How to Care for Your Ficus

two weeping fig trees in white pots on a shelf above a white bathtub with a window

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The pendulous branches, birchlike bark, and delicate, glossy leaves of the ficus (Ficus benjamina, also known as weeping fig) make it a beloved indoor tree. This relative of the rubber plant reaches 20 to 30 feet at maturity in its native India and Malaysia, but it’s still a great option for indoor spaces large and small because it can be pruned to whatever size you need.

You can purchase ficus plants at different stages of growth, from small, foot-tall specimens to indoor trees potted in large containers, depending on how much space you have and how much you want to spend. Since this tree will regrow even when cut back to a few inches above the soil line, you can invest in a good-sized plant, then cut it back to suit your needs when it begins to outgrow your space. 

‘Variegata’ is the most common cultivar, with a mix of dark green and cream or pale yellow leaves; ‘Starlight’ takes that to an extreme, with buff to 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. 

Best Growing Conditions for Your Ficus

Make sure you have a place with either direct sun or lots of bright, indirect light to display your ficus. It’s a great plant to keep in a corner near a large window or next to a glass patio door. Ficus trees also thrive in high-humidity environments, making then a great candidate for a bathroom with a big east- or west-facing window.

A sunny spot will help your plant grow more quickly but will also cause the plant to use more water and dry out more frequently, so be sure to keep an eye on soil moisture while your plant adjusts to your space. Choose a spot where temperatures at night don’t drop below the high 60s.

Note that like its relative the fiddle-leaf fig, your ficus has a tendency to drop leaves when it experiences a change in environment, whether you’re bringing it home from the garden center or plant shop for the first time or moving its position in your home. 

The plant drops its old leaves and grows new ones that will be able to grow well in its new environment. Thought the leaf drop may last for a few months, your ficus will eventually stabilize. 

If you notice only a few of your ficus's leaves falling with new growth appearing to replace them, don't be alarmed. That’s just the plant’s normal growth process.

How to Care for Your Ficus

Water your ficus often enough, so that the soil stays evenly moist, but not soggy. If your plant is in a large pot, be sure that the entire root ball is getting moistened well when you water. Feed your ficus with houseplant fertilizer every six months. Yellowing leaves or leaf drop are typically caused by underfeeding. 

As with many houseplants, you’ll need to give your ficus the occasional bath to clean the buildup of dust on its foliage. Use warm, soapy water with very mild dish soap to clean the leaves, then rinse with plain water. Your shower is a great place to do this. 

While your ficus can stay in the same pot for several years, it’s important to watch for signs that it is potbound—it will become increasingly difficult to give the plant enough water. When this happens, it’s time to repot your ficus in a slightly larger container with fresh potting soil. 

How to Propagate Your Ficus

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 are dealing with a specimen that has experienced significant leaf drop, with all its leaves concentrated at the top of the tree, or has severely outgrown your space. 

How to Propagate Your Ficus By Tip Cuttings

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

Step 2: Place the cutting in a glass of room-temperature water, taking care that the node is submerged, and put the glass in a sunny window. After several weeks, you should see small roots begin to grow from the node. 

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

How to Propagate Your Ficus By Air Layering

Air layering is a propagation method that prompts a new plant to grow at a point along the mother plant’s stem. It’s a good way to deal with a ficus that has become very tall and lost its lower leaves because of leaf drop.

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

Step 1: Gather a clean, sharp 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 our ficus plant’s stem where you’d like new roots to grow. If you are working with a too-tall tree with a bare stem, choose a spot that’s six or more inches below the lowest leaves. 

Step 3: Carefully make an an upward diagonal cut a third of the way through the stem or branch at this point. 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, moss and all, in a container with moist potting soil and care for it as usual. 

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

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