Plant Care Guide for the Ficus Pumila (Creeping Fig)

The ficus pumila is a plant more commonly called creeping fig. It’s earned this latter moniker because it’s a climbing, vine-like plant whose suction-like properties enable it to cling to a wall and grow upward. Able to thrive in hardiness zones 8 and above, this plant does need some wire support to properly train it to climb in the manner you’d like. It can cover the average wall in about two to three years, depending on the fertility of the soil. While its juvenile leaves are bright green, mature leaves tend to be darker and protrude from vertical branches. Because of this, routine pruning is a must to keep the plant looking its vibrant best.

Cool Name, Cooler Plant

Ficus pumila is the name that science has given this wall-climbing member of the ficus family. However, its common name, creeping fig, is not only way cooler, it’s one of the coolest common monikers in the plant kingdom. It’s also one of the coolest plants you can grow at home.

The evergreen plant is marked by delicate, heart-shaped leaves that grow roughly two to four inches long. They can produce small fig fruits along the way, but they’re rarely visible and never edible. They’re planted in the ground and almost exclusively against a wall or flat surface, where its suction cup-like vines will quickly cling to and cover as it matures.

The creeping fig is an excellent choice for any gardener that has an eyesore of a wall, fence, or structure that’s in need of concealing. It conducts its coverage rather efficiently – if you’re tending to its needs, it will cover your average wall within two to three years. It’s also fun to watch it proliferate on the structure during this time.

The Creeping Fig in Action

It’s one thing to read about the properties of the ficus pumila, or the creeping fig. It’s another thing to see what it can bring to the table – or more accurately, the wall. This video does a good job of providing different creeping figs in action, as well as giving you a few practical cultivation tidbits.

Planting Your Creeping Fig

Creeping figs are a viable option year-round if you live in USDA plant hardiness zone 8 or above. Regardless of where you live, the most important component of owning a creeping fig is its planting phase. One false step here, and you won’t get the desired results.

Obviously, your first step in owning a creeping fig is to pick the edifice you want covered. If you’re choosing a solid surface like a wall, it needs to be crack-free and made of stone, brick, or concrete. The plant will cause rot to a wood surface, and will pry apart aluminum siding as it grows.

The wall in question should also be partially obstructed from direct sunlight. Like a lot of house plants, direct sunlight will cause leaf scorching, which will turn the leaves of your plant yellow.

When you get around to planting the creeping fig, make sure you also plant wire support to “train” the vines and guide them up the wall. It’s usually a good idea to reinforce the wiring further up the wall to give the plant strengthened support.

Caring for your Creeping Fig

In terms of normal plant maintenance, tending to the creeping fig’s needs is relatively easy. They aren’t fickle like a typical ficus, partially because their environment is going to be consistently stable for the duration of its life. Chances are, you’re not going to move this plant from one wall to another.

With that being said, if you actually do remove it from a wall, be prepared for a challenge. The creeping fig’s clinging, suction cup-like properties make it extremely difficult to remove from the wall, to the point where you will have to deal with residual straggling vines that refuse to budge. You may also have to cope with surface damage.

The prime mover behind creeping fig maintenance revolves around keeping the plant under control. Even though it takes a couple years to cover the average wall, it can still be an unruly plant if left unchecked. Therefore, pruning is an essential component to keeping it look nice.

In fact, part of the need for pruning comes from the aesthetic nature of the plant itself. While a creeping fig’s juvenile leaves are bright green, they turn dark and dull as they mature. These leaves usually correspond with vines that decide to jut out horizontally.

If you want to keep your creeping fig looking its best – not to mention acting in the way you want it to – you need to trim prune the wayward branches and their dark, mature leaves. If your plant is covering a tall wall, don’t ignore the overhanging vines because they’re out of reach. Break out a ladder and take care of business.

If you’re worried about your creeping fig becoming too unruly, the soil it’s planted in can be your strongest ally. The more fertile the soil, the quicker this plant will grow. As such, if the soil the vines are planted in is dry and less fertile, they won’t grow as rapidly.

Creeping Fig and Propagation

The creeping fig plant can propagate easily and rapidly. All it takes is a cutting left in a soil for it to root and start doing its thing.

This could be good news for you if you plan to cover more than one wall on your property. However, if could potentially create havoc if your sloppy with your pruning technique. If you don’t want your plant to become extra wild, be sure that you clean your pruning area thoroughly.

If you trim your creeping fig on a consistent basis, you will have a bright, vibrant piece of living art to show off to your guests whenever they venture into your back yard. No matter how tall and wide it gets, it will certainly look a whole lot better than whatever edifice it’s covering.

Photo by Forest & Kim Starr Licensed Under CC BY 3.0

Also Read: Sword Fern

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