The houseplant commonly known as ficus is in fact Ficus benjamina, also known as the weeping fig or Benjamin fig. It is a large tree native to Asia and Australia but thrives as a houseplant provided it is well cared for. A healthy ficus plant has attractive, weeping foliage but sheds leaves at the first sign of a problem. It is so prone to leaf drop that some owners wonder whether the name weeping fig comes from the delicate foliage or the plant's habit of dropping all its leaves. Ficus plants are vulnerable to watering problems, common pests and abrupt changes in conditions. There are a number of other closely related species that are also sometimes referred to as ficus including the rubber tree (Ficus elastica).
Place your new ficus houseplant in a bright place in the home close to a window. A west- or south-facing window with some direct sunshine is ideal. Pick a spot and leave your ficus plant there permanently rather than moving it about. Rotate your plant every month to maintain even growth.
Water your ficus when the surface of its potting medium starts to dry out. Moisten rather than soak the soil and allow excess water to drain away. Do not allow water to pool in a dish or saucer under your ficus' pot, as this will drown the roots and damage the whole plant. Do not mist your ficus plant, but wipe down the leaves with a soft, damp cloth once a month to remove dust. If large leaves on your ficus turn yellow and drop, the plant may be under watered. If young, tender leaves drop from the tips of the branches, it may be over watered.
Fertilize your ficus once a month with a commercial houseplant fertilizer at half the recommended strength during the warm months of the year. Reduce the frequency down to once every two months during the winter and do not fertilize at all during the three darkest months of the year.
Repot ficus plants only when they are top heavy or completely pot bound and have roots growing out of the container's drainage holes. Use a peat-based compost mixed with about 30 percent sharp sand or perlite to aid drainage. Repot your ficus in a pot one size up from its original container.
Monitor your plant for signs of insect pests such as scale insects or mealy bugs. Scale insects look like small yellow or brown bumps on the undersides of the leaves, while mealy bugs are white and fluffy. Do not confuse the natural white exudation at the base of a ficus plant for mealy bugs. Treat an infected ficus with a houseplant insecticide spray or a 2 percent solution of insecticidal soap.
Prune your ficus during the late spring so it has the growing season to recover. Cut branches back to a bud using a sterile garden knife or scissors. If you want to radically cut back a ficus, do it over several years so than no more than 30 percent of the plant is removed in one go.