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Houseplant Care for Ficus; Benji, Ali, Amstel King, Nitida

Updated on September 17, 2017
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Thoughthole has more than 8 years of hands-on experience in the horticultural maintenance industry and shares many tricks of the trade.

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Bonsai Ficus

So many sizes & shapes

Varieties

Ficus is a very well known and prominent houseplant with many varieties to choose from. Some of the most popular being:

  • Benji - teardrop shaped leaves
  • Ali and Amstel - long finger like foliage
  • Nidtida and Midnight - dark green foliage
  • Ficus Too Little - Tiny leaves, often used as Bonsai

Aside from these popular varieties there are some other unique members of this plant family like Lyrata, and Elastica (Rubber Tree) with very large fleshy foliage, these varieties differ a bit in maintenance from the more common listed above.

Shapes & Sizes

Since this plant is an indoor tree much can be done to manipulate its size & shape, making it multi functional in decorating as long as sufficient light is available.

  • The most familiar form is likely the classic tree shape often used to fill in a large open indoor area.
  • Columnar shrub like pieces occupy vertical space, and corners well.
  • Small trees can make for great desk accents, and home d├ęcor.
  • Smaller meticulously pruned plants with intriguing trunk, & root features are great for bonsai plants.
  • Braided trunks are a feature unique to only a few indoor plant varieties, and can be a great point of interest piece.

Adding to their popularity;

  • They are often some of the more affordable among their houseplant counterparts.
  • They grow rapidly.
  • They can recover nicely from some stressful situations.
  • They tend to be more tolerant to a heavy handed waterer.

Ficus do also have their downsides; they are highly reactive to environmental changes, for best results natural light sunlight is required, they have irritating and destructive sap, are susceptible to pests, can be messy if dropping leaves or new growth husks, require regular watering and attention, and can easily become overgrown spindly and misshapen.

There is quite a list of what one should know about maintenance & care, for best long term results.

Reacting Ficus

Dropping Lots of Leaves

Ficus are highly reactive to many things and have been known to loose leaves by the masses, some of the causes of these tantrums are as follows:

  • Temperature fluctuation exposure to the cold will cause a mass drop of leaves that are either still green, or they may show a bit of a purple color from cold damage. Ideally the environmental temperature should remain in 60-80 degrees.
  • Fumes, if you plan on painting or doing any other kind of chemical treatment in your home you should get your the plant should be moved to a protected ventilated area while the work is being done. Mass quantities of seemingly healthy green leaves will drop off during a fume reaction.
  • Light exposure, if placed in a corner or next to a wall leaves will drop on the side facing the wall, this can be dealt with by frequent rotations but the tree may not be able to keep up with regenerating leaves fast enough to make the plant look healthy. Good exposure to natural light all around is recommended for best results. Ficus have been known survive under fluorescents but generally have a harsh adjustment period, after which they may become spindly and reach heavily toward their light source. It is best to place very near a place where they can get natural sunlight.

  • Under watering can cause leaf loss. Leaf loss due to under watering will produce a mass amount of solid yellow, or brown crispy leaves that will easily come off the tree when shaken. As long as the tree has been over dry for a short period it should re foliate once the watering situation is corrected. The longer the amount of time that the tree has been without water the more severe the damage, and diminished likelihood of recovery.

  • Spraying leaf shine or other chemicals directly on the plant can cause defoliation.

  • Stress from being moved can cause leaf loss, this is usually due to change in lighting, or temperature that the plant is exposed to.

  • Change of season can trigger leaf loss. This is likely the trees response less sunlight, and lower temperatures. Typically this issue goes on for a month or so, around the same time each year.


Irritating Sap

Since pruning is a crucial part of regular maintenance, and stems can snap and break when they are moved or cleaned, it is not uncommon for sap to weep from the plant. There are some important things to know about Ficus Sap.

  • The Sap of a Ficus is an irritant to human skin. it can cause itching or burning and in some cases where allergies exist much worse effects like skin swelling and peeling have been observed. Sap in the eye can cause significant discomfort. Using safety gear such as gloves, and safety glasses would be advisable during a large project. Washing hands thoroughly after handling Ficus is always a good idea.
  • Even though the oozing sap is initially white, it will dry to a rust colored stain similar to a blood stain when it makes contact with clothing, carpet, furniture, drapes, or any other material. This rust color comes from the high content of iron in the Sap. Make sure to cover flooring and furniture if pruning indoors, and you may wish to avoid wearing your favorite shirt.

Hard Scale Image

Close up of a large Hard Scale pest attached to the stem of a Ficus Benjamin. See the Dark oval shaped dot at the tip of the stem, in the center of image.
Close up of a large Hard Scale pest attached to the stem of a Ficus Benjamin. See the Dark oval shaped dot at the tip of the stem, in the center of image.

Sticky Stuff

Ficus are commonly reported to produce a mysterious sticky substance that gets not only all over the plant but all over anything in the same general area as the plant.

The grim truth of this sticky substance it that it comes not from the plant but from pests that inhabit the plant. The substance is called Honey Dew and is the excrement of pests living on the plant. Ficus most commonly get Scale which to the untrained eye would look like nothing more than a node on a stem, Mealy bug is also common would appear like a tiny white cottony substance among the leaves and stems. Other pests like Thrips, and aphids have also been known to inhabit Ficus trees. If you have noticed this sticky substance you may want to click on the Scale and Mealy bug links to learn more about eradicating and preventing them.

Native Habitat of Ficus; Asia & Australia

Water Requirements

Ficus are hearty drinkers in general, adjustments will only need to be made if light conditions changes. Ficus roots fill their pots and ficus are vigorous growers to support all of this rapid growth and a root system full to capacity Your ficus will need to receive regular watering on a regular basis.

It is a standard to water a ficus through until water comes out the bottom into the liner. If your Ficus is in a high light, and sometimes even moderate light situation you will want to leave a little excess water in the liner. Allow the Ficus to use the water until the top of portion of the soil is dry and then water through again.

If you find that your Ficus is getting brown leaf tips or Mosaic yellow and green leaves then the ficus may be getting too much water. Another thing to keep an eye on with a Ficus is exposed roots. Check that roots have not crept outside the drain holes on the pot of your ficus if they have cut them back. These exposed roots can cause spotting and browning on the leaves as they are constantly being flooded or completely exposed to the dry air.

Effects of poor rotation

Side view Ficus Benjamin common effects of rotation neglect.
Side view Ficus Benjamin common effects of rotation neglect.

Regular Maintenance

Pruning on a regular basis is required to maintain the integrity of the plants shape, and keep the foliage compact and vibrant. Anytime a stem begins to protrude noticeably it should be clipped back into shape. Look for stems that are reaching toward light sources in order to maintain a balanced appearance.

Regular Rotation of potted plants is particularly important especially in where lighting conditions are not consistent on all sides. Wall placement, and corner plants will require more frequent attention to avoid causing defoliation of the side nearest the wall.

Fertilizing rapidly growing specimens will help keep them vibrant and green. A condition called Chlorosis is common, when this condition is present new foliage will begin to grow in with reduced Chlorophyll causing the leaves to be a much lighter lackluster green-yellow. Appropriate fertilizing, depending on growing conditions, will restore iron and other nutrients in the soil required for the plant to produce healthy new foliage, and maintain a healthy root system. Most all purpose plant fertilizers are sufficient for use with Ficus, finding one that contains Chelated iron is recommended.

Dusting can keep any plant looking new and healthy. Be sure that your Ficus is pest free before you dust otherwise you run the risk of transferring pests to other houseplants with a contaminated duster. Using a disposable duster is a good way to avoid spreading infestation. If you do have a pest issue it is a good idea to shower, or hand wipe foliage on occasion in order to clean away any pests, and their residue. With a large tree this may requires taking it outside for a good wash down, never do this during very hot or cold times of the year. Ideally temperatures should be no less than 65 degrees, and no more than 85 degrees.

Adding soil from time to time can be of great long term benefit to your plants health. Overtime as soil is used as fuel for growth the surface level can recede exposing roots, and nutrient levels can be thrown off balance. Covering the existing surface with some new indoor potting soil will help restore ph balance, replace nutrients, and fortify a stable foundation for root growth.

Questions and Comments Encouraged

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    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 16 months ago from United States

      Thanks for these tips. I came by for information about watering, and came away with so much more! All the best, Jill