Ficus Retusa Bonsai & Regular Tree Plant Care

Ficus Retusa

The Ficus retusa is often called the Ginseng Ficus or even the Ficus microcarpa. But, it is in fact, different from both of those plants.

That said, they are very similar in many ways, especially in care and behavior. However, their looks vary significantly. And, since many houseplant and garden plant owners decide based on a plant or tree’s appearance, each one has its place in and around the home.

The Ficus retusa is a very popular tree. But, it is probably best known for being grown as a bonsai.

In general, bonsai tree enthusiasts like using figs (ficus) because they work very well as bonsai. Among the reasons are:

  • They don’t mind low light which makes them perfect for indoors.
  • Their beautiful leaves can become dense and creates nice form.
  • They’re very easy to care for.
  • Some will grow aerial roots.
  • Quite resistant to pests and diseases.

In addition to being a bonsai, the Ficus retusa can likewise be grown indoors as a houseplant, in containers or in your garden.

And, depending on where you keep it, you can somewhat control its size as well.

As small as bonsai trees are (2 to 3 feet tall), it is good to note that the actual Ficus retusa in the wild can actually get to 33 feet or so tall with a similar spread.

That makes it a huge, impressive tree.

While it won’t get as big in your backyard, it will nevertheless still big large enough to give you a nice shade to enjoy under.

Indoors, it is much smaller, which makes it more manageable in a container.

The crowing glory of the Ficus retusa is no doubt is glossy 3 to 4 inch leaves that are arranged in a spiral. They are very lovely to look at. And, with proper pruning will grow in density.

Ficus Retusa vs Ficus Microcarpa

Now that you have a little introduction to the plant it is time to understand why people often refer to the Ficus retusa as the Ficus Microcarpa.

It is important to know how to distinguish the two because I’ve see quite a few plants being mislabeled as Ficus Microcarpa when they are Ficus retusa and vice versa.

The easiest way to tell the difference is to check their leaves.

Ficus retusa have longer, narrower foliage compared to Ficus microcarpa. They usually measure between 4 to 7 inches long as opposed to the smaller 4 inch leaves of the microcarpa.

That said, it becomes harder to distinguish when they’re grown as bonsai because of their size.

 

Ficus Retusa vs. Ginseng Ficus

Another ficus that the retusa is often confused with is the Ginseng Ficus or Ficus Ginseng.

The easiest way to explain this is that the Ginseng Ficus comes from grafting the Ficus microcarpa with the Ficus retusa. So, in many cases, you’ll see the Ficus ginseng labeled as a retusa.

In plants, grafting simply means joining plants (usually 2 but can be more) so that grow as one plant. By doing this the upper part of one of the plants grows on the root system of the other plant from which your produce a new plant.

 

Ficus Retusa Plant Care

Light

The Ficus retusa likes a lot of light. But, it doesn’t not appreciate direct light. So, it is best to give it filtered, indirect or dappled light.

Thanks to its dark green leaves, it can likewise tolerate low light, which is one of the reasons it does well indoors where many bonsai are grown.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the plant likes its leaves cleaned regularly. Use a damp towel and gently wipe off any dust and debris. This will help it absorb more light.

 

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Ficus Retusa Temperature

In addition to plenty of bright light, your Ficus retusa also enjoys warm weather. Since the plant hails from Southeast Asia, it likes tropical conditions.

While it can tolerate hot weather, it prefers moderate to warm conditions as opposed to sizzling summer heat. Thus, you want to avoid temperatures over 90 degrees.

Ideally, keep the plant in climates between 60 and 75 degrees. Like humans, this is its sweet spot, which is another reason why it does well indoors.

The one thing you want to keep it away from is the cold.

Your Ficus retusa is not frost tolerant. And, it will not be able to stay in freezing temperatures for long without sustaining damage and eventually dying.

So, you want to keep it away from places where temperature can drop under 50 degrees.

Additionally, it doesn’t like cold drafts and breezes. And, it will experience show if the temperatures suddenly drop. Needless to say, it does not like fluctuations.

One thing to keep in mind is that it appreciates outdoor sunlight, provided that it is kept away from direct sun. As such, once any risk of frost is over and the temperature has gone up around springtime, it is a good idea to allow it some outdoor time.

It will do well there during the spring and summer.

 

Humidity

Like most tropical plants, your Ficus retusa likes humid conditions. Ideally, keep humidity levels high.

But, it will be able to tolerate most household conditions provided that it doesn’t get overly dry.

If you live in areas where the summer can get extremely hot or have snowy winters, it is a good idea to check humidity during this time.

Very hot conditions tend to cause moisture to evaporate quickly. As such, leaving things dry.

In contrast, winter dries the air considerably.

If you notice that humidity drops under 40% often or for long periods of time throughout the year, it is a good idea to employ one of these humidity-increasing strategies:

  • Keeping it in the bathroom where humidity is often highest in the home.
  • Misting regularly without overly wetting its foliage.
  • Grouping with other plants.
  • Placing it over stones in a water tray.
  • Using a humidifier.

Always remember that change in one condition can affect the others.

For example, when the plant gets a lot of light and the condition is warm, it will need higher humidity and watering.

ficus retusa

source: wikimedia commons

 

Ficus Retusa Watering

Your Ficus retusa does not need a lot of water. In fact, it can tolerate some dryness.

As such, don’t worry if you miss a watering session or two here and there. But, don’t make it a regular habit.

It is not a good idea to let the plant completely dry out, especially for extended periods.

That said, the most important thing to remember when it comes to watering this plant is not to overwater it.

Your Ficus retusa is susceptible to root rot if you let its roots sit inn water for long periods of time.

So, you’re better off watering it thoroughly and infrequently as opposed to lightly and regularly.

Similarly, it will need varying amounts of water depending on the time of year.

During the warmer months when the plant is actively growing and the temperature is higher, it will need more water.

In the winter, you’ll want to allow soil to slightly dry before watering.

The best way to gauge when it is time to water is to feel the soil. If you stick your finger about 1 to 2 inches into the soil, it should feel dry before watering.

If it even a little moist or some dirt or mud sticks to your finger when you take it out of the soil, it means you should wait a few more days before watering.

Too much water will cause your Ficus retusa to lose its leaves. And, if this consistently happens, it can cause root disease or damage as the water will clog up all the small air pockets preventing oxygen to get through.

Finally, keep in mind that if humidity is high, there is good amount of moisture in the air. As such, you don’t need to water as much.

This can be a sneaky cause of overwatering since you may not be overwatering but the high humidity inadvertently causes you to end up doing so.

 

Soil

Since your Ficus retusa doesn’t like sitting is water, the number one thing to consider when it comes to soil is it should be well-draining.

Keep in mind that well-draining soil does not mean that it will just drain out all the moisture once you water the plant. Instead, will it retain enough to keep the plant hydrated while allowing the excess liquid to escape easily.

To this facilitate this, make sure that the container you keep it in has a drainage hole. This will allow the excess water to drip out into the saucer underneath.

Thus, you can use regular potting soil, then add perlite, pumice or vermiculite to improve drainage while helping it stay loose and well-areated.

In addition to good drainage, your Ficus retusa will grow best in fertile soil that is slightly acidic. As such, it is a good idea to use soil that’s high in organic matter. Or, use compost to improve its quality.

Soil with pH between 6.0 and 6.5 is best. You want to avoid azalea or rose potting soil because they are lower in pH making them a bit too acidic for ficus.

 

Ficus Retusa Fertilizing

In general, your Ficus retusa does not need a lot of fertilizer. In fact, it may not need any at all.

A lot will depend on the kind of soil you have.

If you keep the plant outdoors in the garden, you’ll only need to feed it if your have poor soil. If your garden soil is loamy, rich in organic matter or has been well-amended with compost, you likely won’t need to add any fertilizer.

If the plant lives in a container, you’ll likely be using potting mix. Since potting mix is often soil-less, it is important to check whether the soil comes with any fertilizer.

Often when you buy the plant from a nursery, it will come with some kind of fertilizer. Thus, you want to know what kind and for how long that dosage will last.

Most of the time, it is a slow-release fertilizer that can last up to 6 months. If this is the case, they you won’t need to feed the plant for the next half year. Then start supplementing once the dose is done.

Other times, the dose only lasts for a few weeks to about a month and a half or so. If this is the case, you’ll need to supplement sooner.

Like water, you want to stay on the conservative side when it comes to feeding.

Similarly, it will need more sustenance when it is actively growing. In this case, you only need to feed your Ficus retusa during the spring and summer.

Once fall comes around and throughout winter, you don’t need to feed it.

To do so, you can use a balanced liquid fertilizer (10-10-10) once a month. Make sure to dilute it to half the recommended strength so as not to overfertilize it. Too much plant food will cause salt buildup in the soil which will burn the plant’s root and leaves over time.

You can likewise use a slow release fertilizer. in this case, you’ll only need to feed it twice. Once during spring and once during summer.

Finally, if your growing it as a bonsai, slow growth is important. So while fertilizer is still needed, be careful not to over do it since the plant will need much less since it is much smaller than its regular size. And, it doesn’t have a lot of soil either.

 

Pruning

Pruning your Ficus retusa will vary very significantly depending on whether you’re growing it as a regular tree (be it indoors or outside) or as a bonsai.

With the former, very little pruning is needed. And most of it will be for keeping the plant from growing too big or spreading out too wide. This is especially the case for indoor plants.

That said, it is important to remove any dead or unhealthy leaves.

As a bonsai, your Ficus retusa will be only about 1.5 to about 3 feet tall. And, a lot of pruning is needed to keep its size small. This includes the initial pruning, structural pruning and maintenance pruning.

Here, you want to trim off any new shoots that come out. The goal of which is to preserve your desired shape while limited size and growth.

The best time to prune is during the spring. And, the one of the reasons why the plant does so well as a bonsai tree is it can handle heavy pruning.

 

Propagation

The easiest way to propagate your Ficus retusa is via stem cutting or leaf cutting.

Both implement similar methods. But, use different parts of the plant.

How to Propagate Ficus Retusa from Stem Cuttings

  • To propagate from stem cutting, cut a 6 inch stem from the plant. Choose a healthy stem with at least a few leaves.
  • You can likewise take a longer branch and make the cuttings from different segments of that branch, provided that you have at least 2 or 3 leaves per cutting.
  • Insert the cuttings into soil. I like to use 6×6 inch plastic containers for this. Place one cutting (with leaves facing up) into each container.
  • You can likewise dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone before planting them into the soi.
  • If you’re only propagating one or two, you can cover each one with a plastic bag.
  • But, you’re propagating more, I find it more efficient to get a big plastic bag and placing all the containers in it and tying it.
  • Keep the plastic bag or containers under bright, indirect sunlight.
  • In about 3 or so weeks, they will start rooting. You can pull them out of the container to check. The bottom of the root ball should have white roots growing.

How to Propagate Ficus Retusa from Leaf Cutting

  • Here, you’ll cut off its leaves. You’ll need to cut off anywhere from 10 to 12 leaves. You can likewise do more if you want.
  • Use a sterile pair of scissors or pruning shears and cut the leaves near the stem.
  • Next, you have a choice. You can root them in water or in soil. Soil takes longer.
  • If you decide to go with water, get a small shot glass or one of those glass soy sauce containers that looks like a half moon. You want the container to go up about 2 or 3 inches tall so the leaves have something to lay against.
  • Add water into the container and lay the leaves around the sides one by one. As you go around, you’ll overlap them over one another. That’s ok.
  • If you prefer to root them in soil,, get a wide, shallow container and fill it with well-draining potting mix. Moisten the soil a bit.
  • Insert the leaves vertically so that the sharper tip faces up. You’ll bury part of the leaves into the soil, about a fifth or a quarter of the way down.
  • Insert all the leaves this way so that you form concentric circles of leaves with a little space between them.
  • After about 3 weeks, you’ll see the leaves start rooting. Some will have longer roots. Others won’t root at all. This is why you used many leaves.
  • If you do them side by side, you’ll also notice that the roots from the soil are much smaller than the roots grown in water.

 

Ficus Retusa Transplanting & Repotting

Once again, repotting will vary depending on how your grow your Ficus retusa.

In the Garden

In the garden, you won’t need to do so because its roots will be able to keep extending down into the ground.

In Pots and Containers

In a container, you’ll likely need to repot every 2 or 3 years. Although, a lot will depend on how quickly it grows. Since the plant likes being slightly pot bound, you can keep it there for a long time.

But, once you see roots trying to squeeze their way out of the drainage hole at the bottom, it means its it time to repot the plant.

Repotting is fairly straightforward. But, you want to be careful to reduce the shock that’s caused to the plant when it is moved.

Ideally, repot in the spring or early summer. This lets your Ficus retusa quickly recover from the shock since its it actively growing.

When choosing containers, go up 2 inches wider in diameter. You also want to make sure that the new container comes with a drainage hole. And, have some fresh, well-draining potting soil on hand as well to replace the spent one.

As a Bonsai

When grown as a bonsai, you’ll need to repot every 2 years. Again spring is the best time to do so.

But, unlike in containers where you can wait, this is more of a rule than a guideline. That’s because bonsais live in wider, shallower containers.

And, the goal here is not to move it to a larger container which will encourage it to grow bigger. Instead, it is to prune to roots so you can keep the plant in the same container.

Your main sign here is when its roots have filled to pot. The easiest way to do so is to check its root system every year. Once its is about to outgrow its container, you’ll want to move it when spring arrives.

In most cases, repotting a bonsai requires more work that your normal ficus tree. That’s because you’ll want to rake the existing soil away, then prune its roots to help keep the plant small.

But, don’t prune more than 25% of the entire root mass.

Once again, you’ll want to replace the soil with fresh one.

Finally, since the plant’s root system is now smaller, you can return it back into its existing pot.

As such, repotting your bonsai has a very different meaning to repotting a regular ficus tree.

 

Toxicity

Unfortunately, the Ficus retusa is toxic to pets. As such, you don’t want to let your dogs or cats chew on or ingest its leaves. This will cause stomach and gastrointestinal issues including irritation and distress. In all likelihood they will end up throwing up just to feel better.

And, while the plant is considered non-toxic to humans, you still want to keep it away from the curious hands and mouths of young children.

 

Pests

In addition to being easy to care for and low maintenance, the Ficus retusa is also resistant to pests and diseases. But, in order for its to maintain its resilience, it needs to be healthy.

That means the better you’re able to give it its preferred living conditions, the more it will be able to stay away from these problems.

On the other hand, the more stress, shock and sickly it gets, the more prone it will be to them.

That said, no plant is ever immune to pests.

And, the most common invaders for this ficus are mealybugs, scale and spider mites. In all likelihood you may never have to deal with them.

Nevertheless, regular inspection will allow you to spot them early if they do occur. Keeping the plant indoors makes them more susceptible as well compared to outside.

 

Diseases

In terms of diseases, it is root rot, leaf spot and other fungal problems that can happen. All are moisture related. And, because it likes high humidity, it is important to keep water in check.

Overwatering is often the biggest culprit for root diseases.

For leaves, it is getting them wet and not drying quickly. As such, being mindful of watering and how you water is essential. Good air circulation and sufficient natural light is likewise important to help moisture dry.

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