How to Grow and Care for Ginseng Ficus Bonsai

Ginseng ficus bonsai plant in white cone-shaped pot

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

If you are looking for an entry into the ancient Japanese art of Bonsai, a great place to start is with a Ginseng Ficus. It looks terrific and requires minimal care when compared to other bonsai, which can be quite difficult to maintain. The difficulty level of starting, maintaining, and training a bonsai scares a lot of people from getting into a really fascinating hobby, but the ginseng ficus will hopefully enable you to push through and enter into the world of bonsai. 

The Ficus is part of the Moraceae or Mulberry family and it grows throughout the tropical regions of the world. The ginseng ficus particularly is native to Southeast Asia. It is an interesting-looking plant for a bonsai, with narrow elevated roots that swell into a potbelly trunk and narrows at the branches before spreading out to the crown.

Bonsai artists especially focus on the raised roots of these funky little plants to create a certain aesthetic. In their natural habitat, these aerial roots are grown with ease in high humidity environments. At home, you need to recreate these humidity levels which often means an artificial enclosure. The effect is achieved by roots growing vertically downward from branches until they reach the soil, where they develop into thick strong trunks. This can achieve the desired pillar style or the root-over-rock bonsai style called deshojo. 

The most significant rule to remember is that, in the end, it is an art form and, like all art, there are no rules. If you can keep your bonsai alive you have created a masterpiece. Know that the sap from this plant is toxic to humans and touching the plant can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions, so you should wash your hands after touching it. Be aware that ginseng ficus is toxic to dogs and cats and if they chew on the leaves, they will get ill. Keep the bonsai up where your pets can't get to it.

Common Name Ginseng Ficus
Botanical Name Ficus retusa and Ficus microcarpa
Family Moraceae
Plant Type Tree, evergreen
Mature Size 12-24 inches tall
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Acid, neutral
Hardiness Zones 9-11 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to humans, toxic to pets

Ginseng Ficus Bonsai Care

Growing and maintaining a ginseng ficus bonsai is easy if you follow some simple guidelines. Do not be afraid of entering this amazingly rewarding art form just because you are worried if you have heard it is hard.

Ginseng ficus bonsai plant in white pot on gravel ground

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Ginseng ficus bonsai plant in white plant against yellow wall

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Ginseng ficus bonsai plant in white pot seen from above closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Your bonsai will need a good amount of light. Indoors, placing it on a windowsill is a good idea. If this is not available, plant lights can aid in growing your ginseng ficus. If you take your tree outdoors during the summer, plan to place it in a spot that gets plenty of sunlight. The bonsai will not tolerate shade at all.

Soil

Ginseng ficus trees do well in a soil mix that is sixty percent aggregate and forty percent organic matter. You can buy a premix or make your own using pine bark, lava rock, and a product called akadama which holds water and slowly breaks down over time.

Water

Water your ginseng ficus thoroughly whenever the soil gets slightly dry. Misting the plant daily is a good idea, but do not water to the point where the bonsai is dripping, or else fungal issues can occur. If your plant is in an especially warm environment more frequent watering will be needed.

Take a damp paper towel and carefully wipe the leaves off when they get dusty. You can also use a spray bottle to mist the leaves.

Temperature and Humidity

The ginseng ficus is an indoor bonsai and is not frost-hardy. It can be brought outside once temperatures are consistently above 60 F but must be kept in the sun and not allowed to dry out. Low humidity can be tolerated due to the waxy surface covering the ficus’ leaves, but it will thrive in a humid environment.

Fertilizer

Bonsai draw on very little soil, so it is necessary to replenish their nutrients occasionally. Any multi-purpose liquid fertilizer available at your friendly local nursery or garden center should be adequate. For bonsai, dilute the mixture by 50% with water before applying monthly.

Pruning

Pruning is a necessity and part of what makes a bonsai a bonsai and not just a plant. 

You can forego the pruning for a year or longer to achieve a thicker trunk. When ready to prune leaves, a good rule to follow is to prune back to two leaves after six to eight leaves have grown. 

If you have left the trunk to thicken, new shoots will grow from old wood. But be sure to tend to any substantial wounds with cut paste so disease does not occur. Always use sharp and clean tools when working with your plant.

Propagating Ginseng Ficus Bonsai

Ginseng ficus, aka ficus retusa, can easily be propagated, and there's no better time to do that than after you've pruned it. Here's how:

  1. Simply select a healthy stem and cut a 6-inch cutting with scissors or pruning shears.
  2. Put the cutting in a container that has been prepared with potting soil mix, and then water it.
  3. Place a clear plastic bag over the cuttings to make a greenhouse effect which will keep the moisture in and encourage it to root.
  4. Water lightly every few days, making sure the soil stays moist.
  5. The cutting should root in a few weeks.

Potting and Repotting Ginseng Ficus Bonsai

Repotting a bonsai must happen when the root system has filled the pot. It needs to be done to give the tree new soil and to encourage a more compact root system

You will only need to repot your ficus every other year during the summer. Simply remove the tree and soil from its pot and trim the outer and lower quarter of the tree's roots. Be careful not to over-prune or remove too much root material. Place the bonsai into the original pot or a new container using the bonsai soil mix.

Training Ginseng Ficus Bonsai

To train your plant, use anodized aluminum or annealed copper wire. Wiring your ficus’ thin and medium branches is easy since they are very flexible and will bend easily. Make sure the wires are not cutting into the tree though, and readjust if needed.

For larger branches, guy wires will be necessary and will need to stay on the tree much longer. One interesting thing that ficus trees are able to do is fuse their branches, roots, and other ficus plants together. This can achieve some pretty amazing results. Have fun!

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Caring for your ginseng ficus bonsai properly, with the correct lighting and water, will keep it strong and more resistant to pests and plant diseases. The ginseng ficus can get spider mites, scale, mealybugs, and aphids. These can be taken care of with neem oil or a liquid dishwashing soap and water mixture. If overwatered, the plant can develop a fungal disease and root rot, and if you see any white or black spots on the leaves, trim them off and treat the bonsai with a fungicide.

FAQ
  • How long can the ginseng ficus bonsai live?

    The ginseng ficus can live for 50 to 100 years. There are bonsai trees that are 1,000 years old.

  • What indoor rooms are best for a ginseng ficus bonsai?

    Since these bonsai thrive on humidity, a kitchen or bathroom is a good spot to put these types of plants. Make sure they get the proper lighting though.

  • Why is my ginseng ficus bonsai dropping its leaves?

    Ficus can drop leaves because they are either too wet or too dry. It can also be due to moving them to a different spot, being in a cold draft, or too much sunlight.

Article Sources
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  1. Ficus. Gardeners World.

  2. Ficus. Pet Poison Helpline.