The weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), also known as the Benjamin fig, tropic laurel, Java fig, Java tree, small-leaved rubber plant or just plain ficus, has arching stems of small, glossy green or variegated leaves. In time it grows into a small, elegant tree that can reach around 1.8m tall and makes an impressive focal point. It’s an excellent air purifier, too.
Weeping figs can reach an impressive height in the wild in Australia and Asia, but in the home they’re slow growers and rarely outgrow their space. They’re sometimes sold with braided or spiral trunks, with the foliage forming a lollipop shape on top.
Weeping figs have a reputation for being a little temperamental, thanks to their tendency to drop their leaves. They’re not high-maintenance plants, but they do need the right conditions to thrive.
The sap of fig plants can be irritating to the skin and cause a reaction in people and pets.
How to grow weeping fig
Weeping 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, incorrect watering and moving the plants around can all cause the leaves to drop. Water only when the top few centimetres of compost are dry.
Weeping fig: jump links
- Planting weeping fig
- How to care for weeping fig
- How to propagate weeping fig
- Weeping fig problem-solving
- Where to buy weeping fig
- Types of weeping fig to grow
Where to grow weeping fig
It’s important to find the right spot for your weeping fig. 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. Weeping figs need a steady temperature of at least 16°C to thrive, no colder than 13°C in winter. In time they can become large plants, so give them plenty of room. Once you have found the right spot, try not to move the plant. Weeping figs have a tendency to lean towards the light, so you can rotate the plant occasionally to counteract this.
How to plant a weeping fig
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 weeping fig, as the sap can be an irritant.
Caring for a weeping fig
Once you have found the right spot for your plant, 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.
Weeping figs 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 plant with a half-strength liquid fertiliser, such as seaweed feed, during spring and summer.
You can prune your weeping fig 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 weeping fig
Weeping figs 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 weeping fig: problem solving
The biggest problem with weeping figs is the sudden dropping of leaves. This can have many causes – the plant may need more light, or has been under- or overwatered. Weeping figs do not like sudden changes in temperature, draughts (from open windows or air conditioning) or strong heat from a radiator. They also dislike being moved or repotted, so try to avoid doing this too much. They may also drop their leaves if they’re being affected by pests.
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.
Advice on buying a weeping fig
- Choose a healthy plant with lush leaves. Check for signs of sap, which may indicate recent pruning or pests
- Check that you have enough room for your plant, as it can reach 1.8m tall
- 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.
Where to buy weeping fig online
Varieties of weeping fig to grow
Ficus benjamina ‘Starlight’ or ‘Twilight’ – pretty pale green leaves with creamy white margins. H x S: 1.8m x 1.2m
Ficus benjamina ‘Danielle’ – glossy, dark green, pointed leaves. H x S: 1.8m x 1.2m