Ficus are getting their moment in the proverbial sun with the current love affair with the Fiddle Leaf Fig. Different types of ficus have been popular for as long as people have been keeping houseplants. The ficus species which produce fruit are closely intertwined with history and human cultures. This type as well as several others hold significant religious significance across the world. Indoor gardeners are drawn to ficus and are willing to go above and beyond to keep their indoor figs alive. For most people, ficus follow the first pancake rule of houseplant parenting; that first one is likely to not come out perfect. There are a few things that successful ficus parents all seem to do and following these rules will help lead to success.
Practice radical honesty with yourself about the amount of light and space you have to commit your plant. There is a ficus for every home environment, but an unhappy ficus is able to completely collapse within weeks. If the ficus you want to purchase becomes a tree when in its natural habitat, you can expect that it will want to have direct sunshine on its leaves. If the light in your home is coming through standard windows, directly in front of one of those windows with four hours of direct sunlight on the leaves will work. Skylights, oversized windows, and any windows which allow light to come from above will give you more options for placing some of the varieties which will adjust to living with extremely bright light without direct sun.
Have realistic expectations for the differences between what a plant looks like when it is grown in a greenhouse and what it is going to do in a home. A ficus tree will shed leaves until it has reached the number of leaves it is able to sustain at the current light levels. Your new ficus will likely lose however many leaves it will need to lose in order for light to pass through the plant. More sun always equals less leaf drop during the initial shock of coming home and will encourage the plant to keep as many old leaves as possible. An established, well-acclimated ficus can be a thing of beauty.
Listen to your plant. Ficus of all kinds react very quickly to any negative experience. If they are losing leaves, they are not asking to be fertilized or begging for more water. If your plant is actively growing, it is telling you that it is ready for more regular waterings and it may be time to provide a shot of balanced houseplant fertilizer. If the plant is hanging on for years without thriving or dying, your ficus is telling you that it loves the way you care for it but it would really enjoy more light.
Resist the urge to solve ficus problems by moving or repotting your plant. Unless you have realized that the light levels are far too low and are moving the plant to a sunnier position, it is going to react by dropping even more leaves. Moving a ficus multiple times in a short period could put the plant into severe enough shock for it to die.
The most important part of ficus parenting is to know the individual personality of the plant you are purchasing. Here is a quick guide to some of the varieties available.
Ficus Lyrata: The giant leaved star of the ficus family right now. For a plant that is generally easy to grow, they create some struggle for plant parents. Unless these guys are living in a sunroom situation, they are not a plant that will be satisfied with living in a corner. Most issues with this particular species can be traced back to either insufficient light, or root rot. Fiddle Leaf Figs want to be the star attraction in the brightest light you have to offer. They will adjust to life without direct sunlight, but this will require some lowered expectations as far as the number of leaves the plant will be able to support. As with all plants, but particularly with ficus, more direct sunlight will require that the plant be watered more frequently. When they are living in a location that they are tolerating, allowing the soil to go quite dry becomes very important. There is often a great deal of concern regarding the occasional brown markings which appear on the new growth of Fiddle Leaf Figs. This is generally normal, particularly if the plant is getting enough sunlight. The new growth is easily damaged by touching, so leaves should be allowed to develop undisturbed.
Ficus Elastica: The classic rubber tree is a fantastic houseplant if you have good bright light. The green or burgundy leaved varieties will adjust to bright indirect light very well. This is a plant that generally loves a neglectful waterer. There are variegated varieties, which require more light to maintain the variegation and the pink colors that they often display in the greenhouse. As with most variegated plants, these varieties are more prone to rot and will grow slower. It is important to allow all rubber tree plants to dry thoroughly between waterings and to never allow them to stand in water foe extended periods of time. th a salesperson, so never be afraid to ask.
Ficus ‘Audrey’ (Benghalensis) is the rubber tree’s fancy cousin who only visits on holidays. This plant becomes a massive tree in its native home of India, but it will be a perfectly happy resident of any home that is able to provide very bright light with a little bit of direct sunlight. ‘Audrey’ looks and behaves similarly to her slightly less popular cousins and will provide a slightly softer look. As with the regular rubber tree, allowing this one to dry out between waterings is definitely necessary.
Ficus Altissima, or the Council Tree looks and behaves very much like a variegated ficus ‘Audrey.’ It is another easy care plant if provided with sufficient bright light and a bit of direct sun at some point during the day. This is another plant that wants to be a 100 foot tall forest tree, so expect to pull out the pruning shears if it is happy. It bears repeating that it is extremely important to allow the larger leaved ficus varieties to go dry between waterings. You do not want them to dry to the point where they actually droop, but be certain that it is ready before you water. A water meter may be helpful if you are unsure.
Ficus Benjamina is the classic weeping fig that has been used forever in interior plantscapes. There are a ton of improved varieties such as ‘Midnight,’ which do not tend to succumb to the traditional flaws of an old fashioned Ficus Benjamina. These plants require a sunny window. They should receive at least four hours of direct sun on their leaves every day. The newer varieties will resist leaf drop, but typically, these trees will respond to any move or shift in conditions by dropping some leaves. An old fashioned Ficus Benjamina would be expected to lose about thirty percent of its leaves within a few weeks to a month of being moved. They are place them and then leave them plants. A weekly turning to keep the plant even is not recommended for these guys, as they will respond by losing leaves every time you turn them. A healthy Ficus Benjamina truly brings the feeling of the outdoors into your home if you are able to accommodate their needs. This type of ficus prefers a little more frequent watering, but still resents being allowed to stand in water. There are many dwarf and specialty varieties of Ficus Benjamina available. If it has been a while since you have tried one, they are definitely worth another chance, particularly with the range of colors and variegation now available.
Many specialty varieties and species of ficus are available. From creeping varieties that thrive in the hands of habitual overwaterers, to exotic species such as Ficus Triangularis. Many of the specialty varieties require very bright light to direct sunlight and have much higher humidity requirements than the more commonly available species. It is best to discuss the more unusual varieties and their needs before purchase.
Pests are not a terribly common concern when a ficus is grown in the best environment. In homes, the most common pest concern would be scale. Since scale is usually the same color as the bark, it can be difficult to spot. The first sign most people will notice is a sticky sap-like substance on the leaves. Scale is easily controlled with a series of sprayings with a neem oil product.
Whether your wishlist starts with a huge lush Fiddle Leaf Fig or you are hunting down that Ficus Pumila var. ‘Quercifolia’ to add the final touch to a terrarium, there is a ficus plant that will live for you. Learning to grow ficus is fairly straightforward, but it can be a learning process. Always remember, it is completely acceptable if you end up having to throw out that first pancake. Your odds of success increase when you ask for assistance and discuss your options with a salesperson, so never be afraid to ask.