The ficus tree is one of the most popular house plants around. It’s gorgeous in the home or office, as it cleans the air around us while adding lush green splendor. Whether you’ve always wanted to grow a ficus, or would like to explore unique varieties, this growing guide is perfect for you!
All About the Ficus Tree
It’s no surprise that the Ficus benjamina tree is recognized as one of the most graceful, evergreen plants of our time. Known as the official tree of Bangkok, it’s native to Asia and Northern Australia. The ficus tree is known in those locales as a large ornamental, flowering tree with a vigorous growth habit. In the wild, it’s not unusual to see these trees reaching a huge 80 to 100 feet tall.
It’s grown indoors in less tropical areas, hence its great popularity in the houseplant industry. In fact, its reknown has grown at the same rate as our desire to create a healthier, eco-friendly indoor haven.
When grown inside, Ficus benjamina (aka “Weeping Fig” in its common name), provides a profusion of rich green, oval glossy leaves with an elegant, branching form. Indoor trees reach a modest three metres in height. This makes them just perfect for creating a “green screen” and elegant focal point in your home.
In fact, there are so many varieties available that you’re bound to find the perfect plant for your space.
What Will We Learn In This Article?
The variegated version of the Weeping Fig—Ficus benjamina “Variegata”—is almost as popular as the glossy green version. Difference is that its mid-green oval leaves are mottled with shades of white and pale yellow. An impressive addition to any plant collection, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Today we’re taking a closer look at how to successfully care for and confidently prune a ficus tree. A lot of people get quite scared when it comes to pruning, so confidence is key here. I shall go through how to prune, when to prune and why “light pruning” is best for your plant.
After we’ve talked about the growing forms available, we’ll also touch upon other ficus varieties. All are very popular at the moment, and you’re guaranteed to love them, if you don’t already!
Ficus benjamina Forms
Some ficus trees are sold as “standard” trees. These have a single stem and bushy top growth—perfect for creating a more classic-shaped indoor tree.
Many of these standard forms have single or double spiral stems, braided stems, or open-braided stems. All are attractive in their own way, but I just love the open braided version. Do some research to determine which you like best.
Other ficus specimens are grown up a moss pole or secured with a bamboo cane, and have more of a bushy appearance from root to tip. These are great to use as a foliage screen; sort of like a green wall. Unlike the standard versions, they have no noticeable stem: just lovely weeping green leaves from pot to tip. This can be exaggerated with regular pruning which in itself will promote a fuller plant.
As you can see, there really is a good selection available depending on which form you prefer. No matter which you choose, all have a mass of glorious glossy leaves and fantastic air-purifying properties.
Caring for Your Ficus Tree
1. Finding the Right Spot for Your Tree
Ficus trees aren’t fans of being moved around too much, so it’s imperative to choose the right place for them, and leave them there. Being frost tender, they’re not suitable for placing outside if your winter temperatures drop to below 10 degrees Celsius. Unless you live in a tropical climate, your ficus tree is more suitable to keep as a gloriously green tropical house plant .
Rather than stating what they like, I shall firstly state what they dislike to avoid any mishaps:
- Due to their tropical origin, ficus family members are very sensitive to cold.
- Drafts from doorways, windows etc. are a no-no: they need a warm, sheltered environment.
- Changes in temperature can cause stress to your plant: avoid keeping them near radiators.
- Moving to areas with different light levels can cause your plant to drop its leaves. These will regrow so don’t panic. New leaves will grow which have adapted to the change in light levels.
- Bright, indirect sunlight is the best place to site your plant, though they can tolerate bright shade.
- A south or west-facing aspect is preferred.
In short, a spot that is warm, has no drafts, has sufficient space, has good light levels ,and is far enough away from radiators to not directly affect their temperature.
2. Watering and Fertilizing
Water your ficus tree regularly throughout the growing season. Just make sure to allow the compost to dry out a bit before re-watering.
Fertilize every three weeks with a well-diluted house plant feed, but only throughout the summer months. The extra nutrients will help to promote new shoots and leaves.
In the wintertime, when in dormancy, your ficus will use less water and no extra feed, so cut back on the watering schedule.
3. Choosing the Right Potting Soil
Always use the best potting soil that you can afford. Ficus trees prefer well-drained, fertile soil.
4. Light Preferences
Position your ficus tree in bright, indirect light or bright shade.
These trees are quite a sensitive lot. Not only are they hyper-sensitive to temperature changes, they’re very light-sensitive too. I can’t count the amount of stressed phone calls I’ve taken from ficus owners whose plants have dropped their leaves. People always think their plant is dying, but this isn’t the case at all.
All plants in the ficus family suffer the same stress, and this is shown by leaf drop. It’s common for your ficus tree to drop its leaves when the seasons change, or even when you move it a bit. Rest assured, there’s no need to panic: nature has everything under control. Your ficus will grow new leaves, which will have adapted to its new situation’s light levels. Now THAT is clever.
Pruning your Ficus Tree
Regular pruning will promote bushiness and keep your tree in good shape—both in its physical form, and its overall health. Ficus trees are renowned for “bleeding” when you prune them. Sap seeps out from the cut and this can cause stress to the plant. Therefore, it’s better to carry out gentle pruning more often, than hard pruning when your plant has outgrown its space.
There’s a rule of thumb within the gardening community: to only prune less than 30% of your ficus plant at one time. Excessive “bleeding” can cause branch die-back and sometimes even kill the plant. With this in mind, it makes much more sense to keep your fab ficus foliage under control.
5. When to Prune
Most people recommend pruning in winter or early spring. Your plant will be dormant at this time and has a better chance of healing more quickly. Any dead, diseased, or broken branches can be pruned from your plant at any time of year. Doing this will reduce the risk of infection and put extra energy into producing healthy leaves in springtime.
Remember that regular pruning avoids the problem of a harsh heavy prune, which stresses the plant.
6. How to Prune
Always use clean, sterile snips and wear a good pair of gloves to avoid skin contact with sap. Many people, especially those with a latex allergy, will have a bad reaction to the tree’s sap.
Firstly, look at your plant and locate any dead, dying, crossing, or congested shoots and branches. Remove these with your snips. If these are close to the trunk, always make the cut a little way up the branch collar. This avoids potentially harming the trunk.
Next, look at your plant’s natural shape. Sometimes, when growth has gotten out of hand, it’s quite hard to “see” their natural shape. If your plant has grown too tall for its space, the crown is usually a good place to start. From there, you can then remove further extensive growth to balance the tree’s form. If the plant has grown too wide, then this is another good place to start.
Always make your pruning cuts above a leaf node, at a 45-degree angle against the node. That node will sprout new growth, and will cover the cut stem. Continue to prune around the tree, creating a balanced and more compact shape. In the case of all ficus trees, remember that less is more. Cut less than 30 % of your foliage at one go.
Now that we have guided you through the pruning process, let’s take a look at a couple of popular ficus varieties that are pleasing to the eye, and have similar environmental needs.
Further Ficus Varieties
Ficus elastica – Indian Rubber Tree
You probably already know of this ornamental tree. It’s a superb, tropical house plant with shiny, almost waxy, large oval deep green leaves. Ornamental hybrids such as the Ficus elastica “Robusta” are commonly available. These have larger, stiffer, and more upright leaves than their native form found in Asia, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and Florida.
Ficus lyrata – Fiddle-leafed Fig
A true favorite of mine, which has grown hugely popular in the last few years for use as a tropical specimen plant. Its large, fiddle-shaped, waxy, mid-green leaves grow in small branchlets from the main stem and have a slightly crinkled appearance. A very lovely form and healthy-looking plant—definitely one to watch out for.
Ficus benjamina “Too Little” – Miniature cultivar
A miniature cultivar of the Ficus family, often used within the bonsai industry, with magnificent results. I have seen many perfectly proportioned little fig trees, but this variety seems to have the best shape. An interesting addition to glass terrariums, where the high humidity suits their needs perfectly, but just as good as a lone specimen bonsai. Requires regular misting.