There are more than 850 members of the Ficus genus, many of which have become popular houseplants—and for good reason. Not only are they attractive and easy to grow, but they're also excellent and relatively hardy houseplants that can withstand a variety of different settings and even a certain degree of benign neglect. Among the most popular picks is Ficus pumila, otherwise known as creeping fig. Unlike its larger, woody-stemmed cousins, which want to grow into towering trees, evergreen creeping fig is a more civilized vining plant—especially when grown as a houseplant. Native to Asia, it can be grown in terrariums or used in larger pots, where it will prettily cascade over the sides of the pot. As an young indoor plant, creeping fig sports small heart-shape glossy leaves on slender stems. Outside, mature leaves develop a leathery texture and elliptical shape on bushy stems.
Creeping fig is an eager climber and is better able to withstand aggressive trimming than finicky species like English ivy. It's best planted in fall and will grow slowly at first, picking up the pace as it matures. It can eventually reach lengths of up to 15 feet.
The milky sap of species in the Ficus genus can cause serious skin inflammation. It's a good idea to wear gloves when pruning the plant. Pets who chew on plants can experience severe irritation of the mouth, throat, and intestinal tract.
|Common Name||Creeping fig, climbing fig|
|Botanical Name||Ficus pumila|
|Plant Type||Vine, perennial|
|Mature Size||10–15 ft. tall, 3–6 ft. wide|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Hardiness Zones||9-11 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans, toxic to pets|
Creeping Fig Care
The key to a healthy creeping fig plant is to provide as much warm, humid air as possible, plenty of even moisture, and bright indirect 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 creeping fig plant around for longer than its natural indoor life, propagate the plant every other year or so. That way, when one plant declines, a new one will be waiting to take its spot.
If you choose to plant it in your outdoor garden, know that you will have to prune creeping fig consistently to ensure it doesn't take over nearby plants.
If grown outdoors within its recognized hardiness range and given ideal circumstances, creeping fig can become invasive, escaping to naturalize outside the garden and potentially forcing out native plant life. And it can become damaging if it grows up walls, where it can harm mortar and other fragile building materials.
Creeping fig plants prefer a bright spot in your home but do not like direct sunlight, which tends to scorch and burn the leaves. In general, you should aim to give your plant six to eight hours of diffused, indirect light each day. They can also survive in low-light conditions for a bit of time, but will definitely grow more slowly and potentially drop some of their leaves.
Creeping fig plants can grow in myriad soil types, so long as they're well-draining. Typically, you can opt for any store-bought, commercial potting mix.
Keep your plant steadily moist, but don't allow the roots to sit in water. The soil should be allowed to dry out before watering again. Generally, you should water your creeping fig regularly (about once a week) during its growing season, but taper off your cadence in fall and winter, when the plant tends toward partial dormancy. If you notice the plant's leaves browning or dropping from the plant, it's probably getting too much water.
Temperature and Humidity
True to its tropical heritage, creeping fig prefers a warm, moist environment. Temperatures indoors should be kept between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and never allowed to dip below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant prefers above-average humidity levels as well, so consider keeping it in an already-humid part of your home (like a kitchen or bathroom), or invest in a space humidifier.
While creeping fig doesn't need to be fertilized in order to thrive, you can feed it to help with its growth rate. If you choose to feed your plant, opt for a weak liquid fertilizer and feed once a month throughout the spring, summer, and fall, decreasing to every other month in the winter.
Types of Creeping Fig
The basic species plant has green leaves that are reddish or bronze when they first emerge, gradually becoming a deeper green. But because of creeping fig's hardiness and vigor, growers have developed different varieties, seeking more attractive and interesting leaf shapes. Here are some cultivars to consider:
- ‘Snowflake’ has variegated leaves with wide white margins.
- ‘Minima’ has very small leaves that make it especially good for indoor containers and hanging baskets.
- ‘Quercifolia’ has small leaves that resemble miniature oak leaves.
- ‘Sunny Fig’ has variegated leaves with wide white margins.
Indoor plants should be kept well pruned so trailing stems are no more than 3 feet long. Be aware that even indoor plants will cling to and climb up walls and other structures if you don't pay attention. Major pruning for both indoor potted plants and outdoor plants is best done in spring.
Outdoor plants can develop scorched leaves due to sun-scald. Lightly "prune" such plants by brushing your hand over the dead leaves to dislodge them.
Propagating Creeping Fig
These plants rarely flower indoors, so collecting seeds for propagation is not practical. However, creeping fig is easy to propagate through stem cuttings. Here's how:
- In early spring when the plant begins active growth, take a 4- to 6-inch cutting from a fresh growth tip.
- Plant the cutting in a small pot filled with sterile potting mix. (No rooting hormone is necessary.)
- Move the pots to a warm location with high humidity and bright but indirect light. Enclosing the pot in a clear plastic bag may help hold in humidity.
- When new growth begins to emerge, you can relocate to a more permanent container.
Potting and Repotting Creeping Fig
Creeping fig normally grows well in any well-draining pot filled with standard commercial potting mix. Any pot material will do, though lightweight plastic is a good choice for hanging plants. Repot the plant whenever roots are evident growing through the drainage holes—this may be necessary every year. These plants grow well if they are somewhat root-bound, so rather than potting up to a larger container, you can simply prune back the root ball and pot it back into the same container with fresh potting mix.
Feeding should be withheld during the winter months, when the plant enters a semi-dormant stage. Even indoor potted plants slow their growth during the winter. Watering should also be somewhat reduced—but not so much that leaves drop.
Creeping fig is vulnerable to a variety of pests common to the indoors, including aphids, mealybug, scale, and whitefly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat the plant immediately with a horticultural oil like neem oil. It's also wise to move the plant away from your other houseplants as a precaution until all signs of infestation are gone.
Creeping fig is not prone to any significant diseases.
Common Problems With Creeping Fig
Creeping fig is a largely problem-free plant, but several cultural problems may be noted, both with indoor and outdoor plantings:
Damage to Exterior Walls
When creeping fig is grown in the garden and allowed to climb up walls, the suckering discs by which the plant attaches itself can damage stucco, brick, or wood surfaces. The mortar between bricks can be dislodged, for example, loosening bricks. Even if the vine is successfully removed, unsightly stains from the adhesive discs often remain.
This can be avoided by giving the vine a trellis or other structure to support it, keeping it well away from building walls.
Leaves Are Scorched
Plants growing in exposed outdoor locations can be scorched by drying winter winds. While this doesn't really injure the plant, it is unsightly. Dead leaves can be simply brushed off by hand. To avoid the problem, plant creeping fig in a protected location.
Leaves Are No Longer Attractive
Creeping fig has two growth phases. Juvenile plants have smallish leaves that work very well for indoor potted plants. But as the plant matures, the leaves become much larger and leathery, and less attractive for indoor growing. The best strategy is to propagate new plants through stem cuttings and discard the old plant.
Potted Plant Loses Vigor
Provided it is getting its cultural needs met (plenty of indirect light and regular water), a potted creeping fig that begins to show a lack of vigor and sparse foliage has probably outgrown its pot. These quick-growing plants usually need annual repotting. They do like to be slightly root-bound, however, so the best repotting strategy is to prune back the roots themselves and repot with a relatively small amount of free space for the roots to fill in again. With potted plants, it's not practical to keep increasing pot size with each annual repotting.
How long does a creeping fig vine live?
For the first 10 years or so, this vine's growth direction is mostly upward, adding about 1 foot per year. After this point, the growth direction is more outward, and this is the point where it can become more invasive and destructive to outdoor structures. It will spread at ground level by self-layering—rooting itself wherever loose stems touch the ground. When it begins to colonize this way, creeping fig can live for many, many decades.
Indoor potted plants can similarly be kept alive for quite a long time, provided the plant's aggressive roots are regularly pruned back through repotting every year. But because old plants are less attractive, it is more common to discard old plants and propagate new ones.
How can I clean away the stains left on my exterior siding by the suckering discs?
This is a labor-intensive project, but the gummy stains left on siding from creeping figs suckering tendrils can usually be removed by scrubbing the siding with a mixture of water and either bleach or TSP (trisodium phosphate).
Does creeping fig work for topiary?
Yes. Younger plants have small, delicate leaves and stems that will shape themselves to topiary frames very readily. Creeping fig even works well for small tabletop topiaries. As the plant becomes old, the leaves and stems become larger and coarser, at which point you may need to discard the plant and start over.