Tip of the Week: Caring for Weeping Figs
|Sonia Uyterhoeven is Gardener for Public Education.
During summer you will often find around the Botanical Garden weeping figs (Ficus benjamina) growing in decorative containers, as they look reliably good all season long.
Most of you, however, grow weeping figs as a houseplant. It is one of many favorite choices for the indoor gardener, even though it can be temperamental. One of my grandmothers (not the gardener…the other one) had very little interest in growing plants, yet she had a glorious weeping fig in her living room. In spite of several minor catastrophes during its lifetime, it was resilient and always rebounded to its former glory.
Ficus benjamina, a tropical plant from South Asia, is a member of the Moraceae family, which includes mulberry (Morus), Osage-orange (Maclura), and breadfruit (Artocarpus) trees. In tropical regions Ficus benjamina can grow into a huge specimen with aerial roots. In warm climates devoid of high humidity, the tree does not develop aerial roots but still grows to a respectable height. Weeping fig trees are commonly used as a hedge in California.
Indoors, the weeping fig grows much smaller. It can tolerate a range of light levels, but it likes consistency and looks its best when grown in bright, indirect light. (It is challenged by dramatic temperature and light-level fluctuations.)
One of the biggest problems homeowners encounter with this plant is overwatering. Plant your weeping fig in well-draining soil, and water it only when the top several inches of the soil are dry. Fertilize during the growing season once every two weeks with a half-strength dilution. With weeping fig, as with most of your houseplants, also avoid cold drafts, dry heat, and sudden temperature changes.
When a weeping fig is moved to a new location, it will need a few weeks to adjust to its new environment. In the meantime, some of its foliage may yellow and drop. Unfortunately, anxious owners see this and panic. They think the plant is suffering from water deprivation. They water…and water…and the plant starts responding to this overwatering by dropping more leaves. Hence, a vicious cycle begins.
If you are dealing with a new weeping fig plant, remember its recent history: It has been taken from a commercial greenhouse (presumably with ideal growing conditions), shipped and placed on the shelf of a florist or retail store (where it could encounter just about any type of care), and then finally brought into your own home. Shock and leaf loss are normal.
And let’s face it, your home—the ultimate resting place for the weeping fig—is typically not an ideal growing environment. Light levels generally could be brighter. Humidity levels, particularly during the winter, tend to be awful. Give the plant a few weeks to adjust to its new surroundings and to recover.
If your established weeping fig is losing some of its foliage, remember that some plants need an occasional resting period. Ficus benjamina is one of those plants. It is not uncommon for some of the plant’s foliage to yellow and drop off during the winter after an active summer of growth. Allow it to dry out a little bit more between watering, reduce fertilization, and let it rest.