The Ficus genus contains some of the most beautiful, widespread and important plants in the world. Native to the tropics and subtropics, ficus are important food plants, landscape plants, houseplants, and even religious plants. As houseplants, there is a fairly wide selection of ficus species commonly available, including the creeping fig, or F. pumila (sometimes also called F. repens). Unlike its larger, woody-stemmed cousins, which want to grow into towering trees, the F. pumila is actually a mostly well-behaved vining plant. It can be grown in terrariums or used as a ground cover in larger pots, where it will prettily cascade over the sides of the pot. In warmer zones, it's often used as a groundcover in the landscape. Where F. pumila really shines, however, is as a topiary plant, even for indoor topiary. It's an eager climber, can withstand aggressive trimming, and is much less finicky than English ivy. Newer cultivars feature beautiful variegation and leaf texture.
- Light: It prefers a bright room, but does not like direct sunlight. It can survive in low-light conditions for an extended period but will grow more slowly and perhaps drop leaves.
- Water: Keep steadily moist, but don't allow it to sit in water or it will drop leaves and suffer from root rot.
- Soil: Any good, fast-draining potting soil will likely do.
- Fertilizer: Feed with a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season.
F. pumila is easy to propagate through stem-tip cuttings. Remove stem cuttings in the early spring, when the plant begins growing again, and pot up in a sterile potting mix. Keep the container warm with high ambient humidity in a bright but not sunny location. When new growth begins to emerge, you can relocate to a more permanent container.
Smaller plants that are grown as little specimens, such as those in topiaries, should be repotted annually, in conjunction with an aggressive trimming so the plant won't overgrow its surroundings. If you want to dwarf them, you can also root prune when you're repotting to keep the plants smaller. Topiaries should be repotted every other year, being careful not to disturb the structure of the plant.
There are of course hundreds of varieties of ficus. Ficus pumila (also known as F. repens) is native to east Asia, where it is used frequently as a landscape plant. Because of the plant's hardiness and vigor, growers have experimented with different varieties, seeking more attractive and interesting leaf shapes. Look for cultivars with variegated, almost ivy-like leaves such as 'Snowflake' or cultivars with interesting leaf texture. The basic plant has green leaves that are reddish or bronze when they first emerge.
Ficus pumila are excellent and relatively hardy houseplants. They are better at withstanding cold temperatures than many other ficus and won't necessarily drop their leaves at the first whisper of a cold, dry draft. They can also be moved more easily than other ficus, again without dropping their leaves. The key to healthy growth is to provide as much warm, humid air as possible, plenty of even moisture, and bright light but not direct sunlight. However, it's worth noting that even very healthy and well cared-for plants will likely only last a few years in their pots—ultimately their root structures are designed for aggressive and spreading growth. And it's highly unlikely your indoor plant will ever bloom or yield fruit. If you want to keep your Ficus pumila around for longer, simply propagate the plant every other year or so, so when one declines, a new one will be waiting to take its spot. Ficus pumila are vulnerable to pests including aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and white fly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat with the least toxic option.