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How to Save a Ficus Benjamina

ficus benjamina image by Unclesam from

Ficus plants (Ficus benjamina) are popular house plants grown in the United States. They are grown for their pretty foliage that is either green or variegated and their unique growth habit. A ficus is one of the few houseplants that grows into a small tree inside a home if trained properly. Many times, ficus plants are grown with several trunks that are tied together or woven into an attractive pattern. These "braided" trunks meld together and form an attractive natural structure. Ficus plants can live for many years in the same container, but occasionally a ficus plant becomes stressed and needs to be revived.

Look carefully at your ficus plant and identify any dead limbs. A limb may be leafless but not dead, so test the limb by slightly scratching the outer layer of the limb with your thumbnail. If there is green underneath the bark, the limb is still alive. If the limb is dead, cut it back to a main branch.

Continue clearing all dead limbs until they are all removed. Then, trim the live limbs into the desired shape of the plant. The shape should be that of a small tree with a canopy on top of a bare trunk. The canopy should be one-third the overall size of the plant. In other words, two-thirds of the plant is the trunk and one-third is the canopy. Even if you are left with only a few live limbs, trim back using the one-third/two-third rule. Don't worry about the white latex sap that oozes from the cut areas. It will dry and seal over the wounds.

Take the ficus plant outside and remove from container. If re-potting in the same container, clean the container well with hot, soapy water and rinse well. Lightly shake old soil off the root base of the ficus plant and re-pot using new potting soil. Replant at the same depth it was previously planted unless a lot of roots were exposed, then it can be planted slightly deeper to cover the roots.

If planting in a new container, use a container that is only 2 inches larger in diameter than the old container. This prevents a lot of wet soil sitting around the root base that is not being utilized by the plant. Ficus plants are one of the few plants that do not mind being root-bound.

Water thoroughly, wait 30 minutes, then add a one-half dose of water-soluble fertilizer for house plants. Continue adding the fertilizer mixture until it runs from the bottom of the container. Let the container drain. Move indoors to a location with dappled shade, but not direct sun. Every week, fertilize with a one-half dose of water soluble fertilizer for house plants. The plant should start putting out new growth in four to six weeks. Keep the ficus plant trimmed to shape for a fuller and more attractive growth habit.

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