How to Plant and Grow Ficus

With all the different sizes and shapes this houseplant comes in, you're sure to find the right look to liven up any room.

A versatile and tough group of plants often grown indoors, ficus comes in many forms, ranging from creeping vines to giant trees. Its glossy leaves grow in a variety of colors and patterns, and even though this cousin of the edible fig is a tropical plant, it survives in various conditions.

The 850 species span a wide range of looks. Leaves grow dark burgundy on the rubber plant, diamond-shape on the weeping fig, small-as-a-pinky-nail on some creeping varieties, and as large as a football on others.

Gardeners in zones 10-11 can grow ficus trees outdoors year-round. Those in cooler zones grow them in containers that can be moved indoors when frost nears or as houseplants. Some varieties can tolerate the chilly temperatures in zones 6-9 with a lot of help.

Ficus sap is toxic to pets.

Ficus Overview

Genus Name Ficus
Common Name Ficus
Plant Type Houseplant, Tree
Light Part Sun, Shade, Sun
Height 1 to 50 feet
Width 1 to 40 feet
Foliage Color Blue/Green, Purple/Burgundy
Special Features Low Maintenance
Zones 10, 11, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Layering, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Drought Tolerant

Where to Plant Ficus

When planting ficus in the landscape, select a location that receives full to partial sun. A sun-dappled yard or one with other trees that shield it from some sunlight is ideal. The soil must be well-draining. Ficus trees won't grow in areas that are wet. Give it plenty of space to grow. Some ficus are wider than they are tall and their root systems may disrupt nearby concrete, plumbing lines, and swimming pools.

Growing ficus in a container that can be moved indoors in cold weather is another option for gardeners in zones 6-11.

Many gardeners are familiar with ficus only as a charming houseplant. When growing ficus as a houseplant, position it near a window that offers bright light and move it to different locations as seldom as possible. Ficus plants don't like change.

How and When to Plant Ficus

Nursery-grown ficus trees are best planted outdoors in spring. Ficus trees grow quickly, so expect new growth in a couple of weeks. Dig a hole the same depth as the rootball or container and twice as wide in well-draining soil. Add compost or other organic material to the soil to improve drainage. Set the rootball in the hole no lower than it was in the container. Backfill with the amended soil, pressing down to firm the soil around the roots and prevent air bubbles. Water the tree deeply. Add 2-4 inches of mulch around the base of the tree.

When planting ficus in a container, use a lightweight potting mixture with vermiculite or perlite. Select a container with drain holes. It must offer excellent drainage.

Ficus Care Tips

This tropical plant needs just the right environment to grow and stay healthy.


When it comes to light, ficus plants can be somewhat finicky. Ficus requires high light levels, especially for the best coloring of its leaves. However, some types of ficus tolerate medium to low-light conditions.

In low-light conditions, ficus tends to be sparser and can have poorer branching habits. They also grow slowly in less light. If abruptly moved to a new spot with different light levels than it's used to, ficus may drop its leaves. Though alarming, the plant recovers once it adapts to new conditions.

Soil and Water

Needs vary among the types of ficus, but generally, they prefer well-drained, fertile soil kept consistently moist. Although ficus can tolerate an occasional missed watering, allowing them to dry out regularly stresses the plant.

Temperature and Humidity

Outdoors, ficus trees tolerate temperatures as low as 55°F and colder for a brief time, but these tropical trees prefer much warmer temperatures of 75°F and higher. They also prefer high humidity and appreciate occasional misting.

Ficus plants are good indoor plants because they need moderate temperatures at all times. An average of 75ºF in the day and 65°F at night is perfect for them. Don't let the temperature fall below 60°F. They like a bit of humidity, so if it's dry in your home, mist the leaves occasionally.


In spring, fertilize outdoor ficus trees with a slow-release, all-purpose granular fertilizer with an 8-8-8 ratio or 10-10-10, following the product directions for the amount to use. Sprinkle the fertilizer under the ficus and water it in.

Indoor ficus plants need a different regimen. Apply a ficus-specific liquid fertilizer or an all-purpose, balanced liquid fertilizer monthly during the spring and summer and every two months in fall and winter, following the product directions.


Prune ficus during winter when they aren't growing. Keep leaves trimmed so the plant doesn't touch the ceiling, and prune it for shape and size. Ficus will quickly regrow, so prune when necessary.

Potting and Repotting Ficus

When roots begin to grow out of drainage holes, your ficus needs repotting, ideally done in the spring. Repot every other year so you can maintain a reasonably-sized tree. Use top-quality potting soil for your plant, and go up a size or two when choosing a new container.

Pests and Problems

Mites, scale, mealybugs, whiteflies, and aphids are all pests that can affect ficus trees. Use neem oil to get rid of them. If your ficus gets leaf spot disease, throw out infected leaves on the plant and any that have fallen off to prevent further spread.

How to Propagate Ficus

Propagate outdoor ficus trees via air layering, which is a process that encourages a ficus tree to grow roots in a specific area on a branch while it's still on the plant. Choose a point on a stem about 18 inches from a shoot tip and remove the leaves. Using a sharp knife, make a shallow cut all the way around the branch. Make a similar cut an inch or so below the first cut. Then make a third cut vertically between the two previous cuts, and remove the ring of bark between the two previous cuts. Scrape the exposed surface and sprinkle it with rooting hormone powder. Wrap a couple of handfuls of sphagnum moss around the exposed area and hold it in place by wrapping clear plastic wrap around the moss and branch, making sure all the moss is covered by plastic. Use twist ties to secure the top and bottom of the plastic wrap. Roots should be visible in the sphagnum moss in a month or two. When the root system is robust, cut the branch off just below the lower twist tie. Take off the plastic wrap, twist ties, and moss. Plant the new ficus in a pot filled with a well-draining soil/compost mix.

Houseplants that lack woody branches may be better suited to propagation by stem cuttings. Cut a 6-inch piece from the end of a healthy stem, cutting just below a leaf node. Remove the leaves from the lower third of the stem and dip the end of the stem in rooting powder. Plant it in a 4-inch pot filled with moist potting soil. Cover the cutting and pot with a clear plastic bag and place it in a warm place out of direct sunlight. Check it every few days to make sure the soil remains moist. After several weeks, tug gently on a leaf. When it resists, the cutting has rooted; the plastic can be removed.

Types of Ficus

Creeping Fig

Creeping fig pot
Dean Schoeppner

Ficus pumila is a vining plant with small leaves and aerial roots that will cling to a wall or moss pole. It is sometimes used to cover topiary forms. It requires higher humidity and more frequent watering than most ficuses.

Fiddle-Leaf Fig

fiddleleaf fig
Denny Schrock

Ficus lyrata can become a large tree with violin-shaped leaves more than 1 foot long. The stiff, waxy leaves are medium green on top and gray-green underneath.

Mistletoe Fig

mistletoe fig
Dean Schoeppner

Ficus deltoidea makes an interesting indoor shrub. It forms spreading branches covered with wedge-shaped leaves and many small, inedible green figs that turn red in bright sun. It is sometimes listed as Ficus diversifolia.

Narrow-Leaf Fig

Narrow-leaf fig Ficus
Michael Thompson

Ficus maclellandii 'Alii' is a tree-type ficus with long, narrow, pointed leaves that give it a bamboo appearance. It is sometimes called Alii fig or banana fig and may be classified as Ficus binnendijkii.

Rubber Plant

Ficus Elastica
Marty Baldwin

Ficus elastica, also called rubber plant, has stiff, elliptical leaves, often tinged maroon. Grow it as a multistem shrub or a branched tree.

'Starlight' Weeping Fig

weeping fig
Dean Schoeppner

Ficus benjamina 'Starlight' has the same arching plant form as regular weeping fig, but its leaves are ringed with a decorative white band. Variegation is most intense in bright light.

'Too Little' Weeping Fig

Too Little weeping fig
Marty Baldwin

Ficus benjamina 'Too Little' is a semidwarf, a slower grower than regular weeping fig. Individual leaves are smaller and rolled or curled, and the distance between branches is less, resulting in a more compact tree.

Variegated Creeping Fig

variegated creeping fig
Dean Schoeppner

Ficus pumila 'Variegata' is a small-leaf creeper with a narrow band of white on leaf edges. Like regular creeping fig, it likes high humidity and moist roots.

Variegated Indian Laurel Fig

Variegated Indian laurel fig
Marty Baldwin

Ficus microcarpa is similar to weeping fig but has slightly larger and more leathery leaves. It is also less likely to drop leaves with changes in light levels or temperatures. The plant is sometimes classified as Ficus retusa nitida.

Variegated Rubber Plant

detail variegated ficus
Blaine Moats

Ficus elastica 'Variegata' has tricolor leaves of creamy white, gray-green, and green with maroon overtones. Its coloration is most intense in bright light.

Weeping Fig

Weeping Fig
Mike Jensen

Ficus benjamina is the most widely grown ficus. Often several are planted in the same pot and braided into a decorative trunk. Avoid moving the plant around once you find a suitable location; leaves drop readily in response to environmental changes.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do ficus plants live?

    With optimal care, ficus houseplants can live as long as 20 years, while ficus tree varieties grown outdoors in containers and moved indoors for winter can live up to 40 years. Outdoor ficus trees planted in their natural warm-weather habitats live more than 100 years.

  • How big do ficus trees get?

    That depends on the variety and where it is located. Growing a ficus in a container or as a houseplant tends to keep the plant smaller. For example, popular Ficus benjamina grows to about 6 feet when grown as a houseplant but tops out at 60 feet outdoors. Some ficus are creepers or semi dwarf. Check the plant tag for information before you bring a ficus home from the nursery.

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