Ficus Bonsai Trees: How To Grow and Plant Care

If you’re just getting started in the art of growing and caring for bonsai trees, there’s perhaps no better start than to choose a ficus as your first bonsai tree.

Not only are they easy to care for, and prefer living indoors or in warm climates (unlike some bonsai trees which are commonly mislabeled as indoor plants), but ficus bonsai trees are some of the most striking plants, sure to make a great focal point in your home.

Interested? Here’s everything you need to know in order to grow your own.

At a Glance: What You Should Know About Growing Ficus Plants as Bonsai

Depending on the type of ficus plant you pick, and the shape you cultivate it into, it may reach as large as 3 feet high, or stay more compact at around 30cm tall.

Ficus plants, when given the right amount of care, can live for over a hundred years as cultivated bonsai trees. 

While they do not flower, their lovely appearance with their thick, twisted trunks and bright green leaves, and sometimes swollen roots make them a great choice for bonsai.

It also helps that ficus plants, compared to others grown as bonsai trees, are quite forgiving, and you’ll soon be able to tell if they’re not happy, adjusting their growing conditions as necessary.

Types of Ficus You Can Grow as Bonsai Trees

There is some confusion surrounding what ficus plants you can grow as bonsai. There’s only one type, and that’s the ficus ginseng, or Ficus microcarpa.

You’ll often see it mislabeled as Ficus retusa, which is an easy mistake to make. Ficus retusa is a completely different plant, and the only real way of telling the difference is looking at the length of the leaf blade.

In Ficus microcarpa, the leaf blade generally reaches less than 10cm, and in Ficus retusa, this can be anywhere from 10 to 20cm. Ficus retusa is not grown as a bonsai tree.

Ficus microcarpa ‘Ficus Ginseng’

Part of the fig plant family, ficus ginseng, the curtain fig, or Indian laurel is native to parts of tropical Asia, and while it does need warm temperatures at least semi-humid conditions, it can tolerate some temperatures close to freezing if it must, but not for long.

It’s instantly recognizable for its swollen roots, and gray trunk, which is why it’s often called the pot-bellied ficus. It produces small, glossy leaves, and aerial roots.

It can also be a grafted type, where a dwarf cultivar with much smaller leaves is grafted onto the trunk of the ficus ginseng. 

It’s fairly fast-growing, and will tolerate conditions that aren’t suitable for longer than other species grown as bonsai trees.

Starting Off: Should You Grow a Ficus Bonsai From Seed, or From Cuttings?

While it is possible to grow a ficus bonsai tree from seed, it does take a long time to do so, and it’s a fairly tricky process.

Taking cuttings from an existing ficus ginseng is by far the easier method. Take cuttings during the summer, when the plant is at its healthiest and most active.

The best thing to do to start with, before you take your cuttings, is to prepare a pot full of damp compost. Grab some rooting hormone if you have it, too. 

If you can, take a semi-hardwood cutting rather than stems with only soft, green growth, as this gives the cutting more chance to root. 

Take several cuttings at once, removing the lower leaves from the stem, and pop them into the soil, about an inch or so deep. You could also try rooting them in water, but this tends to be less successful.

Pop the container into a bright, warm position, away from direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist, and you should see new signs of growth within a month or so.

How to Make Sure You Ficus Bonsai Thrives

Sunlight and Position

The ficus ginseng needs as much light as possible indoors. The more light you give it, the happier your bonsai will be. 

It may tolerate partial shade for a while, but the growth won’t be nearly as vigorous as it would be in higher light levels.

In terms of temperature, it needs to be in a warm position that reaches at least 68°F (20°C) all year round. 

It does benefit from high levels of humidity, where you’ll see aerial roots start to grow, only adding to this plant’s unique look.

Keep your ginseng bonsai tree away from radiators and drafty places, such as fireplaces, doorways or open windows, in order to keep the temperature as stable as possible. 

Watering Needs

A ficus ginseng bonsai isn’t a very demanding tree, which only adds to its popularity. It will forgive you if you forget to water it now and then, but a consistent watering schedule will really help it thrive.

You may need to water it once or even twice a week, depending on how warm and humid the surrounding atmosphere is. Ficus ginseng plants don’t like drying out completely, but neither do they like the soil being completely saturated for long.

You can mist your ficus bonsai lightly every day, which will help with the humidity levels to an extent, but make sure you don’t overdo it, otherwise this can cause fungal disease.

Should You Fertilize a Ficus Bonsai?

Ficus ginseng bonsai trees do benefit from some fertilizer in the summer months to help bolster the growth. 

Use a liquid houseplant fertilizer, and feed it every week for three weeks when it needs water, allowing it to rest for a fourth week.

When to Repot a Ficus Bonsai Tree

A ficus ginseng bonsai tree should be moved to a new home every other year, during summer. Remove the old soil, replenishing the nutrients, and trim back a quarter of the roots with clean, sharp scissors. 

Place the ficus ginseng into its new home, watering it to settle the roots into the soil. Do not feed it after repotting, give it at least two weeks for the plant to rest.

How to Prune a Ficus Bonsai Tree

Ficus ginseng bonsai trees don’t need much attention when it comes to pruning, but there is a general rule to follow to keep them healthy and vigorous. 

For every eight new leaves that grow on the plant, reduce them to two. 

When you first get your ficus bonsai, if you want to thicken up the trunk, allow it to grow without chopping it back for a year.

If you need to prune back your ficus bonsai tree a little harder, get some cut paste for bonsai trees before you pick up the secateurs. Apply the wound paste on any cuts, as this will prevent any disease from getting into the plant before it has a chance to heal.

Ficus Bonsai Trees: Common Problems

Yellow Leaves

Yellow leaves on a ficus bonsai tree suggest that the amount of water you’re giving your plant is either too much, or not enough. 

The most common cause of yellow leaves is underwatering, and you can tell this when the soil has been dry for a prolonged period. Remember, ficus bonsai trees don’t like drying out completely, so give yours a good drink.

Signs of overwatering include saturated soil, yellowing leaves, and fungal disease. If the soil has been completely drenched for a longer period, you may need to repot it quickly to try and save it from root rot, but this doesn’t always work.

Leaf Drop

As a ficus plant, the ficus ginseng is vulnerable to leaf drop. This is the plant’s way of telling you that something about the growing conditions is completely wrong. 

If the environment changes dramatically, this can lead to leaf drop. Temperature, water, light, or humidity changes can all stress the plant, leading to leaves dropping. 

Try changing one thing, and see if that helps your ginseng bonsai bounce back.

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