Thursday, March 29, 2012

New plant: Ficus benjamina

I know what you're thinking. You're writing a post to tell us you got a Ficus benjamina? Who, exactly, did you think would care?

And okay. I'll grant that this is not a particularly exciting plant to be talking about. But it's not so much about what I got as how I got it.

Also you don't have to be so mean.

It was basically a case of somebody coming up to the house, knocking on the door, and asking if we wanted a Ficus -- one of our neighbors had one which had outgrown its spot in their house, and they were looking for someone to take it, being the gist.1 When I actually walked to their house (about a block away), to see the plant, it didn't look that bad. I mean, it was a house I'd never been in before, so I didn't have much sense of what was "normal" for the space, but I'd originally pictured some 8-foot tall, five-foot wide monster in a 100-pound ceramic pot, with branches growing horizontally along the ceiling, and it was nothing like that. The (clay) pot was maybe eleven inches (28 cm) in diameter, which is big, but, you know, I've probably got twenty plants that are in pots bigger than eleven inches. So no big deal.

So I agreed to take it home, and the pot got broken along the way, for reasons which aren't really very interesting and would take a lot of time to explain properly. So I had to find a new pot to move it into, and it turned out that the only one I had that was big enough was 16 inches (41 cm) in diameter.

As it was sort of an emergency and I didn't have any other options, I went ahead and used the 16-inch pot,2 and . . . that thing happened. You know that thing? The thing where when you have a small plant in a small pot, and then you move it into a big pot, it suddenly looks like the plant got bigger too, even though you know that only the pot changed size? That happened.

Oh, shit.

So now I have a new plant that's about 4 feet tall and 3.5 feet wide, all of a sudden, in a house that was already kind of full to overflowing with plants, and no place to put it. I mean, we'll figure something out -- I could never turn away a Ficus in need -- but this isn't quite what I thought I was getting into when I said yes. When PATSP gets made into a sitcom, this will have to be one of the episodes.

P.S. For the record, I gave her a plant back, to fill the new empty spot in her house. (She picked one of the variegated Yuccas.)
P.P.S. She also said I could go over and dig up some of her Sempervivums and Mertensias sometime if I wanted to plant some here. Not sure about the Mertensia -- there's not really a good spot for one right now, though I do want one eventually -- but I'll definitely take her up on the Sempervivums.


1 You might think that our plant-crammed windows had something to do with this, but no. We weren't even the first or second household they asked. (Maybe we looked like we had enough plants already?)
2 I would ordinarily never do this, or advise anybody to do this. The general rule of thumb is to go up two inches (5 cm) at a time, so I should have moved it to a 13-inch clay pot, ideally. I went ahead and jumped it five inches in one go because: it sort of needed to be repotted anyway (it wasn't bad, but close enough), the two-inch rule matters less once you get into the really big pots, and Ficus roots are so aggressive and robust anyway that the plant will likely fill the pot within a year regardless. I'm semi-inclined to keep it outside this summer, in which case having some extra soil there will help keep it moist when I forget to water it.


marcos said...

it's good to see a post on ficus because you'll never know what may be useful for someone else around the globe... I actually had a ficus as a b-day present, a tall one, and it's growing (which is OK) partially covering my tv screen (which may be upsetting sometimes). Do you have any clue on pruning ficus in springtime? Am I going to kill it if I do?
Just in case you may have a good advice to share.

mr_subjunctive said...


I'm probably not the person to ask about pruning F. benjamina, because people get very, very picky about it sometimes, depending on their goals for their own plants. You might find this thread at gardenweb useful. It's a sufficiently robust plant that I doubt you'd be able to kill it by pruning alone, unless your idea of pruning means cutting it down to a 2-inch stump. If it's just a matter of getting rid of a couple branches that are obstructing your view of the TV, there's no reason why you couldn't just do that now.

CelticRose said...

Some people take in stray cats and dogs. You take in stray plants.

Anonymous said...

F. benjamina tends to be a fairly robust plant and in my experience can take heavy pruning. I actually had mine die back to a stump and then resprout branches from what was left of the trunk. It's ability to break back like that makes it a perfect candidate for bonsai. Mr. S, I would say you could cut back a good half of the foliage on yours and it would be totally fine, not to mention a more manageable size. It looks like it has a good trunk and branch structure for miniaturization, even if you don't do something as formal as a rigorous bonsai. Really the only things that F. benjamina is sensitive about are drastic/abrupt changes in light level and they have a tendency to die back slightly on pruned branches. Just make sure your pruning cuts are a centimeter or two out from the next node that you want to keep alive.

Lauren said...

Ficus will take a pruning and keep on going, which is why it's in my good graces. I will prune at first provocation.

Good luck with your plant. That's a lot of Ficus to deal with!

Helen said...

I just received what I think are two F. benj. cuttings. They're the embryonic form of your big guy. I might have to put them in those tiny cactus pots, if I keep them at all. Interested?

mr_subjunctive said...


Well, I think the point is probably moot, since you're in Canada, but it's just as well, since there's like, less than zero room for more plants.

If you do decide you want to keep them, and they're not already rooted: I've had good luck with perlite.

Anonymous said...

Hey Wadewheatley, thanks to you I confidently and with (faked) expertise I pruned all the little bonsai ficus at work yesterday. In front of a crowd! PATSP is an addiction of mine but it has definite payoffs.

marcos said...

thanks a lot! I'm going to prune like a madman...

franz said...

hi, i just wanted to say that ficus benjamina seem to be like..... foster house plants, my mom had 2 of them in the living room, but some years later they where to big, and my mom had to go around my Family asking who wanted 2 ficuses, until my aunt said she could plant them in her garden, and since then, they are like 7 times bigger than they where when my mom gave them away. hope you liked the story :)

Mr. Homegrown said...

It needs some googly eyes:

Ryan Singrossi said...

You can do some amazing things with this plant. When you prune it back stick the cuttings in soil and you will have new plants in 2 weeks. They are also fun to graft into weird designs. Very tolerant plant as far as container culture. I prune mine back pretty hard once a season then I prune clones through out the season. great plant! I'm starting to get more and more into Ficus slowly. They have some really cool ones. I went nuts on adeniums but they grow so slowly I need something in between to take up some time. You shouldnt have any problems. I would feed it a balanced fert, NPK 14-14-14. Or any house plant fertilizer they sell at Home Depot, lowes or any box store for that matter.