Ficus Bonsai by Jerry Meislik
Ficus trees are a large and diverse family of plants that vary from creeping vines to huge forest trees. They are native mainly to tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world but the common or Edible Fig, Ficus carica, tolerates freezing temperatures.
Ficus are among the most popular trees grown as indoor bonsai and are frequently used as outdoor bonsai in tropical and sub-tropical climates. They are strong plants that tolerate the errors of the beginning bonsai grower and occasional over or under watering. There are many fig species that can be grown as ficus bonsai; among the most popular are Ficus benjamina, microcarpa, and salicaria (also called nerifolia, salicifolia. or Willow Leaf). Nearly any Ficus with relatively small leaves can be used for bonsai.
Basic Ficus Bonsai Care
As with any bonsai giving Ficus the maximum amount of light will help to keep them healthy and strong. Growing in dim light will result in leggy, weak, off color growth and disease prone plants. When Ficus are grown indoors give them the most window light possible and better yet augment with artificial light for 18 hours a day.
Water Ficus when the soil is nearly dry. Overly dry soil or constantly wet soil will result in weak growth and or rotting roots. Leaf drop will follow poor watering practices.
Feeding and fertilizer
Any houseplant fertilizer can be used once every week or two. Dilute as recommended on the label. Make sure to fertilize only after a thorough watering of the soil. Reduce fertilization to once a month during the winter months when growth slows or stops.
Ficus Bonsai techniques
Ficus can be shaped into any style from formal upright to banyan.
Wiring and moving branches is most easily done when branches are less than ½ inch thick. Since branches can grow quickly wire cutting and scarring can occur rapidly. Watch any wired tree and remove wire before it cuts into the bark.
Defoliation can be used on healthy trees to reduce leaf size and improve ramification of the branches. Defoliate only once every year or two. Never defoliate weak, diseased or unhealthy trees. Beginners should never defoliate their trees.
Ficus can be reduced back from larger material to produce stocky bonsai with amazing taper. Ficus benjamina is not reliable to reduce and can die back.
Branch trimming can be done at any time of year to shape the tree.
Aerial roots form on many species of Ficus if the plants are kept warm and in moist and humid conditions. Ficus can be grown in the banyan, exposed root and epiphytic styles.
Repotting is best done in mid-summer. Winter potting should be reserved for emergency situations and by experienced growers. Repot root bound trees every 2-3 years unless they are growing very strongly, in which case yearly repotting may be needed.
Bonsai soil should be open, airy and granular in nature as this open type soil will be less likely to promote root rot.
Water Ficus only when the soil is nearly dry.
Ficus Diseases and Pests
Ficus pests are mainly scale, mites and mealy bugs.
Ficus can be treated with soap sprays for most insect infestations.
Yellow leaves, sticky leaves, off color leaves and/or spider webs indicate insect problems.
Ficus can root easily from any size healthy cuttings. Insert two to three inches of the cutting into a moistened, granular soil mix and seal in a plastic bag out of direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist as needed. Rooting takes 1-3 months.
Air Layering is easy and can produce nicely shaped bonsai in only a few months.
Grafting of all types works easily on Ficus. Remember only to graft genetically identical materials as the bark will not match.