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Garden: Grow a tree indoors with figs

Weeping fig trees thrive in a regional greenhouse, waiting to be brought into someone’s home. John Zvirovski/The Sun

When we enter shopping malls or indoor office buildings with bright skylights and windows, we oftentimes encounter indoor plants of various sizes. To give height to some of the spaces, we often see a variety of fig trees ranging from 6 to 20 feet tall.

Many of these plants can be grown at home with the proper conditions. Some of the trees require a large amount of space in order to reach their lofty heights, but some can be grown at home with minor pruning to keep them to a desirable size. Of the most common of the trees, the ficus is the one that entails the fig trees. Most of us are familiar with the weeping fig, the fiddle leaf fig and the laurel leaf fig trees, as they tend to thrive in many of our indoor spaces. They do not require direct light, but they do require a bright location to grow well.

The fiddle leaf fig is probably the least known of the three. It has large fiddle-shaped leaves which are narrow at the base and broad near the end. The leaves are a deep green and have a leathery feel. These trees require a bright location and some patience in growing. Once established, they can grow from 2 to 3 feet a year. If they reach the ceiling, simply lop off the top portion and allow the tree to branch. The branching structure of this variety is a bit sparse over most other types and largely spaced from one branch to another. Typically I suggest this tree for those who have bright rooms with cathedral ceilings or in an atrium that has good height. The bark is a deep brown and has a flaky texture to it as it ages.

The laurel leaf fig has long narrow leaves about 4 to 6 inches long to about an inch wide. The branching structure is finer with numerous thin branches created as the tree grows. This tree also likes bright indirect sunlight and plenty of room to spread its crown. As the tree’s crown develops and thickens, interior branches may die out due to the shade created by the outer canopy. These twigs and small branches can be pruned out to clean up the tree’s interior look.

The most common grown fig tree is the weeping fig. This has numerous deep green oval leaves that taper to a point. They are about 2 inches long by an inch wide. Their bark and structure are similar to the laurel leaf fig. It can be grown as a short specimen of 3 feet to a large tree of 15 feet.

As with all figs, they prefer a well-drained soil that never becomes waterlogged. Heavy, wet soils will cause root rot and the demise of the tree. Water the plant only when the soil is dry for a few days. Water less in the winter months when they grow a bit slower.

All figs are sensitive to cold drafts, so keep them away from leaking windows and doorways that may allow cold winter air indoors while opening and closing. This temperature change will cause the tree to lose many leaves and in some cases kill the plant.

Fig trees are also touchy with their locations. Once you have found the ideal spot for your tree, try not to move it if possible. A 3-foot move can cause it to drop its leaves. This typically will not kill the plant, but it takes time for new ones to form. Many times this drop occurs because the light conditions change.

Very few insects will affect this plant, but one of the most difficult ones to get rid of is the hard-shelled scale. These are usually green or dark brown in color and rest on the underside of the leaves and along the thin stems. They feed on the sap of the plant and will cause defoliation. If not stopped when first discovered, it can decimate a plant within six to 12 months. The reason they are so tough to kill is because any sprayed insecticide does not reach their underside. The best way to eradicate them is from the inside out. Systemic insecticides of powders or granules added to the soil will enter the root system and flow into the stems, branches and leaves. As the pests take in this poisoned sap, they will slowly decline in numbers.

Fig trees can be quite resilient in most circumstances and are a great fit for many of our indoor spaces. Give a small one a try if you are concerned about the space that you currently have available and prune it routinely to keep it within the constraints of the spaces within your own home. It may be just what you are looking to brighten someone’s day for Valentine’s Day!