How to Grow and Care for Ficus Trees

Two weeping fig trees in pots

Andersen Ross / Getty Images

The pendulous branches, birchlike bark, and glossy leaves of the ficus (Ficus benjamina) make it a beloved indoor tree. Also known as the weeping fig, this relative of the rubber plant can reach 6 feet high at maturity in its native countries of India and Malaysia. This species is a great option for indoor spaces large and small because it can be pruned to any preferred size.

Ficus trees can be purchased at different stages of growth, from small, 1-foot tall specimens to indoor trees potted in large containers, depending on the size of your space and your budget. Since this tree will regrow even when cut back to a few inches above the soil line, you can invest in a large plant and prune it to suit your needs when it begins to outgrow your space. If you have children or pets, grow your ficus tree safely out of reach, as this species is toxic.

  • Botanical Name: Ficus benjamina
  • Common Name: Ficus tree, weeping fig
  • Plant Type: Perennial evergreen
  • Mature Size: 6 feet high
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
  • Soil Type: Well-draining, fertile potting soil
  • Soil pH: 6.0–6.5
  • Toxicity: Toxic to humans and pets

Plant Care

Water your ficus enough that the soil stays evenly moist, but not soggy. If your plant is in a large pot, ensure the entire root ball is moistened well with each watering. Feed your ficus with houseplant fertilizer each month during the growing season, cutting back to every other month in the fall and winter.

Since this species loves humidity, it's also important to provide plenty of moisture in the air around your plant. Set its pot atop a tray of pebbles, adding water to just below the top of the pebbles, to naturally increase humidity. You can also grow your ficus as a bathroom plant (provided there is a window with enough light) or add a humidifier to the room.

As with many houseplants, you'll need to give your ficus the occasional bath to clean the buildup of dust on its foliage. Rinse the plant in lukewarm water either outside or in the bathtub and allow excess water to run from the pot's drainage holes.

If you notice a few of your ficus tree's leaves falling, don't be alarmed. As long as new growth appears to replace them, this is simply part of the plant's normal growth process.

Best Growing Conditions for Ficus Trees

Find a spot with lots of bright, indirect light to display your ficus. It's a great plant to keep in a corner near a large south-facing window or next to a glass patio door. A sunny spot will help your plant grow faster, but it will also cause it to absorb more water and dry out frequently.

Keep an eye on soil moisture while your plant adjusts to your space. Soft, brown spots or yellow patches on the leaves indicate that your plant is overwatered. An underwatered ficus will appear dry and crispy, but either type of insufficient watering can cause dropping leaves on this species.

Choose a spot where temperatures at night don't drop below the high 60s. Like its relative, the fiddle-leaf fig, your ficus will have a tendency to drop leaves when it experiences a change in environment. This is likely to happen whether you're bringing it home from the garden center for the first time or moving its position in your home. 

The plant drops its old leaves and grows new ones that can adjust to growing healthy in its new environment. Though the leaf drop may last for a few months, your ficus will eventually stabilize. 

Types of Ficus Trees

There are several types of ficus trees that you might find in nurseries or your local garden center. 'Variegata' is the most common cultivar, with a mix of dark green and cream or pale yellow leaves. 'Starlight' takes this appearance to an extreme with pale yellow leaves streaked with only a little green. 'Indigo,' with very dark, shiny green leaves, is a great cultivar for lower-light environments. The cultivar 'Natasja' features long, pointy green leaves and is often sold with several stems braided together. 

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How to Propagate Ficus Trees

Ficus trees can be propagated via two different methods: tip cuttings and air layering. The former is useful if you're doing routine pruning of your ficus for size. The latter comes in handy if you're dealing with a specimen that has experienced significant leaf drop, with all its leaves concentrated at the top of the tree, or if it's severely outgrown your space. Here's how to propagate your plant:

How to Propagate Ficus Tree via Cuttings

Step 1: Find a healthy stem from which to take your cutting. Use a clean, sharp gardening blade to cut off a stem tip, making the cut below a node. 

Step 2: Root the cutting in water and keep the temperature lukewarm. Ensure the node is submerged and put the glass in a sunny window. After several weeks, you should see small roots beginning to grow from the node. 

Step 3: When the new roots are about 5 inches long, plant the cutting in a small container of moist potting soil. Keep the cutting in a warm, sunny environment with good humidity, then care for the plant as usual.  

How to Propagate Ficus Tree via Air Layering

Step 1: Gather a clean, sharp gardening blade; a toothpick; a handful of long-fibered sphagnum moss; a length of twine or some twist ties; and a sheet of clear plastic. You may also choose to use powdered rooting hormone to increase your chances of success. 

Step 2: Choose the spot on your ficus tree's stem where you'd like new roots to grow. If you're working with a too-tall tree with a bare stem, choose a spot that's 6 inches or more below the lowest leaves. 

Step 3: At that point, carefully make an upward diagonal cut a third of the way through the stem or branch. Insert the toothpick into the cut sideways to keep it open. Optional: Apply rooting hormone to the cut surface of the stem to encourage root growth.

Step 4: Moisten the sphagnum moss, then affix it to the cut area of the stem with the twine or twist ties. The new roots will grow into the moss. 

Step 5: Use the twine or twist ties to tie the plastic around the stem just above and below the moss ball so that it's completely covered. This will keep the moss moist. 

Step 6: After a few months, you should see new roots growing through the moss ball. At this point, you can remove the plastic and cut through the stem just below the new growth. Plant the new ficus (including the moss) in a container with moist potting soil, then care for it as usual. 

Step 7: Cut back the stem of the original ficus to about 5 inches above the soil line. Keep the soil just barely moist. When you see new growth, care for the tree as usual. 

Since your ficus will grow back even after aggressive pruning, air layering is a helpful way to get a new plant out of the top leaves while regrowing the original plant.

Common Problems With Ficus Trees

Ficus trees are usually easy to grow when given the right light, soil type, and water requirements, but they're still prone to some common problems that usually involve the leaves. Here's how to diagnose and treat your plant:

Dropping Leaves

If you're new to growing ficus trees, don't be alarmed by dropping leaves, which are usually an indicator of a temperature change. For instance, if you moved your plant from outside to inside, a few leaves may drop. Let the leaves fall and be sure to stabilize the tree's environment in terms of temperature, humidity, and watering.

Yellowing Leaves

Yellowing leaves are typically caused by underfeeding or overwatering, and they usually happen alongside leaf drop. If you suspect your plant is overwatered, simply cut back on its watering schedule and allow the soil to dry (but not completely). On the other hand, it might be time to add fertilizer if your plant has not been fed regularly in the last few months. Begin fertilizing it once per month until the tree returns to its healthy state.

Fungal Infections

Another common problem is the appearance of tiny dark dots on your ficus tree's leaves caused by fungal infections. Cercospora leaf spot, or leaf spot fungus, is a common problem when dealing with ficus trees. Remove the infected leaves before they infect neighboring leaves, then spray the tree with a sulfur spray or a copper-based fungicide about once a week until the problem is under control.

Potting and Repotting Ficus Trees

While your ficus tree can stay in the same pot for several years, it's important to watch for signs that it's potbound, which will make it increasingly difficult to give the plant enough water. This is likely the case when its roots are growing above the soil line or out of the drainage holes at the bottom of its pot.

When this happens, repot your ficus in a slightly larger container with fresh, well-draining potting soil. Try to repot this species during the spring to allow it plenty of time to become established in its new pot during the growing season. It's best to use a porous terracotta pot that allows excess moisture to evaporate, but other pots are also suitable—just ensure that regardless of its material, your plant's pot has plenty of drainage holes.

FAQs

Do Ficus Trees Like Sun or Shade?

Ficus trees grow best when given plenty of indirect sunlight. This can be provided by growing your plant near a south- or west-facing window. Too much direct sun can cause your plant to drop its leaves.

Are Ficus Trees Indoor or Outdoor?

Ficus trees make great indoor plants, but they also grow naturally in tropical areas outside. You can grow your ficus tree outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 through 11, or move your plant outside for the summer to an area with bright, filtered sunlight. Some of these trees can survive in full sun, but it's important to gradually move your plant into the sun with an adjustment period. If it begins dropping a significant amount of leaves, move it back to a shadier spot with plenty of indirect light.

Are Ficus Trees Easy to Care For?

Ficus trees are simple to care for as long as they are provided with the right amounts of light and water. It's especially important to maintain temperatures above 60 degrees to keep this species growing healthy.

How Long Can Ficus Trees Live?

When cared for properly, your ficus tree can live indoors for 20 to 30 years. Prune your plant to remove any dying stems and leaves, provide it with regular fertilizing, and place it in a spot with bright, indirect light to encourage lasting growth.

Article Sources
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  1. Toxicity of Common Houseplants. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 2015

  2. Fig. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 2022