University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

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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 are young.
  
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 the day. 
   
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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