get large

Q: We have a lovely orchid tree, but I think it has been planted too close to the house and worry about foundation issues. Do you think this will become a concern down the road, and if so, could we just trim the larger branches and top it off to prevent further root growth and foundation issues? Deb Ponedel, Hudson

A: No tap roots of any tree in our soils grow more than a few feet deep before they run horizontally. The roots grow laterally to find water in small depressions in the landscape. The tree will become very large, 35 feet high with a spread of 40 feet, so its placement may indeed be too close to your house. If large branches are to be pruned away from your roof, make sure they are pruned back to a point of attachment (a certified arborist is a good resource).

Queen Anne's lace starts from seed

Q: I am one of those unusual people that like Queen Anne's lace. In other words, I don't consider it a weed.

When I traveled to Alaska, I saw bright purple and also a vivid shade of pink Queen Anne's lace. I have never seen them in color before. I cut the tops off some wild ones growing along the roadside. Are those colors rare? I would also like to know how to start them from flower tops. Thank You. JoAnna Harrington, St. Petersburg

A: Queen Anne's lace, Daucus carota, is considered a noxious weed in most of the northeastern United States even though it is the original parent of the many hybrid carrots that we eat today, plus it does have a beautiful cluster of white flowers with one red flower in the center. As the flowers wither they curl to the center resembling a bird's nest, where the spiny seeds will eventually form. There are two other varieties, one pink and the other purple, both of which you collected. However, you collected the flowers, not the seeds, so no plants.

Diagnosing the cause of distress in live oaks

Q: We live in Spring Hill and have noticed that some live oaks in my yard and my neighbor's look to be in distress. These trees were planted late in 2002 and the middle of 2003. Could you let us know how to remedy this problem? Matt Sheridan, Spring Hill

A: When folks have unexplained distress in their plants and trees, the extension service can be a help. In your case, I would take cuttings, those showing green to yellow to brown, to the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service, 12175 125th St. in Largo for positive identification. Jane Morse, a commercial horticulture agent, may be able to provide advice or refer you to others who could help. Call (727) 582-2562.

In your case, it could be Texas oak wilt, a fatal fungus disease that would be serious and possibly contagious to other oak trees in the area. It could also be oak decline, with different symptoms, but equally as fatal, hence the need for positive identification. Tell 'em Dr. Hort sent you.

Need help? Enter Greg "Dr. Hort" Charles, who for more than 30 years educated gardeners through the Pinellas Technical Education Centers. He answers questions about landscape and garden pests. E-mail your questions to drhort@tampabay.rr.com or to features@sptimes.com (put Dr. Hort in the subject line). Mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe your problem in full, and include your name and contact information. If possible, include a photo. We will print his advice on Saturdays in HomeLink.

Ask Dr. Hort: Figuring out why ficus tree is losing its leaves 11/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 19, 2010 3:30am]
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