Weeping Fig (Ficus) Plant Profile

Ficus benjamina leaves
Thamizhpparithi Maari (Own work) / Wikimedia Commons /

Weeping fig (also known as ficus tree) grows as a large broadleaf evergreen tree in tropical and subtropical climates, but it is more often grown as a houseplant in homes, offices, and is a popular feature in interior commercial landscaping. It is a rare tree that has a good tolerance for the limited light conditions of indoor environments.

Weeping fig is an elegant plant with slender branches that arch gracefully from a light gray trunk, with dense, glossy dark leaves that may shed when the plant is stressed. When grown indoors, the plants are normally pruned to keep them in the 3- to 6-foot range, and trunks are sometimes braided for decorative appeal. In tropical climates, weeping fig can grow as 60 feet as specimen trees, and they are sometimes planted and pruned as hedges.

Weeping fig is one of the best plants for improving air quality indoors. It has one of the top removal rates for air toxins such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene.

Botanical Name Ficus benjamina
Common Name Weeping fig, Benjamin fig, ficus tree
Plant Type Evergreen tree usually grown as a houseplant
Mature Size  3 to 6 feet tall when grown indoors; up to 60 feet outdoors
Soil Type Rich, fast draining
Soil pH 6.0 to 6.5; slightly acidic to neutral
Bloom Time Rarely flowers indoors
Flower Color Red
Hardiness Zones 10 to 11, USDA
Native Area India, Southeast Asia, Northern Australia

How to Grow a Weeping Fig Tree

Weeping figs grow easily indoors in containers filled with soil-based potting mix and positioned in bright indirect light, or in sunny areas that get some afternoon shade. They should be regularly watered during the growing season but allowed to become drier from fall to late winter. After the last frost date in spring, weeping figs can be brought outdoors for the summer, then returned indoors when the weather turns cold again.

Leaf dropping that is not explained by other causes sometimes indicates infestation by common pests, including aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and whitefly.

Light

The weeping fig needs a bright room with plenty of indirect light, and perhaps even a little direct sun in the morning. In its native habitat, it is often grown in semi-shady conditions, but indoors it needs good light to thrive. This plant dislikes being moved and may drop leaves if it is. It is important you find a good, bright spot for it and keep it there.

Soil

Any good, fast-draining potting soil will likely do. Weeping figs do not require soil that is especially high in nutrients or organic matter. If re-potting, use a soil-based potting soil that contains perlite, sand, and vermiculite for improved drainage. 

Water

Keep the plant steadily moist, but do not allow it to sit in water or it will drop leaves and may develop root rot. In its native environment, plants typically drop leaves at the beginning of the dry season, which makes them exquisitely sensitive to changes in moisture. Make sure your watering schedule is consistent.

Temperature and Humidity

The trees do best with nighttime temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees F. and daytime temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees F. Consider setting your thermostat to regulate temperature fluctuations in your home. In the summertime, do not use heavy air conditioning, since weeping figs will suffer if the indoor temperature drops below 70 degrees.

As tropical natives, weeping figs prefer high humidity. If they become too dry, indoor trees may begin to lose their leaves. Consider using a humidifier to regulate humidity levels in your home. Keep the soil moist around the base of your tree, and mist the tree’s leaves occasionally to prevent them from drying out.

Although challenging, it is possible to overwinter weeping figs in temperate areas without massive leaf-dropping if you practice careful attention to watering and temperature.

Fertilizer

These plants are heavy feeders and need plenty of fertilizer throughout the growing season. If your plant is dropping leaves despite having ideal lighting, temperature, humidity, and fertilizer levels, try supplementing with a little magnesium and manganese.

Potting and Repotting

A healthy ficus is a fast-growing plant and will need careful attention to its pot. If you notice your plant is growing more slowly, it is probably because of low water or low temperatures. The repotting requirements also depend on how you are growing the plant—ficus is incredibly flexible. They can be grown as standards, topiary, braided standards, regular houseplants, and even bonsai. Take your cues from the plant and be prepared to repot annually in many circumstances.

Propagating Weeping Fig

Weeping fig can be relatively easy rooted from cuttings, even without rooting hormone. It is best to take a cutting in the spring when you can more easily supply warmth and moisture. Ficus is rarely grown from seed and most indoor plants will never fruit or yield seed.

  1. Take a 3- to 5-inch cutting that contains at least two sets of leaves from the tip of a healthy branch. Make the cut about 1/4 inch below a set of leaves. Strip off the leaves from the lower half of the cutting. You can coat the cut end with rooting hormone, if desired.
  2. Embed the end of the cutting in a container filled with moistened peat moss. Cover the container with a large plastic bag, making sure the plastic does not touch the cutting (sticks or skewers can be used to prop up the bag). Tie the bag closes around the bottom.
  3. Set the container in a spot with bright, indirect light but out of direct sunlight. Try to keep the pot above 65 degrees F. Mist the cutting daily to keep humidity levels high. Moisten the potting soil if the top of the soil feels dry.
  4. In 2 to 4 weeks, the cutting should develop sufficient roots to allow you to cut slits in the bag to allow it to grow acclimated to room conditions.
  5. After about 6 weeks, transplant the cutting into a 6-inch pot and continue to grow it onward into a small tree.

Pruning

Trimming ficus trees is necessary if the plant is touching the ceiling or you want to make it smaller or shape it. Timing is important. Pruning should take place when the plant is no longer actively growing. Most ficus plants are active in spring and summer, with growth dying down in fall, and by winter the plant has gone into dormancy and is less susceptible to injury from pruning. Also, make sure to prune away dead branches and pick dead leaves to prevent the spread of diseases or fungal infections that can severely affect your plant; this pruning can be done any time during the year.

Varieties of Weeping Fig

F. benjamina and F. microcarpa (curtain fig) are often grouped together and confused with one another, as they are very similar plants. F. benjamina has a more weeping growth habit, while F. microcarpa grows more upright. F. benjamina cultivars have been bred for novel and useful growth habits, such as the columnar spire form. Look for darker-leaved varietals for better indoor growth, as they are more likely to be tolerant of low-light conditions.