University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Anytime News Article
EASY HOUSEPLANTS—ORNAMENTAL FIGS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont
These are not the figs you eat, but rather ornamental foliage plants common
indoors. They often go by their scientific name of “ficus” (said as
FI-cuss), such as ficus tree or weeping ficus. Give them enough light
and the right care (no overwatering) and they’re easy to grow.
The fig tree (Ficus benjamina) is the most commonly seen, and sold,
form of this plant. They’re usually found as three to six-foot tall
plants in pots, which, through pruning, can be kept to a reasonable size for
indoors. Outdoors in tropical climates they can grow into trees.
Weeping figs are grown for their shiny green and glossy leaves, and smooth,
gray bark. You can find some cultivars (cultivated varieties) with
wavy leaves, variegated leaves with white or creamy margins, and truly
weeping or pendulous branches. Sometimes you’ll find plants with
several, intertwined stems. These are braided by growers when plants
If the humidity is high as in the South, plants will tolerate some direct
sun. Otherwise grow them in indirect light, or sun filtered by sheer
curtains. Grow variegated cultivars in lower light. Ideal
temperatures are 65 to 70 degrees (F) at night, and 75 to 85 degrees during
If plants are not actively growing, such as in winter, allow the soil to dry
between waterings. Keep the soil evenly moist when plants are putting
on growth and new leaves. Use a liquid fertilizer of your choice,
according to the label, during periods of active growth.
Washing leaves (as in the shower) every few weeks will keep any dust off,
allowing them to “breathe”, improves their appearance, and may dislodge
pests. The pests to watch for are spider mites and brown
scales. Look for the former on leaf undersides, particularly for
their webbing. You may need a magnifying glass as they’re very
small. If washing leaves doesn’t control them, you’ll need to use a
spray (organic or synthetic) labeled for mites. Mites are not true
insects, so insecticides won’t work on them.
Scales are seen as brown lumps, or as the smaller whitish crawling stage of
the insects. Wipe them off with soapy water, or a cotton swab dipped
in rubbing alcohol.
The main problem with any ficus is leaf drop, caused by various
stresses—overwatering (a main problem), underwatering, drafts, too low
fertility, or too little light. Sometimes when you change their
location, or repot them, they’ll shed some leaves. Correct the cause
and they’ll usually send out new growth. Or they can be shaped by
pruning if they get leggy.
Plants can be slightly pot-bound (gently remove roots from the pots to see
if there are a few or many), but too crowded and leaves will drop, growth
will be slow, and new leaves may be small. Use a general-purpose
potting soil for indoor plants when repotting and, if roots are too crowded,
cut some off or score them with a knife to break them apart.
Other related figs you may find, or look for, include the longleaf fig (Ficus
binnendijkii), the fiddleleaf fig (F. lyrata), and the common
rubber plant (F. elastica). The longleaf has long, narrow and
willow-like dark green leaves, up to 10-inches long with a tapered point.
This fig tends to hold its leaves and not shed as much as the weeping
fig. The fiddleleaf fig has wide leaves, eight to 15-inches long and
10-inches wide, in a fiddle shape. Being so large, the dull green
leaves need to be cleaned or dusted periodically. This is needed, too, for
the rubber plant. Its leaves are oval to oblong, 8 to12-inches long, and can
be dark green, deep maroon, or marked with cream, pink, or white.
Although it gets six to 10-feet tall indoors, it can be kept pruned.
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