A little Ficus update for today’s post after conversations with a few of you over on instagram recently that were asking to see how my Ficus plants were doing after I potted them up together. If you have been reading HOUSEPLANTHOUSE for a while, you might have seen the ‘Getting Ficus plants to branch’ blogpost, where I showed the process of what happens when you cut the top off a Ficus + how to encourage your plants to branch.
Here in the UK, I’ve found that it’s generally most common to see single stemmed Ficus plants for sale, but over time they can grow leggy, particularly if they might have struggled in the colder months + dropped a couple of the lower leaves, which sometimes happens. This ‘tree-like’ form is often seen with Fiddle leaf figs (Ficus lyrata), but not so much with elasticas. Indeed, to create this sort of growth shape, top-pruning will encourage the existing plant(s) to branch, or else the plants will likely just continue to grow up + up. My Ficus lyrata bambino currently looks like some sort of jack-and-the-beanstalk-plant! I’ll insert a photo here…
Anyway, aside from a statement tree-like shape, multi-stemmed Ficus pots can grow to be stand out plants + have the advantage of looking a lot fuller than a bunch of single stems in individual planters. Over the last few years, I’ve combined my 5 plants into 2 pots, not only to create that full-planter look that I love, but also to save on space — 2 larger pots also work so much better than 5 smaller ones dotted about in my new place!
My three smaller ‘experiment’ Ficus elastica tineke plants
For reference to start things off, the photo below left was from March 2020 + by this point, I’d potted three of the stems together in one pot to make a fuller plant + also chopped the tops off all of the stems. This was my ‘experiment plant’ for the branching piece. I started to notice signs of new growth after around three months from making the cuts, but this can vary depending on season + your specific environmental conditions of course — you can read more on that here.
Fast-forwarding to September 2021, we can have a look at the same plant, above right, plus the two photographs below, to observe how it’s looking today. As you can see, the plant has doubled in size + is really starting to look how I had hoped it might way back when I first started this process! With exactly 18 months between the two photos above, it will hopefully give you an idea of what you might expect if you are thinking about trying this process — I’ll be blunt here — it’s pretty slow + patience is very much needed! That being said, I love the result so I’d do it again without doubt.
The thing I like most about this type of planting is that it creates a fuller look than just one stem + it becomes more of a statement plant — multi-stemmed potting also has the added advantage of taking up less space as instead of having three planters dotted around, it’s condensed down to one larger pot to accommodate the three stems.
My plants in Summer 2020:
Progress of my 2 larger Ficus plants being combined together
Next, I wanted to do something about my two more mature elastica tinekes that have been growing with me for quite a few years. The thing is, Ficus plants really dislike getting moved + can go into shock, especially in colder temperatures. When I re-located in February 2020, my largest plant was not amused at all. And for 16 out of the 18 months I was staying in the cottage, it didn’t grow a single new leaf. Nothing. It just sat in the corner like some sort of statue! During this time though, I need to add the disclaimer that it was very cold as the heating was useless, so I know it was dormant for quite a few months (they commonly do this). My other Ficus gang also went dormant but sprung back with a period of active growth over Summer 2020 + then again in Spring 2021, as is typical for these plants. This big one though, still nothing. As a last-ditch attempt to jolt it into action, I decided that I would pot my stroppy plant alongside my other medium one — that’s the two plants in the photo below left. The next two photos are from the corresponding Repotting Diaries post + show them together in one pot:
After this, it’s fair to say that they were still looking very droopy for a few weeks — Ficus plants can be slow to adjust after repotting, so I cleaned their leaves, watered them in + placed the pot in the brightest spot in the cottage + forgot about them for a few weeks as I packed the place up in readiness for moving. To my absolute amazement, after around 4 weeks, both stems were looking happier + the foliage wasn’t as droopy anymore. Another week or so later + I noticed a beautiful raspberry-coloured leaf sheath on each stem as new leaves were developing!
So what might you ask, prompted the growth? I think it was a combination of a couple of things — some fresh potting mix, a larger pot + a brighter position, surrounded by other plants all contributed to kick-starting both stems into a period of active growth. I’d started to move the larger pieces of furniture out by this point too, so there wasn’t anything blocking the light in the room. It was also in June, so it was Summer + on sunny days, it was quite bright this close to the south-east facing living space, even when protected by a net as the photo below left shows.
The photo on the right is actually where my larger plant currently lives in the new place. As it’s still a building site in parts here, I’m having to be creative with keeping my houseplants out of the way, so this pot might not stay where it is permanently just yet. But hopefully you can see that it’s looking a lot happier than it was!
Noticing side shoots appearing from nodes!
My plan with this plant was to also do some top-pruning like with my smaller pot earlier in the post to encourage branching, but within the last couple of weeks, I noticed something pretty exciting that I’ve never experienced first hand before… my plant was growing side shoots! You might have noticed a little bumpy nub on the stem/trunk of your Ficus around the point that any leaves or branches join the base of the stem, these are nodes. As you can see in the close up of mine below, this is where the new growth appeared:
This growth was entirely unprompted by any kind of intervention by me + started sporadically on the larger of the two plants (the one that didn’t grow for ages!) in not one but TWO places! Below shows the first side shoot, which is juvenile in form, but has grown one little leaf with another on the way. This type of growth can start off small so don’t be alarmed.
The most likely possibility that I can attribute to this burst in side growth is that the plant was receiving a greater intensity of light for a few weeks prior to moving house + after repotting. Coupled with this, the new place is warmer than the old cottage, so it’s likely that both these elements created a favourable environment for the plant to grow in this way.
The other side shoot to appear provides a good example for us to see what I mean here — the first leaf is really tiny + has got stuck in the sheath, so looks distorted + not very leaf-like at all.
However, the subsequent growth has been great + below shows the three leaves that have grown over the last month, with a fourth on the way. Unbelievable! They are around half the size of the more mature leaves, but this is quite common too, especially as they are in a more sheltered position, nestled amongst the other existing foliage.
This leads me onto another aspect to consider if you are planting things up together, which is to ensure there is enough room for all the plants to grow! I have ensured the three stems of my smaller plant are slightly splayed out so that new leaves don’t bash up against each other very much. During the repotting process, it’s often just a case of moving + sometimes twisting around each plant so that they sit together nicely. My larger plant could do with some help in this respect, but in the meantime, I am keeping the plants staked which helps me to manoeuvre them slightly if required. Plants are very adaptable though, so they’ll often adjust + grow in their own way.
Conclusion: allow your plants to grow with you
As much as I’m tempted, I don’t think I’ll chance any Ficus chopping at this point because the onset of Autumn has brought with it cooler temperatures + I’m not so sure about pruning before dormancy. It’s always better to do this when the plant has a period of active growth ahead of it. We’ll see how my plants settle in here though + I’ll share the process when I come to get the scissors out. There are other options such as air layering + notching, which I might experiment with my Ficus lyrata bambino come Spring.
The important thing to remember is that it’s absolutely okay to prune your houseplants — you aren’t harming the plant in doing so (just be sure to sterilise your snips) + they will enjoy it! To keep your houseplants happy at home, take the time to figure out how you’d like some of your plants to grow with you over time. Nurturing a plant collection over a number of years is extremely rewarding + they really can grow + adapt with you — this is my third place I’ve lived with my houseplants + in each move, I often have to prune or propagate some of my collection to make them work for my new space. My two Ficus pots are at this point for me now + when next Spring rolls around, I’ll be giving them some attention to really make them into something that looks right at home here. I have a real connection with my older plants, many of which I’ve grown from diminutive sizes to something more statement like my big Monstera!
Hope you found this blogpost helpful + thanks to those that asked me to put this post together. You’ll be able to find this post under the ‘houseplants’ tab on the houseplanthouse homepage + I’ll leave some pins to share or save below: