How to Grow and Care for Ficus Trees

ficus benjamina

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle 

The ficus tree may look like a basic plant with narrow and droopy glossy green leaves, but it is a tropical specimen that has very specific growing requirements. While it is finicky, few plants are quite as flexible as the ficus. In fact, F. benjamina is a favorite among bonsai growers since it can be braided or shaped. A ficus tree in your home or in your landscape will typically grow into a small shrub or tree. Spring is best to plant a focus root ball directly in the ground. It is a rapidly growing tree; New growth typically appears in a few weeks. The sap of a ficus tree is toxic to humans and pets.

Common Name Ficus tree, ficus, weeping ficus, fig tree, and weeping fig
Botanical Name Ficus benjamina
Family Moraceae
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size Indoors 6 ft. high, 3 ft. wide, outdoors up to 70 ft. tall, 70 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Filtered bright sun
Soil Type Indoors rich and fast-draining, outdoors loamy and well-draining
Soil pH 6.5 to 7
Bloom Time Indoor plants do not bloom, outdoor plants bloom during spring
Flower Color Small yellow or white blossoms
Hardiness Zones 5 to 8 indoors; 9 to 11 outdoors
Native Area India and Southeast Asia
Toxicity Toxic to humans and pets

Ficus Tree Care

In their native habitats, the ficus is often seen as a landscape tree with hanging and buttressed roots and a magnificent crown. In the home, the ficus is a beautiful specimen plant that can provide many years of lush foliage. It is quite finicky, so be prepared for some specific care requirements.

Many people experience frustration at the hands of ficus plants. They are prone to leaf drop in drafty, cold conditions, and they don't like to be moved. As tropical plants, they absolutely require adequate light, warmth, and humidity to look their best.

closeup of ficus leaves
The Spruce / Krystal Slagle  
ficus benjamina
The Spruce / Krystal Slagle 
ficus elastica
The Spruce / Cara Cormack 

Light

Indoors or outdoors, ficus plants need bright light, but only acclimated plants can handle the direct sun. They appreciate being moved outside in summer but do not place them in direct sunlight. Bright, direct light will scald the leaves and cause leaf loss.

Soil

A ficus needs well-draining, fertile soil. Soil-based potting mixes should work well for this plant and provide the nutrients it needs. Avoid using soils for roses or azaleas, since these are more acidic potting soils.

Water

Overwatering can be a problem for ficus trees. Water your indoor tree only when the first two inches of soil is very dry. Determine if the soil is dry by sticking your index finger halfway into the soil. Water the ficus evenly throughout the summer by giving it water until it begins to run out of the drain holes at the bottom (remove excess water so the tree is not sitting in moisture). Reduce the amount of watering in the winter. In dry homes, provide plenty of ambient moisture by misting often.

For ficus trees planted in the ground outdoors, water deeply once or twice a week with about 1.5 inches to 2 inches of water. Water only when the top 2 inches of soil is dry.

Temperature and Humidity

These plants cannot tolerate low temperatures or drafts. Maintain a temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit at all times indoors and outdoors, but they will do much better with temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Any cold drafts from windows, doors, or air-conditioning units will cause harm.

They like a relatively humid environment. Regularly mist the leaves or provide a pebble tray filled with water below the plant.

Fertilizer

Feed your ficus with slow-release pellets at the beginning of the growing season. They are rapid growers and will benefit from monthly fertilization in the spring and summer and once every two months in the fall and winter.

Types of Ficus Trees

Historically, the famous Bodhi tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment was a Ficus religiosa, known by its leaves that have a distinctive and extended drip tip. Here are a few other types of ficus plants:

  • F. benjamina Starlight: This variegated version of F. benjamina has white splotches on the leaves.
  • F. elastica: The rubber tree has large, thick glossy leaves. Varieties include the F. elastica robusta with wide, large leaves and the F. elastica decora with emerald green leaves.
  • F. lyrata: This ornamental fiddle leaf fig has large, violin-shaped leaves up to 18 inches long.

Pruning

Prune your indoor ficus tree to maintain its shape and prevent it from touching the ceiling. Pruning should take place in the winter when it's not actively growing. Wear gloves and use a sterilized, sharp pair of pruning scissors. Cut back to just before a node so new growth can sprout. If your ficus is overgrowing or becoming leggy, don't be afraid to trim it back. New leaves will quickly sprout.

Propagating Ficus Trees


Ficus seeds are tough to find naturally if you do not live in the tropics. Seeds can also be tough to germinate. Propagating a ficus tree with air layering is not always a reliable method, either. The best way to propagate a ficus tree is with a stem cutting. Here are the steps:

  1. With a sterilized pair of sheers, cut a stem section from the plant at least 6 inches long. Make sure the cutting has a woody base and green growth at the tip.
  2. Dip the bottom of the cutting in rooting hormone.
  3. Root the ficus cutting in an 8-inch pot with drainage holes filled with well-draining potting soil.
  4. Cover the cutting with a clear plastic bag to keep the soil moist. Cut a tiny slit or two at the top of the bag so the plant can breathe.
  5. Roots will be strong in about 90 to 120 days, at which time you can remove the plastic covering.
  6. Transplant your plant outdoors or into a pot in the spring.

Potting and Repotting Ficus Trees

A healthy ficus will rapidly outgrow both its pot and your house. Repot only every other year to slow growth and keep the plant a manageable size. Check to see if the roots are coming out of the drainage holes and if so, repot. Repotting is best in the springtime when the plant is growing. When repotting, always use a pot of any material that is 2- to 3-inches larger than the last one and has plenty of drainage holes. Use high-quality potting soil for your repotted ficus.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Indoor and outdoor ficus trees are vulnerable to mites, scale, mealybugs, whiteflies, and aphids. Fight pests off with an insecticide, such as neem oil. Occasionally, ficus trees will contract a leaf spot disease. Quickly discard infected leaves on and around the plant to stop further spread of the fungus.

Common Problems With Ficus Trees

A common problem with ficus plants is that it responds to stress by losing their leaves. But the leaves could curl and turn yellow, as well, due to stressors. Stress to both indoor and outdoor ficus trees could be caused by any number of things including the following:

  • Drafts
  • Pests
  • Underwatering
  • Overwatering
  • Too little light
  • Low humidity
  • Change in temperature
FAQ
  • Are ficus trees and fig trees the same thing?

    There is much confusion and overlap between ficus and fig trees. That's probably because ficus plants belong to the fig genus. Some types of ficus trees are known as fig trees and produce the well-known fruit. But the F. benjamina plant is a tropical evergreen and does not bear fruit.

  • How long will an F. benjamina tree live?

    If kept under the right conditions, indoors or outdoors, a ficus tree can live for three or more decades.

  • Why doesn't an indoor potted ficus tree like to be moved around?

    A ficus tree tends to be very sensitive to temperature and light changes in its environment. That's why if it's moved around, it will go into shock and drop its leaves. Try your hardest to keep your indoor potted ficus in one spot and don't move it around; It may not always be the best potted plant to drag indoors and outdoors season after season.

  • Why does F. benjamina grow so tall when planted in the ground outdoors?

    It has a very strong, deep, and spreading root system that helps the plant grow so large. It's much easier to plant a ficus tree in a pot where its size can be better managed.