9 Tips For Growing Ficus Benjamina Indoors
Ficus trees can be grown indoors successfully if provided proper maintenance and care. These popular trees can make excellent houseplants with the right care routine. In this article, gardening expert Emily Horn shares everything you need to know about growing Ficus Trees indoors, including tips for maintenance and care.
The weeping fig, botanically known as Ficus benjamina, is a native outdoor tree of southeast Asia and northern Australia. However, weeping ficus trees are most commonly grown indoors by a large segment of the population living in areas where outdoor temperatures get below 30℉.
Despite its origins, Ficus benjamina is quite adapted to living indoors. They are, like many houseplants, very forgiving in our adventures in trying to provide an ideal environment for them.
But, we wouldn’t consider this houseplant to be low-maintenance. It can be a tad fussy, especially if you don’t know how to care for it. Let’s delve into the environmental conditions preferred by weeping figs, and you’ll see how easy growing this gentle giant can be.
Provide Filtered Light
In the wild, ficus would receive sunlight that has passed through the leaf canopies of trees taller than itself rather than having the sun’s rays hitting it directly. Filtered or indirect sunlight is ideal for growing ficus trees indoors.
To achieve this level of lighting in your home, consider placing your ficus tree in an east, west, or south-facing window. This spot should receive at least 6 hours of light per day.
When indoors, curtains or blinds will reduce direct sun exposure through the window. Even when curtains or blinds are closed, some light is still visible. This bright but indirect lighting is what your ficus wants.
Outdoors, you may have a large tree or a deck canopy that lets some sunlight through but partially blocks it. Again, this is the ideal light intensity for your ficus tree.
Sunlight that is too intense on your ficus tree may cause the leaves to turn yellow or straw brown, a common sign of crisp or burn. It is wise to remove these leaves, as taking them off will encourage new growth.
Keep a Warm, Constant Temperature
Native to tropical regions of Asia and Australia, ficus trees like it warm. Temperatures in the range of 75°F-85°F are right where ficus thrive. If temperatures dip below 65°F, you will start to see cold damage on the leaves.
Fortunately, this temperature range fits within the scope of most household temperatures. You may keep your thermostat at a temperature higher than 65°F, but if your tree is located too close to an exterior door or window, opening or closing that door or window may let in too much of the chill.
When your ficus sits too close to old, drafty windows or between a window and your curtains, you could inadvertently expose your tree to low air temperatures, particularly in winter. Keep your ficus away from exterior door drafts, furnace vents, and air conditioners, as these can alter the air temperature to a less-than-ideal level.
Symptoms of cold damage on ficus include purple or bronze-colored leaves, irregular yellowing or brown splotches, and leaf dropping.
Fortunately, cold damage rarely impacts the roots, so despite the loss of leaves in the canopy, the root system is still intact and capable of providing the tree with water and nutrients, enabling a new flush of leaves.
Have a Consistent Watering Schedule
Consistent, moderate watering during the growing season is ideal for growing ficus trees indoors. The soil, which should be a nutrient-rich potting mix, should always be slightly moist. Water the plant when the top layer of soil has dried out. About once a week should be enough.
Waterlogged soil can cause problems for your ficus tree, such as disease and root rot. Therefore, a well-draining mix is vital to the health of the plant. The pot should also have drainage holes.
During the winter months, the plant can go through dry periods and does not need as much water. You may see some leaves drop, but that is OK. Just be sure to provide additional moisture or humidity during this time.
Maintain a Humid Environment
Ficus are jungle plants, no doubt about it. They love humidity. During the summer months, humidity is not usually a problem. It’s the wintertime when humidity becomes an issue inside our homes.
Usually, the type of heating source we use to warm our homes is the cause of such dryness. So how do we keep the humidity levels up for our houseplants during the winter?
There are a few easy and relatively inexpensive ways to increase the humidity of your houseplants.
Purchasing a spray bottle and misting your indoor ficus tree with water a few times per week is a quick and easy method of providing humidity to your plant. You just need to remember to do this every few days.
Another method to increase your humidity would be the introduction of a cool-mist humidifier. Many humidifiers today have built-in water sensors to shut off when the reservoir becomes empty or have timers you can set in order to provide a set number of hours during the day to provide additional humidity.
Depending on the size of your ficus tree, you may be able to utilize a pebble tray to increase humidity.
Find a tray that is bigger than your ficus’ pot and fill it with pebbles or decorative rocks. Next, place your ficus on top of the rock layer. Then fill the tray with water.
The water’s depth needs to be able to cover the rocks, but shallow enough that the pot is not sitting directly in pooled water. As the water evaporates underneath the pot, it increases the humidity around the plant. Check the pebble tray for water every few days in order to maintain adequate moisture levels.
I’ve clustered my houseplants around the same set of windows in my kitchen. This can be beneficial in increasing the humidity level in the immediate area. When the plants transpire, or lose water through their stomata, the water is still present in the air. The more plants you have in an area, the higher the humidity will be.
It is important to put the plants close enough to increase the humidity, but not too close that you decrease air circulation. Decreased air circulation can lead to disease issues like powdery mildew, so adjust the spacing of your plants accordingly.
Plant in the Right Potting Mix
The type of soil you plant your ficus tree in is important. A rich, nutrient-dense potting mix is ideal for planting your ficus tree. Be sure that your mix has adequate drainage as well so the soil does not become waterlogged, which increases the likelihood of root rot,
However, I will say that ficus does not seem to be too picky about soil based on my observations of the rather large Ficus benjamina we have in our tropical conservatory.
The massive tree is planted in a container and has thrived, even though all we do is occasionally add an all-purpose potting mix to the pot.
Prune Only When Necessary
Ficus trees do not require much pruning. In the early spring, an annual removal of dead branches and pruning back areas of vigorous growth is about all that is needed to maintain the size and shape of your tree.
Before making any cuts, you should do some prep work on your tools and the area directly surrounding your tree. Pruners and a drop cloth will be the only tools you should need.
One of the most important things you can do with your pruners is to keep them clean and sanitized. Dirty pruners are one of several ways plant diseases are transported from plant to plant.
First, remove any dirt or debris from the cutting blade and cutting edge to clean your pruners. After removing the visible debris, you can sanitize your tool using either rubbing alcohol or a diluted bleach solution.
After pruning, clean and sanitize your pruners again, using a new cloth for rubbing alcohol, or if using bleach, mix up another batch of the solution to soak your pruners. Once bleach hits organic matter, its efficacy as a sanitizer is greatly reduced.
Another topic when it comes to pruning is protecting the surrounding indoor areas, such as furniture, floors, walls, etc., around/near your ficus tree. When the tissue of ficus plants is ruptured, sap begins to ooze.
Unfortunately, this sap is a white, milky latex-based liquid that is very sticky to the touch. When it touches floors and furniture, it is very difficult to wipe up and clean.
Therefore, place a drop cloth under/around the base of your ficus tree before making your first cut. You may also want to wear a baseball cap and long sleeves when pruning because removing sap from your hair and skin can be difficult. The sap is a known skin irritant, especially in people with latex sensitivity.
Avoid Moving the Tree
One thing weeping figs are unfavorably famous for is dropping their leaves. Though growing a ficus tree indoors is somewhat simple, be sure to have a permanent spot for it in your home.
If you need to move your tree, be prepared for some major leaf drop. Even if you only move your tree a few feet from its original spot, for some reason, the natural response of ficus is “panic,” and the plant will drop its leaves. Rest assured that if you have done nothing incorrect, it’s just the nature of the beast.
When signs of stress are apparent, ficus trees will be prone to the invasion of pests. The invasion has begun if you see any sap or honeydew droppings on the leaves or stems. Avoid stressing the tree out too much by keeping it in a comfy spot in your home where it gets plenty of light and is not drafty.
Quickly Act on Pests and Diseases
Ficus trees are susceptible to common indoor plant pests; aphids, mealybugs, scale, and spider mites. If you notice any of the aforementioned insects or mites, begin a control regimen immediately, especially if you have other houseplants.
Each of these pests is considered a generalist when it comes to food. They will eat anything they find and don’t discriminate. And at the rate at which some of these pests reproduce, the pest populations can get out of control rather quickly.
Little green/black/brown/yellow/orange teardrop or pear-shaped insects, aphids can wreak havoc quickly. You will notice two little cornicles sticking out at the rounded end of the abdomen. They look like tailpipes.
Aphids feast on new plant growth, so they are often found at the tips of branches in grape-like clusters. Aphids will insert their mouthparts and suck out the sap of a plant.
When aphid infestations are severe, the plant will begin to show signs of wilting, although the soil will be adequately moist. This wilt is caused by the lack of sap inside the plant cells, which will cause them to droop.
Even though destructive, aphids are easy to control. A simple way to combat aphids is to spray the aphids with a stream of water away from other houseplants. Dislodging the insect will break the contact with the plant, and the aphids will most likely die.
Mealybugs are another common plant pest. You may find the white, cottony clumps on the underside of leaves, near the mid veins, or in the crevices of branches. Depending on the type of mealybug, there may also be a long, whip-like tail visible. Despite their size, mealybugs are relatively fast-moving on plants.
Mealybugs will suck the cell contents out of plants. Because the cell contents are made out of plant sugars, the excrement from mealybugs is also quite sticky. If left untreated, the sticky excrement, more elegantly called honeydew, will be a food source for a secondary plant disease, sooty mold.
There are a few ways to control mealybugs. You can spray the mealybugs directly with water to dislodge them like aphids. Another option is to dip cotton swabs in rubbing alcohol and touch the mealybugs with the alcohol-soaked swab. As the alcohol evaporates, it dries the insect out, causing death.
Scale insects are small and oval-shaped, usually in colors of brown or black. Sometimes scale can be hard to find. It blends in with the color of the plant’s bark on branches or the underside of the leaves.
Scale differs from mealybug in that the outer coating of scale insects is hard, creating a shell-like barrier from predators and, unfortunately, topical pesticides.
If you find you have a scale problem, the method of control depends on the severity of the scale populations. Begin by pruning out any branches with the heaviest population of scale. Discard those cuttings in the trash to prevent transporting scales to other indoor or outdoor plants.
Next, apply a systemic pesticide to the plant’s soil surface and lightly water your ficus. As the plant’s roots suck up water, they will also suck up the pesticide, transporting the chemical throughout the entire plant.
As the new growth emerges, it will contain the pesticide. If by chance there are any scales still present, as they eat, they will ingest the chemical.
Spider mites are very small. However, a telltale sign of a spider mite infestation is webbing. Spider mites will create a web around entire plant leaves. Inside the webbing, you will see some mites running about, similar to the size of a piece of cornmeal.
Spider mites damage leaves by piercing the leaf tissue and sucking out the contents. This usually happens on the underside of a leaf.
Spider mites prefer a dry environment. Increasing the humidity around your ficus tree is one way to help prevent or even eliminate spider mites. If possible, spray the webbing directly with a stream of water. This will break up the colony and increase the humidity simultaneously.
Wipe Dust Off Leaves
It always seems as though my indoor ficus tree is covered in dust. And cat hair. And I haven’t had a cat in two years! Regardless, dust on houseplants is not good for them. It is important to remove the dust safely.
The first way you can remove dust from your ficus leaves is to use a commercially available static duster. There are no chemical sprays involved. As long as you gently brush the plant, you will cause no damage.
Another way to clean your ficus plant is by using a damp cloth. Due to the overall thickness and rigidity of the leaf itself, you can use a cloth, dish rag, or old sock turned inside out that has been moistened with water. Be sure not to press down too hard on the leaf’s surface to avoid cracking the leaf.
One method that we would use to polish and dust most houseplants in the garden center was using commercially available leaf-shining products. These polish the upper leaf surface and create a barrier to prevent dust from settling on the surface for around a month. Stand about 12-15 feet away and spray the leaf surfaces with the product in a sweeping motion.
Be advised that leaf polishing spray is not for use on all houseplants. It can cause significant damage if used incorrectly, especially in direct sunlight. Furthermore, cover bare floors with a cloth or sheet before spraying. The leaf shine will cause surfaces to become slippery.
It’s hard to deny that adding a ficus tree to your houseplant collection adds depth and beauty to any living area. To be able to grow a miniature tree inside your house in and of itself is a wonder. When it comes to growing an indoor ficus tree, the main thing is to find a good spot for it and not move it.
Consider the light level, whether or not there are any furnace vents or other drafty spots that could interfere with humidity or temperature when placing your tree. Then, an annual once-over for any pruning that may need (or not need) done and regular check-ins for water needs, and your ficus will be content with its living environment.