Ficus benjamina: how to grow & propagate weeping fig trees
Many people know the Benjamin fig tree (Ficus benjamina) as a common office plant, because it is very low-maintenance and has air-purifying effects. Find out here how to incorporate this plant into your home.
Ficus benjamina has many common names including seeping fig, Benjamin fig, Java fig, tropical laurel and simply ficus, among others. It forms uniquely eye-catching, glossy foliage and, depending on the variety, some Ficus benjamina leaves even have delicate patterning. Ficus is closely related to the fig tree (Ficus carica), from which we get the delicious fruit.
Note: Another nickname of Ficus benjamina is “Bejamini”. People often mix this with the plant’s Latin name and call the plant Ficus bejamini, though this is, strictly speaking, incorrect.
Ficus benjamina: origin and characteristics
The weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) is a woody evergreen plant in the fig or mulberry family (Moraceae). It can grow as a tree or shrub and forms slightly droopy, overhanging branches, hence the nickname weeping fig. The weeping fig tree grows naturally in Asia and northern Australia but has long since been a popular houseplant here in Europe. In tropical places, ficus is also used outdoors as an ornamental shrub, but it is unfortunately an invasive plant there. The plant’s more prominent feature is its shiny green foliage, which can be admired all year round. Ficus leaves are large, elongated-ovate and short-stalked. At first, young ficus leaves are light green and turn darker as they mature. The smooth, light grey bark of the weeping fig subtly complements the plant’s dark leaves. Different varieties of the tree come in a wide range of colours and patterns.
Weeping fig trees naturally grow up to 18 meters high in the wild and also develop numerous aerial roots as they grow. As a houseplant, however, they reach a maximum height of about three meters and some smaller weeping fig varieties can be cultivated as bonsais.
In our part of the world, weeping figs very rarely flower, and if they do, it will be between August and September. However, these ficus flowers are very inconspicuous and appear only under ideal conditions. After flowering, these blossoms will turn into fruit. Ficus benjamina fruits do not look like normal figs and are typically spherical and orange in appearance.
Note: The milky sap of the weeping fig contains allergens that are similar in structure to latex allergens. Those who have a latex allergy should be extra cautious, as this can often trigger a cross sensitivity with the weeping fig. Allergens can even come to the surface of the leaves and be released into the air. In return, however, the tree purifies the air slightly by filtering airborne pollutants such as formaldehyde.
How long do ficus plants live? It’s hard to say how old a weeping fig will get. Of course, longevity depends on the right care and conditions. In the tropics, there are plants that are several hundred years old, and even as houseplants, a proud age of 70 years is not uncommon for a well-cared for ficus.
The most beautiful Ficus benjamini varieties
Ficus come in a wide range of varieties: some larger, some smaller. Each variety can have entirely green foliage or a mix of colours such as yellow, green, and white. Varieties with bright leaves usually require more light, while entirely green plants can also grow in partial shade.
- Ficus benjamina ‘Natasja’: This ficus remains rather small, grows bushy and reaches a height of about 80cm. The leaves are a beautiful, vivid green.
- Ficus benjamina ‘Barok’: The leaves of this variety are rolled up, a bit like curly hair. This weeping fig tree grows compactly.
- Ficus benjamina ‘Golden King’: The foliage of this variety is golden yellow-green or creamy white variegated. It grows taller than 1m, although the growth can be limited by the size of the pot.
- Ficus benjamina ‘Twilight’: This variety has remarkable light green foliage with white edges. It can also grow larger and should be placed in a particularly bright place, so that the tree develops healthy bright patterned foliage.
Planting ficus trees: where, when and how
To keep your weeping fig tree happy and healthy, you need to give it the right environment. Ficus benjamina feels most comfortable at warm temperatures above 20°C, and you should avoid letting the conditions drop below 16°C. High humidity is also good for the weeping fig, which can be achieved by regularly spraying the leaves with water. A bright bathroom is a good place, but the tree is also a popular addition to bedrooms. There, the main thing is to ensure high humidity for the tropical plant. A sheltered spot is also advisable because the Benjamin tree does not like drafts.
And what about light? Ficus benjamina only tolerates direct sunlight in the morning or evening hours, otherwise the plant needs bright conditions with indirect light. Varieties with green leaves generally need less light than those with variegated leaves. Once you have found the ideal spot for your weeping fig, leave the plant there. Moving locations often causes stress and the plant sheds its leaves.
Ficus benjamina plants need very permeable soil. A high-quality, well-draining potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost, can be made even more permeable by making a mixture of two parts compost, one part sand. To plant your ficus, first place a drainage layer of coarse material such as pebbles in the bottom of the pot. Then, add a layer of soil, plant the fig tree on top and fill in all the gaps with soil. Press down lightly and water well.
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Tip: In summer, you can put your Benjamin fig tree outside when there’s no chance of the temperature dropping below 16°C. Make sure the plant is also in a spot with plenty of light.
Overwintering Ficus benjamina
Since the exotic weeping fig is not winter-hardy, it is essential to bring it back indoors when temperatures start to drop. To overwinter the ficus, place it in a bright spot at 16 to 20°C and water only occasionally, when the soil feels dry. There is no need to fertilise at all during the winter period. Once a week, spray the foliage with a little water. Because of the dry air in a heated building, pests such as spider mites and scale insects are more common on the weeping fig in winter. So, make sure to check the plants regularly for an infestation.
Propagating Ficus benjamina
To get more of these easy-care houseplants, you can propagate the weeping fig. Young, mainly non-woody shoots are best suited for this. In spring, take cuttings about 15 centimetres long from the shoot tips with a sharp knife and remove the lower leaves except for two or three at the tip. Then place the cuttings in a container with a suitable soil, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seeding Compost. It is perfect for growing young plants, as its lower nutrient content promotes healthy root development. At the same time, our soil is entirely peat-free so it is an environmentally friendly option. Moisten the soil and put a plastic bag over the pot and cutting to increase the humidity. Place this in a bright place out of direct sun at temperatures around 25°C. When new leaves form, the propagation has been successful and the small weeping figs are ready for repotting.
Tip: For rooting, you can also place the weeping fig cuttings in a glass of water. After planting in soil, however, take extra care to keep the humidity high, as roots from the water are usually weaker formed and not yet as strong.
Weeping figs can also be grown from seed. However, you will need to buy these seeds because ficus houseplants rarely produce fruit. To sow Ficus benjamina, spread the seeds on a suitable growing medium and cover them only very lightly with soil. Put a plastic bag over the pot and keep the delicate seedlings warm at 21 to 26°C. Germination occurs after 10 to 42 days.
Are Ficus benjamina trees poisonous?
As is typical for the genus Ficus, weeping fig trees are also slightly poisonous. This is due to the milky sap that comes out when the plant is injured. If you have a latex allergy, you should be especially careful when handling a weeping fig. Be sure to wear gloves when pruning or repotting. Also, be careful that children and pets do not develop an interest in the leaves. For animals, eating large amounts of the plant can cause poisoning symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.
After propagating and planting, it is now a matter of looking after your weeping fig tree. Learn all about this in our in-depth article on Ficus benjamina care.