Ficus Bush vs Tree: Key Differences Explained

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Ficus plants are a popular choice for both indoor and outdoor landscaping due to their attractive foliage and ease of care. While ficus trees and bushes are both members of the same plant family, they differ in their growth habits and appearance. Ficus trees typically have a single trunk and can grow to be quite tall, while ficus bushes have multiple stems and tend to be more compact. Choosing between a ficus tree and a ficus bush depends on a number of factors, including the available space, desired look, and specific growing conditions.

Ficus Overview

Ficus is a genus of about 900 species of trees, shrubs, and vines in the family Moraceae, native primarily to tropical areas of East Asia, and distributed throughout the world’s tropics[source].

This section will discuss the differences between ficus bushes and ficus trees, providing an overview of their characteristics, growth habits, and uses.

Ficus Bush

A ficus bush, also known as a ficus hedge, is a shrub-like plant often kept between 6 and 10 feet tall[source]. These plants are typically grown for their ornamental value and their capacity to provide privacy fencing[source]. Many species of ficus can be trained to develop as bushes, including the popular indoor varieties like the Fiddle-leaf fig, rubber plant, Audrey ficus, and the Weeping fig[source].

Ficus Tree

Ficus trees, in contrast to bushes, grow taller and wilder, often reaching 50-60 feet in height[source]. They can vary from woody trees to creeping vines, with some species growing more than 100 feet tall[source]. Ficus trees include large banyan trees, fig trees, and laurel trees when grown outdoors, providing shade and serving as focal points in landscapes[source]. As they grow, many ficus trees develop great spreading roots to support their tall, buttressed trunks[source].

Appearance Differences

Leaf Structure

The leaf structure of ficus bushes and trees can vary greatly. Ficus bushes often have smaller, denser leaves that provide privacy and a thicker appearance when used as a hedge. In contrast, ficus trees tend to have larger, broader leaves, giving them a more distinct and spread-out canopy. For example, the Fiddle-leaf fig, a popular indoor ficus tree, is known for its large, violin-shaped leaves, while the Weeping fig, another popular houseplant, has smaller, more delicate leaves that drape gracefully from its branches (Leafy Place).


Ficus bushes and trees also differ in their bark appearance. The bark of a ficus bush is typically smoother and more uniform in texture, as it is often pruned and managed to maintain its compact shape. On the other hand, the bark of a ficus tree can be more textured and variable, as these plants grow taller and take on a more natural form (Garden Tabs).

Some types of ficus trees, like the banyan tree, develop a unique and complex system of aerial roots that grow down from the branches to support the tree as it extends outward. This creates a visually striking appearance not found in ficus bushes. Other ficus trees, such as the fig tree, have a more traditional trunk and bark structure, but still tend to have a more textured and varied appearance than their bush counterparts (Home Stratosphere).

In conclusion, the appearance differences between ficus bushes and trees primarily lie in their leaf structure and bark characteristics. These differences allow for a diverse range of uses and aesthetics in both indoor and outdoor settings.

Growth Habits

Size and Shape

Ficus plants, depending on the species, can grow as either bushes or trees. Generally, they are known for their attractive foliage and various growth habits. Ficus bushes tend to be smaller in size and have dense branching, while ficus trees can grow much larger, with some species reaching over 100 feet tall. Both forms of ficus can be used as indoor houseplants or outdoor landscape plants.

Some common varieties of ficus trees, such as the common fig (Ficus carica), can grow as either small trees or large shrubs, depending on their environment and growth conditions. Their mature size can range from 10 to 30 feet tall and wide. On the other hand, species like Ficus lyrata, commonly known as the fiddle leaf fig, usually grow as an indoor houseplant and can reach up to 12 feet in height.

Rate of Growth

Ficus plants are known for their rapid growth. For most species, new growth typically appears within a few weeks after planting. Their growth rate can vary depending on the specific species, environmental factors, and care provided. Ficus trees, such as the common fig, can grow quickly, reaching their mature size in just a few years (source: North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox).

To ensure optimal growth, ficus plants should be planted in well-draining soil, provided with proper watering and fertilization, and exposed to full sun when possible. During the spring and summer months, ficus plants can benefit from high-nitrogen fertilizers applied every four weeks, as suggested by the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Regular pruning can help maintain their desired shape and size, especially if growing them as indoor houseplants.

Care and Maintenance

Caring for ficus plants, whether bush or tree, involves certain common practices that will keep them healthy and attractive. In this section, we will delve into the specific watering requirements and pruning techniques suitable for both types of ficus.

Watering Requirements

Ficus plants thrive when provided with an appropriate watering routine. It is essential to maintain a balance between over-watering and under-watering, as both can negatively impact the plant’s health. During the summer months, water the ficus evenly until it starts to drain out of the bottom holes – make sure to remove any excess water to prevent the plant from sitting in moisture (The Spruce). In winter, reduce the frequency of watering since the plants require less water in this season.

Another crucial aspect of watering ficus plants is maintaining the humidity level around them. Both ficus bushes and trees prefer a relatively high humidity. Regularly misting the ficus or placing it on a pebble tray filled with water can help with this (Gardening Know How). However, avoid overdoing it, as excessively wet roots can be detrimental to the plant’s well-being.


Proper pruning is an essential aspect of caring for ficus plants. Regular pruning helps maintain the desired shape and size of your ficus bush or tree, and it can also promote new growth. When pruning a ficus, remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches, as these can affect the plant’s overall health. Additionally, trim back any overly long or unruly branches to maintain the desired appearance.

To prune a ficus effectively, use clean and sharp pruning shears, making clean cuts at the right angle to encourage healthy regrowth. The best time to prune a ficus plant is during its active growing season, usually spring or summer. Avoid heavy pruning during the winter months, as it can stress the plant and hamper its growth (HGTV).

Common Problems


Ficus trees and bushes can be affected by various pests causing damage and health issues. Some common pests include scales, spider mites, and mealybugs. These insects can cause leaf drop, yellowing, and curling, making the plant less attractive and healthy. It is crucial to identify and treat pests early on to prevent significant damage to the plant. This can be done by regularly inspecting the leaves and using appropriate pesticide treatments when necessary. To prevent the spread of pests, it’s also important to maintain proper plant hygiene and isolation when necessary. The Spruce provides some useful information on how to handle these pests.


Similar to pests, certain diseases can pose significant challenges to ficus tree and bush owners. Fungal infections are among the most common diseases that can affect these plants. Root rot, for instance, occurs when the plant is overwatered or the soil isn’t draining properly, leading to the roots’ decay. To prevent this issue, it’s crucial to ensure that your plant is well-draining and that you’re not giving it too much water.

Another common fungal issue is leaf spot. This disease can cause yellowing and browning of leaves, eventually leading to premature leaf drop. Maintaining proper watering, avoiding overhead watering, and ensuring good air circulation can help reduce the risk of leaf spot.

Environmental Factors

Apart from pests and diseases, other common problems associated with ficus trees and bushes stem from various environmental factors. Sudden changes in temperature, inadequate lighting, and inconsistent watering can cause the ficus to react negatively, such as leaf drop or leaf discoloration. Moreover, issues such as underwatering, overwatering, and low humidity can exacerbate stress reactions. To maintain healthy plants, be mindful of the environmental factors and adjust your care routine accordingly.

It’s worth noting that ficus trees have an extensive root system, which can sometimes lead to problems when planting them in a landscape. Roots can invade the surrounding area, so it is crucial to consider using a root barrier when planting a ficus tree or bush. Staying Safe During Tree Care discusses the pros and cons of landscaping with ficus in more detail.

Suitable Environments

Indoor Use

Ficus trees can thrive in a variety of indoor environments, as long as they receive the proper care. Most varieties of ficus trees, such as the popular Fiddle-leaf fig, Rubber plant, Audrey Ficus, and Weeping fig, enjoy bright indirect or filtered light (Gardening Know How). Variegated varieties can tolerate medium light levels.

Direct sunlight can result in scalded leaves and leaf loss. Along with well-lit conditions, it is essential to maintain a consistent temperature, as ficus trees cannot tolerate low temperatures or drafts. These plants ideally thrive in indoor environments that replicate their tropical origins.

Outdoor Use

Ficus species, such as the Banyan, Fig and Laurel trees, can be grown outdoors in various types of climates (Leafy Place). These trees are highly adaptable to different environmental conditions.

Although they can tolerate various climatic conditions, it is crucial to provide appropriate care to ensure their healthy growth. Keep in mind that each species may have specific requirements concerning sunlight exposure, water, and soil type.

Ficus trees, both indoors and outdoors, are known to bring peace, calmness, luck, and a sense of new beginnings to the surrounding area (Pat Garden). By selecting the appropriate species and providing the suitable environment, taking care of a ficus tree can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

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