Ginseng Fig tree suitable as an indoor bonsai in UK

Bonsai basically is when you keep a tree in a pot and my preference is for keeping tropical species of trees as bonsai. One species that is a good beginner tree is that of the Ginseng fig, a tropical species of tree widely used in bonsai which are kept indoors in the UK due to the colder temperatures.

Small Ginseng Figs to create Mame or Shohin size bonsai

They are an evergreen species of tree which means they keep their leaves all year round. It is native to Southeast Asia and is renowned for growing a thick root and trunk which can remain exposed above ground and aerial roots.

They are a variety of Ficus microcarpa with a pot belly or swollen roots that look like the Ginseng plants root. On top the foliage has dark green glossy leaves.

They like to grow in warm moist climates with a lot of light so are ideal to keep indoors where Ginseng figs will grow well with warmth and light.

Small watering can (0.7 litres)

1. Watering often enough so they do not dry out

  • To check if your tree needs watering lift it up and if it feels light it needs water or if the top of the soil looking dry it needs water or if leaves are wilting it needs watering
  • Best way is to check daily and water when needed using a small watering can but only around 1/5 of the watering can at a time at most and if water comes out the bottom of the pot that is enough each time
  • Water daily in the summer but this can be reduced to twice a week in the autumn and once a week in the winter increasing watering as spring comes round again
  • Other method is to water every few days by submerging in bowl of water the pot until bubbles stop coming to the surface but water in between if it becomes dry
  • Do not wait until the soil it bone dry before watering as Ginseng figs do not like to be kept in overly dry soil
  • Water all year round but it will dry out slower in winter so needs less water
  • Water with rainwater if possible otherwise tap water but you may get a build up of lime scale on the pot
  • If you over water it will likely cause yellowing leaves and more leaves to fall off and could cause the roots to rot
Liquid seaweed fertiliser

2. Feeding with fertiliser when the tree is actively growing

  • Feed for 9 months of the year as the Ginseng fig is evergreen and has leaves all year round
  • It will shed a few leaves years all year round but this is natural, if it is more then ask for help
  • Stop feeding during Nov – Jan to allow tree to become more dormant
  • Start feeding 6 weeks after repotting your bonsai tree, do not feed immediately after repotting
  • Feed with a liquid feed like seaweed but heavily diluted in water with every watering from February to October or weekly so a tea spoon in a 0.7 litre watering can of water would be ok
Fig bonsai tree sat in a grit tray of pumice on a window sil in a conservatory

3. Humidity to help create a moist environment

  • Keep your Ginseng fig tree on a tray of pumice to raise the humidity level below the pot and under the tree to aid with maintaining good health and this will catch any excess water from the bottom of the pot as well
  • You may notice roots grow out from the bottom of the bonsai pot into the pumice to find water if the soil dries out
  • Mist foliage with a small water sprayer all year round particularly in the summer by putting water in a small misting bottle and spraying but do not over mist, one spray on each side is good every day in the morning 
  • High levels of humidity will aid with the development of aerial roots and you can use paper drinking straws to help these develop filled with damp sphagnum moss (see photo above)

4. Positioning of your Ginseng Fig tree indoors

  • Keep your Ginseng Fig trees indoors for the majority of the year 
  • They need to be kept warm and in a room where the temperature is above 10 degrees Celsius
  • They can be put outside in the summer when the temperature is warmer both day and night but will enjoy being inside all year round
  • So keep your Ginseng fig bonsai tree on a window sill or place it where it can get natural light
  • Make sure your turn your Ginseng fig on a weekly basis so all sides access to the sunlight or natural light on the window sill by placing on a turn table or just turning it round as this will help with a rounded canopy shape and even shoot development
  • Good place is a conservatory or in front of a large window with morning sunlight
  • Do not place on a radiator as it will dry out too quickly but near one is alright
  • Place outside in the summer if you want but remember to water and protect from very hot sunshine 
  • If it sheds it leaves this is natural as the bonsai is getting used to a new environment which will be different from where it was kept previously but if this continues ask for help from your local bonsai club
  • Keep watering and hopefully it will flush new leaves
  • If placed in a window with full sun it may need shade to avoid leaf burn at height of summer
  • If you have not got a light position you can set up artificial lighting using grow lights to help the bonsai trees get better light levels

5. Pruning to aid with the development of your bonsai tree shape

  • Prune once the foliage starts to grow and you have 4 to 6 leaves per shoot and shape into the desired form
  • Prune back each shoot back to two leaves on each shoot
  • When you prune a Ginseng fig the cut end will ooze a white liquid, this is normal and use a damp piece of kitchen towel or tissue to dab the cut end and this will stop the oozing
  • Avoid getting the white liquid on your skin and use wet wipes to clean your hands or wear disposable gloves
  • Prune with pruning scissors but make sure you clean them after each pruning session to wipe off any dirt or stickiness from the fig
  • Prune all year when tree is actively growing to aid with development of canopy and the more regularly you feed the more the tree should grow so the more pruning opportunities
  • You can also fuse branches together using cable ties by placing branches together and applying pressure with a cable tie but put a small piece of sponge around the branches first to stop the impression of the cable tie forming on the branches
Branches set into positions using string as guy ropes

6. Wiring and guying to aid with styling your bonsai tree

  • To improve the shape and style you can wire branches into position or guy them
  • Use wire cutters to cut the length of wire needed to wrap around the branch to be set into position
  • Remember to keep a check on the wire to prevent it biting into branches and remove once the branch is set in the place you want it
  • Be careful when wiring not to damage newly forming buds and foliage 
  • Guying is a useful alternative to wiring and can help with branch placement and this can be done with string and either mesh or clear plastic tubing over the branch. Feed the string through the plastic tubing to stop the string damaging the bark or cutting in
  • To reduce bark damage place a black thin strip of mesh over the branch to be positioned so it folds over the branch, feed the string through each end through the holes and tie off around the pot
Using long handled tweezers to pick off dead leaves

7. Cleaning to remove weeds, check for pests, remove moss and algae from the pot

  • Every week check your bonsai tree over to look for pests or problems and tackle any pest problems you may find immediately
  • Remove any moss growing on the surface of the soil or weeds
  • Clean the outside of the pot to remove algae and lime scale deposits
  • Keep the leaves dust free and pick of any yellow leaves with the long handled tweezers
  • If the leaves get dusty or sticky, wipe them off with a damp tissue or cloth so they shine again as this will ensure they can photosynthesis properly and produce their own food from the sunlight
  • You will know if you have pests as the leaves can become sticky and you may have more yellowing leaves or leaves falling off and the leaves look dull not glossy green
  • If you do find either mealy bug or scale insects pick these off with a cocktail stick or coat cotton buds in methylated spirits and dab these on the insects 
  • If they become infested ask for help from your local bonsai club and one method of controlling the infestation is to defoliate the whole tree and dispose of the infected leaves and allow it to flush a whole new set of leaves
  • Typical pest problems on tropical bonsai trees include scale insect, mealy bug and red spider mite but if you keep your bonsai indoors and healthy it should not be affected
Scale insect on Fig stem either sideband above the new shoot tip, sap sucking insects

8. Repotting every few years to refresh the soil and prune the roots

  • Repot your bonsai every two years to refresh the soil and train the roots in early summer unless it needs repotting for other reasons in between
  • How often you repot after the first few years will depend on how the roots are developing but it is a good rule to do this every few year
  • Keep them in a deep pot as they will be easier to maintain indoors and they will have a larger soil volume which will stay moist longer.
  • Repot with a soil mix suitable for tropical trees and it can include all or some of the following; Akadama, Kiryu, Kanuma, Pumice, Fuiji grit, sphagnum moss, bark chip, sand, fine soil, coconut fibre and slow release fertiliser
  • Seek help and advice on how to do this if necessary from your local Bonsai  Club
  • Remove the tree from the bonsai pot, remove the soil using a chop stick and carefully tease out the roots
  • If they are wired into the pot to help with stability then cut the wire holding them in first to aid with releasing them from the pot
  • Prune the roots back and remove any crossing or long roots by pruning
  • You want to develop a fine root pad to aid with absorbing water
  • Place a mesh over the holes in the pot and add wire to wire tree into the pot, place some fresh soil mix in the base add the tree and then add more soil, use a chopstick to help firm the soil in between the roots
  • Keep doing this until the pot is full of soil and all the roots are covered
  • Water well after repotting until water runs out bottom of pot and is clear
  • Use a soil type that works for the environment where the tree is kept
  • Keep the soil free draining
  • Remember to wire the tree into the pot to aid with stability
  • Ideally keep your Ginseng fig in a tall deep pot as they have large roots and a deep pot helps prevent the roots from drying out so quickly
Quick demonstrating of repotting a Ginseng Fig bonsai