Nothing stays the same. There's always something new coming along, whether it's a fashion trend, a fresh taste in food, or a stylish car. The plant world is no different, with growers hard at work hybridizing old favorites into novel selections to keep gardeners interested.
A great example of this effort is the common ficus tree (Ficus benjamina). The next time you go shopping for houseplants, look for two new introductions that will remind you of this familiar tree, but with a twist.
The first time you see 'Too Little,' you'll think, "I know it's a ficus, but it's so small." This dwarf tree matures to a height of only 14 inches, with a head about 10 inches across. 'Too Little' produces masses of tiny, shiny green leaves with slightly curled edges. It is a true ficus tree in miniature, and like the big one, needs very bright light and water before the soil becomes dry.
Display 'Too Little' in a shallow glazed container to evoke the image of bonsai. This diminutive selection gives the appearance of an aged tree, without all the training and fuss of the Oriental art form. Underplant the tree with prostrate foliage plants, such as nerve plant or creeping fig, or leave the shallow surface roots exposed for a true bonsai look.
'Midnight' ficus is another new kid on the block. This selection is easily recognized by its thick, glossy, almost black leaves. New growth is brilliant green, and the contrast between the two is stunning. 'Midnight' grows dense, bushy, and upright, and it may ultimately reach a height of 8 feet. Keep its mature size in mind when choosing your plant's location.
This selection's most unique attribute isn't its foliage, but its willingness to withstand lower light. Most ficus trees need direct sun or very bright light, but 'Midnight' adjusts to less light without shedding a leaf. When grown in a darker place, it also requires less water than its bright-light-seeking cousins.
As with all other ficus, feed these new selections with a balanced liquid fertilizer, such as 20-20-20. During fall and winter, once a month is sufficient. Spring and summer are more active growth times, so feed every other week.
Your ficus will tell you if it is unhappy. Here are the clues.
- Yellow leaves dropping: A change in light or location will cause leaf drop. Give it time, and it will adjust. If you have not moved the plant recently, it is asking for more water. The more light the plant receives, the more water it requires.
- Green leaves dropping: This is a sign of too much water, so back off a little. Be sure the roots are not sitting in water.
"A New Face for Ficus" is from the September 2003 issue of Southern Living.