Ficus hedges have been an important part of the south Florida landscape for more than 20 years, now. The two most common types of ficus hedges we treat are Ficus benjamina and Ficus nitida. There are a few morphologic differences in the two types, but they are substantially similar, and usually are treated the same way.
Ficus is highly adaptable to different planting sites, but it generally prefers well-drained soils, with full sunlight exposure. Ficus planted in partial or full shade will show reduced vigor and appearance. Watering once weekly, to a point where the soil 6 inches deep is moist, is usually sufficient. Ficus is somewhat drought- tolerant, but of course that should not happen routinely, in order to maintain optimal plant health.
Ficus, along with other species in the mulberry family, are semi-deciduous. This means that, at some point in the year, the leaves will drop and be replaced. In our sub-tropical climate, the leaves generally don’t all fall naturally at the same time. We find that many ficus hedges and trees will partially defoliate in the extreme heat of summer; this is not always a cause for concern.
There are a few insect and disease issues with ficus. You have probably heard about ficus whitefly; this pest showed up 15-20 years ago, and has become entrenched in the landscape. Certain types of thrips also affect ficus, as do some gall wasps. All of these pests generally affect the foliage of the hedge. Ficus whitefly nymphs (the immature stages) live on the underside of the leaf and suck the sap from it. If enough of them are
present, this causes the leaf to fall off. The adults (the white flies that you see when you are by the hedge) are a nuisance, but don’t directly harm the plant. Thrips also suck the sap from the leaves, and cause it to fold over on itself. Gall wasps cause bumps to be formed on the leaves; these are not harmful at all to the plant – they are only unsightly. The good news about these pests is that we (the pest control industry in general) have found a good way to treat for them. Spraying the foliage of the hedge with a contact insecticide doesn’t do a lot of good; the insecticides only last for a certain amount of time, and rainfall and/or irrigation will sometimes wash them away. To treat for these common insects on ficus hedges, we drench the soil with a systemic insecticide. This allows the roots to absorb it and spread it throughout the plant; that way, when an insect starts to feed on the sap, it gets a good dose of the insecticide and dies. The systemic treatments usually work for 60-90 days, and then have to be reapplied.
We often find old egg casings on the older foliage, particularly after a trim. Ficus nitida will often show old sooty mold, a black film-like appearance on the foliage or bark. This is not usually cause for concern.
There are a few different diseases we have recently found affecting ficus, and they all affect the plants’ ability to use the systemic insecticides. Phomopsis dieback and botryosphaeria dieback are fungal infections that affect the vasculature of the plant, and restrict the ability of the plant to move water, dissolved minerals, and insecticides through it. These diseases are showing up more and more, especially on hedges that are frequently trimmed. There is not a good, cost-effective fungicide available for the residential landscape to control these issues, so we have found that the best treatment is to remove the diseased wood as soon as is practical. These diseases are present in every defoliated hedge we have investigated this year.
We are working with our partners at the University of Florida, at the county extension office, and at the major manufacturers (BASF, Syngenta, Envu, etc.) to come up with effective strategies for these issues. We are attempting to educate our clients, and also the landscapers involved at your homes. We are happy to come out and meet you and/or your landscaper at your home, to demonstrate the problem and help offer a solution – simply call or email us, and we will set an appointment.
Thank you for trusting us to partner with you to keep your home landscape as attractive as possible. We want you to know that we appreciate your business, and we look forward to serving you for years to come.