By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

A friend of Bunkey’s had spent some time in the hospital and had been gifted a Ficus plant. Since she has 10 brown fingers, she gave it to Bunkey. He tripped getting out of his car and dumped the plant on the snow-covered driveway. Fiscus are a pretty tough group of plants so it should be fine.

Fiscus aren’t particularly prone to pests, and very undemanding as house plants. The type we grow as house plants are improved varieties of a species of plant native to India, Southeast Asia and Malaysia. These tropical and sub-tropical areas are where most of our house plants started. In Hawaii, they plant crotons for tall hedges. Here we are lucky if they get 2 feet tall.

But back to Bunkey’s fiscus. They can take heat and will do well in a south window but can’t stand drafts. They will thrive in bright, medium light on the floor if they get too big for the windowsill. They will grow quite rapidly into a big splashy plant if they like your house. Most of the fiscus grown for house plants are single stemmed “trees”. You can find some with three stems “braided” together. They will eventually grow together as the stem expands. Then there is the Ficus pumila, more commonly called the creeping fig. It will climb up your wall by means of aerial roots. If you ignore any fiscus you will discover it has not only grown out of its pot but out of the room. Luckily, they can be pruned to be more room friendly. Pruning will make them shorter and fatter. Make your cut just above a node, where a leaf is attached to the stem or where a stem branches off if it is too wide.

Ficus need to be watered until the water runs out of the drain hole in the bottom of the pot using warmed water. Remember it is a tropical plant. The cold water just out of the faucet may shock the poor thing. Let it dry a bit between waterings but don’t let it get too dry or it will do the “Ficus strip “dropping all its leaves. If you move it from a bright light to a darker space or let it get too wet, it will do the same thing. Most house plants die from overwatering.

Usually, large- leafed plants will not replace lost leaves. They only grow from the branch tips. This makes for a very ugly plant. Cut it off for a new start or compost it if you have no patience.

If your Ficus is actively growing and making new leaves, fertilize every watering with 1/4th strength fertilizer. Or if you have a good memory, once a month with ½ strength fertilizer. Taper off now and don’t restart until spring.

There are several varieties of Ficus available. F. benjamina is a weeping fig that comes in several sizes from tiny to “sit on the floor”. F. elastica, is a fancy name for the rubber plant. The name should have given you a clue. F. lyrate is the fiddle leaf model. It has huge leaves and looks more like a sculpture than a real plant. F. mcellandii has no common name. It has long, pointed leaves and looks like it should be part of the bamboo family. F. retusa nitida, or Indian laurel is like the weeping fig with larger leaves and is not as fussy. It is not common so if you like unusual plants and can find one, grab it. 

Every house needs house plants to clean the air and add some life and color to the winter months. Shop now before it gets too cold.