Ficus benjamina

(Question)

We kept our ficus out in summer and it thrived. I brought it in one day too late and it froze. All the leaves and buds have dried up and fallen. Is it permanently dead?

(Answer)

Dear gardener,

It would be hard to say absolutely without seeing your tree. Even under the best circumstances, it isn’t unusual for a weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) to lose leaves – even many leaves – when moved indoors after a summer outside. It doesn’t like a sudden change in climate, and should be gradually acclimatized to its new situation.

One test for life is to gently scrape away a small patch of bark on a branch with your thumbnail. If the tissue underneath is green, there might still be hope for your tree. Keep in mind, though, that some of the branches might have been killed, which could have a negative impact on the tree’s overall shape. The tree roots would also have been pruned by the cold, perhaps severely, reducing the uptake system for water and nutrients.

If your tree shows signs of life, let time be the ultimate test. Continue to care for it, and see if any new buds emerge in a month or so. Any branch not producing new growth at that time should be pruned back to the base, without leaving any stumps. If it survives, and if you still like the shape of the tree, you’ll have a great story to tell.

Good luck with your ficus.