How to Grow the Banyan Tree (Ficus benghalensis)
The great banyan tree has captured our imagination for centuries. Its impact on our lives as a species is deeply rooted in history and its influence on the lives of millions of species of birds and mammals is well documented. So it’s no wonder that this stately tree has become the darling of many gardens.
Even if you don’t have a garden spacious enough to grow the banyan tree, that doesn’t mean you can’t have it inside your home as a houseplant. The scope of gardening ingenuity knows no boundaries and with little effort, you can have this giant of trees growing, and practically glowing, in your living room. This article covers the two types of planting and caring for the banyan tree both indoors and outdoors.
The Banyan Tree at a Glance
Before we get to how to grow a banyan tree, it’s worth it to get a closer look at this tree and understand why so many people would want it in their household. As part of the strangler fig family, the banyan tree, Ficus benghalensis, includes 750 species.
But what really makes it a unique addition to your garden is that:
- Banyan trees have aerial roots that grow large enough to appear as separate trunks.
- One banyan tree can cover more than four acres and shade around 20,000 people comfortably.
- Alexander the Great was the first European to set eyes on a banyan tree in 326 BCE.
- Banyan bark, leaves, and roots are still a part of traditional medicine in Asia to treat various ailments ranging from gout and mental disorders to indigestion and even the common cold.
- In some cultures, the banyan tree is considered the first tree to grow on earth giving life and sustaining all species.
- Hawaii is known for its banyan trees although they are not native to the island.
- Despite its large size, the banyan tree grows from a small seed.
- First growing on other trees, the banyan tree wraps around the host tree, strangling it and replacing it with their own stout trunk-like roots. That’s why it’s called a strangling fig.
Growing the Banyan Tree in your Garden
Needless to say that it’s no small feat to grow a banyan tree in your garden. Unlike the mighty oak which practically takes care of itself, the banyan tree is a whole different story. Not just because of the size of real estate that the tree ends up covering, but also because of the work involved. From choosing the right location to providing the right amount of water and fertilizer, this is one tree that needs a lot of attention especially at the early stages of its development.
- Space and Location
You need to give both space and location some thought before you plant your banyan tree. As we mentioned this tree can grow to cover a few acres of your garden. As for height, a mature banyan tree needs about 100 feet of vertical space to grow and flourish.
You also need to make sure that the tree isn’t bordering the driveway or near the street. With a lush canopy that grows larger every year, a fully grown banyan tree can rapidly become an obstacle in your garden. To make it even more complicated, it’s not recommended to move the tree since that could cause it to drop its leaves. So once you’ve picked a place, that will become its permanent location.
The banyan tree needs to be fertilized once a year. Every spring apply a balanced fertilizer and spread it evenly around the tree’s roots. Make sure to stay clear from the tree’s drip line. The fertilizer should have equal parts nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Go for a 20-20-20 one for better results since the tree needs plenty of nutrition as it drops new roots every year.
For a fast-growing tree, the banyan needs plenty of water and moisture. While you can’t do much about the moisture part since it’s impacted by the type of weather in your region, watering the tree is crucial for its growth. However, once the tree’s roots are set, you won’t have to water it as regularly. The banyan tree handles and adapts well to dry soil.
As a native of the tropics, the banyan tree enjoys the shining sun. If you don’t have an area that gets direct light from the sun, then one with partial shade will do just as fine. As long as that space is not completely shaded or dark, the height of the tree allows it to tower over buildings and get access to the sun.
Frost is the number one enemy of the banyan tree. Since it grows best in warm climates, it may not be suitable for all regions. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the banyan tree grows best in zones between 10 and 12 on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
The Banyan Tree in a Pot
If you don’t have the space or right weather conditions to grow your banyan tree outdoors, that shouldn’t stop you from having it indoors as a potted plant. You’ll need to plant a species of the ficus family called the curtain fig (Ficus microcarpa). It’s a native of China and grows to a modest 40 feet out in the open. As an ornamental tree, it has a light-gray bark with oblanceolate evergreen leaves about 2 inches long.
- Planting the Potted Banyan Tree
As a potted plant, the banyan tree grows well inside a home. It prefers warm and dry weather, unlike the outdoorsy Ficus benghalensis which craves plenty of moisture in the air. However, this bonsai still needs a lot of light. So during the winter months, you might need to place it near a window. For soil, you need a good mix of akadama, pozzolana, pumice stone along with potting soil all in equal measures.
This is where it gets a little tricky. You need to keep a watchful eye on the soil in the pot. As soon as the top half-inch of soil goes dry, that’s your cue to water the plant. Don’t use too much water, however since that could kill the roots. The soil should be evenly moist without excess liquid. Irrigation should be done regularly twice a week during the spring and summer as these are the seasons of growth.
Since the potted banyan tree is too sensitive to water, you need to spray its leaves gently with water. This has the double effect of washing away the dust and giving it a beautiful look. It also prevents its archenemy, the red spider, from nesting in the tree and wreaking havoc with its leaves and roots.
Pruning is just as important for the health and growth of the potted banyan tree as watering it. Be judicious with your pruning and trim away the branches and twigs that stick out of the silhouette and along the trunk. The best time to prune is between March and October. Do it regularly 3 times a year to keep the bonsai in good shape. Some banyan tree aficionados prefer to keep the aerial roots since they develop into a mangrove-like shape.
You need to apply two types of fertilizer to the banyan tree bonsai. The first is a slow-release fertilizer when planting and repotting. It sustains the tree for longer periods of time and doesn’t “burn” the roots. The other type is a good bonsai fertilizer. Apply moderate amounts between the spring and fall seasons.
As the tree grows, it will need a bigger pot. This is usually done about every 3 to 4 years. Right after winter and before the growth spurt of the spring starts, that’s when you do your repotting. The pot size should grow in small increments. Terracotta pots with drilled bottoms suit this purpose nicely. The bottom layer in the new pot should be clay balls or stone pebbles for drainage.
You can propagate your banyan tree any time you feel like it. Use clean scissors, usually the ones you use for pruning, and cut a healthy branch at a 45 degrees angle. Now remove all the leaves off the branch leaving only the newest 4 to 5 leaves. Soak the branch in water and leave it in a warm place. After a few weeks, roots will appear at the end of the branch soaked in water. When you have enough roots, you can plant the new banyan tree in a well-prepared pot.
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You can use any balanced 10-10-10 liquid fertilizer to feed your potted banyan tree. Dilute the fertilizer to half its strength, then apply it once every two weeks once you see new leaves in the spring. In the fall and winter, cut back to once a month.
You can find fertilizers at the local gardening stores and nurseries. If not you can buy it online. Amazon has a wide variety of fertilizers.