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Ficus ginseng, caring for this beginner’s bonsai

ficus ginseng

Ficus ginseng is a bonsai-like houseplant. Great for beginners, it’s got a thick root trunk and very nice leaves.

Key Ficus Ginseng facts

NameFicus ‘ginseng’
ScientificFicus microcarpa
Family – Moraceae (mulberry family)

Type – indoor plant
Height – 8 to 40 inches (20 to 100 cm), up to you

Foliage: evergreen     –     Difficulty: easy     –     Watering: moderate

Exposure: lots of indirect light     –     Soil: indoor plant mix, well drained

Stems grow directly from the large root, producing an amazing effect. It is easy to care for, and here is how to water and prune it – and when to repot it.

Caring for Ficus ginseng

Although it is easy to care for, Ficus ginseng does require a little care. Watering, fertilizer and pruning give it all the chances it needs to live for decades.

  • Ficus ginseng careFicus ginseng appreciates warmth. That’s why indoor living suits it well: temperatures range from 60 to 75°F (15 to 25°C).
  • It loves having good light but not direct sunlight.
  • It fears drafty spots.
  • Ficus ginseng doesn’t cope well with brutal temperature variations.
  • Repotting every 2 years in spring (or fall) is almost mandatory.
  • The right way to repot bonsai

Ficus ginseng rarely ever bear flowers and fruits. In exceptional cases, if conditions are perfect, it might happen: you’ll get a tiny fig!

Ficus ginseng in winter

  • It’s ok to let temperatures drop to around 54 to 60°F (twelve to fifteen degrees Celsius). Don’t let it get any colder.
  • Water a bit less in this season.

Watering Ficus ginseng

Ficus ginseng doesn’t require abundant watering. Don’t water a lot, and don’t water too often.

  • Watering ficus GinsengWater the ficus only when the surface of the soil is really dry. Test it with your finger.
  • In summer, it is often necessary to water a bit more, especially if outdoors.
  • Ficus ginseng doesn’t like standing water. Empty the saucer after having watered.

Your ficus ginseng will appreciate having its leaves cleaned often with a rag or a moist paper towel.

Ficus ginseng loves it when air moisture is high.

  • You can mist the leaves often with soft water, especially in winter.
  • Raise humidity around your plant.


When you water, you can also provide fertilizer.

Ficus ginseng fertilizerDo so twice a month in spring and summer, but stop in winter, in sync with lower temperatures.

  • Pellets work fine, but liquid fertilizer is also very effective.
  • Make sure it’s already dosed for bonsai. Dilute by half if not.

What matters is that it’s balanced, meaning the “N-P-K” numbers are identical or close. If different, favor a mix with more nitrogen (N) and less phosphorus/potassium (P/K).

Pruning Ficus ginseng

If you consider your Ficus ginseng to be a bonsai, and that you want to keep its shape small, you’ll have to prune it regularly.

Snip new shoots off as they appear for the original shape to be preserved. Or, make it evolve to the shape you wish it to take.

  • Pruning the Ficus ginseng on a regular basis will lead it to branch out more.
  • Prune winter growth in spring, and if outside, remember to pinch new shoots off as they appear.
  • It will trigger new branches to sprout and foliage will grow more dense and beautiful.

Sometimes the Ficus ginseng comes with small branches grafted on a larger root.

  • If you notice branches sprouting from below the graft joint, pinch them off: they’re rarely the same variety as the original.

Not only would the ficus change shape, grafted branches will be deprived of sap and die off. Grafted branches are small-leaved, and the root stock is a large-leaf variety.

Ficus ginseng problems

Ficus ginseng losing its leaves

It might be that your Ficus ginseng is simply watered too much, that it lacks surrounding moisture or light, or that it is set in a place full of drafts.

  • Ensure that you only water when the soil is dry.
  • Mist the leaves.
  • Check that where the plant is placed matches the requirements described above, lots of light but no direct midday sun.

Ficus ginseng leaves turn yellow or spots appear

This is often caused by red spider mite.

  • Simply treat it with organic mite killer sold in horticulture stores.
  • Read our page on how to fight red spider mite.

Ficus ginseng leaves with sticky white spots

This is usually due to mealybugs or scale insects to which the Ficus ginseng is very vulnerable, especially indoors.

Larger, different leaves appear on this ficus bonsai

ficus different leavesThis is because the Ficus is grafted. The root part is from one type of Ficus, usually F. microcarpa. Branches tend to sprout from this root part called the “root stock”. Leaves are different from those higher up which belong to the “scion”.

  • Snip these new shoots off to keep them from taking sap from the grafted branches.

Sometimes larger leaves appear because growth inhibitors had been sprayed on the plant while at the nursery. Growth inhibitors slow growth and reduce the size of leaves. When it wears off, leaves take on their natural size.

  • If you want smaller leaves, defoliate your Ficus ginseng completely every time you prune (snip all leaves off with scissors). New leaves will grow back, smaller than before.
  • Don’t do this more than twice a year. Also, remember to fertilize and repot on schedule because this drains nutrients away from the plant.

Strange branch growing under a twig or from the trunk

It doesn’t bear any leaves, starts off as a light-colored shoot but bark gradually appears.

Learn more about ficus ginseng

Ficus ginseng bonsaiNative to Asia, Ficus ginseng is grown under our latitudes as an indoor plant. It’s one of the favorite ficus for bonsai.

Its small size and thick trunk make it a very decorative plant, ideal for modern designer homes. It also clears air pollution.

The word “ginseng” means root in Chinese, and is attributed to this plant because of the magnificent aerial root. However,  its very shiny dark green leaves are equally appealing.

Since it is easy to grow and care for, it is often called the beginner’s bonsai. Its life cycle can span many years, even decades, and the key to a successful life is simply to provide appropriate watering.

A surprising root-like trunk

Ficus ‘ginseng’ is the common name for what is usually called Ficus microcarpa in the scientific community. The name “ginseng” refers to the appearance of the root. Actually the thick, bulbous stem was an underground part of the plant, dug out and planted about 4 inches (10 cm) above ground level.

Confusing Ficus ginseng names

Ficus ginseng air root from graftThe Ficus ginseng plant is most often simply a Ficus microcarpa plant. However, due to confusion between production centers, consumer stores and the general public, it also came to be known under the name Ficus retusa.

95% of all Ficus ginseng plants sold are actually Ficus microcarpa grafted together with other varieties like Ficus benjamina, Ficus retusa, and lesser-known cultivars filling in the rest.

Other ginseng plants

Other plants bear a confusing resemblance to Ficus ginseng, too!

Ficus ginseng is different from Panax ginseng, the “original” ginseng root used for its health benefits.

When only few leaves are visible, Ficus ginseng is easily confused with another thick-stemmed plant, Adenium obesum. Telling them apart is easier when Adenium blooms.

Read also:

Smart tip about Ficus ginseng

Ficus ginseng will appreciate spending the winter in a cooler spot, ideally around 60°F (15°C).

Images: adobestock: alessandrofara83, CC BY 2.0: Ron Frazier; depositphotos: arck, lifesummerlin, photography33; own work: Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois; Pixabay: Samuele Schirò
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  • etak wrote on 9 July 2022 at 14 h 11 min

    Hello, I have just stumbled upon your site, started looking up orchids 😏 which went through far too many tangents haha and then, happily, happened upon this wonderful article of yours after I glanced at my poor one. I am a trial and error type of gardener ( if you say that about houseplants? Hehe) and most of the time I get it right eventually. I’ve lost a few things unfortunately but I just love all plants and flowers 💐 ☺️❤️ I’m limited to a couple of places for indoor ones because of conditions of course and indoor cats who are obsessed with them too, but for dinner 🙃 🐈‍⬛ 🍽
    Sorry if this is far too long or not appropriate for this section or anything 🙏 but the reason for the comment is really to thank you for this article. The way it’s set out and the links and everything about it really, are very reader friendly, unpretentious and I have learnt a lot 🫶 I’m worried I might have done irreparable damage to mine 😭 but I feel like now I have a much better chance of seeing her back to her full beauty again hehe
    Thank you very much for taking the time to read this essay 😆 and I really do appreciate all of the information 🙏 very helpful and I look forward to perusing the rest of your site 😊 and I will recommend you 🫶💐❤️ I know 2 definite future members before even asking haha, have a great weekend 🚀

    • Gaspard wrote on 12 July 2022 at 21 h 42 min

      Hi etak, that was a very generous essay you shared with us there! I’m very happy you found the article interesting and well-linked. It’s a big job to always change the articles and increase their quality. So it’s a real treat when someone is grateful and says so! Thank you in return! ❤️❤️❤️

      There was a question in your essay, I transferred it directly to the forum so I and others can respond. It’s right here: when to repot my ficus ginseng. Meet you there to answer it!

  • Julie wrote on 30 July 2021 at 5 h 16 min

    Thanks for the article, great info! I’m trying to identify my Ficus bonsai which until recently I thought was a Money Tree. It looks identical to the one pictured, although the leaves are pointed ovals, not rounded at the tip. It was not doing well until I recently fertilized, now it’s responding great and finally growing new leaves for the first time in about a year. It’s been through a few cat attacks (chewing on the leaves) and a few overwaterings which caused major leaf drop. I usually keep it on the drier side, forgetting to water it but I’m trying to take better care of it now and get it into better shape. I’d love some help identifying which variety it is.

    • Gaspard wrote on 3 August 2021 at 5 h 12 min

      Hi Julie! Great to hear you’re getting the hang of things. It’s nice that this particular type of Ficus is rather forgiving, it makes for excellent practice for other plants. There’s a chance it may be a Ficus retusa – I just added a new picture with a close-up of leaves of that species on its article for you. You’ll see the leaves are more pointy than those of Ficus microcarpa, which is normally used for Ficus ginseng bonsai-like specimens. Actually, the name “Ficus ginseng” isn’t really a botanical or scientific name for the species, since the real plant is Ficus microcarpa. It’s more of a commercial name, used to describe the plant you get when you try to make a bonsai out of a random Ficus species (or combination thereof in case of grafted ones).

      “Money tree” is usually the common name of the pachira plant, which itself is very similar to Schefflera… and the fact that there’s even a “Ficus Treasure” plant makes things pretty complicated indeed!

  • Dara Painter wrote on 5 October 2018 at 8 h 56 min


    I inherited a plant someone was going to throw away last year and still haven’t decided what it could possibly be? I have recently decided to replant it into a larger pot because it had been in this tiny ridiculously small wood type container with moss on the top. It had mold in it so I decided to just put it in new Cactus soil because I knew that was well-draining. It seems to be doing okay but hasn’t grown very much in the last year. It seems like it’s not exactly happy but surviving. It does not like to be in water and does well if it dries out for some time in between waterings. Right now I have it in a double-walled self-watering ceramic container that does not have glaze on the part where the plant sets.

    Mostly I’m just curious if there is anyone who can help me identify this poor little plant? I just want to be able to take great care of it and make it comfortable. The little container that it originally came in (I believe) had a barcode on the bottom so I don’t believe it is anything highly exotic.

    Thank you!


    • Gaspard Lorthiois wrote on 8 October 2018 at 14 h 35 min

      Sure thing! I just responded to the email you sent me. The plant you thought might be a Ficus ginseng actually turned out to be an Adenium obesa. Also quite a nice plant for bonsai-like pots!

      • Dara Painter wrote on 12 October 2018 at 10 h 39 min

        Thank you so very much!

        I read up on it and potted it again in a pot with holes this time and put it closer to some natural light in my kitchen.

        I cannot thank you enough! I am going to take very good care of this little guy and will send pictures when he blooms! You are too kind!!


  • Bryan Leung wrote on 7 September 2018 at 3 h 25 min

    Thank you so much for the fast and detail feedback. I think I’m going to do this when I come back from a 2 week vocation in Ontario & Quebec.
    Hope it won’t get too cold for the plant when I come back. I have to leave it on the apartment balcony for the 2 weeks, it will not be much air circulation inside when I shut the glass doors.

    • Gaspard Lorthiois wrote on 7 September 2018 at 3 h 46 min

      Sure thing, Bryan! It should be ok. All the best!

  • Bryan Leung wrote on 6 September 2018 at 7 h 28 min

    Which is the best season to repot it? Should I prune it heavily during repot? It’s been over 2 years since I transfered my Ginseng Ficus to a bigger pot. I’m living in Richmond BC Canada, temperature by now is around 15-20C outside my balcony, it’s Autumn.

    • Gaspard Lorthiois wrote on 6 September 2018 at 9 h 04 min

      Hello Bryan, thanks for your question. Here are a few pointers to answer you:

      • – Now is a great time to repot: spring and fall are ideal. Repotting now means it’ll still have a full two months to settle in before the first frosts hit (November, I believe unless you’re higher up).
      • – Yes, it’s possible to prune heavily, your ficus won’t take any damage from that. Just don’t prune too close to the root: sometimes the ficus ginseng is grafted, and if you don’t leave any leaves at all, it’ll send up new shoots out from below the root graft first of all, and this may not be the same leafage as the portion that is above the graft.
      • – I’d recommend pruning live branches back by a third or eventually half, and removing dead twigs where you notice them.

      You’re right on schedule for this step! To help out, I’ve expanded the article a bit on the section about how to repot a ficus bonsai, it can serve as a guideline for you.
      Hope this helps!