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  HOME AND GARDEN » House Plants

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Plants for your home (By Mary Efanti)

Ficus Benjamin

Origin - Description 

The most common houseplant, we see it everywhere there are plants, in houses and workplaces as well. 

Benjamin is a plant with rich, thin oval-shaped leaves, and tree-like growth. It belongs in the ficus family, and more specifically in Moraceae family. It is a tropical plant in origin, native to Malaysia. 


Cultivation 

Benjamin is a typical houseplant but in our country, it does very well in pots outside, and reaches impressive growth if its container is large enough, and if you provide for its needs. 

If cultivated inside, make sure that the pot has good drainage in order to prevent root rot. You could also plant it in large containers together with other plants. 


Care 

Benjamin needs plenty of light. So place it at a well-lit spot, but avoid direct sunlight, on your balcony or through windows, especially during summer, because its leaves might get sunburned. 

All plants tend to reach for the sun, so in order to avoid a leggy plant, turn the pot by 45o every time you water it. Keep in mind that benjamin is extremely sensitive to every minute change of conditions and the amount of light it gets. So, if you change its position, expect him to complain with yellow dropping leaves and delayed development for at least a few days or until it gets used to the new conditions. 

You might notice the same symptoms after changing the pot. Change its pot only when the roots show up on the surface of the soil and try to bother the roots as little as possible during this procedure. However, if the pot or the plant is very large and you cannot move them, remove some of the topsoil and replace it or add some fresh soil on top. 

Clean its leaves by spraying with lukewarm water or use a soft cloth or sponge as often as you can, in order to remove dust and facilitate photosynthesis. Use leaves polishing sprays only if necessary because these sprays block the stomata (little holes through which the leaves breathe). Remember that if you keep the leaves clean they are quite shiny anyway. 

Water only when the topsoil is dry to the touch. If benjamin is in a pot inside your home, you must increase the moisture of the room during the winter. An easy way, which however does not seem to be adequate, is to place metal containers with water on your radiators and spray its leaves with lukewarm water as often as possible. The best solution is to place the pot on a tray filled with pebbles. You put water inside the tray and as it evaporates, the leaves will absorb the moisture. In this case, make sure that the pot stands on the pebbles and not in water so that the roots do not rot. 

Use liquid fertilizers during spring and summer until September or October, approximately every 15 days, or according to the instructions written on the packaging. Benjamin also needs extra iron in order to maintain its vivid green color, so get iron in liquid or tablets form and use it according to the instructions on the packaging. Remember that “more” is not always “best”. If the leaves turn yellow or show yellow spots, this is could mean an iron deficiency. If the symptoms are severe, spray its leaves with liquid iron diluted in lukewarm water, always according to the instructions on the packaging. 

In spring, you will see lots of new growth, new leaves and thin, straw-sized branches, but not all of them survive. Prune those thin branches that dry out and remove any yellow leaves, so that the plant can use its energy for the healthy branches. 

You will notice a thick white liquid coming out of the cut branches, much like the one we usually notice when we cut field poppies in spring. This liquid might cause a slight itch to certain people so try not to touch it and wash your hands thoroughly after pruning. 

If your benjamin is getting taller than you wish, pinch the top growth. As a result, more energy will be channeled to lower branches and you will get a bushier plant. 

Disease

Benjamin plants are generally resistant to pests and disease, but that does not apply to scale insects. You will identify them if you notice on the underside of the leaves or on the branches, tiny flat spots in dark brown, green, white or even gray color. 

These spots look so natural on the plant that you might think they are part of the plant itself. There are two ways to make sure: try to remove the spots with your nail or with the round end of a knife; if you can remove the spot you can be certain that it is not part of the plant but a sign of disease. Also, check the leaves for a sticky substance, called honeydew, that these insects usually produce. 

Be very careful with scale insects. They can be effectively managed in the beginning but take action immediately because they can spread to neighboring plants in no time and can destroy the affected plant. 

To get rid of scale, do the following: 

1. Isolate the affected plant and check neighboring plants thoroughly for symptoms. Especially if you have scheffleras or poinsetias close to the affected plant, check them very carefully as they are prone to scale insects. 

2. Take a close look at the plant and remove those leaves that are severely affected. Use a plastic bag to discard of the affected leaves, do not place them in open trash bins inside your home because the disease might spread to other houseplants. 

3. Cover the pot with a plastic bag, place the pot in your bathtub and give it a long, intense shower, with lukewarm water. The shower should last for some time so that the leaves will get cleaned well. After turning off the water, let the plant in your bathroom in order to absorb the moisture of the room. A good shower and a room with plenty of moisture is the best gift you can offer to green tropical plants, such as benjamin and scheffleras, and not only when they are “sick”. 

4. While the plant dries prepare the “practical recipe” for a scale insecticide. Mix lukewarm water with rubbing (blue) alcohol (3 parts water with 1 part alcohol) and add 2-3 drops of ordinary dishwashing liquid. Mix well and spray the plant, making sure that new growth and the underside of the leaves are thoroughly soaked. Repeat spraying 7-10 days later. If scale insists, repeat spraying 10 days later. Of course, you can always visit a nursery and ask for the suitable insecticide. 

Scale insects are quite persistent and often return, so check your benjamin for symptoms often.

 

Mary Efanti
mefanti@otenet.gr

 

 

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