There’s no confusion why the creeping fig, or ficus pumila, is a super-popular houseplant. This attractive, easy-to-grow species readily spills out of pots for some lovely, leafy drama. The creeping fig does well outdoors in warmer climates where temperatures stay above freezing. It’s great for potted topiaries, will gladly spread into good-looking ground cover, and is just as happy to climb a wall, trellis, or any other surface that could use some greenery.
The creeping fig is native to the tropics of East Asia, and although it really thrives in warm, humid conditions, it’s quite hardy and adaptable, too. Its small leaves are variegated with bronze or red touches when young and turn plain green and somewhat leathery when mature.
In a hanging pot, this vine plant will spill out and over the sides. It will readily climb any nearby vertical surface, so choose a planting spot wisely to either avoid or encourage this. One more thing to remember: the sap can irritate the skin, so be careful when tending, and locate it away from toddlers and pets.
This species of ficus can thrive in virtually any type of soil. If you’re repotting one as a houseplant, opt for an all-purpose potting soil of your choice. When planting a creeping fig outdoors, there's no need to augment your existing soil.
Creeping fig does well under a wide range of light conditions, even low and artificial light, but there’s one exception. It does not like direct, full sun. Pale, wilted leaves are a symptom of too much sunlight, so if your plant is suffering from this, move it to a shadier spot. Bright but indirect light is usually best. In lower-light conditions, expect slower growth and occasional leaf drop.
In general, creeping figs need steady moisture. The soil should not feel dry at the surface, but nor should it be sitting in water, which can cause root rot. During its first growing season, water the plant frequently, and reduce that frequency once it has matured. You can also water less often in winter. If your garden gets less than 2 inches of rain in a week, you’ll need to regularly water creeping figs planted outdoors.
Water houseplants whenever the top of the soil feels dry, and make sure your pot has good drainage. Shriveled, dropping leaves are a sign of overwatering or poor drainage. These plants love humidity too and can benefit from measures such as placing dishes filled with pebbles and water around the base. You can spritz indoor specimens with water or place a humidifier nearby.
Creeping figs are happy indoors, and if you live where temperatures drop below zero, a houseplant is your only option. Know that the plant will only live for a few years in a pot as its roots really need to spread. However, with propagation, you can replace your houseplant indefinitely.
Repot young plants yearly and bigger ones every other year, keeping their growth in check by pruning when necessary. Don't expect blooms or fruit on an indoor creeping fig, but these plants are valued mostly for their pretty leaves, anyway.
A creeping fig can live outdoors in North America in hardiness zones 8 and higher. It won’t tolerate frost. This ficus makes a lovely ground cover, and, given the chance, it will cling to and climb trees, fences, and walls up to 20 feet high. To encourage this, just plant it next to a structure. In 3 to 5 years, you should get some decent coverage.
Once it’s established, creeping fig vines can be difficult to remove, so only plant it next to something you want permanently covered. If you prefer to keep yours outdoors in a pot – it’s a popular topiary plant – add a pole or trellis, or set the pot next to a structure the vines can climb.
Creeping fig is a fast grower and doesn’t need much help in that regard. Fertilize it only if you desire even faster growth. If you feel your plant could benefit from fertilizer, apply an all-purpose liquid variety monthly, and reduce it to every other month in winter.
Creeping fig doesn’t mind significant trimming, and it’s often necessary to keep this eager vine from spilling or climbing far and wide. It’s best to prune a little at a time throughout spring and summer. Potted creeping figs provide an opportunity to hone some sculpting skills.
Creeping figs are unfortunately vulnerable to a lengthy list of critters, among them aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, and whitefly. Treat these infestations as soon as possible, using the gentlest available methods. White spots all over the plant is a sign of mealybug, one of the most common afflictions. Address this by wiping all the leaves with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. For outdoor plants, consider careful use of pesticides.
It’s quite easy to propagate a creeping fig. Do so with a houseplant every other year and you can replace it indefinitely. Cut stem tips in early spring and place them in a sterile potting mix. In a warm, humid spot with indirect sunlight, they should take root in a matter of weeks. Once the roots are established, transfer the new plants to bigger pots or outside.