The genus Ficus comprises more than 800 species, including some species of ornamental trees, shrubs and vines. Most are used primarily as houseplants. The common houseplant varieties originated in India, Southeast Asia and Malaysia. Due to their tropical history, they do well in heat and grow indoors in sunny atriums or south-facing windows.
Common Ficus Species
Ficus Benjamin. or weeping fig, has shiny, semi-wavy leaves that fall off easily if moved around too much. Some varities include the Florida Spire, Golden Princess and Jacqueline (also known as Golden King).
Another cultivar is the elastica, or rubber plant. This variety was grown extensively as an indoor plant back in the 1950s. It has large, firm leaves and woody stems. There are some burgundy variegated versions. The rubber plant includes Decora, Doescheri and Robusta.
Ficus lyrata, or fiddle-leaf fig, is another woody cultivar with the biggest leaves of any indoor fig. These include the Compacta.
Indoor ficus grow best in full sunlight. As ficus grows indoors, it grows upright, so spacing is also important. Some species need plenty of growing space. Indoor ficus need to be watered extensively with room-temperature water to avoid shocking the roots. If excess water collects in the bottom of the pot from the drain holes, the excess water should be emptied after a few minutes. Too much water or too little water will result in leaf loss. When the plant is growing actively, fertilize every three to four weeks with half-strength fertilizer. Fertilizing is not necessary in the winter.
Pruning is important to control size. A ficus should be pruned just above a node, meaning where a leaf attaches to the stem, or where another stem branches off. The plant can also be pruned above leaf scars. Even if there is no leaf present, new growth can occur from the scar area.
Pruning will also help shape the ficus. Most indoor ficus grow upright. Some are single-trunked while others have multiple stems. There are also versions in which the stems have been braided together.
According to the University of Florida Extension Research and Education Center, ficus can be propagated three ways--layering, cuttage and tissue culture. Seeds are used rarely with some species. Air layering is done in the spring from shoots produced during the previous season. For the most favorable rooting, it consists of choosing an area just below a node and removing the leaves and twigs on the stem and making a cut to remove the shoot. Sometimes layering occurs naturally with runners or offshoots. Vines, shrubs and smaller trees are propagated with cuttings. Tissue culture has just recently started being used on some of the newer varieties of indoor plants. Plugs are separated from the smaller divisions and planted.