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Gardening: Grow a mini banyan fig

Pot belly figs are hardy, resilient plants that make great indoor bonsais.
Pot belly figs are hardy, resilient plants that make great indoor bonsais.

MOST bonsai plants are not suited to the indoor life for more than a couple of weeks at a time, but there is one that will handle it if you can give it a well-lit position.

Known as the pot belly fig, it's actually a form of ficus macrocarpa retusa, also commonly called the banyan fig.

It's a hardy plant that will grow just about anywhere. It has smooth bark and oval green leaves that grow up to 7cm long on a big tree but will stay much smaller on one that is trained as a bonsai.

But the really cool thing about the pot belly figs is that they develop gorgeous bulbous trunks and aerial roots.

They are one of the types of figs that can start life as an epiphyte - a seed may germinate in the fork of a tree or a crevice in a rock face.

Roots develop, travelling as far down as necessary to reach the ground or somewhere they can get water and nutrients.

In their native habitat they can be seen growing out of sheer cliff faces or on the sides of buildings.

When grown as a bonsai, they have fat trunks, sometimes with two or three separate parts, creating some interesting, almost grotesque, shapes.

Banyan trees are one of the easiest plants to bonsai, as they are resilient and easy to shape. A banyan can survive in a small pot for 100 years or more.

The roots will need trimming every one to three years, and the branches will need trimming more frequently. Feed with a liquid fertiliser at the rate and frequency recommended on whatever product you choose.

When you repot, you can put the plant into a larger pot, or trim off some of the rootball and return it to the same pot with some fresh potting mix.

Pot belly figs sometimes are a different type of fig, with slightly rounder, more compact foliage, grafted onto the trunk, but in terms of care and position they are pretty much interchangeable.

Figs are good as indoor plants, as you will know if you have one of the popular fiddle leaf figs. But if they get stressed they are inclined to drop their leaves.

This can happen if you move them to a new position, but the tree will quickly grow lovely fresh new ones once it settles in to the new home.

Leaf drop can also be a symptom of too much or too little water. You should let the potting mix get a little dry to the touch before thoroughly watering again, and don't sit the pot in a saucer of water.

Got a gardening question? Email maree@edenatbyron.com.au

Topics:  gardening green thumb weekend magazine



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