How to Cut Back a Ficus Tree

Ficus benjamina tree. image by J.M. Garg

Overview

Ficus trees are lush semi-tropical trees that grow well in both indoor and outdoor settings. They produce large volumes of glossy green leaves on very slim arching stems that sprout from a straight upright trunk that is pale in color. They are very low in their maintenance requirements and rarely need actual pruning due to their attractive natural growth habit, but they are highly tolerant of pruning and shaping. Pruned ficus trees are commonly used in creating hedging, visual screens and specimen topiaries.

Step 1

Maintenance prune your ficus tree as needed throughout the growing season to keep it healthy and tidy looking. Use this light periodic pruning to inspect for damaged or diseased leaves or branching. Cut any suspect branches or foliage bracts back to the stem or branch outside of the slightly bulging branch collar. Pull out any dead leaves that may be lodged in the tree canopy and scoop up any foliage that may have fallen into the soil around the tree and discard it.

Step 2

Hard prune your ficus every few years, or more frequently, as needed, in the early spring or fall to control or alter the shape and structure of the tree. Make your first cuts to establish the desired height and spread by removing branch tips with your shears or loppers. Thin the interior of the tree canopy if it's overgrown and crowded. Remove selected branches evenly throughout the canopy to allow more sunlight penetration and fresh air flow through the tree. Remove up to, but no more than, 1/3 of the tree canopy mass during a hard pruning to reduce stress on the tree. With every cut, pull the branching from the tree and stand back a few yards to assess your progress. This cut and pause technique will ensure a symmetrical and professional finished look to your tree.

Step 3

Water your ficus tree well after any significant pruning session to relieve stress on the plant's roots and to prevent a shock response. Hold off on fertilizing after a severe pruning session for a week to two weeks to allow the plant to acclimate to its new form and keep growth stress low.

Tips and Warnings

  • If your ficus is badly overgrown or your design requires that more than 1/3 needs to be removed, wait at least a few weeks between pruning sessions to allow the tree to recover.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Long handled loppers
  • Long blade shears
  • Water

References

  • University of Florida
  • New Mexico State University
Keywords: ficus tree, ficus pruning, ficus maintenance

About this Author

A communications professional, D.C. Winston has more than 17 years of experience writing and editing content for online publications, corporate communications, business clients, industry journals and film/broadcast media. Winston studied political science at the University of California, San Diego.

Photo by: J.M. Garg