Ficus benjamina, or Weeping Fig, originally found growing in Asia, India, and Austrlia, is part of the Moraceae family, and, in nature, produces a small fruit enjoyed by doves and pigeons. It is the official tree of Bangkok. Today it is often planted in parks and outside large commercial buildings, quickly growing into impressive an tree. In recent years, a ficus benjamina has become an extremely popular indoor plant, replacing the Rubber tree as the most frequently purchased ficus variety.
Description of Ficus Benjamina
For many years, a Ficus benjamina had the reputation of being a temperamental, high-light plant that easily dropped leaves if you just looked at it. Today, however, there are new, hardy varieties that grow in almost any location. You can find ficus trees small enough to sit on a table or as large as 12ft. tall. The slender, pale brown, woody trunks can be straight, braided or twisted into a spiral. The thin, arching branches are covered in hundreds of 1”-3.5” glossy, leathery, pointed., oval to elliptical shaped leaves. All parts of the plant contain a milky, slightly toxic, white sap that can be quite irritating if eaten or if it gets into an open cut.
Ficus Benjamina Varieties
The original Ficus benjamina has green leaves and any fluctuation in light, temperature, or water caused hundreds of the leaves to fall off. Today we have several hybrids of the original plant that have different leaf colors, can adapt well to medium and even low light, can be moved around to different areas of your home, and are even tolerant of temperature fluctuations.
Ficus Midnight looks very much like a ficus benjy but has deep- green to blackish – green glossy leaves
Golden King has shiny oval leaves that start out yellow/green. As the plant matures, the leaves become green in the center with a wide band of yellow/gold around the edge.
Ficus “Monique has dark green, narrow leaves with wavy edges
Ficus Natasja is a small plant with dark green leaves and only grows about 2ft tall. It is often used to create a ficus bonsai. It is not as hardy as some of the other hybrids and often drops leaves
Ficus Spearmint has green and white variegated leaves and needs more light than the solid green plant
Ficus Starlight has arching branches full of shiny pointed, oval, variegated leaves with a dark green center and decorative white edges.
F. Golden King F. Spearmint F. Midnight F. Natasja
Ficus Benjamina Problems and Causes
Green leaves fall off new leaf buds turn black: too much water, change in location or temperature
Bright yellow leaves drop off: usually occurs when the plant is under watered.
Dry shriveled leaves: often occurs in the winter when the air is very dry
Quick Care Tips
Bright indirect light
Never allow the soil to totally dry out, but be careful not to over water, especially in winter
Fertilize in spring and summer
Provide warm temperatures and keep plant away from cold drafts
Avoid frequent repotting
A Ficus benjamina is a beautiful addition to your home especially if you are careful to choose one of the new, hardier hybrids. This is not the kind of plant, like a dracaena, that can be ignored or watered on an irregular schedule. Follow the detailed care tips below and you’ll enjoy your Ficus benjamina for many years. These plants are considered poisonous and should be kept away from pets and children. Read more about common houseplants that are poisonous in Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants.
Ficus trees, especially the Benjamina and Wintergreen varieties, need very bright indirect light. New varieties, called “Ficus of the Future”, can survive in medium and even low light. Examples of “Ficus of the Future” are the Monique with ruffled green leaves, the Midnight with dark green/black leaves, and the ficus Alli with elongated leaves. Direct sun burns the leaves of all ficus trees.
Allow the top 25% of the soil to dry out before watering. Under-watering causes leaves to turn yellow. Green leaves to fall off and new growth turns black when a ficus is over-watered. Ficus trees grow better if you follow a consistent watering schedule.
Fertilize monthly in the spring and summer, when the tree is actively growing, with a balanced plant food diluted to 1/2 the recommended strength.
Indoor ficus trees like temperatures between 65°-85°F (18.3°-29.4°C). Keep a ficus tree away from cold drafts, air conditioners, and heaters or it will lose leaves.
Household humidity above 30% is best.
Ficus trees are susceptible to spider mites, scale, and mealy bugs. Spraying with the “Green Solution” (recipe in the Glossary) usually gets rid of most pests. Use a child’s toothbrush to scrape “scale” off the leaves and then spray with neem oil.
Anthranose and leaf spot are the two main houseplant diseases that affect ficus trees. They usually appear as yellow spots that turn brown and the leaves drop of. The best way to treat these diseases is to keep the leaves dry, spry with neem oil, or use a commercial fungicide.
Use a rich, quick-draining potting soil that contains sand, peat moss, and a little bark.
Ficus trees like to be a little root-bound in smaller containers. You can easily keep a 5′ ficus in a 10” pot. A pot that is too large encourages over-watering which leads to green leaves falling off.
The best time to prune is in the late summer or early fall after a ficus tree has stopped growing for the year. You can prune dead or broken branches at any time during the year.
Propagate an indoor ficus tree by stem cuttings or by air-layering. You can read more about these propagation methods in the Glossary of the website.
Clean Air Plant
Ficus trees clean the air of formaldehyde and xylene.
Poisonous Plant Info
A ficus is considered a slightly poisonous houseplant with a level #1 toxicity. Many people find the sap extremely irritating if it comes in contact with their skin.
A ficus tree gets yellow leaves when it is not getting enough water. Water a ficus until excess water drains out the drip holes in the bottom of the pot. Try to be consistent when watering.
The sticky stuff on the leaves of your ficus tree is called “honeydew” and it is left by the houseplant pest called scale. The “honeydew” attracts the black dust which is called black sooty mold. Locate the scale insects and scrape them off using a child’s toothbrush. Spray the entire tree with the “ green solution.” You can find out how to make the ” green solution” in the Glossary of the website.
The usual reason a ficus tree drops green leaves and new leaves turn black is over-watering. Leaves may also fall off due to changes in your watering schedule, amount of light, or changes in temperature. Cold drafts from doors or windows, and blasts of hot or cold air from heaters and air conditioners can also cause a ficus to lose leaves.
Ficus trees, especially the old benjamina varieties, lose leaves when moved to a new location. It may take up to two months for the plant to acclimate to its new home. I recommend using a product called superthrive when a ficus goes into “shock”. You can read about superthrive in the Glossary of the website. Don’t fertilize your new ficus until you start to see new growth.
I’m a big advocate of aggressively pruning a ficus tree. Pruning plants encourages new growth, controls the size and shape of the plant, and allows more light to reach the leaves. Start pruning a ficus tree in the center of the tree. Ficus trees need a great deal of light, so often the small branches at the center are very weak or have totally died and need to be removed. The outer part of the tree is called the canopy. You can remove up to 1/3 of the canopy without harming a ficus tree. By reducing the size of the canopy you’ll be helping the plant produce new healthy growth and become fuller. Always wear gloves when pruning. The sap from a ficus tree can be quite irritating if it gets on your skin. Never rip the branches off, always use a sharp tool and make clean small cuts.