Ficus is an enormous genus with roughly 850 species. Many of these species respond well to the rigorous pruning and restrictions of bonsai growth. Here are some of the most popular Ficus bonsai species:
The Weeping Fig is one of the most popular houseplants in North America. It has the Ficus’ characteristic leathery, deep-green ovate leaves that give the Ficus bonsai a lush, tropical feel. Ficus Benjamina is one of the easiest Ficus species to care for but it must be reduced gradually. Hard cut backs often result in dieback.
Bonsai enthusiasts love the Morton Bay Fig because of the beautiful red-orange flowers it produces in spring. It’s also a great bonsai for cultivating aerial roots and it responds well to hard pruning and severe reduction. And of all the Ficus species, it is the least prone to dropping its leaves.
Also known as the Narrow Leaf or Willow Leaf fig, Ficus Salicifolia has narrow leaves that produce great branch ramification. This Ficus is also prized for its strong roots that make beautiful aerial root formations.
Ficus Retusa Microcarpa
The Chinese Banyan has ovate, dark green leaves like Ficus Benjamina, but its leaves are glossier and much larger. And it’s much better suited to beginner growers. It responds very well to severe reduction and hard pruning and bounces back easily from poor growing conditions, inconsistent care and other beginner mistakes.
The Ficus is a strictly indoor plant. Place it near a sunny window where it will receive full (six to eight hours) sunlight. Depending on the species of Ficus you grow and the area you live in, your Ficus may enjoy direct or indirect sunlight. Start by placing your Ficus where it will receive direct sunlight. If your Ficus’ leaves start to yellow, move it to indirect sunlight.
Whichever spot you choose, keep your Ficus away from drafts. Don’t go crazy with the air conditioner or the heat if you want a happy Ficus. Ideally, the indoor temperature around the Ficus should remain between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
If the weather is particularly warm in late spring or summer your bonsai Ficus can spend time outside. But be sure to bring it in when temperatures fall below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t move it back and forth too frequently. It may also drop its leaves when you move it back inside from an outdoor vacation.
The Ficus, whether full-size or bonsai, is a notorious leaf dropper. When temperatures drop near its window in the winter months or it receives too much draft from a nearby air conditioner or heater, it may drop its leaves.
Simply move it to another spot free from drafts with plenty of sun. Otherwise, try not to move your bonsai Ficus much at all; consistency is key. Small changes in its environment may cause it to drop its leaves. Falling leaves are disturbing to see but not necessarily detrimental to the plant.
The Ficus bonsai is a tropical, moist-looking plant but you must take care not to overwater it. The Ficus bonsai needs to dry out between drinks. Once a day, stick your finger into the soil in your bonsai’s pot. When it is bone dry to the bottom, your Ficus is ready for a drink. Water (link to watering page) it deeply until water drains out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Remember to check your Ficus soil frequently. The soil must not remain bone dry for any extended period of time.
Although they like periodically dry soil, Ficus bonsai trees love moisture. Place your Ficus bonsai’s pot (link to bonsai pot page) on a small tray filled with small pebbles. The overflow from periodic watering will slowly evaporate and keep the air around your Ficus moist. To increase the humidity even more, mist your Ficus plant’s leaves each time you water.
Fertilize your bonsai Ficus during the growing season when it is actively growing. Fertilize once every two weeks. Alternate between a balanced houseplant fertilizer and a high-nitrogen fertilizer (link to fertilizer page) applied at half the recommended strength. When using a balanced or a high-nitrogen fertilizer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application methods.
Ficus bonsai trees must be shaped early. Wire branches when they are less than 1/2 inch thick. Check on wired branches frequently. Ficus bonsai are prone to growth spurts during the growing season. Scars and cuts in the bark can happen quickly. Remove all wires before they cut into the bark of your Ficus bonsai’s trunk or bark.
Ficus bonsai plats respond well to pruning. Branch trimming may be done at any time of the year, in or out of the growing season. Advanced bonsai growers often choose to allow their Ficus to grow large and then cut them back severely to produce stockier plants with beautiful taper. However, only expert bonsai growers should attempt this with Ficus Benjamina. It is prone to die back when severely reduced.
Ficus bonsai trees may be defoliated, but they are temperamental and should only be defoliated by expert bonsai cultivators. Never defoliate a Ficus bonsai more frequently than once every year or two years. Only defoliate your Ficus bonsai if it is healthy and actively growing. Defoliating weak or sick bonsai trees may result in die back.
A healthy Ficus bonsai must be repotted once every two years. But don’t stick rigidly to the calendar. The Ficus bonsai is a slow grower but it is prone to periodic growth spurts. If after one year you notice roots growing out of the container, repot early.
The best time to repot your Ficus bonsai is in early spring or mid-summer. Carefully remove the Ficus from its container, baring its roots. Fill the new container with fresh potting soil spread loosely around the bonsai’s roots. Water deeply after you repot. Then move the Ficus to a shady spot where it receives only indirect sunlight. Give it three weeks to recover its roots then move it back to its old sunny spot.