How to Take Care of a Ficus Plant

Overview

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.

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

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.

Step 4

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.

Step 5

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.

Step 6

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.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not crowd ficus together. Like any plants, they will "borrow" pests and diseases from neighbors. Even if their neighbors are healthy, ficus tend to drop leaves when crowded. Keep ficus away from drafty windows in winter time and wait until the weather is reliably warm before moving them outside to dappled shade in the summer. Leaves will turn yellow and drop, especially on weeping fig, when conditions change suddenly.

Things You'll Need

  • Pot with drainage
  • Tray or saucer
  • Clean potting soil
  • Houseplant fertilizer
  • Garden shears or sharp scissors
  • Bright location near windows or fluorescent light

References

  • University of Minnesota Extension Yard and Garden Brief: Rubber trees, Weeping Fig and Other Friendly Ficus
  • North Dakota State Extension Service: Ficus Q and A
  • Mid-Florida Research and Education Center: Ficus Production Guide

Who Can Help

  • Ficus Plant: Caring for a Ficus Plant
  • North Dakota State Extension Service:Houseplants: Proper Care and Management of Pest Problems
  • The Artistic Garden: Potting Soil Recipes
Keywords: ficus care, indoor gardening, rubber plants, weeping figs, fiddle-leaf figs

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.