Hide the ugly with a climbing Fig

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

If I mention ‘Fig,’ most of us think either of the edible variety growing in Mediterranean climates or perhaps the huge Fig trees growing in parks around the city. However, the Ficus genus has a few surprises.

Ficus is a large genus with about 800 species of varies evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs and climbers found throughout the world in subtropical and tropical areas. The species includes the above mentioned edible fig however most species are grown for shade or for their ornamental foliage.

The climbing variety, Ficus pumila, the climbing or creeping Fig growing is not very well known, even though it grows widely in Brisbane gardens. This species originates from Japan, Vietnam and China. It’s an evergreen climber clinging with its aerial roots along the stems with attractive small, bright green, heart-shaped juvenile leaves. Cultivars have been developed with slightly different attributes however they are not very common: ‘Minima’ has much smaller, daintier foliage and less vigorous, the ‘Quercifolia’ has lobed leaves while the ‘Variegata’ has mottled green and white foliage.

The creeping Fig is ideal as a living cover for an unpainted block wall. I see it as transforming a potential eye sore into a highly ornamental garden feature. The most positive aspect of our ‘Fig wall’ has been how it reduces the heat and reflection from for example a driveway, as the green foliage seems to ‘absorb’ the heat an sunlight glare. The leaves are fairly leathery and stands up very well to dry conditions, requiring only a weekly watering.

However this Fig does have a downside, it is a high maintenance plant. If the foliage is not pruned regularly every 3-4 months, the branches grow very thick. I have seen neglected ‘Fig walls’ with branches as thick as your thumb, looking more like tree branches, that’s when you require loppers, a time consuming exercise. Once the Fig has reached maturity and larger branches are allowed to grow, small pale green fruit appear. Your aim is to keep the foliage and branches small by frequent pruning. The electric hedge-clipper is ideal when the branches are small and the manual hedge clipper is suitable for detailing along edges and corners. The creeping Fig is vigorous with a tendency of scrambling over anything in its path, over fences, house walls into garden beds and over paths.

The Creeping Fig is an asset when concealing ugly fences, avoiding an extra heat bank in your garden in addition to reducing the harsh sunlight reflecting into your house. Yes, it requires regular upkeep just like any hedge. However the result speaks for itself, a drought-tolerant, lush green backdrop to your home.

Happy gardening.

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Eva Erhardt
Qualified Horticulturist

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