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Ficus

Kathrin Auer Kathrin Auer

Ficus species are popular container and houseplants in our region. We would like to take a closer look at the multifaceted genus and provide you with some care tips.

Origin

Over 800 species originating from tropical and sub-tropical regions across the world belong to the ficus genus. They are all members of the Moraceae family. The best known ficus representative is probably the Common Fig (Ficus carica), which is native to Asia Minor and gives us the popular edible figs. However, there are also some members among the numerous species and varieties that have a long tradition in our region has houseplants. The classics without a doubt include the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) and the Rubber Fig (Ficus elastica).

Appearance and Growth

In addition to trees and bushes, there are also a series of climbing plants that belong to the ficus genus. The Common Fig (Ficus carica) and the rubber fig (Ficus elastica), grow as trees, for example, whereas the Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) and Ficus sagittata develop as climbers. The leaves are generally undivided and arranged alternately. All species of ficus also have a similar inflorescence, They also have similarities in regard to the shape of the fruit and the milky, rubber-containing sap. The flowers are generally positioned inconspicuously within the cup-shaped structure. A narrow channel opens at the tip through which small insects can penetrate. Ficus flowers are generally pollinated by ‘fig wasps’. From a botanical perspective, the fruit is a aggregate fruit - the fruits of the common fig are certainly the most well-known. Allergy sufferers beware: The latex-containing milky sap of some species can lead to skin irritation and breathing difficulties in sensitive individuals.

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)

The alternating leaves of the weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) appear elliptical and slightly tapered

Location and Substrate

In regions with mild winters, some members, such as the common fig, can be planted out in the garden to grow. In harsh areas, frost-sensitive specimens are better kept as container or houseplants. When selecting the location or substrate pay attention to the requirements of the individual species and varieties. Fici with colorful foliage are generally somewhat more sensitive and require more warmth, humidity, and light - however, direct midday sunlight should be avoided at all costs as it can lead to leaf burning. During the summer, many container plants can be placed in an airy and bright spot, sheltered from blazing sunlight, on the patio or balcony. Temperatures around 61 to 64.5 degrees Fahrenheit are often recommended in the winter - for example in a conservatory or a heated greenhouse. A word of caution: A sudden change of location and drafts can lead to a ficus dropping its leaves.

Ficus Ginseng grown as an indoor bonsai

An off-sunny location is important for the Ficus ‘Ginseng’

For many members of the ficus family, a highly permeable substrate with a stable structure is important, as they do not tolerate waterlogging at all. High-quality potting soil is recommended for potted plants. However, you can also mix the substrate for weeping figs yourself. For this, enrich houseplant soil with around a third to a half of mineral additives such as building sand, garden soil, and clay granules.

Planting

If you would like to permanently plant a robust fig tree in a sunny, protected location in the garden, a good time to do so is after the final frosts in spring. Pay attention to the correct conditions for overwintering fig trees, in particular for a freshly planted specimen. If you buy a new ficus in a pot, it is often advisable to change the substrate straight away. Because the soil used for some container and houseplants is not a good quality.

Common Fig in a sheltered location

Fig trees (Ficus carica) tolerate temperatures as low as 26 degrees Fahrenheit in a sheltered location in the house

Care Tips

The substrate for container and houseplants should generally be kept evenly moist during the vegetation period, water more sparsely in a cooler place in the winter. Use room temperature rain water or low calcium tap water and always allow the soil surface to dry out well in between. The finger test has proven a good method for recognizing when the ficus is ready to be watered again. If the soil still feels slightly wet, it’s better to wait a while before watering. Waterlogging, but also ball dryness, can lead to the leaves of the potted plant turning yellow and dropping off.

Ficus should also be fertilized according to the growth rhythm. Supply potted plants with high-quality liquid container plant fertilizer or green plant fertilizer, mostly between April and September, when watering. Pay attention to the dosage recommendations on the packaging. Reduce the fertilizer dosage in the winter.


All ficus species tolerate pruning well and regrow strongly. You can shape your ficus any way you like, they even tolerate radical pruning. You should always wear gloves when pruning ficus. Otherwise, the plant sap can cause irritation.

Rubber Fig (Ficus elastica)

The rubber fig (Ficus elastica) is traditionally available as a single shoot plant in trade outlets. If you want to stimulate it to develop bushy growth, you’ll need to prune it accordingly

Repotting is usually advisable only when the container is completely rooted. The best time for this is in the spring. One more thing: Dust builds up on the leaves of some houseplants over time. This should be removed with a soft cloth. Some species of the Ficus also benefit from a lukewarm shower.

Important Species and Varieties

  • The Fig tree (Ficus carica) is one of the oldest cultivated and crop plants in the world. If you want to enjoy the fruit you should choose self-pollinating varieties.
  • The Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), also referred to as the benjamin fig, adorns itself with elliptical, long tapering leaves. ‘Twilight’ is an example of a variety with variegated foliage.
  • With its large, dark green and smooth leaves, the rubber fig (Ficus elastica) is a classic for living rooms and offices.
  • The creeping fig (Ficus pumila) can be easily kept as a with its overhanging shoots. But it also looks great in bowls or as underplanting.
  • The Ficus ‘Ginseng’, actually the Ficus microcarpa, makes a good bonsai. The Indian laurel must be regularly pruned to retain its dwarf-like growth.
  • The large leaves of the Fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) can grow between 11.81 and 19.69 inches long. The plant tolerates darker locations better than other figs.
  • Ficus ‘Alii’ is still considered a secret tip among houseplants. It decorates itself with narrow and linear-lanceolate leaves.
  • Ficus benghalensis, also known as Banyan fig, grows as a large tree in its native India - in our regions it can be cultivated as a houseplant.

Propagation

Most ficus species and varieties can be successfully propagated through cuttings. These quickly form roots if they are placed in potting soil and the substrate is kept evenly moist with a high level of humidity. Rooting in a glass of water is also usually possible. Some species of ficus such as Ficus microcarpa can be propagated through seed sowing (light germinators). Ficus carica can also be readily propagated through hardwood cuttings.

Diseases and Pests

Sticky leaves on a ficus are a clear indication of pests such as aphids, scaly insects or white fly. Over time, black spot fungus can set up home on the honeydew. So houseplants in particular should be regularly checked for an infestation. Spider mites may also appear on some members of the ficus family. If the plants are kept too cold or too wet, the roots die off and yellow-brown flecks will develop on the leaf margins.

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