The Ginseng Ficus (Ficus ‘ginseng’) is graft of the Ficus microcarpa. And, as a result you get the pot belly trunk that makes it popular among bonsai enthusiasts.
This is also why the plant is called the pot belly fig among other common names.
Because of its looks, the Ginseng Ficus is a popular indoor plant and one of the most common fig varieties used to make bonsai trees.
Because the Ficus microcarpa is native to South and East Asia, the resulting Ginseng Ficus likewise prefers tropical conditions.
Similarly, left to grow, it will attain the size similar to that of a huge Ficus microcarpa and the Ficus retusa which is often the plant that’s grafted to the microcarpa.
But, as a bonsai, growers limit is size and form to about 2 to 3 feet tall.
The plant comes with a thick, bulbous trunk and its have dark green, oval-shaped leaves.
It is a popular choice for growing bonsais because it can tolerate low light indoors and requires very little care to stay healthy. As such, you can focus on pruning and shaping it to the way you want it to look.
The Ginseng Ficus is NOT an Actual Ginseng
While its name suggests it, do not confuse this ficus tree with panax ginseng which is the elixir that you often see sold at high prices in Asia health shops.
These are two different plants. And the ginseng ficus doesn’t contain any of the medicinal health benefits touted by panax ginseng.
More importantly the milky sap of the Ginseng Ficus is toxic. It will cause irritation and gastrointestinal issues.
Ginseng Ficus Plant Care
Ginseng Ficus Light
Because the ginseng ficus is a result of grafting the F. retusa and F. microcarpa, its preferences and needs are similar to both those plants.
When it comes to light, the plant thrives when it receives lots of bright light. But, this needs to be indirect light. Avoid direct light as extended exposure will cause its leaves to burn.
Ideally, you want to give it at least 4 to 6 hours of natural light daily.
But, you can likewise supplement with artificial lighting, especially if you keep it near a north facing window.
And eastern exposure is ideal since it will be happy with the few hours of gentle direct sunlight it gets from the morning sun.
However, keep it away from the sun’s direct rays in the west and south where the afternoon sun dominates. This will be too intense for the plant which will eventually scorch and bleach its leaves.
So, if you decide to place it in these locations, keep it a few feet from the window so the sun never touches its leaves.
To make sure, check the plant at different times of the day. It should not cast a shadow at any point. If it does at any moment during the day, that means it is receiving direct sunlight during that time.
Outdoors, it will be happiest in a bright, shaded location. This makes a patio or somewhere with a canopy or the shadow of your home covering it a good spot.
Once you find a good spot for it, leave it there.
Your Ginseng Ficus does not like being moved. This includes repositioning as well as repotting. So don’t repot unless absolutely necessary. But I’ll go more into detail about that in the Repotting Section below.
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Ficus Ginseng are native to warm, tropical regions. As such, it is best to give it similar climate in order to let it grow its best.
Fortunately, your home’s temperature is perfect for it. So, there’s no adjustment needed.
If at any point you’re not sure whether a spot is good or not for it temperature-wise, just ask yourself how you feel there. If you feel comfortable in that area, it will be too.
This is why most houseplants are tropical plants, because they like similar conditions to what humans do.
In terms of specifics, keeping the temperature between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
While your Ficus Ginseng can tolerate warmer weather, it does not like overly hot conditions. As such, you’ll wan to check how hot it gets in your area during the peak of summer.
Anything over 90 or 95 degrees can affect its growth. Although, it won’t cause problems, you may notice slower growth and a less vibrant plant once it reaches this level.
That said, it is not able to tolerate cold conditions.
This means keep it away from temperatures that are below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Both cold and warm extremes are not good because it will freeze in the cold and dry out in overly hot conditions.
Outdoors, it is hardy to USDA zones 9 to 11. So, you can keep it outside all year long if you live in these areas.
Ginseng Ficus Humidity
In addition to warm weather, it also likes high humidity. Although, it doesn’t have a problem with regular household humidity.
This means as long as you keep humidity above 40% it will do well. But, if you want to get the best from it, keeping relative humidity at least 70% will produce better results.
Bonsai growers love unique looking plants.
As such, if you want your Ginseng Ficus to grow aerial roots, high humidity is a must.
To produce these results, you’ll need to push regular household humidity up a few notches. You can do so by:
- Using a humidifier.
- Keeping the plant in the bathroom provided that there is enough bright, indirect light there.
- Placing a pebble tray with water under the plant.
- Grouping it with other plants.
- Misting it regularly.
source: wikimedia commons
Watering Ginseng Ficus
Ginseng Ficus does not need a lot of water. To a degree, it is drought tolerant. But, not by a lot.
So, you have a bit of leeway in underwatering it.
The one thing you don’t want to do is overwatering it. This can mean a few things.
- Watering too much each time
- Watering too often or on intervals close to each other that the soil hasn’t had a chance to dry in between.
- Using soil that retains too much moisture. So, even if you don’t overwater, it ends up that way.
- No drainage hole to let excess water escape.
- The plant’s roots end up sitting in water or a puddle of water for one reason or another.
- Watering the same way you do in winter as you normally do in summer
- Having an overly large pot such that the soil covers majority of the volume inside the container. So, when you water, there’s so much water relative to the roots. And, it takes so much longer for the moisture to dry up. As a result, the plant’s roots end up sitting in lots of water for extended periods.
Notice that overwatering doesn’t just mean dousing it with too much water. Instead, it is all about how much and how long the roots sit in water.
This is why the best way to avoid overwatering is to go by feel. That is, sticking your finger down about 2 inches into the soil.
If that depth feels dry, water. If not, or the soil sticks to your finger, wait a few more days.
Essentially soil should feel like dry sand or ground coffee particles that go through you fingers. When the texture becomes like that at 2 inches deep, the soil is dry. And, it is time to water.
And, don’t worry about being overly precise either.
As long as you water between when the soil is dry between 2 inches deep up to about a third of the top soil, you’ll be fine.
However, don’t let the soil (root ball) completely dry out.
With this method, it won’t matter if its summer or winter. Your sense of touch will feel the dryness. And in doing so, the interval between waterings will automatically shorten during the summer and lengthen during the wintertime.
Because your Ficus Ginseng is sensitive to overwatering, the most important thing to consider when it comes to soil is it must be well-draining.
This means your garden soil or potting mix (for containers) should retain just enough moisture to allow the plant to stay hydrated and absorb minerals.
All the while being able to drain excess moisture so the plant’s roots don’t end up sitting in water.
This also means avoiding heavy soils like clay which can happen if you plant it in your garden. If you happen to have this kind of soil you have a few options. The easiest f which is to amend the soil with compost to improve drainage.
Otherwise, heavy soils tend to get wetarlogged, especially after heavy rainfall. This will be a problem as it can result in root rot later on.
On the other hand, you also want to avoid sandy soils as they will cause the plant to dry out. These soils are overly light. As such, they drain water too quickly so the plant gets dehydrated after a while.
Indoors, you have more control over potting mix since you decide what you use. The same isn’t true with garden soil since you inherit the plot of land that comes with the home you buy.
So, when it comes to potting soil, you want to get loose, airy, well-draining soil.
To do so, you can use regular potting mix combines with pumice, perlite or sand.
Your Ginseng Ficus is not a heavy feeder. As such, you want to avoid overfertilizing it.
Like water, giving your plant too much food will harm it more than it will help it.
That’s because fertilizer leaves salt residue that eventually builds up in the soil. Over time, this will cause your Ginseng Ficus’ roots and leaves to experience fertilizer burn.
This is why many growers don’t use fertilizer for their ficus plants at all. Instead, they either go with loamy soil (for gardens) or compost (for containers and gardens)
If you use soil that’s rich in organic matter or apply compost the right way, you won’t need to fertilize your plant.
Otherwise, it will need some supplementation.
This is the case for bonsai, container or if planted in the garden.
With fertilizer, you only want to apply it during the spring and summer. Once a month is enough.
You can use a balanced (10-10-10) liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. Never fertilize dry soil. Instead, always water when you feed your plant.
You don’t need to feed it during the fall and winter.
Ginseng Ficus Pruning
Ginseng Ficus is a fast growing tree. As such, you’ll need to prune it every now and them to maintain its size and shape. This is especially true if you’re growing it indoors in container.
Outdoors, pruning also helps. But, size is less of a concern.
Pruning is essential to the health of your plant as you trim away any dead or unhealthy parts. It also allows new growth to emerge. Similarly, regular pruning encourage branching out. This will let the plant look fuller and busier.
If you’re growing your Ginseng Ficus as bonsai, pruning will be one of the most important tasks since it will help keep the plant looking small, neat and trim.
Here, you get to decide the shape and form. So, a lot of the trimming will be up to you. Regular trimming also helps it become denser and better looking.
As a general rule, you want to remove about half of the new leaves that form. So, you can take leaves off for even new 6 ones that grow.
Similarly, you can trim 5 leaves for every 10 new foliage.
Ginseng Ficus Propagation
Ginseng Ficus can be easily propagated via stem cuttings.
Here’s how to do it.
- Depending on whether you want to propagate one or more new plants, you’ll either take one cutting or a while branch.
- If you take a branch, you can cut it into sections with each section making up one cutting. When doing so, make sure each cutting is at least 4 to 6 inches long with at least 2 or 3 leaves attached to it.
- Once you have the cuttings ready, dip the end into rooting hormone.
- Then, plant it into a small container (6×6 inches) with fresh potting soil. I like to use the small plastic containers.
- Cover the plant with a plastic bag to increase humidity.
- If you’re growing multiple cuttings, place them all in a large plastic bag and tie the bag up.
- Keep the plant/s in bright, indirect light.
- In about 3 or so weeks, open the plant up. If you remove it from the plastic container, you should see small white roots growing. This is a sign that it is developing roots.
Ginseng Ficus Transplanting & Repotting
Ginseng Ficus does not need to be repotted often. And, it does not like being moved.
So, you only want to move it when necessary.
This comes out to about once every 2 or 3 years, depending on how fast it grows.
Spring is the best time to repot. Although, you can likewise do so in the fall.
How you repot your Ginseng Ficus will depend on whether is it grown as a bonsai or not.
Repotting as a Houseplant
All you need is a pot that’s slightly larger, ideally 2 inches wider in diameter, nothing more.
You’ll also need fresh, well-draining potting soil.
- Carefully take the plant out of the container
- Brush off excess soil and spread the roots out. Also, check for any damaged or rotting roots.
- Add fresh potting mix to the new container going up about a third of the way.
- Place the root ball into the new pot and backfill the remainder of the free space with soil
- Water the soil
- Then return it to its original spot
Repotting as a Bonsai
Repotting a bonsai is very different. Although there are some similarities.
Here, you will need fresh potting soil as well. But, you won’t need a new container.
Since the ultimate goal is to keep the plant small, you’ll be using the same pot.
To make the plant fit, you’ll be pruning its roots instead. While you’re at it, do prune the branches as well to keep the plant trim and compact.
Keep your Ficus Ginseng plants away from kids, dogs and cats. The are toxic to animals especially when consumed.
Your Ginseng Ficus can experience pests and disease.
The most common pests include spider mites, scale and mealybugs. These are all problematic because they cause long-term damage to your plant.
If you’re growing a bonsai, the effects will be magnified because the plant is much smaller. So, it takes less damage to cause it to deteriorate.
In contrast, larger plants take longer or larger infestations to sustain major damage.
Either way, you never want to let pests go anywhere near where they can affect the health of your plant.
This is why regular inspection is critical.
Once you see any pest or damage they’ve caused, you need to take action immediately.
Spraying with insecticidal soap or neem oil will do the job. But, it will take a few weeks to completely eradicate them. So, patience and consistency are key.
When it comes to diseases, root rot is one of the most problematic issues. But, it is totally preventable as it is caused by overwatering or allowing the plant to it in water.
Thus, making sure of 3 things goes a long way in preventing this.
- Use well-draining soil
- Your pot should have a drainage hole
- Only water once the top soil is dry