Too Many Ficus and Not Enough Time
What can anyone possibly say about Ficus trees as bonsai's that's anything but good? Here is a huge range of indoor trees that do - certainly have their preferences- but a remarkably forgiving and because of that, they are ideal trees for the beginner Bonsai enthusiast......and great choices as a bonsai gift.
The only negative thing I can find about them, is that they go by so many different names that I don't know how anyone can even come close to keeping them straight. Actually, if any type of bonsai can be used to make a case for the value of the Botanical names it has to be Ficus family, because honestly, everyone seems to have a different name for every one of them..
Let's start with the easiest one to remember - Ficus benjamina - also known as the weeping fig. The simple fact that these trees grace malls all over North America says something about how tough they are and how well they grow. They show the typical shining green leaves, in the case of the benjamina , fairly narrow, leathery and pointy. In my 20's I must confess that I managed to kill a few benjaminas - I overwatered them. Like many other Ficus trees as houseplants or trained as Bonsai, Ficus like consistency. The benjamina is just as likely to drop it's leaves in response to being brought indoors after a summer outside, moved to a new spot or if your care routine changes. Actually, you'll find that the Benjamina is actually better as a houseplant than a bonsai. It responds poorly to hard pruning and the branches will often die back after it's thrown a little hissy fit and dropped it's leaves.
It isn't grown as a bonsai (at least not that I've ever heard) but it's also useful to know another famous ficus - Ficus elastica - the rubber tree.
A popular indoor bonsai is the Ficus Retusa. Lots of different kinds and some are easier than others. There's the ficus retusa Microcarpa, also knownas the green emerald fig, the European fig or Ficus Rianne and the Banyan fig, or Ginseng Fig or sometimes even called the Tigerbark Fig is a particularly easy and forgiving ficus. This is a great beginner tree, because it will forgive mistakes, but if you give it what it likes - it will positively thrive. And what does it like? It likes consistency, as much as I like to summer everything possible outside and my ficus appreciate the fresh air and great light, you're probably better off finding a good indoor spot and keeping it there. Ficus love great light, and will tolerate full sun indoors. But if you're moving them from another spot, watch out that you don't burn them while they're becoming accustomed to their new place.
Ficus love humidity. They'll live where the air is dryer than they like ( actually the Green Island fig- another name applied to ficus microcarpa is a little more temperamental and might drop leaves). If you can, place your ficus bonsai on a pebble tray to raise the local humidity level and they're also appreciate frequent misting.
One of the challenges with any bonsai is the correct interpretation of the term - keep moist. Moist is not the same as wet! You can easily allow the top inch or half inch to feel dry before you water again. But since many beginners, when told that it's ok to allow their bonsais to dry out slightly, let them become bone dry , you'll see the term keep moist. If you're going to err on the side of caution with your Fig, wait a little longer to water. More plants die from over watering. It goes without saying to never let your bonsai sit in water. Having said that, when it's time to water, a popular technique is to carefully submerge the pot until no more bubbles rise to the surface and then repeat. ( and then take it out of the water).
Feed ficus when you can see that they're growing and when they're healthy. Alternate a balanced fertilizer and a high nitrogen fertilizer at about half strength, every two to three weeks.
Keep them away from drafts, and heaters. Maintain temperature above 15C/ 60 F and below 30C/ 87F. Watch for scale and mites.
Winter is upon us again. We are no longer shipping any tender trees in Canada. Limited shipping is available on Junipers.
See you in the Spring!