Little Plant-Big Visual Impact
Climbing Fig-It’s Beautiful-What is It? Ficus pumila (FYE-kus-PU-mi-la)
This is a lovely vine, with small dark leathery leaves. It grows on a fence or wall in graceful curves. Its ability to climb quickly and cover a piece of hardscape with a thin layer of lush organic green is a source of charm. It is a unique problem solver and won a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Merit.
If you don’t recognize this description it is also known as Ficus repens, Fig Vine, and Creeping Fig.
How Can I Use It?
Use it and love it. Do not “set it and forget it”! What can I do with it? Make a drab wall beautiful, cover a pillar or a post. Frame an opening, create a backdrop for an outdoor ornament. Set aside an organic outdoor dining room. Disguise an ugly fence. glamorize a work-a-day structure. It is an un-flashy plant that can make your outdoor space elegant.
It is preferred. plant to make a topiary in a hot climate. Use it as the spiller in a container, make it a house plant. It is easy to grow, not fussy about soil, once established, it needs little water or feed.
How does it do all this? Easy, it has strong aerial rootlets that stick to the surface you grow it on. You can easily keep it trimmed to the size and shape you want it to have. (My practical spouse trims it neatly with small clippers. Electric clippers work for a long wall. I tidy it up with scissors.) It is really easy to handle.
What is the catch? You do have to trim it. If you ignore it, the pretty little leaves will grow big and droopy and it will overrun your underlying object. (We went away for almost two months, trimmed our wall a little low, and came home to only about 2″ of extra growth.) A note for snowbirds: a seasonal Florida resident might need to cut it back more than we did or have someone trim while they are away.
This plant is very doable, but you ignore it at your peril.
Where We Got It
This useful fig has its origins in East Asia. You will see it in China, Japan and Vietnam. I read that one of the reasons it was imported to the west was its ability as an easy groundcover. I am sure that in big spaces, without the ability to devote significant time and expense it can be a great solution for erosion control.
In our South Florida neighborhood with houses close together it could spread if somebody got careless. If you designate a space for it to soften and decorate and keep it there it’s a delight.
How To Plant It
This plant prefers moist, well-drained, organically rich, loamy soil with good drainage. Do the best you can but ensure good drainage. Plant each one at the same depth as the pot it came in. Make the hole 2 times the width of the pot. Use soil to which you have added 2″ of organic material-work it in well! Add a grainy organic fertilizer. Mulch as you finish.
If planting next to a wall or structure you want to be covered try this. Make a line 1′ from the wall. Place your pots along that line every 2′ and get digging. Water well and as they grow, pinch back the new growth to encourage fuller growth.
How To Buy It
You can find it in small pots in your garden center. If planting several, check the prices of the online dealers. They ship to you boxed and wrapped in paper. Open the plants and use them as soon as possible. If you need to store them for a few days, do this. Keep the plants upright in a cool place and out of the direct sun. Keep the roots lightly moist.
Where Can You Use It
The best place will be bright but not have too much afternoon sun. Our swimming pool garden (in the picture with the door is in very hot South Florida sun. It never gets a break! Our enclosed pool screen helps to shelter the plants and we use large tropicals which may be helpful. Interestingly the fig grows as well in spots behind the tropicals as anywhere else.
I find hardiness zones from expert sites ranging from zone 8-10 and 9-10. In zone 8 you can check with your local County Extension Service for local information. How to find your USDA Hardiness Zone, Here is how to find your local County Agricultural Extension Agent.
Soil-climbing fig does not need rich soil. It performs well in a wide variety of soils. Ensure good drainage.
Fertilizer-use a general-purpose liquid fertilizer. In spring, summer and early fall feed monthly. In colder months reduce that to every other month.
Water- water thoroughly when the soil begins to dry, ensure drainage. Do not leave standing water under potted plants.
Pests and Diseases- thrips, spider mites, and mealybugs. Potential garden diseases that can become issues are southern blight, which looks like a water-soaked lesion and is a soil-born fungus. You can look these up on your local county extension service web page.
Maintenance-prune most heavily in spring. You can remove up to 1/3 of the plant height in the spring pruning. Keep trimmed. This keeps the plant from spreading beyond the place where you want it. This also maintains the small leaves.
Some Creative Ideas
- Make a topiary-creeping fig grows well in the moss-filled wire form. Trim it to shape
- Use the plant as the “spiller” in a container planting. Trim it to the length you want
- Make a graceful hanging basket
- Frame an opening in your garden wall
- cover a boring wall
- Keep it to the height you want on a post or pillar
- Plant it on a wall or fence as a background for a plaque, mirror or garden ornament
- Create a sylvan outdoor dining room-by planting walls or fences
- Disguise an ugly fence
- Glamorize an awkward outbuilding