Gardening in South Florida, I frequently came across various species of fig trees (Ficus spp.) harshly pruned back and trimmed monthly to maintain a tall, dense hedge. Once the summer heat arrived along with the thunderstorm rains, these ficus hedges added 1 to 2 feet of growth a month -- it was the reason every work day you'd hear the buzz of hedge trimmers in residential neighborhoods. If not continuously groomed, ficus hedges would quickly grow into their natural habit of massive trees with large, spreading, muscular branches.
Gardeners in tropical, frost-free regions often use fig trees as hedges and screens because the plants are inexpensive, grow quickly and tolerate tremendous abuse from pruning but still grow. Their many leaves make effective blocks of unsightly views or create privacy around the edge of a property. When used as a hedge, weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) and its cultivars are among the most widely used of all the dozens of fig tree species.
Size and Habit
When planted to create a hedgerow, weeping figs are rather small in size, looking like a harmless shrub in 3, 7, or 15 gal. nursery containers. For quick enclosure of branches, the plants are spaced no farther than 5 feet apart. Their leafy branches spread and grow wherever sunlight exists and the pruning shears do not limit. If never pruned, a single weeping fig plant would mature at, at least 60 feet tall and 60 to 80 feet wide. As a hedge, it will grow as large as possible until winds topple it.
Weeping fig can only be described as a very fast-growing plant as a hedge. If the soil is fertile, evenly moist and well-drained, expect 3 to 6 feet of growth per year. The more harshly the branches are cut back, the more voracious the shoot regrowth. I have seen weeping fig hedges that were 12 feet tall with thick trunks and surface roots cut back to 2 feet tall, only to see regrowth towering 8 to 12 feet within a year. During the cooler and drier winter months, growth slows dramatically, perhaps only 4 to 8 inches a month.
The fastest growth of weeping fig hedges occurs in deep soils that anchor the large, spreading surface roots. Dry sandy soils limit growth rate and too much shade causes branches to become leggier and more sparsely leaved. A sandy or loam soil enriched with organic matter and provided a nitrogen-rich fertilizer in spring and summer would grow fastest. Full sun develops the thickest, strongest branches and densest foliage.
Jacob J. Wright
Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.