HOW TO GROW FATSIA JAPONICA (false castor oil plant)

This is not the true castor oil plant, but its leaves are certainly a similar shape to Ricinus communis, although they are smoother and more glossy. Despite its ability to withstand frost, the palmate foliage is suggestive of the tropics, and it makes a line and impressive plant for a porch, hallway or chilly entrance hall, provided there is reasonable light. It is slow-growing, fortunately, but can eventually reach a considerable size. Outdoors it exceeds 3m (10ft) in height and spread. There is a variegated form with cream blotched or edged leaves, and this develops very much more slowly. It is also far less cold resistant, and the temperature should not be allowed to fall below freezing, otherwise the leaves could fall in winter. This variegated form is an especially desirable houseplant. with paler green leaf colour and more suited to limited space. Both forms look splendid if treated with one of the leaf-shine products sold by garden shops.

The plants can be kept in relatively small pots for some years, but eventually will need 20cm (5 in.) pots, and finally small tubs if retained for hallways and the like. Mature specimens produce creamy-white globular (lower clusters in October. Water just sufficiently to prevent the compost drying out during winter. Pests and diseases are extremely rare.

FICUS GROWING TIPS

To this large genus belong some of the most well-known of the impressive foliage plants for the home and for public buildings. It includes figs and so-called rubber plants, although commercial rubber is mostly obtained from Hevea brasiliensis, belonging to an entirely different family.

Undoubtedly, the greatest favourite is F. elastica ‘Decora’, the India rubber plant. This plant usually grows as a single stem, bearing large, shiny, oval leaves. The top leaf, as it is developing, is surrounded by a reddish sheath. The young leaves, especially the mid-ribs. are also tinted red. Mature plants may branch naturally from the base, and in ideal conditions can reach 2.4m (8ft). F. lyrata, the fiddle-back fig. also grows as a single stem, but is usually much shorter, and rarely branches. The leaves are very large and shiny and. of course, fiddle-shaped, as the common name suggests. The leaf edges are wavy and the leaf veining may be tinted yellow or gold to give a marked contrast to the dark green background. Both these species need a minimum winter temperature of 15 deg C (59 deg F). or a few degrees higher. although they will survive much lower if scarcely watered during the cool period.

There are some variegated forms of /¦’. elastica, such as ‘Doescherf. This has leaves blotched with cream, and sometimes flushed pink. ‘Tricolor’ is similar. but ‘Black Prince’ has plain, very dark green shiny foliage. All of these are said to need a higher minimum winter temperature.

Ficus benjamina, the weeping fig, is more tree-like in shape, and has rather drooping spear-shaped foliage, changing from pale green when young to dark green when mature. It can exceed 1.8m (6ft) in height, being quite vigorous. F. radicans, trailing fig. in contrast. grows only to about 10cm (4in). It is a trailer for hanging pots or baskets and is best seen in the form ‘Variegata’. which has a creamy coloured edging to the small, sharply-pointed spear-shaped leaves. Both these species can have about 13 deg C (55 deg F) winter minimum. F. deltoidea, the mistletoe fig, is of bushy habit, with oval leaves tinted brownish yellow, and bearing small greenish berries most of the year. F. pumila, the creeping fig. can be grown as a climber or trailer, and has heart-shaped foliage with prominent veins in the juvenile form. These two species can be given a winter minimum of 7 deg C (45 deg F). They will come to no harm even at this low temperature. Different – in that it is extremely easy to

raise from seed from a window-sill sowing – is F. benghalensis, the Bengal fig. It is similar in habit to the India rubber plant, but not so attractive. All the large-leaved species will be enhanced by treatment with a leaf-shine preparation from time to time-or the leaves can also be washed. Most ficus prefer a position in good light, but direct sunshine may cause leaf scorch. The trailing species will tolerate more shade. Those species preferring warmer conditions may drop their leaves if chilled for any length of time. and especially if temperatures fluctuate widely. Every attempt must be made to prevent this happening, since the plants can be spoilt, although not usually killed. Plants that have become leggy will have to be propagated by air layering. Leggy plants may also be induced to sprout new shoots from the bare stem if the stem is sprayed frequently with one of the special foliar feeds containing a growth stimulant. The spraying should be done during the warm summer months. Ficus elastica often responds particularly well to this treatment. All species can be watered freely in summer, but sparingly in winter. The lower the temperature the more careful must be the watering. Potting, when necessary, is best done in May. Most of the taller species will be happy in pots that may appear too small, provided feeding is not neglected. Given large pots and good growing conditions, they can grow too fast and become large too quickly. In all cases, moderate humidity is preferred. /¦’. pumila likes more moisture in winter than the others, and it will also do well in quite shaded positions. All the taller ficus make excellent feature plants for groups of houseplants.

Generally, there are few troubles to be expected from pests or diseases, mealy bugs and scale insects being the most frequent invaders. These are easily wiped off the shiny leaves or brushed from between the leaves with an artist’s brush dipped in an insecticide solution. The most usual trouble with large ficus plants is the shedding of leaves encountered in chilly homes or where temperatures fluctuate and there are draughts. The warmth-loving species are best bought in summer, since they are less liable to suffer shock from chill during their journey home. It is important to buy plants from a reputable florist or nursery where the proper temperatures are maintained. A plant may drop its leaves some time after being subjected to ill-treatment, and after you have paid for it.

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