Fig - Ficus sp.

General information: This is a huge tree growing to 60 feet tall and 60 to 70 feet wide. The dense, rounded canopy and gracefully drooping branches of Weeping Fig made it quite popular as a landscape tree until recently. The thick, shiny, two to five-inch-long, evergreen leaves generously clothe the long branches, and the tiny figs eventually turn a deep red. Branches will weep toward the ground forming a canopy so dense that nothing grows beneath it.

There are over 600 species of Ficus, most of them tropical and evergreen, although some, most notably F. carica, the common fig, are deciduous. Ficus produces a unique "fruit" which is actually an inverted flower. Not all Ficus produce edible fruit.

Ficus is one of the most loved bonsai for many reasons. It is an excellent tree for beginners, as most species of Ficus are fast growers, tolerant of most any soil and light conditions, make fine indoor bonsai, and perhaps most importantly, are remarkably forgiving of those just learning bonsai watering techniques. Most Ficus grow "banyan" roots naturally; this feature is often showcased by styling Ficus in dramatic air-root and root-over-rock styles.

Family: Moraceae

Lighting: Most Ficus will grow decently in low light, but thrive in high light conditions.

Temperature: With the exception of F. carica, most Ficus are tropical, and require temperatures above 55F. An excellent choice for an indoor bonsai. Indoor Ficus appreciate being brought outdooors during summer. Does not like draughts.

Watering: Moderate, increasing in summer and decreasing in winter. Many Ficus are very tolerant of being over or under watered, which makes them ideal for beginners. Ficus likes a daily misting to maintain humidity.

Feeding: Every two weeks during growth, every 4-6 in winter, using a half-strength plant food or a bonsai fertilizer.

Pruning and wiring: Ficus are suitable for most styles of bonsai, but are especially suitable for styles which make use of their property of extensive rooting, such as air-root and root-over-rock styles. Ficus can be used for all sizes of bonsai, although, obviously, the small-leaved species make the best miniature bonsai. Leaf pruning can be used to reduce leaf size. Ficus can be wired, but become quite stiff when lignified, and thus are best wired while the shoots are a bit green. Watch carefully to see that the wire doesn't bite in, as Ficus is a very fast grower. Prune back to 2-4 leaves after 6-10 leaves have grown. Ficus will bleed a milky latex profusely. I never use cut paste or other sealant for this reason, since the oozing latex makes it difficult for the cut paste to adhere. In any case, when the latex dries, it forms its own natural seal.

Propagation: One of the easiest plant to root from cuttings; although the specifics for maximum success vary with species. Very large diameter cuttings of Ficus can be successfully rooted. Air-layering is also quite easy. Ficus can be grown from seed, but require heat and humidity, and easily succumb to mold.

Repotting: Every 2-3 years, although some will grow rapidly enough that yearly repotting may be necessary. Ficus is the single most forgiving bonsai in terms of repotting season. The best time is before a new growth spurt, especially in spring, but Ficus can literally be repotted any time of year if reasonable after-care is given. Roots can easily be pruned by half. Basic bonsai soil is recommended, although Ficus tolerates many soil conditions.

Pests and diseases: Pests: Scale, eelworm, black fly, thrips. Diseases: Anthracnose fungus and various forms of rot. Some ficus will lose leaves if overwatered or given too little light

  • Ficus carica

    Can be grown successfully indoors, but requires temperatures of 41-46F in winter to induce dormancy. Allowing the leaves to droop slightly before watering aids in leaf reduction. May go 2-4 years between transplantings. Forms very thick branches which are best wired when young. The best time for wiring is in early spring, before new growth begins. Leaf pruning to reduce leaf size is recommended. The plant will also dwarf leaves naturally after some years in a container. Take cuttings in spring, before they become lignified.

    Ficus ilicina: laurel fig

    Can be treated much the same as F. benjamina. A monthly dose of Superthrive can be safely given, and will encourage the formation of banyan roots.

    Ficus microcarpa: banyan, Green Island fig

    A very robust tree that does well both indoors and out. Can tolerate low light, but grows more strongly with high light. Grows extensive banyan roots, and will probably need to be transplanted every two years. Leaf pruning is used to reduce leaf size; a total defoliation can be performed at the end of spring on healthy specimens. Wait until the branches have lignified slightly to wire. Summer is the best time to take cuttings.

    Ficus natalensis: Natal fig tree

    A very low maintanence tree: tolerates low light , dry soil, and even being placed in a hot, dry spot, for example, near a radiator. Temperature should be between 59-75F, and near the cooler end in winter. Can take vigorous root pruning, and will probably require transplanting after 2 years. Cut back shoots after 12 leaves have developed. Can be wired from mid-late summer, but wait until branches are lignified. Cuttings are best taken in summer, and root more successfully when bottom heat is applied.

    Ficus retusa: fig, banyan fig, Indian laurel

    Much more sensitive during repotting than the average Ficus. Root pruning should be gradual in temperate climates. Do not attempt to wire or prune extensively for three months after transplanting. Sudden changes of temperature may cause all the leaves to drop.

    Return to:Bonsai Info Index