The Q&A Archives: Care for bonsai ficus tree

Question: I would like to know how to care for and prune my bonsai ficus tree.
Thanks, Judy

Answer: Tropical plants such as the weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) require warm temperatures year round and make good choices for indoor bonsai training. Many varieties of ficus trees are available. Most require bright light, a source of humidity, fast-draining soil and a constant temperature.

To begin the bonsai process, examine the plant to determine which side best shows off the trunk line and thus should be the front. Mark the position on the pot with a stick. Begin by removing branches. Keep small branches that give the plant the appearance of a small tree.

Pruning stimulates new growth, and as long as your tools are sharp, you can't hurt the plant. Plan to remove about half of the existing foliage. Choose the main trunk line, and remove any branches that conflict with or hide it. Start with large branches and work down to smaller wood. Remove any dead twigs from the interior of the plant.

The branches of older trees have a horizontal shape. You can train young trees' branches to look similar by wiring them into place. You should also remove any foliage near the main trunk to make your bonsai look more like a mature tree.

Leave room between the branches and the wire for the trunk to expand in girth. Gently bend the branches to a 90-degree angle from the trunk. Be careful not to break the branches when bending them. Start out with a dry tree: they are more flexible. Experience will give you a feel for how much you can bend each variety of tree. The more wire you put on the tree, the closer you will come to the finished shape.

Wide spreading branches are the natural shape of ficus trees in nature.

Growing conditions for indoor bonsai are the same as for any other houseplant.

Light: The more light the tree receives, the smaller the leaves will be.

Moisture: Water the plant when the soil is dry to the touch. Mist frequently.

Temperature: Average household temperatures are fine. Cooler temperatures will result in slower growth.

Soil: Use coarse soil specifically made for bonsai.

Fertilizer: use a general-purpose fertilizer at 1/4 strength once a week.

Best wishes with your bonsai!

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