Growing bonsai trees is one of the most popular ways people get started with gardening. While we put together a more general overview of indoor bonsai tress, we wanted to use this piece to focus on one specific variety, the ficus bonsai.
Ficus bonsai are one of the most popular types of bonsai trees and one that may beginners start with. It’s relatively easy to grow, and perfect to grow in smaller locations indoors.
Position and Light
Being an indoor bonsai, you must avoid frost at all costs. Frost will quickly damage or kill the plant, so make sure to keep it indoors or bring it in when temperatures drop. The ficus can be grown outdoors, but only in locations that are warm year round. At a minimum, you’ll want to make sure its environment stays above 59 degrees for optimal growth.
For light, getting lots of bright sunlight is key. Favor an area that gets morning sunlight as the more intense afternoon light can burn out the leaves. That said, a ficus bonsai can go for periods of lower light, such as in the winter, making it fairly easy to pick a good location.
Lastly, this bonsai likes high humidity and grows best in that type of environment. Two easy ways to achieve this are to frequently mist the plant, or place it’s container on a small pebble tray.
Watering should occur regularly. Whenever the soil starts to get dry, you should apply a generous amount of water to saturate the soil. Look for water to begin leaking out of the drainage holes to tell when the soil has enough water.
Proper watering is key for growth, and may be necessary several times per week in the growing season. Don’t be surprised if it takes less water during the winter as the plant is likely to go dormant and not grow as quickly. Lastly, ficus bonsais are fairly resilient and a few over or under waterings won’t kill them. Try not to make this a habit though.
Proper fertilization is key to bonsai growth and neglecting it will mean your plant will not grow properly. During the growing season, look to add fertilizer to the soil every 1-2 weeks. In the winter, when growth slows, once every 1-2 months should suffice.
Look to use a half strength, liquid fertilizer, or go with an organic compost.
Pruning Your Tree
To maintain an ideal shape regular pruning and trimming will be required. Some ficus trees leaves can grow to be rather large, so regular pruning can help to restrict the size of the leaves. The art of pruning would take an article in of itself, but some simple guidelines are to prune the most in the spring an summer. This is when the tree is growing the most, and can recover the easiest. You also want to avoid pruning too much to give the plant time to recover.
Most bonsai growers prune to keep the tree looking aesthetically pleasing. Ficus bonsai can grow rather larger leaves, so many will cut these back as the branch grows too many, generally at the 6-8 mark, cutting off 2-4 of these.
One last note, sometimes when pruning the ficus it will “bleed” a milky white substance. This is normal, nothing to be alarmed about.
Another commonly done practice with bonsai trees is to attach wire to their branches to help guide their growth. The wire can be used to add support so that branches can grow into desired shared.
Ficus branches are rather malleable and easily shaped with wire. Use a light to medium gauge wire when working with the ficus bonsai.
Do make sure to check these wires often though. In some cases, the plant may grow over the wires, embedding them into the trunk or scarring the plant. You want to avoid this, and should remove and reset and wires that are headed in this direction.
A key piece of care for bonsai trees that many neglect is repotting. A ficus bonsai should be repotted roughly every 2 years. A clear sign that a repotting is needed is if you begin to see the roots through drainage holes at the bottom of your plant’s container.
Repotting the ficus bonsai is fairly easy as the roots will clump together. Simply dig out the plant a bit, and then pull it out of the container using a consistent, firm pull. This will help keep from damaging the roots. Repot the plant into a slightly larger container with fresh soil. Alternatively, you can use a similar sized container if you wish to stop the plant from growing any larger. In this case, it’s still a good idea to switch out the soil to keep the plant healthy.
Possible Diseases and Pests
The ficus is rather resistant to pests, but that doesn’t mean that problems arise not and again. These problems are more prominent in the winter season, but can happen year round.
Leaf drop can occur if the trees are exposed to dry air for extended periods of time. This can also be caused by a lack of light to the tree or if the plant is under-watered. When your tree is exposed to conditions mentioned above, it can lead to your tree becoming more susceptible to pests. Scale and/or spider mites are two of the most common.
If you do encounter pests many common removal techniques will work to get rid of them. During this time you can also supplement the plant with additional light and misting. This will help keep your plant strong, and works to keep the pests from doing long term damage to your plant.
Overall, the ficus bonsai is a great introduction for beginners looking to grow a bonsai tree. If you’ve never grown one before, I’d recommend starting here as they are quite easy to grow compared to other species. They are also quite resilient, and can live with a somewhat negligent or forgetful owner; that’s not to say you should neglect them though as like all plants they do need care!
If you’re looking to get started I’ recommend checking out this Bonsai from Amazon:
The bonsai comes at 4 years old, so it’s already grown enough to enjoy. Bonsai trees take quite a while to grow, so grabbing one a few years old is generally a good idea. You can always grow from seeds, but expect the journey to take a few years more.
Local tree care: https://www.thelocaltreeexperts.com/il/chicago/