Last Updated on October 31, 2021 by Phil
Ficus bonsai can be created from different ficus plant. However, some varieties are better suited to become bonsai trees because of specific features.
This is why the Ficus retusa and Ginseng Ficus rank among the top choices for bonsai enthusiasts. Somewhere down the line, you’ll also see the Bejamina, Religiosa and Microcarpa.
That said, fig trees (ficus) are the most popular kind of indoor species used for bonsai trees. That’s because they are well-suited to indoor conditions. And, they also grow beautiful foliage.
But, make no mistake, without proper pruning, training and wiring, these plants will grow into massive trees especially outdoor when give the right conditions.
Some varieties will easily reach over 50 to 100 feet tall with others growing trunks that are a few hundred to a thousand feet in circumference.
In contrast, most fig bonsai trees get up to 2 or 3 feet.
How does this happen?
How To Turn A Ficus into a Bonsai
One of the most common bonsai-related questions I get from readers is how to make a bonsai tree.
The thing is, a bonsai is actually made from an ordinary tree. But, there are certain features that make some trees more suitable to become bonsais than others.
This includes their structure, temperament, how much light they need and what kind of climate conditions they prefer, just to name a few.
And, since bonsai trees are all about a tree’s leaves and trunk, a lot has to with how they look, how easy they are to prune and how they respond to pruning and manipulation.
They also need to be able to adjust to smaller containers. In most cases, bonsai plants are grown in wide, shallow pots which are designed to limit their growth.
Unlike most houseplant or container plants for that matter, they aren’t moved to bigger pots once their roots are outgrow their living quarters. Instead, their roots are pruned so they can stay in the same containers.
That brings us to 3 components that are use to turn a ficus into a bonsai. These are
Here’s what each one means
Wiring is one of the most important things you need to learn to do to create a bonsai. In most cases, the tree’s trunk has to be amenable to be wired. That’s because it is wiring that allows you to style and create the bonsai tree’s shape.
Wiring is what is sounds like. You’ll be wrapping a wire around the branches of the tree. The goal is to bend and reposition its trunk and branches to achieve the look for the bonsai you want.
So, in theory, no 2 bonsais should look alike since it is up to you how they’ll end up looking.
One of the best analogies I can think of to wiring is braces. Braces help teeth to adjust to fill in large tooth gaps or fix crooked teeth.
Wiring is the same. But, its takes months not years (as is the case with braces) to achieve the new positions.
Once the tree and its branches have set their new position, you remove the wiring.
Training is the process that you go through to achieve the exact look of your bonsai tree. Part of this is wiring. But, there are other aspects involved in keeping a regular sized tree miniature.
This involved a combination of different special techniques (which are often taught in bonsai creation courses) to turn a potentially 10 to 60 foot tree into a small, well-manicured bonsai.
Pruning bonsai trees pretty much means the same thing as pruning regular houseplants, trees and garden plants.
But, the process is different because of how the bonsai will look in the end.
So, it is not all about just cutting long branches to limit its size. Nor is it just about removing unhealthy looking stems and leaves.
With bonsais, there are two kinds of pruning. These are Maintenance Pruning and Structural Pruning.
Bonsai Maintenance Pruning
Even after you’ve wired and trained your bonsai, it will continue to grow.
One example of this are its leaves.
You’ll need to regularly prune the tree so that it keeps its shape. Just imagine a bonsai tree with large leaves (like those of a regular tree).
That will look very strange and disproportional.
In general, bonsai maintenance pruning is a lot more work than regular plant pruning. After all, it is the pruning that will keep the bonsai looking like a bonsai.
For the most part, most of this kind of pruning is done during spring and summer or early fall (March to September). That’s because this is growing season for most trees.
Keep in mind that care for indoor bonsais is different from that of outdoor bonsai trees.
Structural Bonsai Pruning
This sets ups the overall foundation of how your bonsai will look. It is more permanent that maintenance pruning because it is irreversible.
Here, you’ll be deciding which branches are to be removed and which ones you’d like to keep. So, this isn’t just about trimming off the leaves to keep its size.
Instead, this is cutting off large branches that determine the eventual appearance of your tree.
This is different from wiring as wiring doesn’t involve any pruning or trimming.
Instead, it is all about shaping and curving the trunk and branches. So, wiring is more about manipulating the form without cutting anything off. Structural pruning is shaping by cutting off the biggest branches.
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Ficus Bonsai Plant Care
Ficus bonsai can live indoors and outside.
But, be aware that lighting is different in both locations. That’s because indoor spaces receive much less access to natural light. They only go through the windows which limits overall exposure.
As such, while your ficus bonsai likes bright, indirect light indoors, it is better off with bright shade outdoors.
In general, the plant enjoys some direct light hitting its leaves. This actually helps it grow better and look more vibrant.
But, this only applies to gentle morning sun. It cannot tolerate the intensity of direct afternoon sun.
As such, while the south and east locations are great for it, you do want to take extra care in the south during the afternoons. Too much hot afternoon sun will burn its leaves.
On the other hand, your ficus bonsai doesn’t mind low light.
Again, watch out for areas that are too dim or dark. Here, it is more about trial and error since insufficient light in one part of the country is different from another part of the country.
That’s because the southern U.S. is typically warmer. As such, states like Florida, Texas and New Mexico get much hotter sun compare to that in the north.
One of the simplest tests I like to do is to try and read a newspaper or magazine. The font in these publications are the perfect size.
If you can’t read the text (content part) of the newspaper in that area, then there’s too little light for your bonsai.
On the other hand, some people like to keep their ficus bonsais in sun rooms and conservatories. This is great because of the glass walls and ceilings. Here, you want to be careful with hot summer sun and overly cold winters.
Finally, taking your bonsai outdoors during the summer is something it will greatly appreciate. This is especially true it your tree looks a bit weak from the winter or not as vibrant as it should be.
Ficus bonsai like temperatures that are consistently warm. Ideally, keeping them in climates between 65 and 75 degrees produces the best results.
You also want to keep them away form areas that experience sub 60 degree temperatures.
While it can tolerate all the way down to 40 degrees, that’s the absolute minimum. And, by then, it will already experience some issues. As such, once you approach 50 degrees, you want to be very careful since leaves will start dropping.
The plants are hardy to USDA zones 10 and 11. So, you can keep them outdoors all year round if you live in these regions.
Some people believe that bonsai are only to be kept indoors. But, that’s not true.
In fact, many bonsai enthusiasts keep their trees outdoors. The main requirement is that you live in an area where they are hardy to the climate even during winter.
Humidity is another crucial factor for growth. I mention this because ficus like high humidity.
So, the higher the humidity where you keep it, the more vibrant the tree and its leaves will look.
In fact, if you want your ficus bonsai to grow aerial roots, you’ll need to keep it where humidity is almos 100%.
In addition to avoiding cold and fluctuating temperatures, you also want to avoid vents. That’s because it these blow out hot or cold air it will dry the plant and the surrounding air. In doing so, humidity goes down.
On the other hand, increasing humidity is almost always a good thing for ficus bonsai. But, you do want to be careful with watering since the higher the humidity, the less watering the soil will need. Thus, it is easy to inadvertently overwater because of this.
Ficus don’t need a lot of water. Although, it will need to be watered more regularly during the spring and summer.
That’s because the weather gets warmer during this time. Just as importantly, it is actively growing during this time. As such, it will prefer slightly moist soil on a consistent basis.
During winter, when the weather gets cold and it is at rest, cut back on watering so that the soil slightly dries out.
In general, your ficus bonsai will tolerate underwatering much better than overwatering. In fact, it can take some dryness without any problems.
Once you see it getting dry, watering it immediately will help perk it back up in a day or two.
However, the same is not true for overwatering. This can lead to fungal problems and eventually deadly root rot.
One very important thing to keep in mind is that bonsai live in small containers. As such, the soil will dry out much faster than in regular pots.
This means it is a good idea to check the soil on a daily basis.
Once the topsoil feels dry it is time to water. You can likewise use a moisture meter to keep things consistent.
How to Water Your Ficus Bonsai
Deep watering (thorough watering) is ideal. Here, you want to water until the bottom of the pot starts dripping. Then, allow the excess moisture to completely drain into the saucer or place underneath.
Both parts of important.
The former is to make sure the roots are properly hydrated. The latter is to prevent overwatering or allowing the roots to sit in water.
Another good option is to water from below. You can do this by leaving the container in the sink with water. The soil will slowly absorb water from the bottom going up until the root ball is saturated.
It will then stop automatically.
This makes it safer in terms of not overwatering.
source: wikimedia commons
Your ficus bonsai needs well-draining soil.
Regular potting soil is fine as long as it allows excess moisture to drain. Doing so prevents the plant from sitting in water which can lead to root rot.
Always make sure the container you use has a drainage hole at the bottom.
Fertilizer is important in keeping your ficus bonsai healthy. Because potting soil does not contain any nutrients (unless it comes with a starter dose), you’ll need to supply the nutrition yourself.
Use an organic liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. Apply once every 2 to 4 weeks during its growing season. You don’t have to do so in the winter.
When it comes to your ficus bonsai, pruning plays a very big role in keeping the plant looking the way it should. As such, you’ll be pruning it more than you would a normal ficus tree.
In general, for every 5 or 6 new leaves, you want to prune about 3. That’s because ficus are fast growers. This keeps it from becoming too dense where the foliage will overwhelm the entire plant.
Similarly, you want to keep the leaves small. This way, they are proportional to the plant itself. Here, leaf pruning or defoliation is important.
Some growers like to allow their ficus bonsai to grow for 1 to 2 years, resulting in dense foliage. Then, they prune aggressively. Most ficus bonsai can tolerate hard pruning which is one of the reasons they are perfect for this kind of growing.
Wiring is all amount shaping the small and medium sized branches of your ficus. These branches are more flexible. As such, you can use the wire to modify their shape or reposition them to your liking.
When wiring be careful not to tie the plant up too tightly. This can damage or scar them. The goal is to redirect the branches and not to use brute force.
You also do not want to wire right after repotting. Plants, including ficus trees, experience shock right after repotting. As such, it often takes a little time because they start growing or sprouting again.
You do not want to add extra stress during the time by wiring them.
Wiring takes patience as you’ll begin at the base of the tree and work our way up, repeating the process as needed.
It takes about 6 to 8 weeks to reshape branches. After that, you can remove them.
To remove, cut the wires. Don’t unwind them. Doing the latter will break the branches.
If you look at bonsai trees, one very noticeable thing you’ll see is their thick large trunks. And, from looking at regular trees, you know that trunks don’t normally grow this way.
So, what’s going on?
One of the reasons ficus trees are perfect for growing as bonsais is that their trunks, branches and even roots can fuse together. By applying pressure via a technique called grafting, you’re able to create beautiful strong, thick trunks from 2 or more trees fused together.
One example of this is the ginseng ficus which is a graft of the ficus microcarpa and the ficus retusa.
If you want to propagate your bonsai, you can do so via cuttings. You can take them any time of the year if you live indoors.
That said, the best time to propagate is during spring to early summer where the new plant is able to quickly grow.
Transplanting & Repotting
Repotting is part of bonsai care. You’ll need to do this once every 2 years.
But, the process of repotting is very different with your ficus bonsai compared to regular trees in containers. That’s because you don’t want your bonsai to grow bigger. And, getting a bigger pot means encouraging it to get larger.
That said, the best time to repot your bonsai tree is during the spring or early summer.
Once the roots start to show from under the drainage holes, it means it is time to repot.
As mentioned, repotting is different here as you’ll be using the same container. This keeps your bonsai from getting bigger every couple of years.
And, in order to do so, you’ll be pruning its roots. This allows you to return the tree into its existing container. Make sure to refresh the potting soil.
That said, every so often, you may want to let your bonsai grow. If this is the case, you’ll move it to a pot that’s one size larger without having to prune its roots.
Keep your Ficus bonsai away from pets including cats, dogs and horses as they are poisonous for animals when ingested. Similarly, keep the trees away from young children who may get tempted to play with as a precaution.
Pests and Diseases
Another reason fig trees (ficus) are popular with bonsai enthusiasts is that are resistant against pests and diseases.
But, keep in mind that they are not immune. So, you still have to take care of them.
As healthy plant receiving all the living conditions mentioned above makes it less likely to experience any pests or diseases.
However, a weak, stressed or shocked plant will be susceptible to them. Similarly, wintertime, dry conditions and lack of light can also weaken it.
The most common pests that will attack your ficus bonsai are scale. Although, spider mites and mealybugs are also common invaders.
With disease, overwatering or not allowing wet leaves to quickly dry are common causes. You also want to avoid overly dry conditions as this can result is disease.