Ficus microcarpa ginseng is currently available in almost every shop that deals in plants and in many shops that do not actually deal in plants, from furniture stores to supermarkets. Be happy when such a little tree with knobby roots finds its way into your household – even if you didn’t intend to practice bonsai care. It is certainly well suited for this, but you can also pull the willing fig tree to a large houseplant, which will make care even easier.

Ficus microcarpa ginseng: maintenance as a bonsai

The Ficus microcarpa ginseng is sold as a bonsai because Ficus microcarpa ginsengs are also available as bonsai. What goes over the counter in the local plant etc. trade for a few euros has as much to do with a real bonsai ficus as carrot-colored vegetable fat mixtures with vanilla ice cream (more on real bonsai ficus below).

But it is a real plant, even a very uncomplicated one, which usually grows happily.

The Ficus microcarpa ginseng belongs to the genus fig, species Chinese fig. It is a new mass-market cultivar that takes advantage of the Ficus microcarpa’s tendency to grow rapidly and form aerial roots in tropical climates. In Taiwan there are said to be huge farms full of Ficus microcarpa cuttings, which after setting some aerial roots are grafted into pots one by one and shipped to us. As soon as the interface sprouts, the alleged bonsai is in business.

So you have the aerial roots of a fig tree cultivar that has a few leaves at the top. Mostly freshly expelled own leaves, but there should also be Ficus microcarpa ginseng, where other plants were grafted onto the aerial roots.

This Ficus microcarpa ‘Ginseng’ is a cultivar bred for rather slow and not very high growth, which can be cultivated as a bonsai as it is.

Since it will never really convince as a bonsai at a meeting of real bonsai freaks, rather as a beginner bonsai, but it does very well in this role. After all, bonsai culture is about growing a tree in a pot in a special way and forcing it to grow miniature, and you can practice this very well with the Ficus microcarpa ‘Ginseng’, which looks very similar to bonsai.

The Ficus microcarpa ‘Ginseng’ basically has all the characteristics to be cultivated as a bonsai: it is a good grower, growing more slowly than its conspecifics, but steadily. The leaves are not huge by nature and grow smaller after the leaves are cut. It tolerates pruning very well (like every fig).

You can practice a lot on it, which has to be repeated constantly when caring for bonsai in order to influence the plant’s growth habit or via the plant’s metabolism. The fact that it actually grows too quickly for a really artistic bonsai design in a tolerable time frame can be seen as an advantage during your learning time, because pruning mistakes and mistakes when wiring grow together again quickly.

The general care

  • Basic care as for the “big” Ficus microcarpa
  • Location sunny to semi-shady
  • Temperature between 17 and 25 degrees
  • Like to be outdoors in summer
  • And in the sun, ensures small leaves
  • Bonsai substrate slows down growth more than potting soil
  • With regard to the vigour, you should always let new shoots grow first
  • And only cut back vigorously after a while

Transplant the bonsai into a nice bonsai pot with a good bonsai soil (both ready-made from the trade) and get started, the following is possible:

  • Practice wiring branches
  • Try cutting techniques
  • If leaves are to grow back smaller, a ficus needs constant pruning
  • Try root shaping techniques
  • Practice repotting bonsai properly
  • Make the root cut according to the instructions

The root design is primarily about the trunk thickening, which you can edit further:

  • New aerial roots will grow if the plant is cultivated under (sub-)tropical conditions
  • Warm and humid, e.g. B. in a discarded aquarium or on the heater with a hood
  • Allow shoots to grow in the lower area until they are thick enough
  • As a branch with leaves, through their photosynthesis, the branch increases in strength faster
  • Fertilizing supports this development
  • Form sufficiently strong root cuttings, e.g. B. by wires
  • Roots are also shaped by hollowing them out or using a milling machine

You can create a new crown around the not very decorative cut at the aerial roots:

  • Prune a few branches in a favorable position only for leaf and no shoot pruning
  • Until you overgrow the cut and so conceal it
  • If branches form, some of them are allowed to grow
  • Until a nice little new crown has built up
  • Ficus tolerates pruning so well that growth in the wrong direction can be radically cut away

You can use what is left over from pruning as cuttings for the next bonsai; the cuttings of a mother plant that has already been grown as a bonsai should be easier to grow into a bonsai from scratch. All this is possible with this inexpensive little tree, which will not let you down even if you make serious mistakes. However, bonsai experts predict that if you really get into the hobby of bonsai design, you will soon turn to more rewarding plants.

Grow Ficus microcarpa ‘Ginseng’ for bonsai

If you deliberately bought a bonsai in order to get serious about bonsai culture and now realized that you didn’t buy a real bonsai – you can grow a real bonsai from this “idea of ​​a bonsai”.

It won’t be easy, and it will take quite a long time. But that is actually the essence of bonsai culture. To train a plant slowly and patiently to a shape and growth habit that deviates significantly from the natural growth habit. This takes time, should take time, even if you form young plants that are more suitable for bonsai from the outset. Constant “contemplative” plant care is an important part of bonsai culture.

You would then first have to choose one of the many bonsai forms as a model so that you know where the journey should go. This can be a form of root bonsai, but this is advanced bonsai growing with a lot of fiddling and wiring the root etc. But you can also grow the “root with a few leaves over it” into one of the more normal small tree shapes, with concise trunk but with a large green treetop above it. To do this, the root is gradually formed narrower, while the upper area is allowed to grow quite vigorously for a while until you teach it its new shape.

Care instructions for Ficus microcarpa as a houseplant

As said, the Ficus microcarpa ‘Ginseng’ is a cultivar that has been bred for rather restricted growth. This cultivar or the Ficus microcarpa in general is not only sold as a bonsai, but occasionally also as a normal plant. If you have caught such a Ficus microcarpa, the following care instructions apply to it, which will not overwhelm you:

  • Potting in normal nutrient-rich garden soil or potting soil
  • For freshly bought plants, this means repotting
  • Mix soil with some sand for better drainage
  • Location: Bright, not too strong (noon) sun
  • Airy, but no noticeable, permanent draft
  • Ficus ginseng likes any room temperature
  • But a lot of light, in its homeland Ficus ginseng gets 12 hours of daylight throughout
  • In summer, like to be on the balcony or terrace
  • Position in the sun possible, but only after getting used to it
  • From a permanent temperature of 15 °C (at night) Ficus Ginseng can go on the balcony
  • Water moderately but regularly
  • When the top layer of potting soil has dried
  • If the water is hard, collect rainwater or let tap water stand
  • Spray with water from time to time
  • Fertilize only during the growing season
  • With liquid fertilizer (about every two weeks) or slow-release fertilizer according to package instructions
  • Cutting is possible, but not mandatory
  • Thinning and shortening is not a problem, figs can be cut back into the old wood
  • Free-growing cultivars of Ficus microcarpa typically grow to around 2 m in height
  • When the root ball fills the pot, repot (once a year for well-growing specimens)
  • New roots form most quickly in spring

From bonsai to houseplant

If you bought a Ficus microcarpa ‘Ginseng’ as a bonsai, but this bonsai shows very unbonsai-like growth tendencies as soon as you put down the scissors, you can also just let it grow as it wants. It will form longer shoots with larger leaves, which you can prune at a time until it looks like a normal plant.

The aerial roots can also become the normal stem if you tie them together, aerial roots in most Ficus species will grow together if they get close enough in nature (when growing around a host plant). You can simulate this situation by tying the aerial roots together with a little pressure, but it will take months or years for them to grow together.

During the “conversion period” the Ficus microcarpa should be placed in normal soil and is otherwise cared for as just described for caring for a Ficus microcarpa as a houseplant.

If a Ficus microcarpa loses a few leaves despite the best care, they may simply have reached the end of their lifetime (even evergreen leaves don’t live forever). The old leaves are shed when the supply is not that great anyway, mostly in/after the winter. If there are too many leaves, it is probably due to lack of light, the next most likely causes being too much or too little water or fertilizer.

How a fig tree became a bonsai

The Ficus microcarpa ginseng is now sold almost exclusively in a growth form that is very reminiscent of a bonsai. If you want to find out more about the plant, you will find many articles about the “Ficus Bonsai” and (at the latest in the comments) just as many reports that the Ficus Ginseng is not a “real bonsai”. Figs are the last trees that are suitable for bonsai culture because they would grow much too fast for it and would not be old enough at 50-90 years.

1. The Ficus microcarpa ginseng is a fig. Ficus means fig, and that’s the name of a whole genus of the mulberry family with all its numerous subspecies. In addition to the “real fig” (Ficus carica, the one with the fig fruits), there are 750 to 1000 fig species, trees, shrubs and climbing plants.

The relationships of plants are ordered as with all living things, e.g. E.g.:
family: dogs (Canidae), genus: wolf and jackal species (Canis), species: wolf (Canis lupus), subspecies: domestic dog, breeds: Dachshund, Pug, Labrador, Xoloitzcuintle (yes, there are, and more 804 other cultivars).
Family: mulberry family (Moraceae), genus: figs (Ficus), species: real fig (Ficus carica, the one with the fig fruits), subspecies: Ficus carica var. carica, cultivar: ‘Dottato’, ‘Trojano’ from Italy; ‘Adriatic’, ‘Mission’ from California; ‘Fraga’ from Spain

2. Fig trees are trees, shrubs and climbers and are known for the opposite of a sluggish growth habit suitable for bonsai cultivation. In this respect, it is true that figs are not the plants that a bonsai master first thinks of. Especially since fig trees can be no more than a century old and bonsai in Asia are traditionally mostly grown from plants that are so old that they can be passed on for generations.

A ficus as a bonsai is therefore an unusual choice, for which there must be a special reason that we are investigating here.

3. The Ficus microcarpa is one of the 750 to 1000 species of figs. It is the Chinese fig, also called laurel fig or Indian laurel; in addition to F. microcarpa (Linné), other botanists also named it F. retusa, F. nitida, F. retusiformis and F. thonningii. For botanists there is nothing quite like naming plants, apart from the scientific dispute over who named which plant first…

Ficus microcarpa grows as a tree, with growth heights of 15.25 meters and a trunk diameter of up to 50 cm. This is what it looks like, not really a bonsai:

This Chinese fig originally grew in South and Southeast Asia and adjacent areas, was spread by humans to every tropical area in the world in the 20th century, and is classified as an invasive plant species in many countries because it grows like a weed.

4. And yet there are real Ficus Bonsai or real Ficus microcarpa ginseng. Older branches of Ficus microcarpa often develop rust-colored aerial roots, actually not exactly tiny either:

Anyone who lives in Asia and is gripped by the passion for bonsai should not be deterred by the particular growth potential of a plant. Each plant is a candidate for “pot planting” (literally meaning “bonsai” in Japanese) and is forced into miniature growth in that pot. If a plant actually wants to fly high, the challenge is all the greater. In China and Malaysia, Ficus microcarpa has been cultivated as a bonsai for centuries, including the aerial roots in the special form of the root bonsai. Hence the name “ginseng”, nothing more than the Chinese word for “root”.

It only takes 70 years of daily pruning and other constant care measures until such a real Ficus microcarpa ginseng has grown.

5. The tree mentioned under 4. costs 3,600 euros; the Ficus microcarpa ginseng, which is currently flooding our trade, by 3,590 euros less. This price difference cannot be achieved with the most exploitative production conditions in the world, so it must be two different Ficus microcarpa ginseng. That’s how it is; the solution to the mystery lies in the skilful use of the word “ginseng”, which can be used in two ways:

A real Ficus microcarpa ginseng bears the nickname “ginseng” as a sign that a bonsai was grown here in a special form with root treatment; the term “ginseng” has nothing to do with the actual botanical name of the plant.

The “fast” Ficus microcarpa ginseng is a cultivar of the Ficus microcarpa, which was cleverly given the (non-protected) name “ginseng” by the trade. According to the botanical nomenclature, this plant should be sold as Ficus microcarpa ‘Ginseng’. The point is that the knowledgeable customer gets exactly the plant they wanted because the botanical name uniquely identifies the plant.

In the fast and cheap trade correct names do not interest the dealers, and neither do many customers because they have never been served by a real gardener who explained the plant names to them.

6. Here’s why we’re being inundated with totally untypical “fig tree bonsai” right now:

Growing a whole field of Ficus microcarpa aerial roots is extremely quick in the right climate. Each aerial root becomes, under the cleaver, several Ficus microcarpa ‘Ginseng’, many ‘bonsai’ invented by the plant industry. The first bonsai ficus appeared at trade shows of the green plant industry in the USA. Then the Ficus Ginseng was introduced to us (July 2015 ‘Houseplant of the Month’). Ever since then it has been discovered by new plant traders who find large profit margins extremely pleasing.

Depending on your attitude and mood, you can perceive the Ficus microcarpa ‘Ginseng’ as a customer teaser, as a living exercise object for bonsai culture or as a fig tree that is tied up (which you can help to live in freedom). After all: one plant, many possibilities.

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