Ficus ginseng, a cute little bonsai

Ficus ginseng is a superb indoor plant that is much liked for its superb root trunk and its very ornamental foliage.

Key Ficus Ginseng facts

Name – Ficus ‘ginseng’
Scientific – Ficus microcarpa
Family – Moraceae (mulberry family)

Type – indoor plant
Height – 16 to 40 inches (40 to 100 cm), up to you
Soil – indoor plant soil mix, well drained

Exposure – abundant indirect light
Foliage – evergreen
Watering – moderate

Difficulty – easy

Leaves grow directly from the large root, producing an amazing effect.

It is easy to care for, and here is how to water it, prune it or when the best time to repot it is.

Caring for Ficus ginseng

Although it is easy to care for, Ficus ginseng does nonetheless require a little care to give it all the chances it needs to survive over a long period and in proper growing conditions.

  • Ficus ginseng appreciates the warmth that is customary indoors in apartments and houses, ideally 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.

In exceptional cases, if it’s cared for perfectly and environmental conditions are perfect, your Ficus ginseng might even bloom and bear fruit!

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.

Repotting Ficus ginseng

Spring and fall or autumn are ideal to repot ficus ginseng, with a slight preference for spring if you’re late in the season. These two seasons are major vegetation phases for the Ficus, meaning leaf and root growth is highest.

  • Let the pot dry out without watering for 2-3 days.
  • Select a pot that is larger than the previous, ensure it drains well.
  • Keep soil from leeching out with mesh wire and gravel or clay pebbles at the bottom.
  • Use fresh bonsai potting soil mix to replenish nutrients.

At this point, if you aim to keep your Ficus ginseng cute and small, it’s good practice to trim branches back by about a third.

  • Unpot your (trimmed) ficus ginseng and run a cultivator along the roots to remove old depleted soil.
  • Cut off about one third or one-fourth of the roots, to trigger root growth.
  • Place the root clump level with the top of the pot, showcasing the nicest roots above soil level so that you find it appealing.
  • Backfill with fresh soil mix, press down, and water.

 Watering Ficus ginseng

Ficus ginseng doesn’t require abundant watering, and it mustn’t come too often, either…

  • Water the ficus only when the surface of the soil is really dry.
  • 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.
  • You might also rest the pot on a tray of clay pebbles that can be filled with water, without having the pot touch the water itself.

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 to 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.
  • A good rule of thumb is to wait for 8 to 10 new leaves to form, and then remove half of them.
  • 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 ever you notice shoots sprouting from below the graft joint, pinch them off: they’re sometimes not the exact same variety as the initial branches.

Not only would the ficus change shape and demeanor, but grafted branches would be deprived of sap and die off. The grafted branches are from small-leaved varieties, and the vigorous root stock comes from larger-leaf varieties.

Ficus ginseng diseases and pests

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 mites.

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

Ficus ginseng leaves show white spots that tend to be sticky if touched

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

Larger leaves appear instead of the cute small ones

This may be because the Ficus ginseng is grafted. The root part is from another type of Ficus. Sometimes, branches sprout from this root part (called the “root stock”), and the leaves are different.

  • Snip these new shoots off to keep them from taking sap from the Ficus ginseng 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

Sometimes a strange shoot will come out of the bark. It doesn’t bear any leaves. It starts off as a light-colored shoot but bark gradually appears.

  • This is an aerial root. It winds and twists aiming to reach new ground.
  • If you want it to grow long and take root, you must ensure the air is constantly moist. For example, mist or spray every day with soft water.
  • If the air is too dry, this aerial root will dry out.

Learn more about ficus ginseng

Ficus ginseng leaves close-up are small and cute.Native to Asia, Ficus ginseng is grown under our latitudes as an indoor plant, most often as a bonsai.

Its small size and thick trunk make it a very decorative plant, ideal for modern designer homes.

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, which was dug out and planted about 4 inches (10 cm) above ground level.

Confusing Ficus ginseng names

The 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, with other varieties like Ficus benjamina, Ficus retusa, and lesser-known cultivars filling in the rest.

Most Ficus ginseng have a cut trunk. This means that when the root was dug out and lifted up out of the soil, the original stem was cut, too.

  • Some specimens were treated to have new twigs grow from the sides of the trunk. These are called non-grafted. Cutting the trunk was necessary to trigger branching out, otherwise all you’d get was a tall, spindly stem.
  • Others are grafted, meaning branches from other ficus are attached to the cut trunk. The advantage is that grafted branches open up parallel to the trunk, giving the ficus ginseng bonsai a more tree-like look. It’s also possible to select branches from smaller, cuter varieties.

Usually grafts are performed with F. microcarpa branches, but sometimes other species (like Ficus retusa) are used on top of microcarpa roots… yet another confusing practice!

Confusion with other ginseng plants

And it’s also possible to get Ficus ginseng mixed up with other plants, too:

Don’t confuse Ficus ginseng with Panax ginseng, the “original” ginseng plant used for its health benefits.

When only few leaves are visible, your Ficus ginseng might be confused with yet another thick-stemmed plant, Adenium obesum. Telling them apart is easier when the Adenium blooms, because Ficus ginseng plants rarely ever bear flowers and fruits.

Smart tip about Ficus ginseng

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

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Old Ficus ginseng by Ron Frazier under © CC BY 2.0
Leaves of a Ficus ginseng by Samuele Schirò under Pixabay license