Ficus Techniques : 60

How I Grow Tropical Bonsai in Germany

by Heike van Gunst


Ficus microcarpa
Ficus microcarpa, 2012

Heike writes, “I live in a small village about 10 miles from Hamburg and there are fields and forests all around; about 600 people and 200 horses here. In Germany many people live in flats without a garden or balcony, so they are limited to indoor bonsai. And Ficus is the most popular indoor bonsai because it grows very well inside the house.
So I think that all the possibilities of this plant shown and described in your book make it even more interesting. I have around 90 outdoor bonsai and just four indoor, but I love my Ficus microcarpa and Ficus religiosa. First let me tell you about this tree, a Ficus microcarpa or Chinese Banyan, that I found very cheap around Christmas 2004 in a building supplies store with a garden and plant department. Since then there has been some development.

Tree soon after purchase, 2004, with poor right branch

Old right branch removed and new grafted-in right branch, 2009

I removed the lowest branch on the right side and let a shoot grow to graft in a higher position.

Graft pulled from the back branch and fused to trunk

In March 2007, then in August 2007 the donator branch was cut off and where the new branch sits.

new branch
Tree in 2008

Tree in 2010


Another of my favorites, Ficus religiosa is challenging. But I saw them for years only in pictures and this species fascinated me. When I had the opportunity to get an older specimen for a good price in 2008 I had to try it.

Ficus religiosa 2004
Ficus religiosa, 2008


It was not a bonsai then but sort of a bush in a pot. It needs to mature much more but it seems promising.Before I had a heating mat under the pot in winter the tree nearly died, it always had spider mites and dropped its leaves. Ficus religiosa is hardly ever seen here in Germany because it is quite difficult to keep healthy.



Ficus religiosa
Ficus religiosa, 2012

My indoor bonsai are placed at picture windows facing south. During winter I have a plant lamp ("Megaman plantlamp" energy saver 15 W, 20 - 40 cm distance to the trees) above each of them shining 13 hours a day. The Ficus religiosa also needs a heating mat (Romberg, 17 W) under the pot during winter! The temperature in my house is between 18° and 20° C in winter (about 62 - 68° F, if I got it right!).

I used to place the two Ficus and the Carmona outside during summer, but although I tried to expose them to sunlight gradually the leaves got sunburnt. We sometimes have quite cool and rainy summers and then those tropical trees don't grow well. One summer we had a hailstorm in July! It tore up all the leaves.

So I prefer to keep the Ficus and Carmona inside at their south-facing windows all year long. I put the Bougainvillea in the greenhouse most of the summer, but my husband needs a lot of room in there for his tomato and cucumber plants.

The more delicate of my outdoor bonsai are kept in the greenhouse during winter.

In 2009 I was in Florida on vacation with my family. My husband has relatives in Boca Raton and Ocala where we visited them, we stayed in Fort Lauderdale. I loved the tropical trees there, the first thing was to go into a book shop and buy a book because I didn't know most of them.

Bougainvillea, 2011


Heike with pine tree
Heike, 2009


Fukien Tea
Fukien tea, 2011

****Thanks so much to Heike for sharing with us how she grows her Ficus and tropical trees. Many northern growers move their indoor trees outdoors for the summer sun and warmth but her growing situation is like mine in that the summers often are cool and overcast. Some summers are so cool that literally no growth occurs all summer long and only begins when the trees are brought indoors for the winter. We have both evolved to keeping our trees indoors for the whole year. My indoor trees have not been outside for over 12 years and seem to be doing quite well under artificial light.

Jerry "Bonsaihunk"


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