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Ficus Plants—How to Grow Healthy Ficus Trees

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Rubber plant growing toward window Sharon White/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
The enduringly popular ficus plants belong to the fig genus. Although only a few are seen in cultivation, there are hundreds of species of ficus. They are native throughout the tropics, including Asia, America and Africa. These are extremely important plants, as decorative plants, food plants and even religious symbols. The famous Bodhi tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment was a Ficus religiosa. In their native habitats, ficus are often landscape trees with hanging and buttressed roots and a magnificent crown. In the home, ficus are beautiful specimen plants that can provide many years of lush foliage.

Growing Conditions:

Light: Bright light, but only acclimated plants can handle direct sun. Ficus appreciate being moved outside in summer, but do not place in direct sunlight.
Water: Water evenly throughout the summer and reduce watering in the winter. In dry homes, provide plenty of ambient moisture by misting often. Do not let the rootball dry out.
Temperature: Warm in summer. Do not allow below 55ºF in winter or expose to cold drafts.
Soil: Rich, humusy and well-drained soil.
Fertilizer: Feed with slow-release pellets in the beginning of the growing season.

Propagation:

Ficus can be rooted from tip cuttings with rooting hormone. Use only non-woody stems as cuttings. For larger plants, air laying is the preferred method.

Repotting:

A healthy ficus will rapidly outgrow both its pot and your house. Repot only every other year to slow growth and keep the plant a manageable size. When repotting, always use high-quality potting soil.

Ficus Varieties:

There are two types of ficus grown inside: trailing and tree types. This article is concerned with tree ficus, including:
  • F. benajmina. The F. benjamina has narrow glossy green leaves and grows into a small shrub or tree. This plant is less tolerant of cold and shade than the Rubber Tree. Variegated varieties include F. benjamina variegata and F. benjamina Starlight.
  • F. elastica. The Rubber Tree has large, thick glossy leaves. Varieties include the F. elastica robusta with wide, large leaves and the F. elastica decora.
  • F. lyrata. The Fiddle Leaf Fig has large, violin-shaped leaves up to 18 inches long.

Grower's Tips:

Many people experience frustration at the hands of ficus plants. They are prone to leaf drop in drafty, cold conditions, and they don't like to be moved. Ficus are also vulnerable to mites, mealy bugs, white flies and aphids. As tropical plants, they absolutely require adequate light, warmth and humidity to look their best. On the other hand, few plants are quite as flexible as the ficus. F. benjamina is a favorite among bonsai growers and they can be braided or shaped. If your ficus is overgrowing its spot, don't be afraid to trim it back. New leaves will quickly sprout. Ficus tend toward leginess after a few years.

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