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Five Keys to Growing A Healthy Ficus Tree

Have you ever wondered how a single Ficus benjamina tree could become a beloved part of your home for decades, thriving and growing alongside your family?  If you haven’t yet, you might consider the addition of this living, air-purifying companion in your home that not only beautifies your space but also stands the test of time. 

You may know this tree as either a Ficus benjamina or a weeping fig.   I have loved growing a ficus tree in my home for 36 years. It’s remarkable that I've had this tree for so long.  

How to Grow A Ficus Tree Inside for Decades

A ficus tree growing inside a house.

When thinking about how I managed to keep this indoor ficus tree happy, healthy, and growing strong all these years it boiled down to five key Ficus benjamina plant care tips. Follow these tips and you can have a happy, healthy ficus tree in your home for many years, too.

My ficus tree fills a southeastern corner of the room very nicely and helps bridge the space created by the high ceiling. This tree was a housewarming gift to my husband and me thirty-six ago.  It was small then, probably about three years old at the time.  That means it is about thirty-nine years old now and it is a welcome decorative element in my home.  I can't believe I've had a plant for that long and haven't killed it!


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My Five-Step Guide to Growing a Ficus Tree

1. Ideal Light and Location

Good light and location go hand in hand.  Take the time to assess your ficus tree’s light requirements. The amount of light your tree will get will be dependent on the windows where it is located and the direction the sunlight is coming from. You’ll want to choose wisely.

My ficus tree loves living in the corner of my well-lit family room where it gets eastern, southern, and western light exposure depending on the season.  That wasn’t always the case because I mistakenly placed the tree in a northwest location when we first moved to this home. That didn't work well at all.  The tree told me it was unhappy by dropping lots and lots of leaves.  I quickly had to adjust the location to save the tree. You won't want to move your tree very often,  Weeping Fig trees don't like change.

Give your ficus tree a quarter turn every once in a while to maintain even growth of branches and leaves.

2.  Maintaining Optimal Temperature and Humidity

Your ficus tree will thrive in moderate temperature and humidity. I find that my Ficus benjamina tree is happiest with temperatures between 60 degrees F and 80 degrees F. That works perfectly for every season here, in the northeast, other than winter.  Winter is challenging for my ficus tree.

Our baseboard heat runs along the wall adjacent to the tree’s location. Additionally, a mini-split heat pump provides supplemental heat, or cooling, depending on our seasonal needs.  The room is kept at approximately sixty-five degrees for the majority of the year.  Nighttime temperatures can go as low as sixty degrees when I turn the heat down at night in the winter.  

Heat and humidity can fluctuate and affect your tree. Both heating and air conditioning can dry out a room.  You’ll want to keep your eye on the humidity level in your home.  This is mainly a problem for me in winter when our home can get extremely dry.  I run a humidifier from November through April to help manage the humidity level.

3.  Establishing a Trimming and Grooming Schedule

Regular trimming and grooming are essential for maintaining the health, shape, and vitality of your Ficus tree. These ficus plant care practices not only keep the tree aesthetically pleasing but also promote healthy branch growth and prevent overcrowding.

Timing and Frequency: Aim to assess your ficus tree's needs for trimming twice a year, typically in the early spring and late summer. These periods coincide with active growth phases, allowing the tree to recover swiftly.

Tools for Trimming: Use clean, sharp pruning shears or scissors designed for indoor plants. As your ficus tree ages the branches will become woody and sharp pruning shears like these I use will be a necessity. Avoid tearing or damaging the branches, as this can impede healing and invite infections. Sterilize the tools before and after use to prevent the spread of diseases.

Branch Maintenance: Trim back any overgrown or leggy branches to maintain the desired shape and size of the tree. Look for branches that cross or rub against each other, removing those that might hinder healthy growth.

Trim away dead, yellowed, or diseased leaves and branches promptly. These not only detract from the tree's appearance but also can attract pests or spread infections.

Dealing with Sap: Ficus trees exude a milky sap when pruned, which can be messy and potentially irritating to your skin. Consider taking the tree outdoors for pruning to avoid sap drips indoors. If indoor pruning is necessary, place a protective covering under the tree to catch any sap drips.

Leaf Care: While trimming, take the opportunity to give your ficus tree a gentle shower to remove dust from the leaves. Dust accumulation can hinder photosynthesis and attract pests. A mild, lukewarm shower helps keep the foliage clean and vibrant.

Pot Maintenance: During trimming sessions, assess the potting soil's condition. If the soil is depleted or compacted, consider top-dressing the pot with fresh soil. However, repotting should only occur if the tree has outgrown its current container or exhibits signs of root-bound stress.

Observation and Adjustment: Throughout the process, observe your tree's response to trimming. ficus trees might undergo a brief period of adjustment after pruning, during which they may drop some leaves. This is normal as the tree redirects its resources to new growth.

Remember, each ficus tree is unique, so adjust your trimming and grooming routine based on your tree's specific growth patterns and needs. Regular care and attention will contribute to a healthier, more robust, and aesthetically pleasing ficus tree in your home.

4.  A Simple, Regular Watering Schedule

Don’t kill your ficus tree with too much water. I usually water my ficus tree with room temperature water once every seven to ten days.  Let the tree tell you when it needs water. That's when the tree puts out a single yellow leaf, as seen in the picture below.  The single yellow leaf is the signal I use as my watering guide.
A single yellow ficus leaf among a tree full of green leaves.

5.  Feed Occasionally

Very infrequently I use a water-soluble 10-10-10 fertilizer when watering my Weeping Fig tree, mainly during the spring and summer growing seasons. Look to the leaves on your tree for guidance.  Are the leaves brightly colored and glossy?  If so, your tree is happy.

By following these five basic steps you’ll be able to successfully grow a ficus tree in your home for many years..These are the five care steps that have kept my ficus tree thriving for thirty-six years in my home.

But, there are times when your tree may experience stress.  Here’s what to look for and how to respond.

Signs of Ficus Tree Stress

Ficus trees can exhibit signs of stress when their environmental conditions or care requirements aren't adequately met. Recognizing these signs early allows for prompt intervention and care adjustments. Here are some common stress indicators in ficus trees:

Leaf Dropping: One of the most noticeable signs of stress in ficus trees is excessive leaf shedding like when I placed my tree in the wrong light location. If your tree is dropping leaves at an alarming rate, especially if they are healthy green leaves, it could indicate stress.

Yellowing Leaves: Yellowing or browning of leaves, particularly when not associated with the natural shedding of older leaves, can signal stress. This discoloration often starts at the leaf tips and edges, spreading inward.

Wilting or Drooping Leaves: When ficus trees aren't receiving adequate water or are exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations, their leaves might start to wilt or droop noticeably.

Losing Foliage on One Side: Uneven leaf loss or significant shedding on one side of the tree might indicate uneven light exposure or an issue with the root system, such as root rot or compacted soil.

Pest Infestation: Insects like spider mites, aphids, or scale insects can stress ficus trees, leading to yellowing, curling, or distorted leaves. Check for pests on the leaves or stems regularly.

Fungus or Mold Growth: Excessive moisture or poor air circulation can lead to fungal growth on the soil surface or even on the tree itself, indicating an environment that's too damp and potentially stressful for the tree.

Sudden Leaf Loss After Movement: ficus trees are sensitive to changes in their environment. Rapid leaf loss after moving the tree to a new location or changing its position could indicate stress.

How to Respond to Ficus Tree Stress

Assess Environmental Factors: Check light exposure, temperature, humidity levels, and watering practices to ensure they align with the tree's requirements.
  
Adjust Care Routine: Make gradual changes to rectify the stressors, such as adjusting watering frequency, improving light exposure, or regulating temperature and humidity levels.

Inspect for Pests and Diseases: Regularly inspect the tree for signs of pests or diseases. Treat with appropriate methods like neem oil for pests or fungicides for fungal issues.

Pruning and Grooming: Trim away damaged or stressed branches, leaves, or areas affected by pests or diseases. This can help the tree redirect energy to healthier parts.

Repotting or Soil Adjustment: If root-bound or compacted soil is suspected, consider repotting the ficus tree with fresh, well-draining soil to promote better root health and growth.

Stabilize Environmental Conditions: Maintain consistent care practices and environmental conditions to reduce stress on the tree. This includes keeping a stable temperature range, providing appropriate light exposure, and managing humidity levels.

Patience and Observation: After adjustments, allow time for the tree to respond. Monitor the ficus closely for any improvements or further signs of stress.

By identifying and addressing stress signs promptly, you can help your ficus tree regain its health and vitality, ensuring it thrives in its indoor environment for years to come. Good luck growing your ficus tree!

(This is an update to my 2016 post about my indoor ficus tree.)

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Enjoy!

Comments

  1. I had this gorgeous healthy ficus tree. Then replaced every window in our house, in February, in Wisconsin. We had pushed the plants to the other side of the room, but my poor ficus was never the same. He lost 3/4 of his leaves and I kept him for a couple of years 'til even I had to admit he was pretty much dead.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know exactly what you mean. They definitely let you know when they are not happy with their conditions. I'm very lucky mine has survived so long. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  2. I have an indoor ficus tree also, it gets southern and western light also. My mother gave this to me as a housewarming gift 13 years ago, and she had already had it for many years. They are very temperamental for sure. I use to take mine out in the spring but it got to big and my son got tired of moving it in and out for me. The last time I brought it back in from spending the summer outside, (under a big oak tree), it measured 13ft tall and 9 feet in diameter, needless to say it got a really big hair cut that year. I wanted to share a few things my mom taught me about this plant. If you will cut it back about 4-6 inches before moving it then it will cut down on the shock of being moved, (starts dropping leaves like crazy). She said to never repot the tree, I had to once because it burst the planter to pieces, the sun makes the plastic pots brittle after years of sun. Now I just wipe the pot down with armorall every now and then. After awhile as you know dirt just gets old and will not drink the water, it will just run right through it without nourishing the plant. So what you do is get a bag of potting soil, get the good stuff, and a metal trowel. You want to carefully remove as much dirt from the pot as you can without disturbing any of the roots, then fill the planter back up with the new dirt. Do not fill the planter any fuller of dirt than it already was. I have done this several times and did not drop one leaf. I was able to remove 6 - 8 inches of the dirt to be replaced.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing the story of your tree, Nana and B. It's great to hear from someone who has had their tree for a long time, like me. It starts to feel like it is part of the family, doesn't it? Your tips are great. I'll keep them in mind.

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  3. I've had my Ficus.Tree for 35 years! It's moved with us from Seattle to New Port, RI, then Virginia and the last 20 years in Michigan! My husband (a navy man) would complain every time we moved it!! We are divorced but I have my tree! Lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love hearing stories from long-term owners of Ficus trees. Thanks for sharing!

      Delete
    2. Navy vet here! I LOL'ed at your comment because my plants would move everywhere the Navy said we were going. Each of our last 3 moves we traveled with a car full of plants :)

      Delete
  4. My ficus is 30+ years old. I have repotted it once. It stays outside all summer in NJ and brought inside in late September. I have given it a good trim a few times and it bounces right back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay! It's great you are having success, too!

      Delete
    2. I was given a Ficus and moved it into my home the leafs are green but lost a lot during the move and some of the branches are bare I would like to repot and prune but want to wait until it gets over the moving shock! Does anyone have in tips to share? Thanks!

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  5. Also some branches broke! Do I trim them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Debbie, please do give your ficus some time to adjust to its new situation. Take the time to assess how like its previous environment the new environment is. You want to be sure you have chosen the right spot or it going forward. Don't freak out while it adjusts. Stick to your normal watering routine. Sometimes we want to over water when our plant is in stress. Do trim any broken branches. You can do that now, but don't do a big prun when the tree is in stress. Please let me know how it goes.

      Delete
  6. Yes, go ahead and trim any broken branches.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi, I got my ficus tree from my office in NYC, we moved from Midtown to Downtown and they didn’t want to take the tree so I took him home to NJ, that was 13 years ago, he is the main topic of conversations in my house because he is huge! I trimmed the tree after every summer when he comes in the house, I also put him in a corner with 2 windows I tell him to hold on Spring is coming soon so he could go on the porch again. It is so heavy to carry outside, but thank God my husband loves him too so he doesn’t complain when we need to him. I repotted him 3 times in 13 years, and one time birds made a nest on the tree, we had to be really quiet every time we opened the front door, the birds grew and flew away🙂 He is a happy tree

    ReplyDelete
  8. My ficus is so big that I have begun to dislike it. I may try to prune it and see if it survives. One thing that has happened to mine is what I would call "girdling." It's rootbound and too big to repot. Any suggestions?

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have a ficus tree that’s at least 35 years old. I am not sure how old it was when I received it 35 years ago. The tree has made many moves. It is so large I had to move it out to the patio. It’s done fine out there for almost 4 years now. The pot is very large and seems root bound. It’s too big to repot. Any ideas? Is there a life span for ficus trees?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If your tree isn't showing any stress I wouldn't worry about it. I would continue to top dress it with new soil periodically and continue with the same fertilizing and pruning schedule that you have had success with to date. If it is showing stress, you might check out a local nursery with experience with ficus trees and other potted trees for next step suggestions. That's what I would do.

      Delete
  10. Hello! Just found your post. I have a very large north facing window that needs a large ficus. If I use grow lights- could I put a ficus there? Pls advise

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    Replies
    1. In my experience, a northern exposure is a huge NO for a ficus. As for grow lights...I've never used them.

      Delete

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