Ficus Fig or Banyan Care Guide
Ficus sp. is a genus made up of more than 800 species. This tropical is native to warm climates worldwide and may reach upwards of 60 feet in height and width in these natural habitats. Ficus is actually a fig tree, and is a favorite among enthusiasts because of its easy care and visual interest.
One of the draws of this tree is its tendency to develop aerial roots, thus becoming a "banyan" tree – a tree which appears to have many mini-trunks, due to these roots suspending down from the canopy into the soil.
Common cultivars used for a banyan tree effect:
- Ficus benghalensis – this tree is known as the "true banyan"
- Ficus benjamina – Benjamin Tree, Weeping Fig – F. benjamina is perfect for beginners with its tolerance for low light and forgiveness of new enthusiasts' errors; it also develops striking aerial roots
- Ficus macrophylla – known as the Moreton Bay Fig and Australian Banyan
- Ficus retusa – Banyan Fig or Indian Laurel, has outstanding aerial roots
- Ficus microcarpa – Banyan Tree, Green Island Fig
Each species has slightly different traits. The leaves tend to a dark green, glossy finish. F. Retusa is favored for its aerial roots and amenability to leaf reduction.
F. Macrophylla produces aerial roots readily as long as the humidity is high enough, and doesn't suffer from much leaf drop. The bark on most varieties tends to a grayish color that bears a resemblance to animal skin (and in fact one cultivar of F. Microcarpa is called Tiger Bark for its striking striped pattern).
One main attraction of this tree is that it is one of the few true indoor bonsai. It will thrive outdoors in summer, however, as long as the temperature stays higher than 55° F. When outside, offer full sun with protection from the hottest afternoon summer rays. Ficus prefer fairly consistent moisture levels and temperatures, with indoor bonsai doing best when the air is between 60-80° F. Avoid cold or hot drafts.
This tree is easy to care for and can tolerate some over or under watering. Like most bonsai, however, it should not be allowed to dry out altogether. Water thoroughly until the water drips out the drainage hole. For purposes of developing a banyan tree, the bonsai should be misted each time you water it. A humidity tray is also very beneficial in encouraging aerial roots to form.
Ficus should be fed every two weeks during the growing season, alternating between a good balanced mixture and one that is higher in nitrogen diluted to half strength. Feeding frequency should be reduced in the winter.
Styles – Ficus sp. takes well to most bonsai shapes.
Most fig trees do well with pruning. They are in the same family as the rubber tree, so when a branch is cut the tree will leak a milky latex substance. Dull trimmers can help with this. The tree may be trimmed throughout the year. For leaf reduction wait until a shoot has 6-10 leaves then trim down to 2-4 leaves.
This bonsai needs to be wired while the shoots are still flexible. Once the branches lignify it becomes difficult to train them. Check the wire often as fig trees are very vulnerable to scarring.
To encourage aerial roots for a banyan tree:
- Maintain foliage in the upper canopy, above where you want aerial roots to develop. They grow best when shaded, and it helps keep the moisture in which causes more vigorous root growth.
- Protect young air roots by slipping a plastic straw over them until they establish firmly in the soil.
- Keep the tree warm and humidified. It is a tropical plant, and banyan roots will not form readily in low temperatures.
Banyan trees may be propagated easily by cuttings; instructions vary among the different species so you will want to research your variety.
This should be carried out every two to three years or so. Keep an eye on the roots to make sure it doesn't need transplanting earlier. Spring or summer is the ideal time to repot this bonsai, and the roots may be aggressively pruned at the same time. Use an all-purpose well-draining bonsai soil.
Insects/Pests & Diseases
The fig tree is fairly resistant to disease and pest problems.
If spider mites or scale are noticeable on the plant, an insecticide may be used. The leaves can tell you a lot about this kind of bonsai so watch for wilting, discoloration, spots, or health problems of any kind.
Ficus sp. are enjoyable bonsai for veterans and new enthusiasts alike, and with a little extra effort may be transformed into amazing banyan trees that will be conversation starters for years to come.