Ficus Bonsai – the Fig Tree

The Ficus is a native tree found in Asia and Australia and includes such species as the F. Religiosa, F. Ginseng, F. Benjamina and Golden Gate. It is one of the most common tree species used for bonsai.

In this article, I will outline the differences in the first three types of ficus bonsai trees as well care tips and instructions.

How to Identify the Ficus Benjamina

An outdoor F. Benjamina tree can reach almost 100 feet when properly cultivated outdoors, in natural conditions. This tree is characterized by rich, dark green and glossy leaves covering somewhat “droopy” branchlets. The leaves are oval in shape and come to a sharp point at the ends. In some parts of the world, the F. Benjamina is also known as a Weeping Fig.

Caring for the Ficus Benjamina Bonsai

In tropical areas, the this tree will grow large and tall outdoors, however, in temperate climates it is commonly kept as a house plant.

When cultivating this tree in temperate areas, be sure you place the tree somewhere that will receive plenty of sunlight. During the summer time, it is important to closely monitor the moisture of the tree’s compost. Warm months can be especially taxing on the F. Benjamina and it is also vital to protect the tree from over exposure to the sun. Pay attention to wilting leaves, drooping branchlets and an overall lackluster appearance. In the colder months, the tree will require much less maintenance and little watering.

In the winter, it is important to protect your tree from low temperatures.

Indoor care for the Benjamina is slightly more tedious than that of the outdoor one. Because in nature the F. Benjamina grows up to 100 feet tall, an indoor fig tree of this type will require regular pruning and trimming.

How to Identify the Ficus Religiosa

The F. Religiosa is found natively in the Indian Subcontinent, South West China and Indonesia. Also called the sacred fig, this bonsai tree can reach almost 100 feet when cultivated outdoors.

One of the easiest ways to identify the F. Religiosa is by the leaves. This tree species has oval shaped leaves that come to a very distinct and long point at the end. The sacred fig also bear a fruit called figs. The figs are small (only about 1.5 centimeter) and become purple upon ripening.

Another distinct characteristic of the F. Religiosa is the pattern in which its leaves move. Amazingly, this charming tree’s leaves will move non-stop – even when there is no wind blowing.

The sacred fig tree is used regularly in traditional medicine to help treat ailments such as: asthma, diarrhea, diabetes, epilepsy and more.

Religious Beliefs Related to the Ficus Religiosa

The F. Religiosa is present in both Buddhism and Hinduism. In Buddhism, Buddha sat beneath a fig tree while reaching enlightenment. Holy figure in Hindu religion still sit beneath F. Religiosa trees to meditate. In many countries of the world the F. Religiosa or the sacred tree is known as tree of worship.

Growing a Ficus Religiosa Bonsai

These plants prefer full sunlight and grow best when planted outdoors. Although this tree can thrive in most soils, loam or others soils with low pH is the best.

How to Identify the Ficus Ginseng

The F. Ginseng is actually quite different from the Benjamina or the Religiosa. Where the latter two are trees that can reach heights of 100 feet high, the F. Ginseng is much smaller.

The Ginseng fig typically won’t reach more than 50 feet tall. The trunk can grow about 3 feet in diameter and is usually a grey or white color.

The leaves are dark green and glossy and the branches lay in a weeping fashion.

Unlike the Benjamina and the Religiosa, the F. Ginseng is a wonderful indoor plant and is often cultivated that way. They are non-flowering plants, but they are most easily identifiable by their short, large root-like trunk.

Caring for the Ficus Ginseng

As mentioned earlier, these trees are best kept as indoor house plants. These plants like warm weather and higher temperatures so it is best to keep the plant inside during the winter months.

Avoid leaving your Ginseng fig bonsai tree to bake in the sun. Over exposure to direct sunlight can cause the plant’s leaves to burn and can potentially kill the plant. As long as the tree gets some exposure to sunlight, it will be okay. Use caution when using heat lamps and indoor gardening lights – it can be easy to damage the leaves this way as well.

A Ginseng F. will need to be replanted ever two to three years depending on plant and root growth. These trees grow during the spring, so it is best to repot before this.

Avoid over watering your F. Ginseng. The plant does not respond well to wet roots. Instead of using a watering can or bucket, consider using a spray bottle. Misting or spraying your F. Ginseng can help you control watering sessions.

Pruning and Trimming Your Ficus Ginseng

Naturally, the Ginseng fig has a very dense and stocky look. As branchlets and stems dry out or die, feel free to prune those down. Feel free to prune all year round as long as the tree is in a health state.

General Care Guide for all Fig Bonsai Trees

Follow these general care instructions to keep your fig bonsai tree happy and healthy.

Watering: Over-watering or lack of watering is one of the biggest factors that impact fig health, growth and life expectancy. It is important to check the water levels and soil moisture or dryness of your ficus bonsai every day.

Indoor bonsai ficus plants will have to be monitored more closely than those that are cultivated outdoors. Fig bonsai trees that are planted in small pots are at higher risk of drying out when left alone for too long.

When the soil begins to dry out, it is important that you water your plant deeply. When the soil is saturated, give the plant a chance to air out. Over watering your ficus bonsai can lead to root rot, which can lead to plant death.

A popular way to keep your tree moist and humid is misting or spraying. To keep the foliage moist and fresh, simply keep a spray bottle near the tree and once or twice a day, give the leaves and branches a spritz.

Feeding (or Fertilizing): It is vital to invest in a good fertilizer and practice a regular feeding or fertilizing routine early on. As you frequently water your tree, nutrients in the soil will begin to deplete. The spring time is an especially important time to feed your ficus bonsai – during this time it will be important to feed your bonsai at least every two weeks. In the winter months the bonsai will require less maintenance and you can drop your feeding down to once a month.

If you try to skip fertilizing, you will see an immediate change in the plant. Skipping fertilization times can cause your plant to become malnourished and lackluster.

Pruning: Pruning can be done anytime during the year, but it is best to leave heavy pruning to the growing season – spring. During this time, the new growth should be trimmed back regularly.

When trimming and pruning fig bonsai tree, do not be alarmed to see a milky white fluid release from the branches; this is sap.

Wiring: Some bonsai cultivators use wiring as a method of shaping their tree. It is important to remember not to wire a ficus immediately after repotting. For those trees that are in a healthy condition, use a thin wire to wind lightly around the branches you wish to train. After about 6 weeks being wired, the branches you have wrapped should be able to hold the desired position on their own. When removing wires, be sure to carefully cut them off the wrapped branches. Trying to unwind or tear the wires away can result in branch damage, scarring and breaking.

Repotting: Ficus bonsai trees should be repotted ever two to three years in the growing season, spring.

Insects: When caring for your bonsai tree, it is important to protect the plant from harmful insects and disease. The most common pest found upon ficus bonsais is the Scale bug. These insects are known for sucking the plant dry of its sap and nutrients on the branches. Scales thrive in warm, moist environments and are most commonly found hanging out beneath the leaves and around leaf joints. The Scales bugs are small and oval shaped. There are three types of Scale insects:

  • Armored Scale – This is one of the more destructive types of Scale insects found on bonsai ficus trees. They can be very difficult to control.
  • Soft Scale – These insects are also very difficult to control and they are characterized by a honeydew secretion that causes the sooty mold to grow. This mold inhibits photosynthesis from occurring and can eventually cause plant death if not treated.
  • Mealybug – Of the Scales insects, this is the easiest to control.

None of these scale bugs can fly, which makes them much easier to get rid of. A great solution to getting rid of Scale insects is sticky paper places around the branches of the fig plant.

Another insect that loves fig trees is mites. These insects can cause a yellowing of leaves and they leave a spider web like material on the branches. They can be seen as small moving red or brown dots along the branches of the tree.

A great way to treat your plant for insects and infestations is Dormant oil. Be very careful when purchasing insecticides from your local nursery – most ficus bonsai trees will not react well to insecticides that contain Malathion.

Before trying insecticides or assuming your tree is infested or diseased, try to evaluate your care regimen first. Drooping or yellowing leaves are often caused by lack of water or over watering before insects or disease. Over exposure to sunlight or cold temperatures and dry air can also yield the same effect.

What to Keep in Mind When Caring for Your Ficus Bonsai

Caring for a fig bonsai tree is not for the faint of heart. Whether you are cultivating a F. Benjamina, F. Religiosa or a F. Ginseng, it is important to spend the time and energy researching your unique tree as much as possible in order to give it the proper nourishment needed for survival. Proper watering technique is one of the most important things to take into consideration when caring for your plant. Soil should be kept moist, however, be sure to avoid over watering it. Over watering can result in wet roots, which can result in root rot, which can lead to plant death. After watering, please take into consideration the amount of sunlight you are giving your bonsai. Although most species of fig require plenty of light, it can easy to get carried way. Over exposure to sunlight and hot conditions can lead to leaf burning and drooping branchlets. The last thing to strongly keep in mind when caring for your ficus bonsai is fertilizing (or feeding.) Be sure to fertilize plenty in the spring or growing season. Normal feeding occur once every two weeks in the Spring, but only once a month during the winter time.