Ficus plants have been popular houseplants for many decades, 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.
About Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila)
The Ficus genus contains some of the most beautiful, widespread, and important plants in the world. Native to the tropics and subtropics, ficuses are important food plants, landscape plants, houseplants, and even religious plants.
There are more than 850 members of the Ficus genus; among them are several species commonly available for indoor gardeners, 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 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 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.
How to Grow Creeping Fig Indoors
The key to a healthy creeping fig plant 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 than its natural indoor life, simply propagate the plant every other year or so. That way, when one declines, a new one will be waiting to take its spot. Ficus pumila is vulnerable to pests including aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and whitefly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat it with the least toxic option.
- Light: Ficus pumila 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 for creeping fig.
- Fertilizer: Feed creeping fig with a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season.
Creeping fig 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.
Dwarf Specimens and Topiaries
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 hundreds of varieties of ficus. Ficus pumila 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.