Ficus benjamina "Weeping fig" Complete Care Guide
The weeping fig is one of the most popular trees to be grown indoors. It seems to me that the main reason for that is its appearance. Ficus benjamina is actually a real tree, with its hard trunk crowned with branches full of green leaves. Of all house plants this is the one which is the closest to our understanding of what a tree should look like.
The most important thing is light, a lot of light. This is the basic condition you have to meet if you want your ficus to be healthy and develop in the best possible way. Place the fig near a bright window as close as possible, e.g. on the windowsill. In a shady place Benjamin’s fig will stop growing and will lose its leaves.
Ficus benjamina likes light so much that it can also start to lose its leaves when autumn comes and there is less light available. With less light, the plant will not be able to cover all its energetic needs and because of that will shed some of its leaves – particularly those on the inside, which have less light and which will be nothing but a burden for the plant. In spring, when there is more light, the plant will thicken out again.
Some sources say that the plant should not be rotated, because in such a case it will start to lose its leaves. I do not know where this opinion comes from – I find it to be complete nonsense. In my view, you should rotate the fig 180° every 1-2 weeks for it to get light from the other side. Thanks to that the tree will grow straight up and its leaves and branches will expand equally in all directions. No worry, ficus will not start to lose its leaves because of that, I have tested it over many years. Of course, I am writing here about temporary changes of position. If you rotate the tree and leave it in the new position for a long time, it will shed its leaves on the darker side.
After being bought and brought home, the ficus benjamina may need from a few months to even a year to adapt to a new environment. During this time it can grow poorly and be susceptible to infection. After acclimatizing to the new place, the above mentioned problems disappear and the fig becomes a rather resistant and easy to grow plant.
Water the weeping fig only when the soil it grows in becomes dry. Of course, this will happen more often in summer; in winter the fig grows more slowly and the soil takes longer to dry. Watering the tree when the soil has not dried out at least a little threatens the roots with rotting and, as a result, the plant will die. However, postponing watering for too long, i.e. leaving the plant in dry soil for a few days (especially in summer) can cause poor growth and the tree to be in bad condition.
The leathery leaves, covered with a thin wax-like layer, make the ficus insensitive to dry air. However, it is worth sprinkling it with water from time to time to make the leaves cleaner.
Ficus benjamina ‘Variegata’
In the vegetation period you can add some fertilizer to the water every 2-3 weeks. This is not, however, necessary if you repot the fig regularly (see below).
Pruning and repotting
It is a good idea to cut the tips of the ficus’ branches every spring. For two reasons. Firstly, thanks to that, the crown of the tree will thicken and the branches will spread. Secondly, you will be able to form the tree into a better shape by proper pruning of its branches.
You should repot the ficus every 2 years to a pot with a diameter bigger by about 4 cm (1,5 in). This way you will provide the roots with more space and nutrients and the plant with a more stable support. In case of larger specimens it is enough to replace the top layer of the soil (2-4 cm / 1-2 in).
If the weeping fig starts to lean to one side, support it with bamboo canes or other sticks (you can buy them in any gardening centre). To prevent the plant leaning over, rotate it 180° every 1-2 weeks.
Pests / infections
The Benjamin’s fig is most susceptible to pests when it is adapting to a new place. During this time it can become a target of the scale insect, mealybug or spider mite. I have only had problems with the latter, sometimes also known as “red spider”. What should you do if your ficus is infested with bugs? If you cannot recognize which pest has attacked your plant, take a picture of the infected part of the plant and show it to the gardening centre shop assistant and they will offer you a suitable treatment that will help you fight the pest.
As I have already mentioned, my ficus benjamina has only been a target of the spider mite (easy to recognize due to the spider’s web that it weaves among the branches of the plant). However, you can find opinions in literature that say it is the scale insect and mealybug that infest the fig the most often.
You can propagate the ficus benjamina with tip cuttings.
You will find a lot of general information about the care of potted flowers in the post “The basics of house plant care”.
The weeping fig is a tree which can reach a height of 5 m indoors (you can, however, cut it to any desired height). There is a bushy crown of branches at the top of the hard trunk, with green leaves 8 cm (3 in) long and 2,5 cm (1 in) wide.
Leaves of the cultivar ‘Variegata’. White patches visible.
The cultivar Variegata is distinguished by its green and white leaves. It needs even more light than the standard, green cultivar (visible in the photograph at the top of the article). The brighter the room it lives in, the bigger and brighter the white parts of the leaves become.
Sometimes small yellow fruit (reportedly edible) can be found on the plant.
In its natural environment the Benjamin’s fig is a big tree reaching as much as 30 m (98 ft) tall.
Ficus benjamina ‘Variegata’
I took the photo in winter. Weak winter light made many of the white patches turn green.
Ficus benjamina belongs to the Moraceae family. It is a species native to warm regions of Asia and Australia.
It is the official tree of the city of Bangkok in Thailand.