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Weeping fig, Ficus benjamina. Copyright Getty Images

How to grow ficus

All you need to know about growing ficus plants, including fiddle-leaf fig, weeping fig and rubber plant.

  • Plant size

    1.8m height

    1.2m spread

Ficus plants (indoor figs) are popular house plants that bring a lush feel to any room. They can grow into large, impressive plants that make excellent focal points. They are good air purifiers, too.

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There are three main types of Ficus that are grown in the home: Ficus benjamina, the weeping fig or Benjamin fig; Ficus elastica, the India rubber plant and Ficus lyrata, the fiddle leaf fig. All three have similar requirements and can reach around 1.8m tall. Ficus are also popular plants for bonsai. Common varieties of ficus can be bought in garden centres but for more unusual varieties, visit a specialist house plant retailer, or look online.

Ficus plants have a reputation for being a little temperamental. They are not high-maintenance plants, but they do need the right conditions to thrive.

How to grow ficus

Ficus benjamina, Ficus lyrata and bonsai figs are fussy about their growing conditions and will drop their leaves if they are not happy. They need bright but indirect light and a steady temperature of at least 16°C to thrive. Draughts, poor light levels and moving the plants around can all cause the leaves to drop. Water only when the top few centimetres of compost are dry. Ficus elastica is less fussy and is tolerant of low light levels and drought.

More on growing ficus:

Ficus: jump links


Where to grow ficus

How to grow ficus – Ficus elastica and Ficus lyrata close to a window
How to grow ficus – Ficus elastica and Ficus lyrata close to a window

It’s important to find the right spot for your ficus. Choose a place that has bright but indirect light – a position a few feet from a window is ideal. Make sure the plant is not in a draughty spot or close to the heat of a radiator or heater in winter. Ficus need a steady temperature of at least 16°C to thrive, no colder than 13°C in winter. In time ficus become large plants, so give them plenty of room. Once you have found the right spot, try not to move the plant. Ficus have a tendency to lean towards the light, so you can rotate the plant occasionally to counteract this.


How to plant a ficus

How to grow ficus – planting a Ficus elastica. Getty Images
How to grow ficus – planting a Ficus elastica. Getty Images

Plant into a deep pot that has drainage holes and is slightly larger than the original pot. Fill around the plant with soil-based compost with a little perlite or vermiculite added, for extra drainage. Where gloves when handling a ficus, as the sap can be an irritant.


Caring for a ficus

How to grow ficus – wiping dust from the leaves of Ficus elastica. Getty Images
How to grow ficus – wiping dust from the leaves of Ficus elastica. Getty Images

Once you have found the right spot for your ficus, the main thing to remember is not to overwater it – wait until the top 2-3cm of compost is dry. After you have watered, be sure to let any excess water drain away. Use tepid water to avoid shocking the plant.

Ficus do not appreciate being repotted frequently – it can cause them to lose their leaves. Repot young plants in spring if they need it, into a slightly larger pot. Once they have reached a decent size, refresh the top layer of compost each spring. Using a fork or spoon, carefully removing the top 5cm of soil, taking care not to damage the roots, and top up with fresh.

Feed your ficus with a half-strength liquid fertiliser, such as seaweed feed, during spring and summer.

Wipe the leaves of the fiddle leaf fig and rubber plant to avoid dust build up. Ficus benjamina, Ficus lyrata and bonsai figs appreciate having their leaves misted regularly.

You can prune your ficus to keep it in shape or to keep it a certain size. Prune in winter, when the plant is dormant. As soon as you cut a stem, sap will drop, so wear gloves to protect your skin and cover the area beneath to protect the floor. Remove any dead or dying branches first, then remove any branches that are spoiling the shape of the tree. Cut branches back to just above a node, from where new branches or leaves can grow.


How to propagate a ficus

Ficus can be propagated from stem cuttings. Wear gloves as the plant will release irritant sap when cut. In spring or early summer, cut off a healthy stem that has green growth at the top and woody growth at the base. Allow the base to harden for a few hours, then place the stem in a clear, deep container filled with a few inches of water. Place in a bright spot that’s out of direct sun. Refresh the water every few days. New roots should start to appear within a few weeks. Once the plant has formed a decent bundle of roots that are a few inches long, the new plant can now be planted into a pot of fresh, multi-purpose or house plant compost. Water, letting any excess drain away.


Growing ficus: problem solving

How to grow ficus – mealybug on Ficus elastica
How to grow ficus – mealybug on Ficus elastica

The biggest problem with growing ficus is the sudden dropping of leaves. This can have several causes – the plant may need more light. Ficus also dislike being moved or repotted. They also do not like draughts or strong heat from a radiator.

Brown leaf tips can be due to low humidity. If your plant is in a centrally heated room, mist the leaves regularly. Erratic or inadequate watering can also be a cause. Make sure that you water before the compost has dried out completely, and that the whole rootball gets wet. Then make sure that any excess water drains away.

Large dark patches on the leaves could be sunburn, so ensure that your plant is out of direct sunlight.

Small brown patches on the leaves, surrounded by a yellow halo, could be leaf spot. This can be a problem if water has splashed on the leaves. Remove any affected leaves to stop the problem spreading.

Mealybugs can be a problem – look out for insects that look like white, fluffy blobs (check the undersides of leaves). Wipe them off with a damp cloth or cotton bud that has been soaked in an insecticide that contains fatty acids or plant oils. Keep checking the leaves, as mealybugs can be hard to eradicate.


Advice for buying ficus

    • Choose a healthy plant with lush leaves. Check for signs of sap, which may indicate recent pruning or pests
    • The best time to buy a ficus is in spring, when temperature and humidity are optimal
    • Research thoroughly what your ficus needs to thrive and ensure you have the best spot for it. Some varieties can be temperamental and can drop leaves if not happy

Where to buy ficus online

Varieties of ficus to grow

How to grow ficus – Ficus lyrata. Getty Images
How to grow ficus – Ficus lyrata. Getty Images
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  • Ficus benjamina, the weeping fig or Benjamin fig, has arching stems of small green or variegated leaves. In time it will grow into a small tree that can reach around 1.8m tall and makes an impressive focal point.
  • Ficus benjamina ‘Twilight’ is a weeping fig with attractive, variegated leaves. It can reach at least 1.8m tall.
  • Ficus elastica, the India rubber plant, has large, glossy, dark green leaves and is the easiest ficus to grow, coping with drought and low light levels. In time it will grow into a large plant, around 1.8m tall.
  • Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’ has green leaves that are splashed with cream. New leaves are flushed with pink.
  • Ficus lyrata, the fiddle leaf fig, has lobed leaves that are said to look like the body of a violin or fiddle. It becomes a stately plant with a distinctive trunk and can reach around 1.8m tall.
  • Ficus lyrata ‘Bambino’ is a more compact fiddle leaf fig, reaching 1m tall.
  • Ficus microcarpa ‘Ginseng’ is an attractive bonsai plant. It has swollen roots that stand above the soil, and glossy, dark green leaves that appreciate misting. It can eventually reach 1m tall.
  • Ficus alii is known as the long-leafed fig and has long, tapering leaves that give a palm-like effect. It can reach 3m in height.
  • Ficus cyathistipula is a low maintenance ficus that is tolerant of low light levels. It can reach 2m in height.