Most Ficus ginseng bonsai are grafted Ficus microcarpa.
Key grafted ficus bonsai facts
Rootstock: Ficus microcarpa
Scion: retusa, benjamina, microcarpa
Type of graft: cleft graft / bark graft
Bonsai mastery: beginner
Lifespan: decades (resilient)
Feature: aerial roots – Care: very easy – Repotting: yearly
A grafted ficus combines bulging roots of Ficus microcarpa with glossy leaves of other fig species. This is the Origin Story of this famous fleshy-rooted bonsai.
What is a Ficus ginseng bonsai
Surprisingly, most store-bought ficus bonsai aren’t prepared in ancient bonsai master schools. They’re grown and grafted in nurseries by the thousands in tropical regions of the world.
This helps make out favorite little ficus affordable for all! First, nice rootstock with thick roots are prepared, and then varieties of ficus with elegant foliage are grafted onto it.
How do ficus ginseng roots get so thick?
Ficus microcarpa, the Chinese banyan, naturally grows thick, bulging roots. This explains one of this species’ common names, “pot-bellied ficus“.
- In most cases, roots start growing underground from a seedling or cutting.
- To reach root sizes of one to two inches (3 to 5 cm) across, it takes the plant a year or two (in tropical climates).
- At this point, the tree itself has grown a stem several feet tall, also an inch across.
When preparing the usual “Ficus ginseng” bonsai, each F. microcarpa sapling is pulled out to expose the roots. The long, spindly stem is cut off just above the thick bunch of roots.
Roots are cleaned and then gently set atop fresh soil mix, higher up than they were buried. At this point, they:
- sprout new roots that anchor it to the soil
- grow gray-brown bark to protect parts that stay exposed, thus producing the “thick trunk” sought after for bonsai.
Grafting the Ficus bonsai
From the cut trunk, new side branches will sprout for non-grafted specimens.
- Such natural offshoots tend to grow straight out to the side and are very horizontal.
- Some find these easier to train or guide into structured, elegant bonsai.
- However, they’re often spindly-long with few leaves.
Indeed, F. microcarpa varieties with the most appealing roots don’t always have very appealing leaves, and vice-versa.
How is a ficus ginseng graft made?
To pair nice Chinese banyan roots with more beautiful leaves, scions are chosen from other, more elegant foliage ficus. Examples include selected F. microcarpa varieties, and other Ficus species, too: F. retusa and F. benjamina are common candidates.
Nearly all fig tree species can be grafted onto one another.
Older branches are grafted at the cut mark. Typically, 3 to 5 scions are grafted using either the cleft or the bark graft technique. They shoot upwards from the graft, giving the tree a more “umbrella-like” appearance.
It usually looks less cluttered and nicer. Bonsai Ficus microcarpa grown this way are easier to maintain.
Pruning a grafted ficus bonsai
When pruning, you’ll always have to choose between favoring the rootstock shoots or the scions.
Usually, it’s better to cut rootstock branches away, to keep only grafted varieties. Leafage is usually more lush, dense and growth is slower. This makes ginseng bonsai care easier).
- Here, a grafted ficus bonsai with both rootstock and scion offshoots.
Out of curiosity, we suggest trying to let one rootstock shoot grow freely until it is just under a foot long (20-30 cm).
If you like the leaves more than those of the scions, start training that offshoot and cut the grafted scions back:
- let sideways-growing side shoots come out from the trunk
- shorten or remove upwards-facing graft branches.
Whichever you choose, keep pruning and trimming the same branches as the main, structural branches for your ficus bonsai.
Grafted ficus bonsai care
For denser foliage, every year, perform 3 important steps in spring:
- repot it with well-draining soil mix
- prune it to shorten branches trigger branching out
- defoliate to trigger regrowth of smaller, cuter leaves
Also, consider supporting aerial root growth, since they’re part of what makes the ficus bonsai so special.