Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Ficus. Hmmmm. Oh Ficus.  Oh homeowners........A lovely tropical tree/bush/houseplant...for the pots.  Ficus in the landscape for Tucson is VERY uncommon because it's too cold here.  Most homeowners mistake privet for ficus.   Both are green and lush.  They are also water seeking and concrete/foundation breaking(especially Ficus nitida). However, Ficus is found all over Phoenix because it's warmer there during the winter. For every positive, there comes a greater negative.  People living in the Phoenix area are affected more by this monster of a tree in the landscape as it has a better chance of surviving in the milder winter temps.  In Tucson, our winters are a bit too cold for this plant and yet there are places that you will find this tree growing large and tall. I pulled several of these plants(Nitida variety) out of the ground this past spring because they were invasive and breaking our planters along the side of the building.  A couple homeowners were not happy with this move, but by removing these plants, we discovered several breaks along the foundation, planter, and some gaps in the stucco which allowed for bugs, like cockroaches, to enter.  Overall, I am happy that this job was done.  They were starting to look "ratty" after almost 30 years in the landscape.  Here are a couple things to consider with this plant. As mentioned before, it makes a great shade tree, but our winters, both in Phoenix and Tucson, this past year were deadly for these trees and killed many of them.  I had several in pots and they were killed.  When Ficus dies, it dies. My lemon and limes trees were killed back, but new growth has come back where as with the Ficus, it's dead.  Even my Scheflerra and Spider plants have come back from the roots!  Not the Ficus.  However, with that being said, several of the large Ficus in the ground survived because they were protected by our buildings.  The roots are aggressive and can mess with plumbing and foundations so be thoughtful about the placement of this plant.  I believe that this plant is best utilized in a pot near an area that gets regular watering.  Do NOT place in direct sun or the leaves will burn on many of the varieties. I also throw a lot of used coffee grounds every once and awhile around this plant and it loves this treatment. Here is some info to get you started on potting a Ficus.  My recommendation is to keep this plant out of the ground and solely use in pots or planters for the Tucson area.
Best potted as shown here on my small patio.
"Everyone wants a ficus tree and there are many varieties to choose from: Benjamina (and all of its new cultivars such as Midnight, Spearmint, Nitida and Monique), Lyrata or Fiddle Leaf (the giant leaves look like fiddles), Elastica (commonly called a Rubber Tree), Ficus Alli and many others. All of these are beautiful and can grow into stately, impressive trees if you care for them properly. Ficus trees, unlike Dracaenas, need attention and are not very forgiving. However, once you know what they like and how to avoid what they don't, ficus trees are really quite easy to maintain. The Ficus tree is a popular houseplant, and is relatively easy to care for. Your Ficus will want to be placed near a bright window or other light source because they thrive in light. It is very common for a new Ficus to lose its leaves. It is estimated that a Ficus typically loses approximately twenty percent of its leaves when it is taken into a new environment. So, do not be surprised if your Ficus does a bit of shedding when you bring it home from the store. The reason the Ficus loses leaves usually comes down to one of three circumstances, with changes in the environment being tops on the list.
Ficus Nitida in Phoenix.  You won't see this in Tucson....it's too cold! Pic from Lee Tucson
Additional causes of leaf loss are improper watering of your plant, and insect or pest infestation and damage. Losing Ficus foliage or leaves is the most common problem owners of this common house plant encounter. However, it is not cause for concern as leaf loss is normal during the regular care and feeding of your plant. Just as we humans shed skin cells on a regular basis, the Ficus sheds leaves. Unless more than twenty percent of your leaves drop off, your Ficus is still pretty healthy and probably going through a change based on one of the three reasons mentioned, regardless which of the varieties of Ficus you have.
Pic courtesy of Lee Tucson
One of the best gardening tips for Ficus trees and plant species is to water your plant more if it is getting a lot of light, and water it less when there is less light available; this is because the plant is healthier and growing more during high light times, and is more dormant during periods of low light. Simply put, less light means less growth and need for watering for your Ficus. You want the soil to be wet, but never soggy. You also want to check annually to make sure your Ficus has not outgrown its pot size and become root bound which can cause increased leaf drop. If your Ficus becomes root bound you will need to repot in a larger size container. Expect increased leaf loss during the adjustment period. " End of article.  Source: http://articles.directorym.com/Ficus_Tree_Care_Tips_Phoenix_AZ-r1139540-Phoenix_AZ.html

Long article I know, but I hope this answers questions for the Tucson Gardener in search of advice and experience for the Ficus. Short answer.  Place this beauty in pots or plants away from the home structure protected from strong afternoon sun. Until next time.


  1. Interesting Read. I am a great fan of Ficus myself. Here's a link to a write up on Ficus as a Bonsai. Hope you will like it. http://mye-musings.blogspot.com/2009/05/figs.html

  2. Cool stuff! Though many Ficus nitida froze back severely in Phx in the 1/2007 freeze, and those were not even record lows! That's a plant best within milder So Cal and Lower Coastal Fla, at least in the lower 48 states.

    But as a houseplant that moves to a sheltered patio like you say, very nice! Picky when moved or even slight changes occur in it's culture, but worth it!

  3. I didn't realize Ficus could do so well in the heat. I might like to try one on my patio. :)


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