13 Best Tips to Care for Ficus Altissima (Council Tree)

Ficus Altissima is a commonly kept houseplant because it is virtually maintenance-free but could be extremely sensitive to change in growing conditions.

It may become evident with untimely leaf drops, yellowing and browning foliage, dark leaf patches, and other unusual changes in your plant.

However, you can easily avoid and treat these problems by maintaining a proper growing condition to ensure a healthy plant.

Ficus Altissima thrives in rich, fertile soil under partial shade. Ensure the temperature of 60-80 °F and between 60-80 % humidity, well-drained soil, and monthly feeding throughout the growing season.

Ficus Altissima
Ficus Altissima (Source: Unsplash)

With correct growing conditions, be assured it will grow striking 6-feet tall with beautiful variegated leaves.

However, keep an eye out for possible plant pests and prune appropriately to ensure a healthy plant.

Use this guide to learn more about properly caring for Ficus Attisma at home.

Overview of Ficus Altissima

Commonly known as the council tree, lofty fig, false banyan, and gao shan rong, it is a flowering fig tree specimen known for its signature variegated leaves.

The leaves are 3.9 inches long with elliptic to ovate shapes, and blossoms often come out of leaf axils that turn orangish-red.

Here is a table describing the essential details about Ficus Altissima.

Scientific NameFicus Altissima
NativeSoutheast Asia
USDAZone 10-12
NatureTropical
PruningTrim damaged leaves and lanky branches
PropagationPropagate by stem cutting in spring
ToxicityToxic to humans and animals
WateringWeekly watering about 1-1.5 liters in the growing season and once in two weeks in winter and fall
SeasonGrowing season Feb to May, July to Sept
Temperature60-80°F (15-26°C)
Soil-typeRich, fertile, and well-drained potting mix
Pest/Diseaseswhitefly, mealybug, spider mites, and thrips; Bacterial leaf spot and angular yellow spots

Ficus is sensitive to an unacceptable growing condition, often indicated by yellowing and browning foliage, leaf drop, plant wilting, and stunted growth.

Once you get these tell-tale signs, it is time to diagnose your plant for possible overwatering problems, root rot, bacterial infection, and pest infestation.

Adult Ficus Plant
Adult Ficus Altissimia Plant (Source: Wikimedia)

13 Best Tips to Care for Ficus Altissima (Council Tree)

A tropical evergreen tree, Ficus Altissima requires a conducive growing environment rich in warm and humid surroundings, with enough indirect sunlight and nutrient-rich potting mix.

They are sensitive to change in lighting, watering, and location; hence, changing their surrounding will invite many problems.

Therefore, they are not as carefree as you imagine, but they are pretty sturdy and withstand severe droughts.

Here is how you can best care for your beloved plant.

1. Adequate Watering

Ficus needs consistent yet moderate watering throughout the growing seasons, with some dry spells in winter.

It is slightly tolerant of drought but is less likely to survive wet conditions.

Yellowing leaves are often the primary signs of root rot caused by excess watering.

Soon after, you will notice soft, brown, or moldy leaf spots and then leaf drops and stunted growth.

Save an Overwatered Ficus

  • Letting the soil dry out before watering should prevent the onset of severe root rot.
  • Remove the plant from the container and inspect for root rots (mushy, smelly, and dark roots) in root rot.
  • Prepare to prune it away with a pruning shear, along with dead branches (no green under their bark).
  • Next, disinfect the pot and change the potting mix before planting it again.
A lady is watering the indoor plants
Optimum Watering (Source: Unsplash)

Tips for Watering Ficus

  • Consider watering after the top 2-inches of soil dries out. Use your finger to stick into soil to check whether it is wet or slightly dried.
  • Water only if the soil feels drier. Otherwise, wait for a few more days.
  • A 12-inch pot requires 1-1.5 liters of water every week during the growing season (spring and summer)
  • Cut back on watering to once every two weeks and reduce the amount to 2/3 of a liter.
  • Collect the drained water in a tray and dispose of it to avoid the roots sitting on the water.

Pro Tip: Browning and crispy tips of leaves indicate a thirsty plant that needs immediate watering.

2. Ideal Temperature

Like any other tropical tree, Ficus Altissima thrives in warm temperatures around the year.

Therefore, you should keep it close to the light source without exposing the leaves to direct sunlight.

Ficus Altissima ideally grows faster and produces rich variegated leaves when the temperature is between 70-80 °F at all times.

Maintain a temperature over 60-degrees at all times.

Anything below 60-degrees can set back the plant, while the temperature of 50-degree or less will probably kill the plant.

Therefore, it is wise to move them inside during fall and winter to avoid the effects of a sharp drop in temperature and cold drafts.

Tips to Maintain an Adequate Temperature

  • Avoid placing them in direct light facing window as it can harden and discolor the leaves.
  • Ensure that the temperature does not drop below 65°F during the day and 60°F at night.
  • Move them inside when the temperature starts dropping but avoid keeping them close to the heater or air conditioner.
  • Keep them under artificial grow lights for 6-8 hours during winter to provide ample bright light.
  • Mistake the leaves frequently when the temperature rises above 80F to avoid dry plants.

3. Adequate Lighting and Proper Location

Ficus enjoys bright, indirect sunlight and thrives in medium sunlight, like in their native tropical surrounding.

Regular indirect sunlight will help maintain the optimum temperature required for the Ficus plant, and medium-light will ensure the plant leaves achieve their signature variegated pattern.

Ficus
Ficus Altissima enjoys indirect sunlight (Source: Pixabay.com)

You should know your plant is sunburnt if you notice brown and crispy leaf tips.

In that case, it will be a wiser decision to move your plant away from direct light sources until it recovers.

Therefore, choose a spot that receives an even amount of indirect sunlight throughout the day.

Tips for Maintaining Proper Lighting and Location

  • Place them close to empty walls near windows or patio that reflect sunlight.
  • Do not rotate the plant as the leaves will turn on their own.
  • For mildly warm regions, leave them in the open area throughout the day, but protect them from direct sunlight unless they are acclimatized to it.
  • You can gradually expose them to a little more sun each day to make them acclimatized.
  • Keep your plant indoors under bright locations during winter but away from doors and windows to avoid cold drafts.

4. High Humidity

Ficus Altissima loves a humid environment. They usually prefer humidity levels between 60 to 80 percent.

High humidity level prevents excessive transpiration in Ficus Altissima; hence, reducing the risks of water loss.

However, too much humidity may also invite wet roots that encourage diseases and fungus infestation.

Therefore, you should adopt multiple techniques to raise humidity levels to avoid the risks of wet plants.

Tips for Maintain Adequate Humidity Level

  • Keep them close to the kitchen and bathroom to bask in humid air but ensure the place receives indirect sunlight throughout the day.
  • If possible, choose to plant them close to humid-loving houseplants to create a humid microclimate.
  • Transpiration from the leaves of houseplants will naturally maintain an adequate humidity level.
  • Regularly misting the plant during summer may also help with maintaining humidity levels. Otherwise, wipe the leaves 1-2 times a week with a damp cloth.
  • Alternatively, you can add a room humidifier that provides the required humidity level to the plant.
  • You can attempt to keep the humidity up by placing them in a pebble tray with water, but this method is rarely tried with Ficus Altissima plants.
Humidifier is placed near a Plant
Humidifier near a Plant (Source: Amazon)

5. Proper Soil Mix

Ficus enjoys a standard potting mix with natural, well-draining elements.

The well-aerated soil will allow the plant roots to get enough oxygen while holding the moisture inside.

It ideally prefers soil with a blend of perlite and moss that naturally mimics the well-draining environment in the tropics.

Ficus requires a well-draining potting mix (Source: Unsplash)

Ensure that the potting mix is slightly acidic, with a pH range of 5.5 to 7, but beware of using potting mix meant for roses and azaleas as they tend to be highly acidic.

Tips to Prepare an Ideal Potting Mix at Home

  • You can easily prepare the potting mix at home by combining one part of sterilized soil, peat moss, and sand, one part perlite, or vermiculite.
  • Start with sterilizing the soil. Leave the soil to dry out for hours in the sun before using.
  • Using peat moss provides essential nutrients and microorganisms to the roots.
  • Add sphagnum peat into the soil mix to boost the acidic contents.
  • If you are not up for the task, consider buying a premixed potting mix from the market.

6. Proper Fertilization

Ficus does not generally require fertilization, but you would not see them growing as quickly as you expect.

Therefore, they would not mind being fed mild nutrient solutions a couple of times a year.

Fertilizing with the right solution will ensure a quick nutrient boost for rich green, variegated leaves.

However, too strong plant food may leave the soil toxic and damage the delicate root system.

Tips for Appropriately Fertilizing the Ficus

  • Apply slow-release fertilizer (granular) three times from spring to summer or diluted liquid fertilizer once a month during spring and summer.
  • Opt for organic fertilizers that are less likely to burn the root system and avoid salt deposits.
  • Pick Ficus appropriate fertilizer that is slightly rich in Nitrogen for young growers. The ideal NPK ratio is 3-1-2.
  • For mature plants, you can opt for a balanced blend with an NPK ratio of 8-8-8.
  • Choose water-soluble plant food to ensure slow-release of nutrients to the root system.
  • Cut back on fertilizing during fall and winter.
  • Start feeding when new growth appears in the spring and cut immediately at the end of summer.
A balanced fertilizer for Ficus Altisimma
A balanced fertilizer for Ficus Altisimma (Source: Amazon)

7. Growth Habit

A tropical tree species, Ficus Altissima, tends to grow rather quickly in the wild, but it may grow pretty slowly when planted indoors.

Ensure to provide bright, indirect sunlight, high humid conditions, and warm temperature to ensure consistent growth throughout the year.

With the right conditions, it will manage to grow up to 6-feet and give out bushy foliage and yearly blossoms.

Fertilize it regularly to encourage active stem and foliage growth during the growing season.

Repot the plant at 1-2 years when the container becomes rootbound and provide a fresh soil mix to boost its growth.

Annual pruning of dead and lanky branches will encourage lush foliage. Wait to prune until late winter or early spring before new growth begins.

8. Say No to Flowers

Ficus Altissima gives out signature white flowers that are later open-pollinated to produce fruits.

However, only mature ficus trees produce blossoms that too in the wild.

Due to the absence of pollinating wasps when grown indoors, your ficus plant is very unlikely to bear a flower.

Remember, Ficus Altissima will not bloom in indoor conditions, and even if it does, the young buds will soon die out.

Therefore, prepare to say goodbye to flowers and occasionally prune the plant to keep it looking ornamental.

9. Annual Repotting

Ficus plant would require repotting once a year or once in two years when it becomes root-bound.

Repotting them also encourages new growth. So when you notice the plant has not put out new growth, it might be a good time to repot it. 

A lady is Repotting Ficus Altisima
Repotting Ficus Altisima (Source: Pexels)

You would know this when the roots start peeking out of the drainage hole and the growth stunts.

You should also repot the plant when the root is suffering bacterial infestation.

Tips for Repotting the Plant

  • Ensure to repot it early in the spring to help it flourish and avoid transplant shock.
  • Determine root-bound conditions by checking for stunted or slower growth and roots emerging from the drainage holes.
  • Start with choosing a right-sized container, at least 2″ larger in diameter than the current one.
  • Gently slide out the plant using your hand and untangle the root ball.
  • Clear the root with some water and check for signs of decay, browning, and mushy problems. Then, trim the infected parts using a sterilized pruning shear.
  • Fill half of the container with the potting mix and gently place the plant inside, root first.
  • Fill the rest of the container but leave an inch at the top.
  • Do not add mulch, worm casting, or compost.
  • Move it to a place with medium light and water it thoroughly to keep the soil moist.

10. Plant Propagation

Some Ficus varieties are more complex to propagate than others. Luckily Ficus Altissima can be reproduced much easily.

It will be worthwhile to propagate stem cuttings while repotting the plant so you can multiply these beautiful plants around the house.

It is best to propagate Ficus Altissima in early spring during repotting or around summer when it is actively growing.

You could propagate your Ficus Altissima in two different ways; stem cutting and air layering, which see greater success.

Seed germination and tissue culturing are other popular propagation methods, but it does not work well with Ficus Altissima.

You are less likely to see any substantial success.

a. Propagate Via Stem Cuttings

It is the most straightforward way to go about propagating the plant.

This involves cutting the healthy stem with foliage and growing it in new potting soil or water.

  • Start with cutting a healthy stem from the plant.
  • Cut a section close to the root and remove the bottom leaf or two.
  • Place the cutting inside a jar full of water and wait about 3-4 weeks before you start to see new roots.
  • Prepare a small clay or terracotta pot (5-inches) and transplant the rooted cutting with the potting mix.
  • Once done, immediately moisten the plant by thoroughly watering it so the roots can quickly take up the nutrients.
  • Place the pot in a room with medium indirect sunlight.

Alternatively, you can immediately root the stem cutting in the potting soil.

Instead of putting it into the water, dip the cut in rooting hormone and plant it in moist potting soil.

The rooting hormone will boost the feeder root production when rooted in soil, and the moist soil condition provides a fruitful environment for the roots to proliferate.

b. Propagate Via Air Layering

Air layering is an alternative method to propagation that involves growing new vegetation while still attached to the mother plant.

It helps to produce an enormous plant quicker than any other method.

However, it may only apply to outdoor Ficus Altissima trees to support additional growth.

  • Start with peeling the bark of a robust branch, wrap the sphagnum moss around the cut and secure it with floral ties.
  • Cover the area with plastic wrap to preserve moisture needed for the growth.
  • It may take around 90 to 120 days for the root system to become robust and support the entire plant.
  • Once you have roots, remove the new growth and pot it.

11. Annual Pruning

Do not be shy about pruning back Ficus Altissima to keep them neat and encourage bushier foliage.

You can primarily prune back to influence the shape of the canopy to make it an ornamental plant or to keep it longer.

ficus altissima
Ficus Altissima as an ornamental houseplant (Source: Unsplash.com)

The yearly pruning of old, dead, and lanky stems will encourage thick foliage.

Tips for Pruning Ficus Altissima

  • Trim the plant in late winter or early spring.
  • Ensure to prune off damaged leaves, flower buds, and specific branches.
  • When pruning a branch, ensure to cut it just above a leaf node or branching stem.
  • Sterilize the pruning shear before and after the use.
  • Avoid pruning in the growing season, which may push back the new growth.
  • Wear gloves to prevent getting toxic milky substances on your skin.

12. Appropriate Container

Growing Ficus Altissima indoors requires multiple drainage containers to let out excess water and moisture.

Drainage is critical to ensure the soil does not stay wet for a long time; hence, choose pots with 2-3 drainage holes at the bottom.

Consider using pots made from terracotta, clay, or ceramic that let out excess moisture and help circulate air.

Here are a few recommendations for the Ficus Altissima plant.

ContainerPot MaterialSpecification
Clay Pots,Brajttt 6.28 inchEarthen ware, CeramicIt allows good drainage and air permeability.
8” Clay Pot for Plant with SaucerTerracotta, ClayThe 8" in height and outer diameter provide ample space for root growth.
Large 10” Terracotta Plant PotTerracotta, CeramicThe 40-B-L-1 earthenware pot is best for growing houseplants for proper drainage.

13. Plant Toxicity

Ficus Altissima is toxic to humans and pets, especially when exposed to milky white sap.

Ficus may deposit one of the three primary minerals: amorphous calcium carbonate cystoliths, calcium oxalates, and silica phytoliths that are known to be toxic for ingestion.

Therefore, you should be extra careful when pruning the stem as the calcium oxalate deposits are mostly found around the veins.

Keep your houseplants in an appropriate location out of your children’s or pet’s reach altogether.

In case of accidental poisoning in pets, contact ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

Common Problems with Ficus Altissima

From pests and diseases to leaves yellowing, be prepared to tackle common plant-related problems with your Ficus Altissima.

Overwatering invites most problems to Ficus Altissima, including root rot, pests, and diseases.

Some common problems found in Ficus Atissima and ways to treat or prevent them are:

1. Ficus Altissima Pests

Both indoor and outdoor Ficus Altissima is susceptible to plant pests that can decimate the plant.

However, you can quickly treat and prevent them by intervening on time.

Pest Infested Leaf
Pest Infested Leaf (Source: Pixabay)
PestsProblems
MealybugA tiny insect that mainly infects the foliage and roots.

They suck the sap from the leaves, leaving them wilted and discolored.
WhiteflyWhitefly mainly attacks nitrogen-rich plants.
They reside under the leaves, sucking their juices and leaving them yellow, faded, and drooping.
Spider MiteThey are rounded-shaped black or red-colored mites that infest the underside of the leaves and feed on the sap.

Check for silky web under the leaves, leaf drooping and curling to determine infestation.
ThripsThrips are small, brown insects with yellow hind wings that mainly feed Calathea leaves.

They are attracted to overwatered plants or those placed in damp locations.

Solutions

  • To remove a few mealybugs and whitefly, rinse the plant leaves with a soapy water solution or use a water hose to blast them away.
  • Spray the plant with insecticidal soap or neem oil to effectively remove severe mealybug, whitefly, spider mite, and thrip infestation.
  • Dip cotton balls in alcohol and dab on spider mites to kill them instantly.

Preventive Measures

  • Avoid overfertilizing your plant and limit the use of nitrogen-rich plant food to prevent whitefly infestation.
  • Let the soil dry before watering again to avoid excess moisture around the plant’s roots.
  • A homemade water spray mixed with mild garlic, and chili pepper will keep away thrips.

2. Ficus Altissima Diseases

The Ficus Plant is sensitive to overwatering and incredibly moist conditions that may invite bacterial leaf spots, angular leaf spots, and root rot.

Here is how you can identify plant diseases on Ficus and treat or prevent them.

DiseaseCauses And Signs
Root rotOverwatering is the cause.

Primary signs include drooping and rapidly yellowing leaves, stunted growth and a smelly soil.
Bacterial Leaf spot (Pseudomonas cichorii)It causes the appearance of yellow spots around the leaf.
Angular Leaf SpotA bacterial disease caused by Pseudomonas syringae appears on moist and irregular water-soaked plant areas.
Check for angular or irregular yellow spots on the leaf.
Anthracnose (Glomerella Colletotrichum)Greasy yellow spots and halo
Branch Dieback (Phomopsis)Leaves wilt and die, small and large branches die, and wood under the bark is black.

Solutions

  • Prune the infected root, and repot the plant after bleach washing the pot to effectively remove root rot, angular leaf spot, and bacterial spot.
  • Use an all-purpose fungicide to kill bacterial leaf spots.
  • Use a mild solution of bicarbonate mixed with water to wipe the plant leaves to treat bacterial leaf spots.
  • EBDC fungicide (mancozeb) is effective in treating angular leaf spots.
    Keep foliage dry and prevent excess moist conditions.
  • Fungicide designed to treat anthracnose may only become important for trees that keep losing leaves several years in a row.

Preventive Measures

  • Avoid overwatering your plant, and let the top few inches of soil dry out before watering.
  • Do not keep them in moist and dark locations like room corners.
  • Avoid overhead watering your plant that may help bacteria to spread.
  • Apply Anthracnose fungicide before the symptoms appear, such as in the late growing season.
  • Prune branches when they are small.
  • Do not place the plant near air conditioners or heating vents. Maintain temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Leaf Drop

Leaf drop becomes common in Ficus plants when there is a sudden change in temperature or location.

Frequently changing the plant’s location and cold drafts may invite leaf drops.

Sometimes, the water-stressed plant may also start dropping leaves. It is their way of showing distress.

They will shed most or even all of their leaves, depending on the severity.

You should place them in even indirect sunlight throughout the growing season and only move them inside when it gets colder.

Maintain an ideal temperature of 65-80 °F at all times to offset the risk of plant stress.

Check out why your Ficus plant may start dropping leaves and how to treat them.

4. Yellowing Leaves

Consistently moist soil conditions mainly cause the yellowing of leaves in Ficus.

Overwatering the plant may cause constantly soggy soil that deprives the root system of air and nutrients.

The yellowing may start from the bottom and spread throughout the plant.

Leaf loss is common in yellowing plants, where about 20% of leaves can be lost.

It indicates the onset of the root rot problem.

As an immediate solution, cut back on watering and dry the soil. Check whether the plant comes back to its normal condition.

Otherwise, inspect your plant for root rot problems, which may need massive pruning of roots and soil change.

Ficus altissima leaf
Healthy Ficus Altissima leaf (Source: Unsplash.com)

5. Dry and Browning Leaves

Dry and browning foliage indicates either underwatering or too much fertilization.

Although you should let the topsoil dry out between watering, you should not miss out on a regular watering schedule.

Letting the soil completely dry out will prevent the roots from getting air and nutrients.

On the other hand, too much fertilizing will also boost chemicals in the soil that will choke roots, preventing them from taking the air.

A good soak is vital if the soil is parched. Run the water until the container lets out excess fertilizer from the soil.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ficus Altissima

Here are answers to some of the frequently asked questions about Ficus Altissima.

Is Ficus Altissima the Same as Weeping Fig?

Not really, but they share a lot of similarities.

Ficus Altissima and weeping fig (Ficus Benjamina) belong to a flowering Moraceae family native to Southeast Asia but require slightly different growing conditions.

Both Ficus Altissima and Weeping figs are decorative plants and kept indoors.

Altissima does best in indirect sunlight while Weeping fig enjoys 3-4hr of direct sunlight.

However, weeping fig is mainly kept in the bedroom because of its air-improving quality.

Read more about the benefits of keeping weeping figs at home.

Is Ficus Altissima a Tree?

Yes! Ficus Altissima is naturally a tree found in the tropical evergreen regions of South Asia.

They could grow over 96 feet tall in their natural habitat.

Today, the Ficus Altissima plant is conditioned to be grown both indoors and outdoors, where they will grow up to 6-feet and 40-feet, respectively.

You can choose to grow them as large and small ornamental plants.

Does Ficus Altissima Require a Lot of Care?

Not really! Ficus Altissima is the easiest Ficus species for growing at home.

They are not as picky as fiddle leaf figs or weeping figs that require slightly more care.

Ficus Altissima is less susceptible to plant pests and diseases than fiddle leaf figs.

They will become healthy plants with the right growing conditions and occasional fertilization.

Conclusion

Ficus Altissima is an easy houseplant to grow and does not need expert care.

Ensure to maintain the consistent watering habit and let the soil dry out between watering.

Prevent abrupt change in temperature and lighting to avoid plant stress, and change the location only when necessary.

Keep an eye out for possible plant-related problems.

Check the above guide to diagnose your plant for problems and apply the appropriate treatment.

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