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

Updated on May 19, 2016

Bonsai Ficus

Versatile Ficus

Ficus is a very well known and prominent houseplant with many varieties to choose from. There is the Benji with it's teardrop shaped leaves, Ali and Amstel with their long finger like leaves, the Nidtida and midnight expressing their deep dark color, Ficus too little with their tiny leaves, variegated (multicolored) ficus, tree shape ficus, columner ficus and the list goes on.

Ficus have many positive attributes; they are easy to grow, fast growing, easy to manipulate with pruning (this has made them quite popular for use as indoor bonsai), economic, well adapted for indoors, and are very capable of regenerating themselves after times of stress.

They do also have their downsides; they are highly reactive to environmental changes, for best results require natural light, they have irritating and destructive sap, can be messy if dropping leaves or new growth husk, require regular watering and attention, and can easily become overgrown spindly and mishapen.

There is quite a list of what one should know about Ficus, environment being one of the most important.

Reacting Ficus

Why a Ficus May Drop 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 Ficus tantrums are as follows:

  • Ficus are very reactive to temperature fluctuation and should be kept in a place with minimal temperature changes. 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.
  • Ficus react to fumes, if you plan on painting or doing any other kind of chemical treatment you should get your ficus tree away from the area where the work is being done. Mass quantities of seemingly healthy green leaves will be lost from a fume reaction.
  • Ficus will do best if they can be placed in front of a window, if placed in a corner or next to a wall they will lose there leaves 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. A ficus should have good exposure to natural light all around. Ficus have been known survive under fluorescent 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 light from the out side.

  • Under watering can cause leaf loss. Leaf loss due to under watering will produce a mass amount of solid yellow or brown 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 one the watering situation is corrected. If you find that your ficus has many mosaic yellow leaves that are still well attached, the plant has most likely been over watered.

  • Spraying leaf shine or other chemicals on Ficus foliage can cause them to defoliate.

  • Moving a Ficus can cause leaf loss, this is usually due to changing the lighting, or temperature that the ficus is exposed to.

  • Season changes, some ficus do try to participate in seasonal leaf changes just like the trees outside, this usually only goes on for a month or so and the tree will stabilize again. They generally do not completely defoliate with this type of reaction.

Ficus Sap

Since ficus frequently require pruning, and stems can snap and break when they are moved or cleaned it is not uncommon for a Ficus to weep out some tree Sap. 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. Ficus sap in the eye can be as much if not more irritating than coming in contact with it on the skin. It would not be silly to go so far as to wear gloves and safety glasses in the case you find yourself pruning a Ficus.
  • Ficus Sap stains. Even though it comes out white when it makes contact with clothing, carpet, furniture, drapes etc its turns a rust color. This rust color comes from the high content of iron in the Sap of the Ficus, like blood it stains once it dries. Make sure to cover flooring and furniture if pruning indoors, and you may wish to avoid wearing your favorite shirt.

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 the right to learn more about eradicating and preventing them.

Native Habitat of Ficus; Asia & Australia

Watering Ficus

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 rappid 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 sistuation you will want to leave a little exces water in the liner. Allow the Ficus to use the water until the top of protion of the soil is dry and then water through again.

If you find that your Ficus is getting brown leaf tips or mosic 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.

Regular Ficus Maintenance

Since Ficus are such vigorous growers they should be pruned on a regular basis in order to maintain the integrity of the plants shape and keep the foliage compact and vibrant. Anytime a stem begins to protrude it should be clipped back into shape.

A ficus should be rotated regularly and evaluated for pruning as it will most likely get more light on one side and begin to grow more foliage toward the lighted side.

Due to Ficus being a rapid grower it can develop a condition called Chlorosis, this condition can be corrected by c combination of regular pruning and fertilizing. See the link to the right for more information about Chlorosis.

Dusting a ficus can keep it looking new and healthy, but be sure that your Ficus is pest free before you dust otherwise you run the risk of transmitting pests to other houseplants by way of your duster. If you do have a pest issue it is a good idea to shower your Ficus to clean away the pests and there residue from time to time. With a large Ficus this may requires taking it outside for a good wash down, never do this in very hot or cold times of the year it should be no less than 65 degrees and no more than 85 degrees.

Ficus can be very fun, there is much that can be done with them. Just keep in mind they will require attention and won't agree to just anything. A little love can go a long way between you and your Ficus.

Questions and Comments Encouraged

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    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 9 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

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