Encyclopedia of Houseplants

Ficus Trees, the Favorite 1970s Cult Plant, Are Back and More Popular Than Ever

updated Jul 21, 2021
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(Image credit: Diana Paulson)

Ficus plants have been making dramatic statements in homes for decades. These are the same plants that we saw in our grandparents’ homes; but, with the resurgence of large, dramatic plants in the design world, it’s not surprising that everyone and their cousin now has—or desperately wants—some kind of ficus in their living space. Like some other popular trendy plants, there’s often more than meets the eye. To be honest, a ficus can be a total beast to care for. Here’s what you need to know.

(Image credit: Diana Paulson)

Bright, filtered light

Ficus love bright, soft light. Not too bright because hot light scorches their leaves. Bright, indirect light can be described as light coming from an east- or south-facing window (or near to) that is obscured with a sheer blind or frosted glass. If there’s nothing fracturing the light, simply move the plant further away from the window. Remember, bright light, not hot light.

Humidity

Ficus are tropical plants so you really want to recreate a similar environment for them to be happy. Mist those leaves (indirectly—think applying hairspray) according to your household’s humidity level. It might be a good idea to invest in a humidifier if your house has continuously dry air.

Temperature

Keep tabs on the temperature in your home. Don’t place a ficus near an air exchange/heating vent, radiator, frequently-opened door to the outside, or a drafty window that gets freezing cold in the winter. These plants are very sensitive to temperature change, so much so that you might notice a difference after walking it home from the plant shop. The plant will need an adjustment period of three to four weeks to acclimate to your home’s environment. Don’t worry if your ficus drops some leaves. It’s totally normal.

Drainage and a watering schedule

For the best chance of success, plant your ficus in a pot that is two or three inches larger than the grower’s pot that it came in from the nursery. Make sure the pot has drainage—there are a lot of pots out there that look pretty but are closed at the bottom. This makes it difficult to regulate your watering when you can’t see how much is already sitting at the bottom of the pot. Water your ficus when the top two to three inches of the soil dries out—you can easily measure this by using the first two knuckles on your finger. The larger the plant, the more water it needs. A plant in a 12-inch pot needs at least 1-1.5 liters of water a week in the summer. You won’t want to water nearly as much in the winter. Try implementing a watering schedule.

Don’t give up! Some ficus are more finicky that others, as we outlined below. There’s a 99 percent chance that this plant is going to drop leaves on you. That’s okay! Even if it drops all of its leaves, there’s a good chance it’ll come back for you. Just be patient and figure out the balance that’s right for you and your ficus.

Toxicity

Keep in mind that the ASPCA classifies most ficus plants as toxic to both cats and dogs, citing oral and gastrointestinal irritation. Some pet owners choose to risk it, while others proceed with caution. If you’re not confident that your pet won’t eat your houseplants, don’t leave it to chance. There are plenty of non-toxic houseplant babies to choose from.

Types of Ficus

When you hear the term ficus tree, you probably envision a Ficus benjamina (seen above), also known as weeping fig, which often has a braided trunk. But there are lots of varieties out there to discover.

Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata)

This is the big stunner that everyone is going crazy over. It’s a tree with huge glamorous leaves that looks fabulous any way you place it.

Lollipop Tree (Ficus daniella)

Who wouldn’t love a tree that looks like an oversized topiary? This ficus has thick, teardrop-shaped leaves and growers typically trim it in the shape of a lollipop.

Creeping Fig (Ficus pumilla)

We love this plant because it has little leaves that resemble stars. The creeping fig is naturally a ground cover, so it will grow into any pot you plant it in.

Rubber Tree (Ficus elastica)

One of the easier ficus plants to care for. The rubber tree can be found in a bunch of different varieties: variegated, deep maroon, and green leaves. Choose whichever strikes your fancy.

Ficus Alii (Ficus maclellandii)

The leaves have a canoe shape that drape elegantly off of the limbs. Put this tree in a room that needs a dramatic touch.

Ficus Audrey (Ficus benghalensis)

The new kid on the scene. We love the velvety leaves that play structurally off of the light-colored trunk. This tree might make more of a splash than the fiddle leaf variety.

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