If you’re lucky enough to live in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12, you can grow Ficus trees (Ficus Benjamina) outdoors year-round. Elsewhere, ficus trees are grown as houseplants year-round or overwintered indoors and brought outside for summer only after the last frost.
Ficus trees are native to India, Australia and the South Pacific, where they’re often grown as specimen trees or planted in groups as hedges. In the tropics, they can grow to heights of 50 feet or more. When grown as houseplants, they generally grow to 10 feet tall.
Ficus trees are related to figs and do produce flowers and fruit in warm climates. Indoors, they rarely flower and never fruit because they lack a pollinator. The broadleaf evergreen leaves are glossy, elongated ovals, while the bark is gray or white. Some ficus trees have multiple branches that have been braided together for an interesting texture.
Planting a Ficus Tree
To grow ficus trees outdoors, plant them in well-draining, loamy soil of average fertility. Plant them in a location that gets full sun or partial shade. Fertilize ficus trees in the spring with ½ cup 10-10-10 fertilizer per tree. Although ficus trees are somewhat drought tolerant, they do best with moderate soil moisture. Water them when the soil dries out 2 inches beneath the surface and allow the soil to dry again before watering. Overwatering is one of the most common reasons ficus trees to decline.
Prune ficus trees during the winter to remove dead, diseased branches or branches that rub against each other. You can also prune to control size. The stems and leaves contain a milky sap.
Ficus Trees as Houseplants
To grow ficus trees as houseplants, plant them in a container that holds at least 5 gallons of soil. Use a lightweight potting mix that contains perlite or vermiculite to retain moisture. Do not use garden soil, which is too heavy to drain well and often harbors diseases.
Place the ficus tree near a sunny window or in an area that gets morning sunshine and afternoon shade. If you have a skylight, that’s also an ideal place for a ficus tree. Water the soil every few days, but allow it to dry out between watering. Fertilize indoor houseplants once every six weeks during the growing season with a diluted all-purpose, granular fertilizer.
As winter approaches, reduce watering and fertilizing. The dry heat caused by heaters in the winter is hard on ficus trees. If possible, place the tree in a cool room and run a humidifier to increase humidity. As ficus trees adapt to winter conditions, they often lose leaves. In most cases, this is no cause for concern. Continue caring for the tree and it will soon adjust.
If you’d like to move your ficus tree outdoors, wait until two or three weeks past the last expected frost, since these trees can’t tolerate any cold. Place the ficus tree in a protected area first to slowly acclimate it to being outdoors once again. Follow the same process in the fall as you prepare to move it indoors. Move it to a shadier location two or three weeks before you bring it indoors. Time the move to happen at least two or three weeks before the first expected frost.
Ficus Tree Pests and Problems
Ficus trees are generally low-maintenance plants, although they do drop leaves during the winter and whenever they experience a change in growing conditions. Remember to give them well-draining soil and avoid overwatering them. Occasionally, these trees are afflicted by leaf spot diseases. Promptly pick up and discard leaf litter and remove infected leaves from the trees. Outdoors, use drip systems or water ficus trees by hand, rather than overhead sprinklers, which can spread disease.
Both indoors and out, ficus trees are sometimes afflicted by aphids or mites. Outdoors, you can spray the leaves with a steady stream of water to dislodge these pests. Indoors, you may have to resort to an insecticidal oil or soap. Be sure to use one that is labeled for houseplant use.
Want to learn more about growing ficus trees?
Don’t miss these great resources:
Ficus Benjamina: weeping fig by the Missouri Botanical Garden
Rubber Trees, Weeping Figs, and other Friendly Ficus by the University of Minnesota Extension
P Allen Smith talks about growing ficus indoors on YouTube.
Learn when and how to prune your indoor ficus plant on YouTube.
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.