A Beginner’s Guide to Ficus Benjamina
Houseplants in the home are not only beautiful, but are healthy as well; one of the most popular plants to find in both offices and homes is the ficus benjamina tree. More commonly known as simply a ficus, this plant can be a bit of a challenge to grow unless a few well heeded tips are followed.
The ficus is a member of the fig tree family; a rather large family of trees that can be grown either indoors or outdoors. It has likely gained its popularity because it is easily cultivated, and therefore are very common trees available in most states of the US. Because its native roots are tropical, the ficus can only be grown outdoors in the warmer climates of USDA Zones 9 and higher.
Characteristics of the fig tree are its drooping, shiny green leaves that grow profusely on the branches. It is the appearance of the leaves, in fact, that garnered the ficus yet another name, the weeping fig. When grown outdoors in the proper climate, the ficus can attain heights of over 100 feet; displaying massive spanses of leafy canopies providing cooling shade. Optimal leaf growth will be realized if the tree receives at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sun each day, but it will still thrive in less sunny conditions. While they are tropical, they are amenable to a wide variety of conditions even to the point of being able to withstand temperatures down to 28°F on an occasional basis.
Grown indoors, the ficus benjamina can be a much smaller specimen. The leaves generally appear darker green in color when displayed as an indoor tree, but otherwise bear the same appearances and characteristics as one that is grown outdoors. The tree prefers bright yet indirect light conditions, and does not like to be moved around a great deal. Ficus can be a challenge to grow when finding just the right spot where it will be the happiest. When conditions are less than desirable, or when the plant is moved to an area with different conditions, it will respond with a noticeable leaf drop. While untidy and unattractive during this period, the tree will not suffer any long lived effects. It is simply retaining its growth efforts as it adjusts to the new climate or condition; an effort that would last longer should the tree need to extend its energy to nourish its leaves.
A ficus kept indoors should be watered only when the soil appears dry. Overwatering is one of the biggest mistakes beginners make when growing the ficus benjamina. Regular feeding with an indoor plant fertilizer is beneficial but not crucial as the tree will still appear quite healthy without feeding. If allowed, the tree will continue to grow in height and width even indoors, but can be kept to a manageable height through pruning. The ficus does appreciate frequent misting of its leaves, however; this action replicates the tropical humidity of its natural habitat and also results in a healthier tree since many common household pests such as spider mites do not thrive in these conditions.
The ficus is such an easily trained plant that it is a common choice for bonsai growth with beginners. There is little difference in the care and maintenance of the ficus grown as bonsai with the exception of the special shaping and pruning to achieve the bonsai appearance desired.
Adding houseplants to a home provides not only a visual appeal, but also adds to the overall health of the home. Beginners will find that the ficus benjamina, although a little bit of a challenge to grow, will bring a great deal of pleasure and beauty to their home.