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Ginseng Ficus Bonsai Care Guide

General Information

Ficus sp. is a genus of fig trees comprised of hundreds of species. This popular little tree is native to Asia, Africa, and other tropical regions around the world. Ginseng Grafted Ficus is commonly referred to as Ficus microcarpa 'Ginseng', although this causes some confusion in the bonsai world, as Ficus Ginseng is also used as the name of a non-grafted version of Ficus retusa. The grafted version is cultivated in China and Malaysia, then imported. The root is painstakingly developed into the multi-trunked, thick rooted base that earned the plant the name "Pot Belly Fig", then a small-leaved ficus is grafted onto the root, producing this fascinating tree.

Tree's Attributes

The small, glossy, dark green leaves of this tree are favored for their density and friendliness to shaping. The trunk is fat with exposed roots, giving it the look of the medicinal ginseng root even though it is unrelated. The lush, sturdy, tropical feel of the tree, often with aerial roots adding to its visual interest makes it a favorite among enthusiasts and an oft-recommended starter tree for beginners.

Temperature/Lighting/Location

Ginseng Ficus works well as an indoor bonsai, although being a tropical it also appreciates being outside in the summer. Consistency is the most important thing when it comes to temperature – indoors the plant should be kept in conditions between 60-80° F, and protected from drafts to avoid leaf drop. When outdoors in the hottest summer months, offer some protection from the direct afternoon sun.

Watering

F. Microcarpa is perfect for beginners because it is forgiving of errors in watering and care. It should not be left to dry out to the roots but it can tolerate some under and overwatering. When you do water, do so thoroughly, continuing to add water until it starts dripping out the drain holes. Watering can typically be reduced somewhat during winter. Daily misting or a humidity tray are both good options to keep the humidity levels up for this tropical.

Fertilizing

Ficus sp. should be fed every two weeks throughout the spring and summer, alternating between a good balanced fertilizer and a formula with a higher nitrogen level, diluted to half strength. Feeding may be decreased in the winter. This tree responds particularly well to fertilizer, producing vigorous new growth almost immediately.

Pruning/Training

Styles – The Ginseng Grafted Ficus is, of course, cultivated specifically to show off its impressive roots – so exposed root, and root-over-rock are ideal. Informal upright and cascade are also possibilities. The encouragement of aerial roots will help develop a stunning banyan tree look.

This tree responds well to pruning, though they are in the family with rubber trees, so milky latex will run out of the cut site. This is a good thing, albeit messy, because it forms a natural seal when dry. Reduce leaf size by trimming shoots back to two leaves, rather than by leaf trimming. Foliage trimming should be done in the late summer.

Wiring may be difficult with this tree due to the size of the trunk as well as the tendency of the wood to become very hard. It's usually better to guide the shape through clip and grow.

Propagation

Because each plant is cultivated individually to develop the substantial trunk system, propagation will likely result in a tree of the cultivar used for the grafted branches on top.

Cuttings take well with F. Microcarpa – use a four inch softwood piece about the diameter of a pinky finger. Treat the cutting with rooting hormone and place in sharp sand in a small pot. Once root growth develops, remove all leaves except the very top of the cutting and replace into the sand, placing in the shade for a couple of weeks. Next implement a seaweed fertilizer routine, wait two weeks and give a hydroponic fertilizer for three months. Remove the cutting and transplant into a regular bonsai container.

Repotting

Ginseng Ficus should be repotted every 2-3 years, in the springtime right before the growing season begins. About 10% of the root mass should be pruned. Transplant into a good bonsai medium.

Insects/Pests & Diseases:

Ficus microcarpa 'Ginseng' is resistant to disease and pest problems. Becoming ill could make them susceptible to spider mites or other critters, so maintaining a good feeding and watering routine is important to keep your tree healthy and immune.

The leaves of this species can tell you a lot about what's wrong:

  • Limp foliage – under-watered
  • Losing green foliage – over-watered or insufficient light
  • Bud fall – too cold or too much water
  • Pale foliage – insufficient fertilizer
  • Yellowing leaves/green veins – iron-deficient
  • Mottling and yellowing of foliage – pests

This bonsai is visually striking and easy to care for, making it a great choice for experienced enthusiasts as well as those new to the art-form.

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