Pruning Ficus Trees: When And How

Ficus lattice

Ficus trees have a tendency to freak people out… It seems like as soon as the tree comes home, leaves start dropping.

The last thing a Ficus tree owner was to think about is pruning.

There are too many visions of leaves dropping in their mind.

There are newer varieties of Ficus which hold their leaves much better.

Ficus Tree Care Hate Mail

Before I get too far I need to really get something off my chest relating to Ficus and Ficus growers.

I’m sure “hate” mail will soon be following.

Ficus continues to be a major crop for indoor use. At one point in my foliage growing career I grew over 125,000 plus Ficus trees per year. The issue I have with SOME, not all, Ficus growers is with pruning or trimming Ficus!

Economics being what they are, its financially cheaper to prune a Ficus with hedge clippers.

Just get out the clippers and make all the plants the same height. That’s the problem – using hedge clippers is NOT the correct way to prune Ficus trees.

Plants much like people and none of these Ficus growers would dare to have their hair cut the same way they “trim” their Ficus crop! If you want the right results you need the correct method.

I’ve always hand pruned my Ficus crops all 125,000 plus of them.

I’ll admit I tried the shear method and all it does is promote a disease called Phomopsis. What Phomopsis causes is twig dieback and under indoor conditions it can get very severe.

Ficus pruned incorrectly

GROWERS if you are not going to prune Ficus trees correctly – please quit selling them to the public. You’re only creating headaches! I feel better now…

Here’s what happens. You’ll notice on a Ficus tiny “branches” with a node between them.

If you just randomly cut between these nodes (this happens when you shear), the twig dies Phomopsis.

A correctly pruned Ficus won’t miss a beat. It may have lost some foliage but it will immediately begin to sprout out and grow.

Next time you’re in the local garden center take a good look at the Ficus and see if you can find what I’m describing.

Let’s Cover Reasons and Ficus Pruning Basics

When Ficus pruning is done correctly can extend its life… proper pruning will also extend the useful life of many indoor plants. Pruning helps:

  • Control or maintain shape and size
  • Promote growth
  • Allow more light and air to the plant
  • Remove dead, diseased or pest infested foliage

Let’s assume your Ficus has out grown the space and you need to reshape it.

Start by removing all the dead twigs on the tree. Ficus are lovers of light.

As some of the smaller inner branches are shaded out they just die – this is natural. These twigs will generally be very small about the size of a #2 pencil lead.

Remember – Ficus are lovers of light. It’s important to get light on the foliage where the stronger branches are.

Remove any weak growth in the center of the plant.

Now it’s time to start pruning the outer growth. Remove about one-third of the canopy all the way around the tree.

What you will be doing is reducing the size of the canopy and promoting new growth and a fuller tree.

Ficus Tree pruned correctly

Sometimes you’ll get a “wild” branch that heads for the light and just changes the shape of the tree.

Selectively prune this branch or branches back toward the center of the tree. This will force new growth back into the center.

Pruning Basics

  • Always cut back to a healthy branch, leaving as small a wound as possible.
  • Always make complete, smooth cuts; never rip or tear a branch. This leaves the plant open disease or infection.

  • Never cut too far above a bud; this results in a dead stub. It looks bad and can rot back (Phomopsis) into and or past the new growth.
  • Remember the tips (terminal bud) of a branch or stem grow much stronger and faster than lower buds on the branch (lateral bud). When you remove the terminal bud the strongest lateral bud takes its place.

Have more questions on Ficus Tree care? Check out of Ficus Tree Care Guide

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Trish Roberts July 1, 2010 at 8:22 am

After pruning my ficus tree I thought maybe I should have checked to see if I was doing it the correct way. Guess what? I did it like a pro. Thank you.

I feel better that I did not do more harm than good. I have had it as a house plant in the winter then move it outside in the summer.

What kind of temperature can it tolerate in the winter time? I am in zone 6 close to the Ohio River.

Deborah July 13, 2010 at 5:10 pm

You certainly sound like you know the Ficus! I have what seems to be a Ficus bush – four stems going off to the right and three stems going off to the left. I want to split these clumps and persuade each to grow into trees – can this be done??/

sabino July 25, 2010 at 4:36 pm

so glad u got that off your chest…
i have killed more ficus than u want to know about, the nursery didnt help by poor pruning. i have lately been trying to grow more trees indoors and on shaded patio (north, east and some west light), hence my returning to the ficus (beautiful foliage). its been pruned wrong, i call it cosmetic damage. its beautiful now, ok i admit i might (gonna) kill it. its been trimmed to top, flat canopy, about 4′ tall. its has full growth in middle of the top. i put it in east window, where it will get fresh inside air, and some shaded light. i live in arizona, so that east window will get alot of heat and sun by noon everyday.
here’s where u come in.
what now, i dont want to kill another tree? HELP!

mrmorgan August 16, 2010 at 5:38 pm

i live with roomates and the owner of the house decided to prune the 4 ficuses we have. well the one that was in my room looks like crap she completely butched the plant. the foilage was about the size of a big beach ball maybe bigger now it has problably two leaves on it and about the size of a basketball. she seems to think you need to butch it to prune it . just was wondering if she went to far? from a beach ball or slightly bigger to a basketball with one maybe two leaves on it. to far?

Atarah Doneghy August 22, 2010 at 9:39 pm

I am so glad to have found this site! My boyfriend has a ficus, which is in bad shape. I recently repotted it, since he has had it in the same pot for 9 years. I noticed these white circular dots at the stem or base of many of the leaves. Can you help me on what this might be and what we need to do? I am so afraid that the tree is infected but we can’t find out what these hard circular white things are. Please help!