The ficus family of houseplants contains handsome, undemanding and pest-resistant plants that have been popular indoor garden plants for years. These easy-care natives of Southeast Asia thrive in warm homes with bright light. Rubber plants, weeping figs and fiddle-leaf figs brighten winter homes and shopping mall atria.
Given the right conditions, ficus can grow into large tree-like plants. Some grow in a multi-stemmed shrub form whose stems can be braided to form an attractive trunk. Some grow into tall single-stemmed trees, outgrowing residential ceilings.
Place ficus plants in bright, medium light near a window or under overhead lighting. Ficus grow in tropical under-stories and, although they can grow in direct sunlight, they may scorch if subjected to it for extended periods.
Keep ficus warm; they prefer temperatures from 70 to 80 degrees. Don't set air conditioning too low in summer. During the heating season, mist ficus or set its pot on a tray of pebbles filled with water to humidify the air around the plant.
Prune ficus to keep a compact shape and to control growth. Trim branches that drop leaves due to changes in light or temperature back to the node where the last leaf dropped; it will grow two new shoots. Prune back top growth as much as 20 percent to encourage bushiness. Prune top and roots to keep a plant from growing larger; tip the plant out of the pot and trim roots back with a sharp knife, then put it back in the same pot and supplement with new soil.
Water ficus deeply until water comes out the bottom of the pot. Allow the soil to dry until there's just enough moisture to hold it together before watering again--soggy soil will cause leaf drop. Use room temperature water, preferably the water that bypasses the water softener.
Prevent fungal and bacterial infections by watering soil, not foliage. Although ficus are generally pest-resistant, several insects may migrate to them from other plants; use systemic or indoor pesticides labeled for mealy bugs, scales or thrips.
Fertilize ficus plants only when they are actively growing. Use half-strength houseplant fertilizer and feed every 3 or 4 weeks during summer; less frequently as growth slows in autumn. Begin fertilizing again in late winter or early spring when the plant begins putting out new leaves.