- Author: Jenni Dodini
The thing that I love about traveling is learning what a plant looks like in its natural habitat. I learned quite a bit about Ficus trees during my trip to Costa Rica. The things that I knew before the trip were few: 1. They are beautiful, and 2. If left to my tender mercies they will surely die.
This tree had to be over 50 feet tall! I almost fell backwards when trying to get this picture to include the top of it.
This is me at the base of it and below is a close up of what its roots looked like going into the ground.
Of course, upon my return home, I had to look things up, so I consulted the Sunset Western Garden Book and also looked on-line at gardeningknowhow.com and HGTV.gardens.com just to get a different point of view. Then the idea of this blog was born.
The ficus is a member of the fig family, Moraceae. The family includes the commercial, edible fig as well as climbing figs, the banyan tree and the potted rubber tree. (I was really surprised about the banyan tree!) They are classed together because of the fruit they produce, which is mostly NOT edible. While they are considered a tropical plant, they can be grown successfully outdoors in our area. However, none were listed as growing in our zone, 14, but they will if they are grown indoors or in a location protected from wind and frost. There are 9 species listed in the Sunset Western Garden Book, but for brevity, I will only discuss the ones that are more common to our area. I will not talk about the edible fig tree as that is a whole other discussion.
The Ficus benjamina is a very popular houseplant, except at my house. It is native to India, Malaysia, and Hawaii. If grown outdoors, in its native environment, it can grow to 80 feet tall and spread to 70 feet wide! In California, they do well in the southern part of the state, but only grow to about half that size. The roots are VERY invasive. They do well in pots. They do well in sun or shade, but exposure needs vary by species.
The Ficus pumila, "Creeping fig" seems more suited to our area as it is listed for zones 8 - 24. It is native to China, Japan, and Australia. It is actually a vine and attaches itself securely, even to metal, in a barnacle-like fashion. Since it is generally grown on protected walls, it does well in cooler climates. However, it is prone to sunburn on south or west facing walls. It has tiny heart shaped leaves when young and has invasive roots and can get wild if untrimmed. The recommendation is to trim it down to the ground every few years.
The Ficus elastica is the rubber tree and the Ficus lyrata is the "Fiddle leaf" for obvious reasons. They both have the same characteristics as above.
All are considered to be finicky plants. They like indirect or filtered light. They do not tolerate low temperatures or drafts. The ambient temperature needs to be greater than 60, and preferably greater than 70. They like high humidity, but do not like their roots to be wet, so they only need to be watered when the soil in the top of the pot is dry. They do like consistent watering. They grow rapidly and require monthly fertilizer in the spring and summer and every 2 months in the fall and winter. To limit the growth, trim regularly and only repot every 2 years.
The #1 problem is leaf drop, which is usually caused by a stressor. The most common stressors are too much or little water, low humidity, too little light, relocating, repotting, drafts, and temperature fluctuations or extremes. A stressed plant is more inclined to become infested by pests. The usual suspects are mealy bugs, scales, spider mites, and aphids. If you notice "sap" on a tree, it is actually honeydew from a pest. You can use Neem oil to treat for pests.
I hope that you have better luck than I do. I just appreciate the beauty of other people's plants.