Growth boost for a ficus

tcleigh(6)August 21, 2011

I have a wonderful unknown species of ficus in a 10-gal container. It has grown a little in the last two years that I've owned it, but I'd like it to grow faster. I recenty saw a garden design book where a ficus dominated an entire room, so that is my goal.

Is there I could do (besides typical water soluble fertilizer) that would promote fast growth?


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I've discovered through trial and error some things about the ficus plants. I gave one in a 10 gallon container to my brother several years ago, and it survived nicely until Hurricane Katrina "done it in."

I firmly believe that the ficus eats its soil. None comes out the bottom, but the level gets lower at the top.

The ficus does not like to be moved, and will use any change in its location as a signal to DROP ITS LEAVES. But I do rotate the pot about once a month or so.

I had a problem with scale on the ficus on my sun porch, so I put the pot outdoors this summer where I could freely water it and let it benefit from the outdoor atmosphere. It gets good LIGHT, but NOT DIRECT SUN. When it comes indoors after the weather cools, its exposure will be morning sun on my enclosed sun porch.

Have you pulled your plant out of the pot and looked at the root ball? It might help to do so, where you can get a good look at that area of the plant, before you start doing anything to boost its growth. Do what is necessary to make the soil fresh, and the roots healthy and not knotting up. I believe my plants, which are now 8 feet tall and spreading, like to be a little bit root bound. Or so it seems to me. They do not like dusty leaves though. And you might want to keep the leaves clean so they can aspirate.

When you water your plant, a good "manure tea" is appreciated. And I use the Osmacote pelletized fertilizer spread around the surface of the pot, which is a sort of timed release food. Just don't overdo it. If a little is good, more is NOT BETTER.

Have you told your plant that you love it today? I think that is important. :) I think this works because the CO2 we exhale is used by plants. You might also play it some music just in case plants really respond to sound wave vibrations.... and if you don't have a pet otherwise, then treat it like the living thing it is. Since ficus do not like to MOVE much, I do not suggest you take it for a walk (something that a hedera helix might appreciate though), I would give it a chance to have some toys. Put a little mulch on the top of the soil, and maybe find a begonia that can live in the pot with this ficus. There is a good bit of surface area there on the top of the pot, and I've tried trailing spider plants, strawberry begonia, and a cutting of a flowering begonia too. Even your aloe vera in a small pot might sit comfortably on the top of the mulch.

You can find all sorts of informed opinions/facts about caring for a ficus but what I express here is from my personal experience.....and that can be found no where else. Just enjoy your ficus. It will last for years, and even my brother, who is definitely NOT a plant person, sorely missed the first ficus I gave him years ago, and now treats his new plant with great appreciation.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2011 at 11:47AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

You have been given good advice by someone who loves Ficus. For most of us we just love an attractive plant that does well without a lot of fuss. Ficus I have grown as a house plant have had the tendency to grow foliage thin and spindly, due to a location without enough light. They can be a wonderful plant in precisely the right location, but I have never been able to provide it. Al

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 10:12AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I have three different kinds of ficus trees -- weeping fig (benjamina), fiddle leaf fig ( lyrata), and elastica (rubber tree) -- that make great house plants. I try to give them bright light indoors in the winter and a couple hours of full sun each day in the summer outdoors. I also feed them regularly from spring to fall with a complete fertilizer at half stregth every one or two weeks when they're outdoors. They all grew well during the summer with this treatment.

This summer I bare rooted, root pruned and repotted them all in gritty mix. Some of them hadn't been repotted in more than 10 years since I was following the old advice to just "top dress" large plants. Of all the many houseplants I repotted this year, the ficus plants showed the most positive response. They've each put on at least another 6-12 inches of growth.

I followed advice from the houseplants forum I'll link to below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ficus Trees in Containers

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 1:23PM
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Thanks for the kind advice, everyone. After doing very little research, I have determined that my ficus is indeed a ficus benjamina, only the most common ficus houseplant! Duh!

mocassinlanding -- i have also noticed that my ficus eats its soil! the soil level has steadily decreased since ive had the plant. i think i'm going to have to remove the plant, inspect the root ball, and re-pot with more soil. the manure tea is also an intriguing tip i'll have to try. cheers!

ohiofem -- i've never tried the gritty mix, but ive long wanted to as i have pepper plants that would also enjoy a long-term potting medium. when i re-pot im going to try the gritty mix or a slight variation depending on the availability of materials in my area. thanks!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 9:19PM
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I can assure you that ficus, or any other plant for that matter, do not "eat" the soil. I understand that it's a joke, but the reason for the soil seemingly disappearing, is because the soil is compacting. This is notorious with any soil containing peat moss. It breaks down and compacts into a soupy mess, and wrecks havoc on your plant's roots. I too used to see my peat based Miracle Grow soil get "eaten" by plants, although I knew it was compaction. Since switching to the gritty mix, or a variation of it, the soil no longer breaks down or compacts, so it is always the same level, even with my ficus.

As for how to make them grow faster, well, you can only make them grow as fast as their full potential, and for that you need perfect conditions. I'm not going to go in depth, but I can tell you that the best results come when you use a fast draining, great aerating soil like the gritty mix. Apply fertilizer in the correct ratios and amounts, provide the proper light, and you will get your best growth.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 11:19PM
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You're right, Joe. Compaction is definitely the culprit. All the more reason for me to seek out the gritty mix components...

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 9:14AM
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stefpix(6b NY [Brooklyn NY])

My F. benjaminas really like being in full sun on the roof in spring / summer/ fall. So many healthy leaves, so full. They are trees that enjoy full sun. I had bought these in small 4" pots. I give all my Ficus as much light as I can. I have been growing Ficus bengalensis and F. religiosa from seed as well. Full sun gives you a thicker trunk and faster growth.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 1:04PM
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Joe, you are so right about compaction of the soil, but I sort of like the mental image of the ficus chomping down on its food supply. Hopefully, this winter I will be able to work with the gritty mix I've read so much about on this forum. Please stand by to point me in the right direction.

One thing for sure, I dearly love container gardening. The coming winter will be the initiation of my Teahouse into the plant kingdom, so we'll see how that goes. Zone 8B, not 5B.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 9:21PM
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Thanks, Stefano. I'm definitely going to give this ficus as much direct sun as an indoor plant can hope for.

mocassinlanding -- I just posted a thread regarding my first experience with making Gritty Mix. Feel free to check it out--it might help motivate you!

Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 10:50PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I grow at least 30 tropical Ficus covering maybe 8-10 species. The keys to getting maximum growth are: 1) A very porous and fast draining soil, like the gritty mix. You cannot beat well aerated soils for packing on mass. 2) Lots of light - full outdoor sun. 3) A good fertilizer that supplies all the essential nutrients in a favorable ratio ..... and don't be afraid to use it generously when the plant is wanting to push growth enthusiastically 4) warmth - keep soil temps at 65* or higher (up to 80) and air temps no cooler than 10* lower 5) A large soil volume. Use a soil that holds no (or very little) perched water and you cannot over-pot.

Soils actually break down and gas out. As the hydrocarbon chains in the organic component break down, the hydrogen combines with other elements and gasses out, or is used in various ways. The carbon forms CO2 and floats away, freeing those other elements locked in the hydrocarbon chains for plant uptake. This is great in mineral soils (gardens/beds/ag crops), but not necessarily a good thing in container media with high organic fractions, as it is a by-product of soil breakdown/collapse.


For more info aimed specifically at Ficus in containers, see the link I provided below:

Here is a link that might be useful: More on Ficus in containers if you click me!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2011 at 8:23PM
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Tapla, do you have a list of the ficus that you grow on this site somewhere?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 12:29AM
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Thanks, Al. I can provide nearly all those conditions for my ficus. The only one I'm worried about is lack of direct sun. I recently moved into an apartment with lots of windows but very little outdoor space :(. My ficus has had moderate light its entire life with me, and I have it in between two big windows, so, after re-potting, I think it'll be okay until I can get it outside again. Then again, maybe I'll wait until March to re-pot...?

I'd also be interested in seeing a list (with pics too? no pressure...) of the ficus varieties you are growing.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 10:00AM
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@tcleigh, you don't mention where you live, which will have an effect on how much/fast your ficus grows. I'm fortunate to live in central Florida, where sun and humidity are plentiful nearly year round. We can't grow them outside year round (two hours south they can), but they grow very well otherwise.

I grow a variety of ficus as bonsai, they're outside from early spring until the evening temps drop to the 40s in winter. Ficus love light, they cannot get enough light. Other ficus bonsai growers also grow them in direct sun as well, and I'll say light will be the largest factor in growing ficus.

The next factor will be a combination of good quality/well draining soil and fertilizer. Ficus become root bound rather quickly, fortunately they respond well to heavy root work during non-dormant periods (work the roots from early spring until late autumn).

My overall suggestion would be to wait until spring and do heavy root work. Untangle the roots, saw off any larger roots and focus on developing the finer feeder roots. For the soil I'd recommend: 1part vermiculite, 1part perlite & two parts Jungle Growth container soil from Lowes, or fine pine bark. Feed with a balanced fertilizer every two weeks during spring/summer, monthly during autumn/winter. Keep the area around the plant humid through direct misting and maybe a few containers with water.

If its location doesn't get bright light, use supplemental lighting. Lowes/Home Depot sell inexpensive fluorescent workshop fixtures, a few can be placed near the plant, but not too close to burn.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2011 at 11:55AM
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