Beat the heat with indoor gardening

By Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

When the going gets tough, the tough get going indoors, especially during heat waves. If you are like me, the heat is really taking a toll on my gardening activities this summer. I garden because I love it, and I do it for my health and wellbeing too. However, these excessive heat warnings and danger of heat stroke or illness are keeping me from doing what I love. I’ve decided to focus my efforts indoors.

One way to beat the heat but still get your gardening fill is to work on interior plants. There are hundreds of tropical houseplants that are suitable for growing indoors. One of the most common indoor houseplants is the ficus.

Ficus is a genus of plants comprising more than 800 species and is known best for its elegant leaves and graceful appearance. Among the most popular types are the rubber plant (Ficus elastica); fiddle-leaf ficus fig (Ficus lyrata); weeping fig, or what we know at the typical ficus (Ficus benjamina); long leaf ficus (Ficus maclellandii); lofty fig tree (Ficus altissima); triangle ficus (Ficus triangularis); and ficus Audrey (Ficus benghalensis). These charming plants come from tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including Asia, Africa and Australia.

Often referred to as the rubber plant, Ficus elastica is a staple among houseplant enthusiasts. With its glossy, rubber-like leaves that come in various shades of green, maroon and even pink and white, this plant exudes a sense of resilience and elegance. Its adaptability to different light conditions from moderate to bright and tolerance of occasional neglect make it an ideal companion for both novice and experienced plant parents. Look for cultivars Robusta, Tineke, Variegata, Lemon Lime, Red Ruby and Burgundy.

Stealing the spotlight with its large, violin-shaped leaves, Ficus lyrata, commonly known as the fiddle-leaf fig, is a true showstopper. Native to West Africa, this ficus variety is loved for its dramatic foliage and sculptural presence. The fiddle-leaf fig isn’t just fun to say (I love saying it). Its bold and sophisticated leaves perfectly complement modern and minimalist interior designs. However, its care can be a bit more demanding. It thrives in bright, indirect light and appreciates consistent watering and humidity. Trees can grow very large over time.

Adding a geometric twist to the ficus family is the triangle ficus (Ficus triangularis), a lesser-known gem that hails from Africa. Its distinctive triangular leaves range from deep green to bronze and variegated forms that create a captivating visual dynamic. This ficus variety also thrives in bright, indirect light and moderate humidity, making it an enchanting addition to homes that crave a touch of uniqueness.

Native to Southeast Asia and Australia, Ficus benjamina, commonly called the weeping fig, has graceful, drooping branches adorned with delicate, glossy leaves. This ficus variety brings a sense of timeless charm to interiors, making it a favorite for traditional and classic decor styles. While it requires a bit more attention, with consistent watering and — you guessed it — bright, indirect light. Its versatility allows it to adapt to a range of home environments, from living rooms to entryways.

Each ficus variety is a valuable addition to diverse interior design schemes. From the contemporary allure of the fiddle-leaf fig to the artistic geometry of the ficus triangularis, these plants not only beautify living spaces but also contribute to improved air quality and enhance wellbeing. They absorb toxins and release oxygen, thus creating a healthier and more pleasant living environment.

In a world where the urban landscape often overshadows the natural world, the inclusion of ficus houseplants provides an opportunity to reconnect with nature, even within the confines of our homes. These elegant ficus varieties serve as living reminders of the beauty and serenity that the natural world offers, inviting us to pause, appreciate and cultivate a sense of harmony in our living environments.

So whether you're a seasoned plant enthusiast or just beginning to embrace the world of houseplants, consider inviting a ficus into your home — a green companion that promises to elevate your space and inspire a deeper connection with the outdoors.

Caring for ficus is simple. They just need the proper amount of water and light exposure. Placing them near a window with filtered sunlight is ideal. However, some types can adapt to lower light conditions, making them versatile options for various indoor spaces. In lower light conditions, they will grow very slowly. Place them on a patio where they are protected from direct sunlight and these plants grow very rapidly.

Consistency is key when it comes to watering your ficus. Allow the top half inch of soil to dry before watering again. Overwatering can lead to root rot while underwatering may cause leaf drop. Finding the right balance is essential. I find that watering my plants once a week is sufficient. Mark your calendar and make it part of your weekly routine.

Ficus plants appreciate higher humidity levels, especially if they are placed in air-conditioned or dry environments. Regular misting or placing a humidity tray nearby can help maintain the moisture levels they crave.

Ficus plants should be repotted every two to three years or when they outgrow their current container. Choose a slightly larger pot and refresh the potting mix to ensure proper growth. Regular pruning helps maintain the shape and size of your ficus houseplant. Trim any dead or yellowing leaves and adjust the shape as needed.

Ficus plant.

With its distinctive triangular leaves that range from deep green to bronze and variegated forms, the triangle ficus creates a captivating visual dynamic. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Several ficus plants.

Ficus is a genus of plants comprising more than 800 species and is known best for its elegant leaves and graceful appearance. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Ficus plant with variegated green, white and pink leaves.

Tineke rubber plant is a gorgeous plant with large, glossy leaves of pink, white and green. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Ficus plant with large green leaves.

The fiddle-leaf fig sports dramatic green leaves that resemble violins. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

8/11/2023 1:02:31 PM
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