After my blogpost a few weeks ago about getting your ficus plants to branch (linked here) I had lots of questions about their general care needs; why some of your plants are losing leaves, why some don’t seem to be growing… in short, you wanted to know how to keep your ficus family happy! For todays post I’m going to share my Ficus care tips with you. I wanted to elaborate on some basic points + share some of my experiences with you from looking after these plants.
I have a bit of a collection now (7 plants) because I am forever attracted to their simplicity, upright growth habit + lovely leaves. They really are a classic houseplant to have in your home + even mature plants don’t take up a lot of floor space in relation to their stature. They work well tucked into a corner (provided there’s enough light of course – more on that later) to create the feeling of having a small tree in your home. If you know the Ficus family a little, you will know how magnificent a mature Ficus benjamina looks in an interior space! These are a little harder to care for, so my first choice is always the rubber plant; Ficus elastica. We will be focusing on these plants today, alongside Ficus lyrata… aka fiddle leaf fig. Fiddle leaf figs can also make such an impact in a space too + if you are a big leaf lover like me, they are an excellent choice. I have a Ficus lyrata bambino which is a miniature cultivar of a FLF but next time I move, I’m going to get a classic lyrata for sure!
It’s important to remember that it is always a combination of light, watering, humidity alongside any pest problems + fertilising that will have an impact on the growth of your houseplants. It’s not usually one specific issue, but a blend or combination of a few things that might need ‘tweaking’ to get your plant growing well. This is part of the enjoyment of plant care for me + I’ve learned not to stress out quite so much about encountering challenges in looking after my houseplants. For ficus plants in particular, the main two issues concern light (not enough) + watering (too much).
First up, let’s talk about light. This is important + leads to some of the questions I got around growth. Ficus really don’t like dark corners + the main reason your plant is not growing much is probably because it’s not getting enough light on its leaves. I’ve experimented with various positions around my apartment – testing out north, east, south + west light at varying degrees from the windows (…because I like carrying out planty experiments like that). Here are my findings…
The happiest spot I found for my ficus elastica tineke (the variegated type) which gave the most consistent growth was in my bedroom – around 2.5 metres from south and west facing windows. The dual aspect nature of this room meant this plant got a decent amount of light for much of the day. I kept my bambino fiddle leaf in this room too, but in a different position – against my wardrobe + pretty much next to my west facing window. Early last summer I also moved my Ficus elastica decora to this west facing spot too – I realised I just hadn’t been giving this plant enough light up to that point. The growth over the Summer of this one was really exciting for me as this is a plant I have had for a number of years without any major growth to speak of. In a way, I think it was this plant that helped me really ‘get‘ ficus care.
After moving, I currently have my elastica tinekes around 1 metre away from a north window + my elastica decora + lyrata bambino right next to the window. So I will report back with how they are settling in. So far so good, and there are a few new leaves on the way! Growth will be a bit slower than in a brighter position, but I will move if I notice the leaves getting small (which can be a sign of not enough light).
Be aware that the variegated types require more light than the solid coloured varieties. Generally, FLF’s like a bit of a brighter spot, so keeping close to a window will ensure adequate light for this plant to thrive. Be careful of harsh South light scorching these leaves – this can lead to a spider mite attack in very warm conditions with lower levels of humidity.
Getting the watering of Ficus plants right is probably the main challenge in keeping them happy + in most cases, overwatering is the problem. During Spring + Summer I water my plants around every 10 days + feed once a month. Regular feeding when the plant is growing can really promote the growth of these lovely leaves… these plants are not exactly the fastest growing out there so any help like fertiliser can be a welcome addition to your care regimen! I take my plants to the bath and water thoroughly using warm water until it runs out of the drainage holes. Tepid water is much better than cold water straight from the tap, which can cause light brown blistering on the foliage. By the time I water again, the top layer of potting mix will have dried out. I wait for the top 2 inches are dry – poke your finger into the soil + test it if you are unsure. You’ll get used to knowing without having to do this every time but it’s a helpful indicator. We’ll discuss winter watering in the dormancy section a little further down the post…
Ficus elastica can live really happily in normal household humidity + don’t require anything special like a humidifier. That being said, increased humidity in combination with good light will help the Ficus leaves grow to a lovely size. Very low humidity is not great as it can weaken the plant + make it susceptible to pests. But this is not something I have had any problems with – most places I have lived have had an average humidity of around 60-70% (I’m in the UK – this might not be the case where you live) + I’ve not used a humidifier for any of my plants. Ficus Lyrata varieties do appreciate a bit more humidity than Elasticas, so bear that in mind if you don’t have good humidity levels at home.
If you follow my instagram, you’ll know that I regularly mention leaf cleaning. Out of all my plants, my Ficuses are the dust magnets in my plant collection! It must be to do with the thicker leaves combined with the solid shape of their foliage + their upright growth habit. Whatever it is, these leaves really do get dusty! Aside from looking a bit sad, dust on your plants can reduce the efficiency of photosynthesis (essentially forming a veil over the leaf surface) + can encourage pests to set up camp on your plants (watch out for spider mites). Keeping your leaves dust free will help to keep your plant healthy + deter pests. I clean my foliage once a week, using warm water and an old cloth. I’ll put my larger plants in the bath + shower them, making sure to dry the leaves off afterwards. Using a cloth is more important on Ficus plants than others because the dust really does stick to these leaves. The FLF leaves are a bit of a pain to keep properly clean due to their undulating shape (side note… they remind me of turtle shells).
Here’s how I do it:
Air layering or rooting stem cuttings are the two options here. I’ve potted multiple stems into one pot and rooted stems in water that I have chopped off my elastica tineke to encourage it to branch… blogpost linked here.
This is an aspect of Ficus care that can 100% make you think that there’s something wrong with your plant – it just stops growing for months at a time and just sits there. Whilst it is a little frustrating that there aren’t any new leaves unfurling + some actually might be yellowing + falling off, it’s all a natural life cycle of ficus plants…it’s called dormancy. Dormancy occurs in the colder months + is a winter rest period for your plant – at this point it’s necessary to change up your care routine to keep these plants from taking a nosedive. As tempting as it might be to think ‘my plant has stopped growing, I’d better repot it! or water it more! or move it!’ you don’t want to be doing any of those things.
As the image a bit further down the post explains, you need to really reduce watering during dormancy so that the plant doesn’t get root rot. Lower temperatures mean the potting mix will take longer to dry out + if kept too wet it can really send your Ficus into a strop. Over winter it is normal for the lowest leaf to yellow + drop, but if this seems to be a bit more of a problem than the odd leaf or two, have a read of my blogpost Why are my leaves turning yellow?
During their rest period, don’t attempt to move your Ficus plants – keep things as they are but avoid cold draughts, they really don’t like this any time of the year in my experience! The same goes for repotting – unless you are checking for root-rot, it’s best to leave your plant in its pot until Spring. Moreover, Ficus don’t like being repotted regularly + can go into shock, so wait until a period of growth + warmer temperatures are in the air before repotting. If in doubt, don’t repot unless the roots are growing out of the drainage holes or really circling around the base of the pot. Ficus plants definitely prefer to be slightly root-bound + when repotting, only go up one pot size at a time.
Lastly, it might seem like a bizarre point to make, but I’d always advise carrying out any plant care during the daytime, especially for Ficus plants. This means the leaves are not wet + cold overnight, or the potting mix hasn’t just had a soaking as temperatures decrease.
Hope this post was helpful + thanks so much to those that asked for it on Instagram, if you have any requests send me a DM here!
Hope you are staying safe —
One thought on “Keeping your Ficus family happy”
Ficus elastica and Ficus lyrata can be awkward to prune. Ficus elastica has rather angular structure, with stems branching almost perpendicularly to the main trunk, without much to prune back to. Pruning unwanted stems away can leave a bare spot in an otherwise somewhat symmetrical canopy. Ficus lyrata is just the opposite, It wants to grow tall and lean, and then branch out on top. The main trunks sometimes need to be pruned down, but there are few branches to prune back to.