My sensitive Ficus tree, Samantha. She was the subject of my very first post. She’s definitely been improving in the last few weeks, but she’s still losing some leaves.

I really like her, but she’s been so unhappy. She seems thirsty, so I give her water, then she complains that I gave her too much.

She doesn’t speak, of course, but she definitely communicates. Guess what she’s telling me with this leaf?

It’s yellow with green splotchy parts. That means I overwatered her. If I’d underwatered her, the leaves would look like this.

Uh-oh. Yup, that means once again she’s showing signs of both overwatering and underwatering at the same time.

That means either I’m being inconsistent, or she’s being whiny. I thought it was my inconsistency, so for the last few weeks, I’ve just been splashing her around the base. I know she hasn’t gotten too much water.

So why the contradictory leaves? Because a healthy green leaf does not die overnight.

There’s a delay between the action (me administering too much water) and reaction (a yellow leaf with green splotches), usually of a couple weeks.

Say I underwater Samantha. Her pretty green leaves will gradually deteriorate.

Into a brown crunchy leaf. That process takes a couple of weeks.

Whatever made Samantha unhappy happened a few weeks ago, I think I’ve got her stabilized now. What’s she’s been communicating is that I haven’t been paying her enough attention. Obviously, or I would’ve caught those dying leaves and plucked them off the tree.

Once a leaf starts to go yellow, it’s not going to make a comeback. Pluck it off for aesthetics, so the tree can stop spending energy on it, and so you can spot new problems when they arise.

You Call That Sensitive?

As much as I like to tease Samantha, she’s not really that sensitive. At least not compared to some Ficus trees I’ve known in the past.

I had this one Weeping Fig (like Samantha but much smaller) that every time I moved it to vacuum around it, it would drop about a third of its leaves.

Just like that, leaves all over the floor. From the shock of being moved two feet.

Are all Ficus trees inherently sensitive? Let’s ask the doc what he thinks.

Samantha is a Ficus benjamina, or Weeping Fig. One of her sisters is the Rubber plant, another sister is the Fiddle Leaf Fig. She’s got a bunch of creeper cousins, too.

Dr. Hessayon calls the Weeping Fig “a splendid specimen plant for the modern home.” That prompted me to flip to the front of the book. It was originally published in 1960, the version I have was updated in 1993.

Hmm. I guess a future post will be dedicated to finding helpful plant books from this century.

Anyway, for now, he’s all I got, and his advice is sound. About the sudden loss of leaves, he says, “most likely cause is too little light or movement of the plant from one environment to another.”

Or two feet. See? Sensitive. The doc agrees with me. Here’s what he says about watering:

“Water with care. With tree types the compost must dry out to some extent between waterings. The trailing types require more frequent watering. Use tepid water and apply very little in the winter months.”

Sensitive. Here’s what he says about light:

“Bright spot for tree types, partially shaded site for others. A Rubber Plant will adapt to a few hours of sunshine each morning, but this would be fatal to a Creeping Fig.”

See? Sensitive.

If you have a Ficus tree, the best thing you can do is get to know her. I mean, really work to understand her. Buy a moisture meter, especially for her. Check on her twice a week instead of just once. Blow her kisses on your way out of the house.

I’ve cleaned Samantha’s leaves and washed my hands like a million times. She’s sensitive, and her sap is toxic to my skin and stains my clothes. I’m going to be a lot nicer to her, hopefully she’ll feel adjusted and not panicked.

Coming Up:

In the next few weeks, I’ll introduce you to some plants in the house who haven’t been featured yet, including Peach, the Norfolk Island Pine (she’s moving into a bigger pot!), my kitchen windowsill babies (an Aloe, a Moonflower, an Orchid and some weird cactus that I think is called an Orchid cactus) and a little Aglaonema I call Lobo.

Coming up on Wednesday, I’ll show you Miss Christi, the beautiful but not currently flowering Bougainvillea, in her new home at the cereal factory and explain the circumstances of her arrival there. Thursday I’ll show you how to repot Pothos.

And everybody’s favorite, we’ll have a new edition of Ask the Experts coming up on Friday, as well as the answer to our Name That Plant Problem puzzler.

Until then, happy indoor gardening!