Ficus is one of the most popular trees for Bonsai. It is an excellent tree for beginners and professionals alike. This very easy to care for plant tolerates low light and humidity, conditions often found in homes, making it an ideal indoor plant as well. There are hundreds of species and it is one of the easiest to train and style as a bonsai. Many varieties of Ficus have aerial roots which give them a beautiful expanse and give the illusion of a very old tree. The Ficus tree is well suited to the extreme climates of Delhi and can be grown to any size from a Shito (3 inches) to a Dai (40 inches).
Ficus can be grown indoors, close to a sunny window, or outdoors year-round.
The frequency of watering depends upon temperature and humidity. Generally Ficus species have a great resistance to drought, but they have to be watered when the growing medium is partially dry. If the soil feels dry on touching then it needs to be watered. It is not very demanding on the quality of the water and can be watered without any problem with ordinary tap water. It is preferable to let the soil dry out a bit rather than keeping it always damp, as excessive humidity can cause the roots to rot.
Ficus respond very well to pruning as long as they are healthy and well cared for. It helps to do a light fertilisation before pruning. The best time to prune Ficus is at the onset of spring and before the monsoons.
The pruning wounds of Ficus produce a white milky substance called latex which can cause irritation and may even burn the skin , so care should be taken whilst pruning these plants.
The plant needs to be defoliated frequently to achieve more abundant branching and encourage the growth of smaller leaves. Defoliation is the removal of leaves from the tree, thus creating an artificial winter and forcing the bonsai to make a second sprout. This technique is carried out on the mature leaf and after the first sprouting of spring; at the beginning of summer.
This technique should only be applied to bonsai that are healthy and vigorous. If the plant is weak, it is better to wait until it gets stronger and has more growth, so that it can withstand the trauma of losing its leaves.
The branches of the bonsai can also be wired to achieve the required style, thus bypassing the need for modelling through pruning. Ideally wiring should be performed on thinner branches as these have greater flexibility, making modelling easier. Thicker branches are harder to shape as they are much stiffer and therefore more difficult to bend without breaking. The optimal time for wiring is after pruning or defoliating, when the plant’s ramification structure can be seen clearly.
Ficus species are fast-growing, so it is necessary to fertilise regularly, especially in spring, summer and autumn. Doing so will ensure an adequate supply of nutrients to the plant . From spring to autumn the plant should be fertilised every 2 weeks, and every month in the winter. It is better to fertilise little by little and continuously. Both solid and liquid fertiliser formats can be used.
Solid fertiliser in the form of pellets or compost can be strategically placed in the pot as far away from the nebari as possible (nebari is a Japanese word used to describe the base of the trunk). The compost balls/granules release their nutrients as the bonsai is watered. The solid compost disintegrates slowly and provides a steady release of nutrients to the plant.
Another option is liquid fertiliser. It is the most easy and practical way to fertilise the bonsai since it is mixed with the irrigation water and the nutrients are ready to be taken up straight away by the plant. Watering the bonsai before irrigating with liquid fertiliser ensures that the plant’s roots capture maximum nutrients from the fertiliser. Smaller bonsai can be placed in a container partly filled with liquid fertiliser and left for a while so that the soil becomes soaked with the liquid.
Most common pests of Ficus
Ficus are very resistant species, but occasionally they can be affected by some pests and diseases. The most frequent are :
- Red Spider : These tiny mites bite the leaves, in which innumerable small yellow dots appear. Clean both sides of leaves and also the stems with a mild soap solution spray, followed by a spray of a vinegar and lemon solution the next day. A neem oil solution can also be used.
- Thrips : These lay their eggs on leaves which fold to enclose and protect the larvae. The affected leaves should be removed and then the plant should be sprayed with a neem oil solution.
- Mealybugs : Cottony mealybugs give off large amounts of molasses that fall on the leaves of the Ficus and end up blackening them as they ferment. It is very easy to see the cottony mealybugs because of their large white cotton-like filaments At the early stages these can be washed off with a jet spray of water.