Caring for a Ficus Tree Houseplant

By Susan Landis-Steward , last updated March 30, 2011

The always popular ficus tree is a member of the fig family and perfect for caring for as a houseplant. There are several varieties of this plant that are grown as houseplants. Among these are the ficus benjamina or weeping fig, the ficus lyrata or fiddle head fig, and the ficus elastica decora or rubber tree. The ficus comes in many shapes and sizes that make this a popular focal point in your home. The Bodhi tree, under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment, is believed by many to have been a ficus religiosa. The most popular as an indoor tree is the ficus benjamina.

Ficus benjamina is a beautiful and desirable tree but can be frustrating for the indoor gardener. The name weeping fig refers to the branches that droop low, but many think it refers to the tree's frustrating habit of losing its leaves.

The ficus benjamina prefers bright light but cannot handle complete direct sunlight unless it has been given a chance to become completely acclimated. The ficus comes from tropical regions with distinct seasons. During the dry season, the ficus drops its leaves, only to regrow them during the rainy season. Matching your watering to the light can help with this problem. During the bright dry season, step up your watering to help the plant grow. During times with less light, cut back on the water as the plant's growth slows during this time.

Ficus plants have aggressive root systems and can quickly become pot bound, making watering more difficult. Repot the plant into a slightly larger pot when this happens. Repot only every other year to slow growth and keep your ficus under control. Make sure your ficus' soil is uniformly moist at all times, but not wet.

In some climates, your ficus will benefit from a summer outdoors. Again, keep it in bright light, but not in direct sunlight. Expect to have some leaf drop when the plant is moved back into the house. Indoors, leaf drop may occur due to the drier, warmer conditions in the house. Always remember that leaf drop is a normal part of the ficus' survival strategy and some is to be expected. Ficus do not like change, so if the normal leaf drop is a problem, find a place where your ficus thrives and don't move it from that spot. If your home is dry in the winter, when you have cut back on watering, mist the plant regularly and don't let the root ball dry out.

The ficus likes rich, well-drained soil with plenty of humus. Keep the winter temperature around your ficus above 55 degrees Fahrenheit and keep it out of cold drafts. In the summer, let your tree lavish in the warmth and, if possible, set it out in the garden or on a patio. Feed it at the beginning of the growing season using slow-release fertilizer pellets.

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