When to Prune a Ficus Tree?

Updated February 21, 2017

Ficus grow as trees and severely sheared hedges along streets in tropical cities and as houseplants in homes, shopping centres and offices across The United States. Ficus owners who garden indoors must trim their rubber tree, weeping fig or Ficus benjamina to keep them in bounds. Although the ficus hedges of southern Florida receive continual shearing, there are times that are better than others to prune their indoor cousins are.

Growth Patterns

Ficus are fast-growing plants, making them good choices for hedges and houseplants. Most are woody plants that grow best in bright indirect light and they tolerate going dry between thorough watering. As tropical plants, they grow most actively during the summer and grow even faster when treated to half-strength houseplant food every three to four weeks from spring to fall. Pruning helps them keep a compact shape and stay small enough to fit into indoor spaces.

Ideal Pruning

Ideally, prune ficus at the end of a dormant period. This time may occur from late January in the tropics to March or April in northern growing zones. Remove no more than 10 to 30 per cent of a branch. Cut long, overgrown branches to their juncture with a branch at least one-third their diameter and only prune 1 to 2-year-old wood. Avoid pruning the central leader of the plant. Make shaping the tree a yearly practice.

The Hedge Exception

The ficus hedge of southern Florida is Ficus benjamina, a fast-growing, non-native tree that grows over 50 feet tall and spreads invasive, destructive roots well beyond its drip line. Developers first planted these trees in the 1970s and the battle has been raging ever since to keep them 6 to 8 feet tall. Hedges need shearing every two months in summer and landscapers must install root stops to save pavement and building foundations.

Pruning and Propagation

When pruning a weeping fig houseplant, avoid cutting the leader back. This maintains the overall shape of the tree. If you want to force a rubber tree, Ficus elastica or fiddle-leaf fig, Ficus lyrata, into a shrub shape cut back the leader. Failure to perform this pruning results in a tall, vinelike plant that will turn at the ceiling and grow around windows. If you prune the tips of the leader and resulting branches when winter days begin to lengthen, they have a better chance than summer or fall-pruned cuttings to root and make a new ficus plant.

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About the Author

An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.