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Creeping Fig: Tips For Growing Ficus Pumila

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by Max - last update on April 3, 2019, 7:54 pm
Creeping Fig (Ficus Pumila)

Creeping fig is an evergreen plant that will help you decorate fences, walls, and pillars. Just plant the creeping fig next to a vertical structure, and it will be completely covered in green foliage in 3-5 years. This plant will cling to just about any vertical surface, so the possibilities of using it for exterior design are almost limitless. Creeping fig has lots of small leathery leaves that eventually grow into bigger, thicker leaves.

If you live in a colder climate where the creeping fig would freeze in winter, you can still enjoy the gorgeous green leaves of this plant; just plant it in a pot and keep it inside! However, bear in mind that creeping fig grows extremely fast and will likely require a lot of maintenance to prevent it from growing on the areas and surfaces that you didn’t want to be covered (CABI.org).

Quick Facts

OriginEast Asia (China, Vietnam, Japan)
Scientific NameFicus pumila
FamilyMoraceae
TypeVine
Common NamesCreeping fig, climbing fig, creeping ficus, creeping rubber plant
Ideal Temperature55° F (13° C) - 75° F (24° C)
ToxicityPoisonous to humans and pets
LightBright, indirect light
WateringKeep the soil moist but not too soaked in water
HumidityPlenty of humidity
PestsWhitefly, mealy bugs, scale, spider mites

Caring for Your Creeping Fig Plant

Watering

Ficus pumila watering
Once the creeping fig has matured, it will be able to draw more water from the soil

If your creeping fig is young and seeing its first season in your garden, you have to water it frequently to help the plant establish a well-developed system of roots. Once the creeping fig has matured, it will be able to draw more water from the soil, so you won’t have to water it as often. Make sure that the creeping fig is planted in soil that can provide good drainage, as the plant won’t grow well if its roots are constantly surrounded by wet, soggy soil.

If your creeping fig grows inside in a pot, good drainage is even more important. Always make sure to remove excess water from the tray after you’ve watered the plant. In winter, water the creeping fig less frequently, but never let the soil dry out completely.

Feeding

If you want your creeping fig to grow faster, it’s a good idea to use fertilizers for it. Get some general-purpose liquid fertilizer and feed the plant once a month in spring, summer, and early fall. Once it gets colder, fertilize the creeping fig every other month.

On the other hand, if you want to promote slower growth and prevent the creeping fig from spreading aggressively, you don’t have to fertilize the soil at all. The creeping fig is still going to grow remarkably fast as compared to many other plants, but you won’t have to prune it as often.

Light

Creeping fig ficus pumila outdoors
Creeping fig will grow in any light, regardless of whether it’s always exposed to indirect sunlight

Creeping fig is not very demanding as far as lighting goes. Basically, it will grow in any light, regardless of whether it’s always exposed to indirect sunlight or sitting in the shade most of the time. Still, it may not tolerate plenty of direct sunlight that well, and of course, just like any other plant, it won’t be able to survive in complete darkness or minimal light.

The good news is that it is possible to have creeping fig plants grow and even prosper under artificial light that’s strong enough. Consequently, if you need creeping fig to grow in a very shady spot that’s shielded from sunlight by a tree or your house walls, you can still have it cover that fence as long as you provide artificial lighting.

Temperature

Creeping fig can grow outside in mild climates. It does well in temperatures ranging from 55° F (13° C) to 75° F (24° C), so it’s not going to survive a cold winter. However, you can still have this plant grow inside even if the outside is too cold for it, which makes it a very flexible option to add a fresh, green look to both exterior and interior design ideas.

Humidity

Creeping fig loves humidity, so if you want to grow it in dry climates, you will need to provide some artificial sources of humidity. If your creeping fig grows vertically on a fence or wall, you can place trays with water next to its base. The water will evaporate, creating a better environment for your creeping fig. If you fill the trays with pebbles, you can even make them into a cool element of your garden landscape design.

For indoor creeping fig plants, humidity is just as important as for their outdoor siblings. You may not have to resort to trays for just one potted plant, but you still need to make sure it’s not sitting on a dry windowsill all the time. You may spray the plant with water or use an artificial air humidifier to create the optimal environment for your creeping fig and enjoy its juicy green leaves.

Propagation

You don’t have to buy more creeping fig plants to have them cover your whole fence or wall. Just use your own creeping fig specimen to obtain more plants in a matter of weeks. The only catch here is that you’ll have to wait until spring before you can start the propagation. If you do that after the plant’s growing season is over, the future new plants may not grow roots and just die.

Once spring comes, and your creeping fig starts growing new leaves, you can cut off some stem tips and place them in a sterile mix for propagation. If everything goes well, your stem cut-offs should develop some roots in 2-3 weeks. To help them do that, you’ll have to place the pot with the cut-offs in a warm spot with lots of indirect light. Once the new plant has well-established roots, you can plant it outside or repot it into a bigger pot with proper soil and treat it as a young creeping fig plant.

Repotting

If your creeping fig grows outside, you obviously won’t have to repot it. For small potted plants that dwell inside, repotting is recommended every year. Combined with an extensive trimming, annual repotting should help keep the plant’s growth spurts in check, allowing you to keep the creeping fig relatively small and compact. If you don’t want the plant to keep growing vertically, you can trim its roots, but be sure not to remove too much or the plant might not be able to recover.

For bigger potted creeping figs, such as those used in topiaries, biannual repottings are the way to go. The larger your creeping fig, the more careful you have to be when repotting it so that you wouldn’t damage the plant’s structure. For mature plants, you may not even have to go through the hassle of repotting: just remove the upper layers of old soil and replace them with new fresh soil. This should be enough to keep your creeping fig growing happily for at least another year.

Pruning and Trimming

Trim Creeping fig to make it compact
If you prefer it to have the young, fresh leaves rather than the meaty, older ones, you will need to prune the plant from time to time

If allowed to, creeping fig will grow quite aggressively, spreading out vertically if it can find a surface to cling to, and horizontally otherwise. If that’s what you want, all you need to do is water and fertilize the plant.

However, if you need your creeping fig to remain compact or if you prefer it to have the young, fresh leaves rather than the meaty, older ones, you will need to prune the plant from time to time. With time, you’ll gain some experience and might even be able to trim your creeping fig into the desired shape. When pruning the creeping fig, be sure to not remove too much foliage all at once so that the plant can still adapt to the change.

Varieties

There are several varieties of the main Ficus pumila species, but they’re all similar enough to ignore the minor differences in leaf shape and coloring.

Toxicity

Creeping fig is not really poisonous, but if you come into contact with the milky sap produced by its stems, your skin might develop a serious condition called phytophotodermatitis. It is a skin inflammation that may be rather difficult to treat, so creeping fig is even included in the FDA list of poisonous plants (NCBI.gov).

If you have pets or small children in your household, you’ll have to make sure that the indoor specimens of creeping pig are situated well out of their reach. In the case of outside plants, restricting access to them might be difficult or impossible, so you may want to choose another plant for your landscape design implementation if you think your children or pets might accidentally come into contact with the plant (ASPCA.org).

Common Problems

Common Problems of Ficus Pumila

Pale, Exhausted-Looking Leaves

If your creeping fig loses its leafy green look, it has probably been exposed to too much sunlight. Creeping fig may do reasonably well in limited amounts of direct sunlight, but it won’t be able to tolerate it all day long. Moving the pot to a shadier location or replanting an outside creeping fig will help the plant recover from light exposure and regain the juicy green leaves we all love.

Shriveled Up Leaves that Keep Falling Off

While there are multiple reasons that could cause this, the most common and likely one is that your creeping fig is receiving too much water. If the soil around the plant’s roots remains soggy and poorly drained for an extended period of time, it will be exposed to too much water and its leaves will shrivel up. If they are also falling off at the lightest touch or even a gush of the wind, you’re dealing with excessive watering and/or poor drainage. If needed, repot your creeping fig to achieve optimal drainage and stick to a less frequent watering schedule.

Dark, Unattractive Leaves

Creeping fig looks best with small, heart-shaped leaves that are bright green and very pleasant to look at. These are the young leaves which are inevitably going to mature and turn into thicker, darker ones that no longer have the initial appeal. If your creeping fig is starting to display too many dark leaves, it is a clear indication that your plant needs some pruning.

Despite consistent, aggressive growth, creeping fig is better pruned in spring and summer, and not just whenever you feel like it. This is why it is important to prune the creeping fig plants during their growing seasons so that you don’t end up with a huge plant sporting lots of dark leaves in fall or winter.

White Spots All Over the Plant

The white spots on your creeping fig may easily be mistaken for mold if you don’t have much experience with plants, but they’re actually a warning sign indicating that your plan is affected by mealybug. Mealybug is a very common problem for many types of plant, and it has to be taken care of as soon as possible. Otherwise, it will spread on to your other plants and steadily multiply until it kills them.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways to remove mealybug from your plants. If you discover it early on and it hasn’t affected much of the plant yet, you may simply use a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol to kill off the mealybug quickly and effectively. Rubbing alcohol won’t damage your creeping fig, and it will simply evaporate after killing the mealybug.

If you have several large creeping fig plants growing outside, removing mealybug from them may be a little more challenging. You can still use the rubbing alcohol if you don’t mind the tedious task of examining and treating hundreds of small leaves. Those who don’t have enough time or patience to do that can resort to professional-grade pesticides, but this measure can result in permanent damage to your creeping fig.

For indoor plants (or very patient outdoor plant owners), there’s also another method that won’t even require any chemicals to be used. You can simply locate the white spots on your plant and remove the mealybug with a pair of tweezers. However, doing this will require extra care and manual dexterity, as you can easily damage the leaves and stems with the tweezers. Also, this manual procedure may take a lot of time and effort if you have a large, widespread creeping fig or even several of them.

Creeping Fig Spreads Too Fast

The quick growth that’s typical for creeping fig may be a blessing for those who need it to cover up a fence as soon as possible, but it may also be a curse if you weren’t aware of just how fast it would grow. If your creeping fig has spread too fast too soon and covered up the surfaces you didn’t intend for it, you’ll need to act fast and remove the extra growth as soon as you can. Creeping fig can cling to different types of surfaces really well, and the longer you wait, the more difficult it is going to be to free the affected area.

If you need to remove a significant amount of creeping fig growth, you’ll need dedicated gardening equipment. Act carefully, or you might actually damage the wall or fence your creeping fig is clinging to while pulling the leaves away. Once you’re satisfied with the area you freed, be sure to keep pruning your creeping fig plant on a regular basis during its growing season. Also, don’t fertilize the plant, and you may even stop watering it altogether if it’s already a mature specimen; creeping fig plants are very good at surviving in various conditions, and the lack of additional water will help curb undesired growth.

Creeping Fig Won’t Produce Flowers

If your potted creeping fig refuses to blossom, don’t blame it on yourself; creeping figs are not able to have flowers unless they grow outside. And even if an outside creeping fig doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to produce flowers, don’t feel too disappointed, as the creeping fig flowers aren’t really as spectacular as its leaves.

Creeping Fig Causes Skin Irritation after Pruning and Trimming

Creeping fig is considered poisonous, so you should protect your arms and possibly face when trimming the plant leaves and stems. Otherwise, your skin is likely to come into contact with the sap produced by the plant and become inflamed. Wearing safety goggles may also be a good idea because the sap could cause some serious damage if it comes into contact with your eyes.

If you didn’t wear protective gloves and your skin is now irritated after too much contact with the creeping fig sap, you need to wash the sap away under running water. Make sure the water isn’t too hot and don’t use soap or other cleaning agents on your skin. If the irritation and inflammation persist and don’t get better after a day or two, you may want to seek professional medical help to make sure that there won’t be any permanent damage to your skin.


Conclusion

Do you still have any questions about your creeping fig? Feel free to ask them in the comments or share your own tips and experiences caring for a creeping fig!

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