Ficus Microcarpa Care – Growing Indian Laurel

Ficus Microcarpa

The ficus microcarpa known by many different names due to its resemblance to other species. Among its popular monikers include Chinese banyan, Indian laurel and Malayan banyan just to name a few.

This ficus variety is a large tree that’s native to Southeast Asia. Grown outdoors in the ground, it can easily get to between 50 to 250 feet tall. Thus, making it a huge and dense tree. This is why it’s often used as a shade tree.

As a large tree, the ficus microcarpa is seen in parks and botanical gardens. Fortunately, for home gardeners it is also cultivated as a much smaller indoor plant.

That said, the most popular version of the ficus microcarpa is as a bonsai specimen. As such, we’ll focus more on the indoor and bonsai varieties in this article.

Without question, this plant’s most unique feature is its aerial roots. When given ideal conditions, you’ll see wide, thick, swollen roots (that look more like tree trunks) grow out of the soil. This makes it stand out even among bonsais.

In addition, its oval shaped leaves form a lovely dark green cluster that can get dense if not routinely trimmed. Of all its requirements, pruning is something you’ll need to do on a regular basis.

However, worry not because indoors it only grows to between 16 to 40 inches tall. As a bonsai, its size will be on the lower end of that range. Thus, even if you need to prune regularly, it won’t take a lot of time to get the job done.

Besides pruning, the ficus microcarpa is very easy to care for with it only being more specific with watering. It is likewise a very tolerant plant.

Ficus Microcarpa Plant Care

Ficus Microcarpa Light

In nature, the ficus microcarpa is a large tree native to Southeast Asia. This makes it used to a lot of sunlight since the countries in this region experience tropical climate all year round.

Additionally, in the forest where it is often found, its height makes it among the tallest trees around. As such, it makes up the upper if not top most canopy.

That said, indoor ficus microcarpa and bonsai varieties have been acclimated to bright, indirect light because of how the walls of homes protect them.

As a result, most ficus microcarpa do best with full sun to partial shade. And, if you’re growing it indoors or as a bonsai tree, you want to keep it away from direct sunlight, especially during the hottest times of the day which are around noon to mid afternoon.

However, the one place you do not want to put it in is a shady or dark room. This will keep it from growing properly.

This makes an east-facing window the best choice for your ficus microcarpa bonsai. Here, it will receive a lot of bright morning light which is not intense.

South and west facing windows are likewise good spots because they offer a lot of bright natural light. However, you will want to be monitor and see how it adapts to the mid afternoon sun. Once it begins to show distress, immediately move it farther from the window or use curtains or drapes to filter the sunlight.

 

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Ficus Microcarpa Temperature & Humidity

Since the Ficus Microcarpa is native to tropical areas, it is used to warm, humid environments. When growing it indoors or as a bonsai plant, they do best when the temperature is between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.

Between the two, they’re best grown indoors. Although, giving them some time outside also helps. Thus, you can take them out during summertime when the weather is hot and humid. But, because they’ve been accustomed to indoor conditions, you want to place them somewhere where they can receive bright, indirect light. This makes shaded areas like a patio with a cover a great place to put them.

Additionally, these plants don’t like drafts or gusts of wind. It will cause their leaves to fall off. So, make sure they’re protected from these elements. Similarly, keep them away from heaters and air conditioners which will blow warm or cool drafts.

Once temperatures drop to 60 degrees, it’s time to bring them back in.

Depending on where you live, humidity may or may not be high enough. If you find that you need to increase relative humidity, here are a few ways to do so.

  • Spraying room temperature water around the plant once in while helps increase the moisture in the air around it. Although, this will just be temporary. So, you’ll need to mist a few times a week.
  • Set it on a pebble tray. This is one of my favorite ways because it is “hands off” and free. All you need to do is set the pot on top of pebbles that are sitting on a water bath. Make sure to keep the bottom of the pot above the water so it doesn’t get wet. As the water evaporates, it will add moisture to the air around the plant to increase humidity. All you need to do is fill the basin when the water level gets low, which takes a while.
  • Group it with other plants. Plants transpire. Much like how you and I perspire, moisture evaporates from the plants’ leaves and increases humidity in the air.
  • This is the most efficient way because many modern humidifiers allow you to set a specific target humidity level. It them turns off or on if the air gets too moist or dry. Thus, you can precisely set the humidity and keep it there consistently. However, it is more costly.

ficus microcarpa

source: wikimedia commons

 

Watering Ficus Microcarpa

Watering is by far where you’ll want to be the most careful when it comes to this plant. As such, this section is a bit longer.

When it comes to watering, your ficus microcarpa will tell you if you’re doing it right. That’s because when its conditions are ideal, it will grow aerial roots. This is the most unique thing about this tree. It is also what attracts many people to it. And, your tree will resemble the banyan tree, at least it appearance (not in size). This is why it is also called the “Chinese Banyan Tree”.

That said, the ficus microcarpa enjoys moist and humid environment. Thus, it’s important to give it good, deep watering and wait till the soil slightly dries up before watering again. While it can withstand lack or overwatering for short periods of time, it will begin to show signs of distress soon after that.

In general, this bonsai isn’t drought tolerant. So make sure to make arrangements to water it when you go on vacation. Otherwise, you’ll come back to an unpleasant surprise. Similarly, overwatering can destroy its roots causing them to rot.

A few other notes to consider when watering is that it is sensitive to hard water. So, tap water isn’t a good idea because it contains chemicals and minerals. Instead, you want to use soft water (low in chemicals and minerals), filtered or distilled water for this plant.

Rainwater is the best choice because it is all-natural with no added chemicals. You can likewise let tap water sit at room temperature for 24 hours. This will allow the chemicals to evaporate. Both methods are free, so you don’t need to spend on distilled water or use a filter.

Another thing worth noting is that some people like misting their ficus microcarpa. This is helpful because it keeps the plant hydrated while increasing humidity as well. But, be careful when you do so. That’s because too much mist, especially on the leaves can leave water droplets. If they don’t dry quickly, it can lead to fungal disease.

Last but not least, do change up your watering routine by the season.

 

Watering ficus microcarpa during warm or hot conditions (spring and summer)

This also happens to be the plant’s growing season. As such, your ficus microcarpa will consumer more water during this time.

During this time, you want to always test the soil. If the top 2 inches of the soil (stick your finger down to the lowest knuckle) is dry, it is time to water. If it still feels moist, wait one or two more days before testing again.

The warm weather, its growth spurt, sunlight and the air will mean more frequent watering. But, be very careful not to allow excess water to collect in the roots.

Thus, a pot with holes in the bottom is ideal. And, when you water, water thoroughly until the moisture starts dripping out the bottom. Then, always let the excess water drain out.

 

Watering the ficus microcarpa during cold weather (fall and winter)

When the cold weather arrives, growth will slow down significantly. So, it will require a lot less water. The weather will likewise be cooler, which means a lot less evaporation.

This means infrequent watering. Use the same rule as above by testing the soil before watering. After a while you’ll see a trend. Often, this comes out to around once every two weeks or so.

 

Soil

One of the main differences when growing plants indoors is soil. Basically, you don’t have the benefit of garden soil. While you may use the soil from your garden, it isn’t the best way to go because it could contain pests and disease that you bring into your home.

That said, not being able to use garden soil has its pros and cons.

  • The biggest con is that you lose out on the minerals and organic matter that’s naturally in the soil. Because potting soil isn’t really soil at all, it’s up to the fertilizer to supply the sustenance to your plant.
  • The biggest pro is that you get to decide everything from scratch. In case your garden soil isn’t rich in organic matter. Or, it is mostly composed of sand or clay, it can be difficult to grow plants. With potting soil, you get to decide what substrate/s to use to produce the kind of “soil” you want. And, pick the type of fertilizer and watering method best suited for it. Thus, you get to customize everything for optimum results. But, it takes more work, at least initially.

The good news is, your ficus microcarpa isn’t choosy about soil. In fact, any soil mix will do just fine as long as it drains water well. The one thing it does not want is to sit in water. So, you want to choose a potting mix that doesn’t overly retain moisture.

 

Fertilizing

As with potting soil, your ficus microcarpa isn’t picky with fertilizer, either. All you need is a balanced or all-purpose houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength. Either will make your bonsai very happy. Similarly, liquid, slow release and pellets all work as well. So, choose which you like using most.

The one thing to remember with this plant is that when you should and shouldn’t feed it.

  • During its growing season (spring and summer), feed one a week or every two weeks.
  • During the fall and winter, scale back. If it keeps growing during this time, you can feed it every two to four weeks. But, if growth slows down considerably or stops, halt the fertilizer and start again in the spring.

Also, don’t feed it when it is sick.

 

Pruning Ficus Microcarpa

With bonsai trees and plants, pruning is essential. It is what keeps them in their small, compact form. It is also what makes them look neat and well-groomed. Thus, be ready to put in some work here to keep your ficus microcarpa looking amazing.

Here you have two choices

Regular Pruning

Regular pruning is constant trimming. Once you see 5-8 new leaves sprout, you trim back 2 of them. This will allow it to keep its shape. Make sure to keep rotating the plant so you don’t end up just cutting on one side. Otherwise, your ficus microcarpa will become lopsided in terms of its shape.

You can think of this method as someone trying to maintain a crew cut haircut. That is, you want to maintain it such that it is always short. So, whenever it grows a little, you trim.

The downside to this method is that it requires more work because you need to trim often. But, your plant will always look stunning because it’s always well-maintained.

Seasonal Pruning

In this method you wait until springtime. Spring is the best time to prune because the weather and season is rife for growth. Thus, when you cut, the tree will be ready to produce new, fresh growth.

Because you’re pruning only once or twice a year, depending on how dense you want to keep your plant, you’ll be allowing the plant’s foliage to grow out more than in the previous method.

To return to the haircut analogy, this is like allowing your hair to grow long before cutting it again.

Since there will be more foliage, you’ll be doing infrequent but heavier trimming. This often comes out to having to trim back the branches by about 33% to even 50% at a time.

The upside here is that it is low maintenance. You only need to do it once or twice a year.

The downside is that your plant can look unruly and “out of shape” as it gets bigger. Also, you’ll be making larger wounds since you’ll be cutting bigger branches.

 

Ficus Microcarpa Transplanting & Repotting

In general, the ficus microcarpa doesn’t like being moved. So, when you find a good spot that fulfills all its requirements, it is best to leave it there.

That said, even 1 to 3 years, it will need to be repotted. Once it outgrows its current container, it’s a good idea to move it to a bigger one. Not doing so will stunt your plants growth. Similarly, the roots will get more tangles as they try to fit in a tight space, becoming rootbound. Additionally, moving them to a bigger pot allows you to give it fresh potting soil.

When repotting, make sure to inspect the roots. This is the perfect time to monitor its growth as well as trim or fix any problems.

Note: As mentioned, the plant doesn’t like being moved or placed in a new environment, as do most figs. Thus, don’t be surprised to see some leaves drop due to the changes in light, weather, watering, etc. But, within 2 weeks or so, it should be acclimated already and begin to grow new foliage again.

 

Pests

The ficus microcarpa is fairly resilient against pests. Thus, they become less of a problem especially when your plant is healthy and in tip top condition. However, lack of sunlight, over or underwatering and wrong temperature or humidity can make it vulnerable.

These poor conditions usually happen during the winter when light becomes scarce and the climate changes the weather and makes the air dry. In this weakened state, your ficus microcarpa may experience pests. The most common being spider mites and scale. Additionally, its leaves can also turn yellow or drop when there’s to much wind or water.

Thus, you want to move it somewhere it is able to get the right conditions when wintertime comes.

 

Diseases

As for diseases, here is a quick troubleshooting guide to see what might be hurting your bonsai:

  • Ficus microcarpa leaves brittle and falling off – not enough watering or too much wind in that spot.
  • Ficus microcarpa leaves turning yellow and falling off – too much watering and/or poor drainage. Let soil dry before watering again, check drainage, and add sand or cactus soil mix to the potting soil.

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