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Ficus benjamina (left)

Ficus benjamina (left)

This beautiful, undemanding, decorative tropical tree is full of pointed, shiny, 2-4” long deep green leaves.  It is native to India and Malaya and commonly called the weeping fig due to the graceful arching of the branches.  Each leaf of the variety Ficus benjamina ‘Exotica”, native to Java, Bali, has a fun little twist to it that adds to its appeal.  It will do well in your home if provided sufficient light.  The Ficus benjamina can reach up to 72” (180m) which makes a great background plant for other tropical plants in a group or place it alone as a striking specimen plant.  Although it is slow growing indoors, when it does get to a height you want, just cut it back as much as you like and carry on with no ill effects to the plant.

 

Light and Temperature

The Ficus benjamina likes warmth, 65-70°F night and 75-80°F day, and bright indirect light.  The more light you give it the more leaves it will give you.  It will tolerate air conditioning but not cold drafts.  They can also tolerate winter temperatures of 50-55°F (10-15°C) as this is their more dormant period and are not really actively growing.

Watering

Allow surface to become dry an inch or two down and water thoroughly until the water runs through the hole in the bottom.  Empty any water in the saucer so the pot does not sit in water.  This plant will thank you if you provide it with high humidity, especially if your home is heated with the dry forced air heat many North American homes use.  If your saucer under your plant is big enough and deep enough you can fill it with pea gravel and place your pot on the gravel.  Then when you water and some comes through you can leave it there as long as it is not touching the bottom of the pot.  Humidity supplied!

Medium

1 part loam, 1 part aged leaf mold and 1 part coarse sand and 1 part perlite is a good mix for this plant.  A soilless mix would be 1 part sphagnum peat, 1 part perlite, 1 part vermiculite or small bark fines.  You can add 1 T. of dolomite limestone to each gallon, if you have it.  It will raise the acidity of your soil which will help if you have used peat or a soilless mix for your plant.

Feeding

Feed once a month through growing season with a diluted balanced fertilizer.  If your plant is in a soilless medium you may want to feed it every 2 weeks through the growing season.

Flowers

They seldom flower or fruit in containers but do have the potential for minute flowers that are not at all showy.

Re-potting

Prefers smallish containers even when their roots are a bit crowded so be patient and re-pot in the spring when necessary.

Propagating

Air layering can be done but is slow and not easy.  Tip cuttings – 4-6” woody section, strip bottom leaves and put in water for about an hour.  Remove from the water, dip the part you removed the leaves from into a rooting hormone, and plant into a moist medium.  Cover with plastic and place in a bright place out of direct sun.  Plants are very slow to root and may experience water loss in the leaves before success.

Pests

Scale, mealybugs, and spider mites can be attracted to this plant.  If you do get pests that secrete honeydew like scale, you may see a sooty mold on the leaves.  Wipe the leaves with water to remove it.  You can use a soapy solution also to wipe the mold off.

Problems

Leaf loss can be a sign of not enough light or a cold draft.

Yellow leaves can be a sign of too much water.

Tips

You may see normal leaf drop if this plant is moved but it will regain its fullness with proper care.

Can be used for bonsai.

Stems can be braided for a decorative effect.

Varieties

There are many other varieties of Ficus, ranging from trees and shrubs to climbing vines, which make nice houseplants.

Ficus benjamina ‘Starlight’ – a variegated form with apple green and white leaves.  Very decorative.

Ficus elastica – known commonly as the rubber tree – 55°F (13°C), bright, indirect light, let dry 2/3rd’s down between waterings during the growing season and cut back from late fall until early spring.  Leaves grow dark green, leathery and up to 12” long x 8” wide.  Very gently dust the leaves – they scar easily and damage will be with the plant for its lifetime.  Difficult to propagate but can be done with air-layering.

Ficus benghalensis – common name of Bengal fig or banyan has a downy covering on the leaves and look perpetually dusty.

Ficus lyrata – fiddle leaf fig due to the large leaves that are shaped like the body of a violin.  Keep it a bit warmer than some Ficus – no less than 66°F (19°C).

Ficus binnendykii (was F. longifolia) – commonly called Narrow-leaf fig due to its long narrow leaves.  It grows as a shrub or small tree.  Graceful, drooping glossy leaves, and easy to care for.

Ficus deltoidea – (syn. F. diversifolia) is a very different Ficus.  It has small round leaves that are bright green on the top and olive brown beneath.  Keeping it pinched will encourage a profusion of yellow-reddish inedible berries on a small 24-32” (60-80cm) slow growing, twiggy shrub.  Commonly called the mistletoe fig.  Keep it moist and warm in a light, airy medium.  It grows as an epiphytic shrub in trees in the Indian archipelago.

Ficus pumila – (Ficus repens) is a creeping variety ideal for hanging baskets. It has pale green, heart shaped, puckered leaves.  Prefers semi-shade and to be kept moist.  Easily propagated from tip cuttings in the spring.

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