The Ficus I’ll Never Forget

By Mary Ellen Ellis | June 16, 2022
Image by sKrisda
by Mary Ellen Ellis
June 16, 2022

I managed to kill my first real houseplant in less than a couple of months. The loss upset me. I felt I failed that poor ficus. I’ve since forgiven myself. The incident spurred me to learn more and to understand that gardening and growing plants is actual work that requires skills and knowledge. 

Inheriting a Ficus

I inherited a ficus very early on in my adulthood. I had just moved into my first post-college apartment. My sister was moving and couldn’t take this large houseplant along for the ride. I adopted it. 

At the time I had little experience growing anything but, looking back, I believe it was a weeping fig, Ficus benjamina. It grows up to six feet (1.8 m.) tall and makes a striking houseplant. I kept it in a corner of the living room, next to a sliding door to a sunny balcony. 

It had grown to about five feet (1.5 m.) in height and had an impressive canopy of glossy green leaves. The trunk, about two inches (5 cm.) in diameter, consisted of a few braided stems. It was gorgeous. 

Losing My First Ficus

I was so pleased with this ficus, especially since I spent no money on it. I inherited this beautiful houseplant, and I felt like an adult. I had a responsibility to this tree, and it rewarded me with a stunning focal point for my new living room. 

It wasn’t more than a month or so before the leaves began to drop. They yellowed and fell. No matter what I did, they just kept raining down. This was before Google, and I guess I never thought of going to a garden center to ask for advice. I just kept watering the poor tree and moving it, thinking it needed a better location. 

I know now that a ficus indoors needs a high and steady level of humidity, indirect light, and a moderate amount of water. The dry winter air in my apartment and the excessive water I kept giving it likely explain the rapid decline. 

I miss that ficus still and have regrets. I didn’t know any better, but I could have done more to figure out what it needed. It taught me a couple of important lessons. One is to learn more about plants before you grow them. The other is that plants will die. They come and go, but the loss of one plant always teaches me something and propels my gardening knowledge forward. 

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