Ficus as bonsai – Part 1

By June 8, 2017 No Comments

Ficus as Bonsai

Ficus species are one of the most bonsai trees attracted by new comers.   One of the main reasons Ficus bonsai are so popular is due to their trunk characteristic, such as the Ficus Ginseng, commercially found with a reasonable low price.  Ficus species can be very forgiven to new comers mistakes.  A important factor of the Ficus species is that they can be styled in a good number of bonsai styles.

The fruit of the Ficus species varies in color: yellow, green, red, purple blue, and in size, from a small millimeters to some centimeters such as the edible fruit of the Ficus Carica or as better known as the fig tree.  One thing that binds all the species of the Ficus species is the milky sap which leak from a cut at the trunk or branches.

Ficus Panda with small fruits
Aerial Roots

Most of the ficus trees in their natural habitat, can produce aerial roots.  Aerial roots are very appealing in Bonsai. To achieve aerial in bonsai located in-house, needs high humidity.  To achieve this, a green house effect should be created.  This can be achieve by placing the bonsai in an empty fish tank covered with a piece of glass.  A simple green house effect can be achieved by placing the ficus bonsai in a clear plastic bag.  Both green effects encourage the humidity to rise.  Make sure to open the green house effect every few days, to prevent the branches from rot.  After emerging, aerial roots will grow downwards until they reach the soil, then they will grow thicker and develop as strong pillar-like  strong trunks.

Aerial roots adds interest to the overall design
Special Techniques

Ficus in particular has the ability to fuse  or graft together with a secondary ficus plant.  The ability of quick growing, the ficus tree can bind branches or some times parts of trunk together to form a new looking tree.  This feature is commonly used by enthusiast and professional bonsai growers, to create thicker and to correct the style.

Branch fused with the trunk to achieve movement and a thicker and trunk

Although we said that the Ficus species are ideal for new comers, that does not mean that professional bonsai artists does not use these species in their collections, in fact they are very popular in Asia.

Professional grown Ficus bonsai.

Care for the Ficus Bonsai

  • Location
    1. The ficus Bonsai tree needs a lot of light, ideally full sunlight, and it can be kept outdoors and indoors.  Ficus does not endure frost, something we in Malta does not have to worry about.
    2. When a Ficus bonsai starts to defoliate, mostly when it is kept in-house,  placing the tree outside until it will get it’s health.  We recommend to keep the Ficus bonsai out doors and place it inside when you have guests.
    3. Make sure you do not place your Ficus bonsai in a shady area.  When kept in-house, maintain a relative constant micro temperature . A high humidity micro temperature might help to develop aerial roots.
  • Watering
    1. Water Ficus bonsai whenever the soil tends to be slightly dry.  No need to plan a routine.
    2. Ficus species can tolerate occasional over/under watering, but make sure it is not the norm.
    3. Frequent misting is advised to maintain humidity, but avoid overdoing this misting, otherwise fungal problems might appear.
  • Feeding
    1. Fertilize weekly from March to September, and stop feeding in winter time.
    2. One can use Liquid fertilizer can be used as well as organic fertilizer pellets.
  • Pruning
    1. Regular pruning is important to maintain the tree’s shape.
    2. Prune back to 2 leaves once the branch had grown to 6-8 leaves.
    3. Leaf pruning is also used by the professionals to reduce the leaf leaf size.
    4. To thicken the trunk in a faster way, leave the tree to grow freely and in the ground of a large training pot.
    5. The strong cuts does not affect the Ficus tree health.
    6. Larger wounds should be covered with cut paste.
    7. The Ficus tree has the ability to back bud new shoots grow from old wood.
      Ficus species had the ability to heal itself after a cut.
  • Wiring
    1. Wire medium to strong Ficus branches, they are very flexible.
    2. Since most of the Ficus species grow rapidly, check the wire regularly, as not to cut into the bark.
    3. Guy wire should be used to shape strong branches, since it can be left for a longer period.  Protect the branch with a plastic or rubber pipe.
      Wiring and guy wires are used to shape the style.
  • Re-potting
    1. Re-pot Ficus trees in spring and August using a basic soil mixture. Ficus permits root-pruning but avoid to trim more than 20% of the roots system.
  • Propagation
    1. Cuttings for propagation can be planted at any time of the year, but the highest successful rate is in August.  Air-layering will work best in spring (April – May).
      Propagate Ficus cuttings
  • Problems
    1. Ficus species are quite resistant to decease.
    2. Lack of proper lighting will weaken the Ficus species, resulting in leaf droppings.
    3. Ficus Bonsai can be infested with scale or spider mites if placed in poor conditions.
    4. The use of systemic insecticide sprays will be very helpful.


Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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