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Ficus Bonsai Tree Care Guide

General Information:

Ficus sp. is a tropical encompassing more than 800 species. The ficus – or fig tree – is endemic to tropical regions all over the world. In its natural habitat, it may reach above 60 feet tall and just as wide.

This is one of the most beloved plants for bonsai because of its potential to become a fascinating visual piece as well as its forgiving nature in the care of new enthusiasts.

There are too many cultivars for an all-encompassing list but these are some of the most popular for use as bonsai:

  • Ficus benjamina – Weeping Fig
  • Ficus salicifolia – Narrow Leaf or Willow Leaf Fig
  • Ficus macrophylla – Morton Bay Fig
  • Ficus retusa – Banyan Fig or Indian Laurel

Tree's Attributes:

Each ficus species has its own unique properties. Some produce visible flowers – such as the reddish-orange blooms of the Morton Bay, and some have hidden blossoms that can only be pollinated by a specific wasp. The Weeping Fig is one of the most popular because of its lush, dark green leaves and ease of care.

Many Ficus sp., including the Banyan Fig, possess the well-known trait of aerial roots – roots that drop down from the branches and anchor themselves into the soil underneath, creating a visually stunning trunk arrangement.

Temperature/Lighting/Location:

The ficus is a true indoor bonsai, although it can be brought outdoors in the summer as long as the temperature is above 55 degrees. This bonsai prefers full sun (offer protection from full afternoon summer sun, however) but will grow adequately in less light as well. These plants do best without large fluctuations in moisture levels or temperature; indoor plants prefer a temperature between 60 and 80 degrees F. If placed in a cold or hot draft, the plant may drop leaves. Simply move it to an area with more consistent conditions.

Watering:

Ficus sp. are very forgiving and have a high tolerance for over or under-watering. Still, they should not be permitted to completely dry out. When it is time to water, fill the pot until water runs out the drainage holes. In addition, they enjoy daily misting for humidity's sake.

Fertilizing:

Feed your Ficus bonsai bi-weekly throughout the growing season. You may switch between a general balanced blend, and a high-nitrogen mixture at half strength. Decrease feeding frequency in winter.

Pruning/Training:

Styles – Ficus sp. can be formed into most bonsai shapes. Upright formal is a commonly used style, as well as cascade – particularly with certain cultivars.

Most Ficus bonsai respond well to pruning, although some varieties – like F. benjamina – will suffer dieback if pruned too aggressively. Ficus are in the same families as rubber trees, and so will bleed a milky latex when pruned. This may be alleviated somewhat by using dull trimmers. Branches can be trimmed at any time of the year. To reduce leaf size, trim back to two to four leaves once the shoot has six to ten leaves on it.

Ficus bonsai should be wired before the shoots harden – once the branches stiffen they are difficult to move. Because these trees can grow very quickly during the growing season, the wire must be monitored closely to avoid cutting in.

Propagation:

This plant roots easily from cuttings; specific instructions vary among the different species. The best success with cuttings is typically had in the middle of summer. Air layering is also a viable method and should be attempted in spring. They can be grown from seed, although mold can be a problem with the humidity and heat required for the process.

Repotting:

Ficus bonsai typically require repotting every two or three years, although sometimes there may be enough growth to warrant doing it yearly – just watch the roots and if they begin to grow out the bottom of the pot, then go ahead and repot. While it can be done any time of year, spring or mid-summer are ideal. Roots are amenable to being pruned aggressively, up to half. A general bonsai soil mix such as the Fujiyama potting medium may be used.

Insects/Pests & Diseases:

Fig trees are relatively pest and disease resistant. If they become sick, they could fall prey to scale or spider mites. A systemic insecticide may need to be used and the tree will need to be brought back to good health by addressing the core issue.

Ficus are unusual bonsai in that you can diagnose many different conditions just from the leaves:

  • Limp leaves – needs water
  • Green leaves dropping – over-watering or not enough light
  • Falling buds – over-watering or too cold
  • Pale leaves – needs fertilizer
  • Yellowing leaves with green veins – needs iron
  • Mottled yellow foliage – pest problem

Overall, the plethora of Ficus sp. from which to choose offers newcomers and veterans alike an interesting indoor plant that's easy to care for and can be shaped into the traditional bonsai forms.

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