The ficus bonsai belongs to the family of the Moraceae, otherwise known as mulberry or fig plants. The family is large, with around 38 genera and between 800 and 2000 species. It’s a really popular choice for bonsai beginners as it is relatively easy to grow.
Two of the most popular bonsai species is the Ficus Retusa and the Ficus Ginseng.
The ficus produces waxy and glossy leaves, but no flowers and they can feature attractive aerial roots from the branches and trunk. Once you have found the perfect home for your ficus and mastered its location, watering, pruning and feeding programme, you’ll find it relatively easy to grow.
The ficus tree hails from South East Asia, so it is used to warm, tropical conditions, making it the ideal choice as an indoor bonsai.
The tree is also known as the banyan fig, the Taiwan ficus or the laurel fig. It’s a beautiful bonsai; the aerial roots that grow from the branches and trunk will form ‘legs’ that eventually connect with the soil and form a strong, thick trunk. Bonsai artists pay particular attention to the raised roots of these unconventional plants to create a certain aesthetic.
The ficus bonsai can be trained to be pillar-like, the root-over-rock style known as deshojo, slanting, semi-cascade or twin or triple trunk. The great thing is, bonsai is an art, so there are no hard and fast rules.
It is important to note that you must keep it out of reach from your pets when choosing a ficus bonsai. The leaves and bark contain a substance similar to latex that is toxic to animals.
Care Guidelines For Ficus Bonsai
The ficus bonsai is strictly an indoor or summertime tree. It’s not able to tolerate conditions colder than 10°C or 50°F. Although your ficus loves full sunlight, it is surprisingly tolerant of low-light conditions. Try and place it close to a south-facing window so that it gets some sunshine. It doesn’t particularly enjoy dark corners.
You can also keep your ficus in a summer house or conservatory for much of the year, but you will have to pay attention to the ambient temperature in the summer and winter months. Try and take your ficus bonsai outside in the summer; hot summer sunshine will give it a real energy boost.
If your ficus is weak, then it could probably do with some sunshine healing. Ensure that you bring your ficus indoors if you have chilly evenings.
The ficus bonsai prefers moist soil; it is still important to ensure that your tree is well-drained; it will not like sitting in saturated soil and can damage the roots or, worse still, cause root rot. As much as possible, you will need to try and mimic the humidity that it likes. You can create a humid environment by regularly spraying water on the leaves or using your layered humidity tray. You also need to watch for underwatering, the result of which will be dry and brittle leaves. The key to watering is balance.
Soil And Fertilizing
Your ficus bonsai draws heavily on the soil, so you will need to ensure that the nutrients are replaced regularly, particularly during the growing months. You can use slow-release organic pellets or liquid fertiliser every two weeks during the summer and every four weeks in the dormant winter months.
It is necessary to prune your ficus bonsai regularly to maintain its shape. As a rule of thumb, you should prune back to two leaves once six to eight have grown. If you want only to grow small leaves, then you can defoliate your bonsai. This means that you will cut away most or all of the leaves and buds with sharp bonsai scissors, leaving the tree’s ‘skeleton’. After a few days or weeks, new growth will appear, and the leaves will be much smaller.
If you desire a thick gnarly trunk, then you will allow your ficus to grow freely for up to two or three years without pruning it. Once you are satisfied with the trunk’s thickness, you can remove unwanted branches and retrain your bonsai by placing it in a smaller pot. These substantial cuts don’t affect the bonsai, and you will quickly see new shoots growing. It’s important to cover large wounds with cutting paste so that they avoid infection.
You will notice that your ficus will grow light green new foliage. You should allow this to extend to up to 10cm and then pinch it back. These soft branches can be wired with ease. The ficus is an evergreen, and the leaves change colour with age, starting with pale green leaves which mature to dark green and finally they will yellow before falling off. It’s a gradual process and completely natural.
Pruning is an essential part of caring for a bonsai. It is what differentiates a bonsai from a plant.
If you want to propagate your ficus bonsai, you can choose from a couple of methods; the first is from a heal cutting and, for the more experienced bonsai enthusiasts, a technique called air layering.
For a cutting, it’s best to do it early to mid-summer, which is the middle of the growth period. Your cutting should be reasonably green and have some darker woody looking areas. You will make a tiny cut where the stem meets the main branch. As you pull it away, it will leave a small diamond-shaped wound.
When preparing your cutting pot, use relatively fine volcanic sand (pumice) and make sure that it is level and compact enough to support your cutting. Before planting, dip the wound end of the cutting into a rooting hormone which will stimulate root growth. Use a dibble stick to make a hole so that you can insert the cutting without dislodging any of the rooting hormones.
Compact the sand to ensure the cutting is firm. Keep the pine bonsai cuttings nice and damp either by regular misting and watering or covering with a ‘greenhouse’ cover that will keep in the moisture. You should have healthy roots within a couple of months to start your bonsai training.
Air layering is an advanced technique that forces a tree or branch to form new roots by interrupting the natural stream of nutrients from the existing root system. The tree or branch is intentionally wounded and then protected from drying out to form new roots. When there are sufficient roots to support the new plant, it is separated and potted. Layers usually take around three months but can take several years for the slow rooting species. It’s an ancient practice that requires patience. Air layering is best carried out in the spring between April and May.
Potential Pests And Diseases
Thankfully, the fig species is quite resistant to pests and diseases. However, they are susceptible to a few issues, particularly during the winter. Dry air and lack of natural sunlight can weaken the ficus bonsai, resulting in leaf drop. When the suite of antimicrobial defences is low, the tree can attract scale or spider mites. It’s essential to action treatment as soon as you see the first sign of disease.
If you don’t want to use a regular insecticide formula, you can try neem oil, a centuries-old solution ideal for treating houseplants and bonsai alike. The wash-off also protects roots from fungal problems. You must improve the weakened bonsai’s living conditions; plant lamps and frequent misting can aid their recovery. All in all, ficus bonsai tend to be healthy if they are well cared for and in a sunny location.
Repotting your ficus bonsai must happen when the root ball has filled the pot to prevent it from strangling or starving itself. The best time to prune is late spring or early summer. You will remove the ficus from the pot and carefully remove the soil. Be sure to retain the soil for when you repot as it contains many essential nutrients. Carefully trim the lower and outer quarter of the tree’s roots but be careful not to remove too much. Mix the old soil with the new soil and replant your bonsai. You should repot your ficus bonsai every two years.
When choosing a pot, its height and width should not be more than two-thirds of the size of the tree; this will not only control its size but provide balance and form. Interestingly, it is also recommended that the colour of the pot should appear somewhere in the tree to increase its overall aesthetic appeal. Again, the goal is to create harmony for the tree.
Wiring Your Bonsai
Wiring is where the fun starts. To train your ficus bonsai, you should use anodised or annealed copper wire. The thin and medium branches are very easy to wire because they are very flexible and will bend fluidly. When wiring larger branches, you will need to use guy wires which will remain on the tree for much longer. Ficus tree wiring is interesting; you can fuse branches, roots and other ficus bonsais together. However, be careful and ensure that the wires do not cut into the branches and make sure that you regularly check as they can easily cut into the soft bark
Q. Why Is My Ficus Dropping Leaves?
A. It is entirely normal for your ficus bonsai to lose some of its leaves, and they will naturally regrow. However, if your ficus is losing many leaves, there could be several explanations, the most common being a change in environment. It is pretty normal for leaves to drop when the season’s change and can mean a difference in temperature or drier air, so try and keep its environment as stable as possible and keep it away from air conditioners, heaters or drafts.
Q. How To Promote Arial Roots
A. There are several ways to do this, but the most common is to find a large sealable clear plastic container. Put some gravel in the bottom and add water to just above the gravel level. Put the potted ficus into the container, seal the lid and place it in full sunshine. The ficus will be encouraged by the humidity to grow healthy aerial roots. Do not let them dry out, or they will naturally fall off.
Q. When Should I Water My Ficus Bonsai?
A. When the soil is barely moist but not drought dry, you can completely submerge the entire pot in a bucket of water for about one minute. Then, remove the pot and let the excess water drain away. You can also flood the pot, ensuring that you water the entire surface of the soil. Your bonsai will also require some humidity, so either use your layered humidity tray or mist the leaves regularly.
You should check regularly if your bonsai needs watering, it is wholly dependent on the environment, season and size of the pot and tree.
Q. How Do I Make My Ficus Trunk Thicker?
A. The quickest way to thicken your ficus bonsai trunk is to split it down the middle and use wedges to keep the two halves separated as the trunk begins to heal. Remove the ficus from its pot and carefully brush away the soil from the roots. Hold the tree upside down and split the trunk with a saw until the halfway mark. Once done, you can repot the tree using wire or wedges to keep the wounded edges apart. The tree may take many years to heal fully. It is a traumatic procedure and can kill trees that are not as hardy as a ficus.
Q. Does The Ficus Need Direct Sunlight?
A. The ficus equally enjoys direct and indirect sunlight but ensure that it is not in exceptionally harsh sunshine. This could burn the leaves, causing them to drop. The tree enjoys natural light as long as it is not too strong. Your ficus can also grow well in shady areas.
Q. How Can I Make My Ficus Grow Faster?
A. If you want to encourage and expedite the growth of your bonsai, you just need to repot it into a larger pot. With more room for soil, your bonsai can spread its roots and absorb more nutrients. It is essential to add fresh soil to the pot.