The Ficus tree, with its lush green leaves and twisting branches, is a captivating houseplant found in various regions around the world.
Also known as fig trees, these plants are renowned for their ornamental value, as well as their historical and cultural significance. From its role in mythology and religion to its uses in medicine and cuisine, the Ficus tree has captured the imagination of people for centuries.
This houseplant’s hardiness makes it an ideal plant to grow for experienced and beginner growers alike. There are many types of ficus plants, all of which can thrive in most indoor areas.
This indoor tree is a typical house or office houseplant, mainly because they look like a unique tree with a spreading canopy and a single trunk.
Although they’re popular, ficus trees are somewhat finicky. However, if you are adequately equipped and know how to care for this tree, it should grow happy and healthy in your home for many years.
Botanical Name: Ficus benjamina
Common Name: Ficus tree, fig tree, weeping ficus, and weeping fig
Plant Type: Perennial
Hardiness Zones: 9 to 11 outdoors / 5 to 8 indoors
Sun Exposure: Filtered bright sun
Soil Type: Outdoors loamy and well-draining. Indoors rich and fast-draining
Soil pH: 6.5 to 7
Height: Outdoors up to 70 ft. / Indoors 6 ft.
Bloom Time: Outdoor plants bloom during spring / Indoor plants do not bloom
Flower Color: Small yellow or white blossoms
Native Area: Southeast Asia and India
What’s a Ficus Tree?
The Ficus tree, a relative of fig trees, is native to tropical climates and is a popular houseplant choice due to its broad, stunning leaves that come in shades of green and dark reddish tones.
While it does not bear fruit as a houseplant, a well-cared-for Ficus plant can quickly grow from a tabletop plant to a lush floor plant, reaching heights of 5-6 feet tall depending on environmental conditions and your ceiling height.
Outdoors, this tree can grow up to 70 feet tall. Despite its narrow, glossy green leaves, the Ficus tree has particular growing requirements that must be met for it to thrive. However, it is a flexible plant that can be shaped or braided, making it a favorite among bonsai growers. If you want to plant a Ficus in the ground, it’s best to do so during the active growing season in spring.
Types of Ficus Trees
Historically, the well-recognized Bodhi tree under which Buddha was enlightened was a Ficus religiosa, recognized by its distinctive leaves with an extended drip tip. Here are some popular Ficus plants:
- Ficus lyrata: this unique fiddle leaf has big violin-shaped leaves that can measure up to 18 inches
- Ficus Benjamina Starlight: This is a variegated version of the Ficus benjamina. It has white splotches on its large leaves.
- Ficus elastica: Known as “burgundy rubber plant” or “rubber tree,” this tree has thick glossy leaves. It has two varieties: Ficus elastica decora with beautiful emerald leaves and Ficus elastica robusta with green shiny leaves.
- Ficus Benghalensis: Also known as Audrey ficus or Banyan Tree. This ficus plant grows indoors and is considered a sacred national tree in India.
Ficus Tree Care
In their natural habitat, Ficus trees are admired as landscape trees with buttressed roots and magnificent crowns.
When grown indoors, these stunning plants can provide years of luscious foliage.
However, Ficus trees can be finicky and have specific care requirements that can be frustrating for some. For instance, they are sensitive to cold and drafty conditions, often resulting in leaf drop.
Relocation can also cause stress, so it’s essential to ensure they’re acclimated before moving them. As tropical plants, Ficus trees need adequate humidity, warmth, and light to thrive and look their best.
Ficus plants need proper lighting for their growth and health.
Outdoors or indoors, ficus needs bright light but should avoid harsh direct sunlight as it can scald leaves.
These trees prefer indirect, bright light but can tolerate low-light conditions. Only acclimated ficus plants can handle direct sun.
Outside, they appreciate bright indirect sunlight during summer, but direct sunlight can scorch their leaves, leading to leaf loss. Conversely, low light can cause slow growth and dropped leaves.
It’s best to place Ficus trees near a window with filtered light or under artificial lights if natural light is insufficient.
Rotating the plant periodically can ensure even light exposure, leading to healthy and vibrant foliage.
Proper watering is essential for the health and growth of Ficus trees, whether they are grown indoors or outdoors.
These plants prefer moist soil but not waterlogged. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other issues, while underwatering can cause the leaves to dry and fall off.
It’s essential to allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings and to ensure proper drainage. The watering frequency will depend on factors such as the size of the tree, the environment, and the season.
Ficus trees should generally be watered thoroughly once a week during the growing season and less frequently during the dormant season. Providing the right amount of water and ensuring proper drainage can help your Ficus plant thrive and produce lush, healthy foliage.
These tropical plants thrive in high humidity environments and can suffer in dry conditions. Lack of humidity can cause brown tips on the leaves and slow growth.
It’s essential to maintain humidity levels of at least 50%, which can be achieved through regular misting, using a humidifier, or placing the plant on a pebble tray filled with water to maintain adequate humidity and moisture levels.
During the winter months, when indoor heating can cause the air to dry, ensuring adequate humidity levels is even more crucial.
Drafty windows can harm ficus plants, so make sure you keep them in a safe place.
Ficus plants do best in consistently warm and humid temperatures. Do not expose your plant to dramatic temperature swings; maintain a 70°F temperature.
These tropical plants prefer warm and stable temperatures and can suffer in extreme conditions.
The ideal temperature range for Ficus trees is between 60°F and 75°F, and they can tolerate temperatures as low as 50°F for short periods.
However, sudden temperature drops can cause leaf drop and other issues. Keeping Ficus trees away from cold drafts, such as near doors or drafty windows, is essential.
Additionally, they can benefit from increased humidity levels during colder months when indoor heating can cause the air to become dry. When it comes to ficus trees, the warmer the temperature, the better.
Do not expose your ficus plant to temperatures under 60°F for long periods of time unless you live in a state such as Hawaii or Florida.
Ficus plants prefer well-draining soil that’s rich in nutrients. Soil that’s too dense or retains too much water can lead to root rot, fungus, and other issues. Avoid using for azaleas or roses since these are more acidic potting soils.
A good potting mix for Ficus trees should consist of equal parts peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Adding organic matter, such as aged manure or compost, can provide additional nutrients.
It’s also essential to ensure proper drainage by using a pot with drainage holes and avoiding overwatering. When repotting, it’s recommended to go up only one pot size to prevent overwatering and keep the roots in a relatively tight space.
Ficus trees require regular feeding during the growing season to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients.
A balanced, water-soluble fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium is ideal for Ficus trees.
It’s recommended to fertilize every two weeks during the growing season, which is typically from spring to early fall. They’re rapid growers and will benefit from monthly fertilization during the spring and summer months and once every two months during fall and winter.
Slow-release pellets are a great option to feed your ficus plants at the beginning of the growing season.
Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to root burn and other issues. Additionally, following the manufacturer’s instructions and diluting the fertilizer properly before application is essential.
Pruning is an integral part of maintaining healthy and attractive Ficus trees.
Regular pruning helps control the size and shape of the tree, promotes new growth, and removes dead or damaged branches.
It’s best to prune Ficus trees during the growing season when they are actively growing, as this will help the plant recover more quickly.
When pruning, it’s important to use clean, sharp tools and make clean cuts to prevent damage and disease.
Depending on the type of Ficus tree, pruning can range from light trimming to more extensive shaping. As a general rule, it’s best to remove no more than 25% of the plant’s foliage at one time.
Ficus Tree Propagation
Ficus seeds are hard to find naturally if you don’t live in a tropical area. Seeds can also be hard to germinate.
The best way to propagate this tree is with a stem cutting. Here’s how to do it:
- Cut a 6 inches long (at least) stem section using a pair of sharp and sterilized pair of shears right above a leaf node or a branching stem.
- Ensure the cutting has a green growth at the tip and a woody base.
- Dip the cutting’s bottom in a rooting hormone.
- Root the cutting in an 8-inch pot with drainage holes.
- Cover the cutting with a clear plastic bag to keep the soil evenly moist.
- Cut 1-2 tiny slits at the top of the bag so the plant can breathe.
- In 90-20 days, the roots should be strong enough to remove the plastic covering.
- Transplant your plant into a pot during the active growing season in spring (or plant it outdoors).
Ficus Tree Common Problems
The most common problem with ficus plants, in general, is that they respond to stress by losing their leaves. Although, stressors can also cause the leaves to turn yellow and curl.
Different things like pests, drafts, overwatering, underwatering, lack of humidity, lack of light, and temperature changes could cause stress to both outdoor and indoor ficus trees.
Here are the Ficus tree’s common problems.
One of the most common issues is leaf drop, which sudden changes in temperature or light conditions, overwatering, underwatering, pest infestations, or repotting can cause.
While leaf drop may look startling, there’s not much to worry about as it will not likely cause long-term damage to this hardy tree.
The most common pests that attack ficus trees are aphids, and spider mites, which can cause leaf damage and stunted growth.
Aphids can cause the plant’s leaves to curl or change in color, and spider mites feed on the sap.
Ficus trees are vulnerable to other pests, such as mealybugs, scales, and whiteflies. You can use insecticides like a neem oil solution to treat these pests.
Discoloration of Leaves
Discoloration or spots on Ficus tree leaves can indicate a variety of issues.
If the spots are yellow or brown and surrounded by a yellow halo, it may be a sign of fungal infection, such as anthracnose or leaf spot. In some cases, these infections can cause leaf drop and can be treated with fungicides.
Black or dark brown spots can be a sign of bacterial leaf spot, which can be spread through contaminated pruning tools or splashing water. This disease can be controlled by removing infected leaves and practicing good sanitation.
If the spots are light-colored and appear on the lower leaves, it may be a sign of a nutrient deficiency, such as iron or magnesium. In this case, applying a balanced fertilizer and adjusting the soil pH can help address the issue.
Identifying the cause of the discoloration or spots is essential to properly treat the problem and prevent further damage to the plant.
Fungal diseases such as root rot can occur if the soil is too wet or poorly drained.
Ficus Tree Toxicity
Yes, they’re toxic to both humans and pets. Ficus trees produce sap that contains ficusin (phototoxic psoralen) and ficin (proteolytic enzyme) that, if touched directly, can cause skin irritation, dermatitis, and possible allergic reactions.
The ingestion of ficus trees can cause gastrointestinal distress and blistering. If you suspect a possible ficus tree ingestion (by furry friends or curious humans), seek medical help immediately.
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.