The ficus genus contains more than 800 species of plants, most of which are woody shrubs or trees native to the tropics or subtropics. Though the common fig (Ficus carica) is perhaps the most popular ficus species thanks to its sweet, edible fruit, many other ficus plants find their way into homes and gardens because of their ornamental value.
Ficus trees can be grown as attractive, practical ornamental or shade trees in warm weather gardens. A native of Africa, the sycamore tree (Ficus sycomorus) makes an effective urban shade tree, as it rarely grows above 60 feet tall. The tree produces edible, pale fruits that both humans and wildlife may enjoy. A native of the Mediterranean, the common fig (Ficus carica) is a small tree or large shrub that produces calcium-rich fruits that may be harvested and eaten at home.
The amount of light a ficus requires depends on the species, although many trees will tolerate both full and partial sunlight. Full sunlight is crucial for figs grown for their fruits, as they may fail to develop properly if given too much shade. The fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) is a tropical tree that will only handle the warm temperatures of USDA zone 11, though it may be grown indoors. A rich, well-draining soil that's kept moist to the touch is ideal for most ficus species.
Use a general purpose fertilizer in the late winter or early spring to encourage new growth in your ficus plant. Ficus plants such as the common fig have shallow roots and may quickly run out of water, a problem that can be solved by mulching with a thick layer of either hay or straw. This becomes especially crucial during a summer drought. If your fig tree has yellowing or dropping leaves, you should seriously consider mulching.
Indoor ficus plants do best in a sunny location of the home. You may take the plant outdoors in the summer to let it suck up a little extra sun. Always plant in a container with a hole in the bottom to ensure proper drainage, and water sparingly during the winter. During the growing season, keep the soil slightly damp to the touch. You can pinch back dead foliage to encourage new growth.
Pests that commonly afflict ficus plants include thrips, scale, mealybugs and spider mites. The Cuban laurel tree (Ficus retusa) is afflicted by Cuban laurel thrips, a small black insect that has a particular fondness for the tree, though it will also feed on other ficus species. Ficus houseplants can be treated easily, as you can usually just rinse pests away with a steady stream of water. Outdoor trees may need the assistance of a pest specialist for serious infestations.