How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Fiddle Leaf Figs
Want to know how best to grow, plant and care for your Fiddle Leaf Fig? These popular houseplants can be tricky to get right, but thanks to their large leaves and towering height, they are well worth the effort. Houseplant expert Madison Moulton discusses the quirks of these houseplant favorites and how you can keep them alive indoors for many years to come.
Anyone familiar with houseplants will recognize the Fiddle Leaf Fig. Besides the fact that its fiddle-shaped leaves that give the plant its common name are impossible to miss, this plant has also dominated social media feeds for years, becoming one of the most popular and beloved indoor trees around.
Their popularity has surged over the last several years, making them one of the most sought after houseplants. These plants are quite beautiful, and are well know for their air-purifying properties, making them popular bedroom houseplants.
Despite their popularity, they are not the easiest houseplants to care for. These plants struggle to adapt to change. Many owners despair when theirs don’t look as good as the pictures on social media feeds. However, once you understand what’s needed to keep these plants happy, they aren’t any more troublesome than any other common houseplants. Let’s jump in and walk through every step of growing and maintaining fiddle leaf figs!
Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant Overview
Plant Type Houseplant
Species Ficus lyrata
Native Area West Africa
Exposure Bright indirect light
Height 10 feet
Watering Requirements Low to Moderate
Pests and Diseases Spider mites
Soil Type Airy and well-draining
Soil pH 6 to 7
What Is It?
Scientifically, the plant is known as Ficus lyrata, a member of the Moraceae or Fig family. Like other Ficuses grown indoors, you may find the Fiddle Leaf difficult to recognize outdoors. Rather than being the moderate-sized tree grown indoors with only a couple of branches, these trees can easily reach an impressive 40 feet tall.
The Ficus genus is populated with many houseplant favorites, including Ficus elastica, the Rubber Tree, and Ficus benjamina, otherwise known as the Weeping Fig. Members of this genus come from warm and humid climates, making them perfect for indoor growth. Even when confined to a pot and limited by the height of your roof, they can become impressive and towering trees indoors with the right care.
The Fig family includes a number of common garden plants – especially fruits. Figs are obviously the first to come to mind, but they also include more obscure fruits like mulberries and jackfruits.
Fiddle Leaf Figs are native to western Africa where they forms part of the mid-level canopy in tropical rainforests. They originated around Sierra Leone and Cameroon, but have since spread around the world.
These trees thrive in warmer tropical and sub-tropical climates – just one of the many reasons they make wonderful houseplants.
The defining characteristic of this popular plant is its fiddle-shaped leaves. Their leaves reach an impressive 18 inches long and 12 inches wide in the right conditions. These leaves form in dense clumps that surround the spreading branches, creating a wonderful tropical look.
As mentioned before, these trees grow much taller outdoors than they do indoors. Generally reaching an average of 45 feet in height, they have thick branches and an impressive spread.
They also produce fruits in the right conditions, understandably appearing similar to regular fig fruits. These fruits are generally around an inch in diameter with textured green skin.
While these fruits are edible and aren’t harmful to eat, you likely won’t want to try one anyway. The taste is bitter and tart and tends to dry out the mouth – certainly not something you want to add to your next fruit salad.
Indoors, the growth of these trees looks very different. The leaves are still large, which is one of the reasons why they became instant social media sensations. However, the branches are generally a lot thinner than they would be outdoors and they don’t grow as tall, restricted by the size of the pot they are planted in.
If pruned correctly in the early stages of growth, the plant will develop several branches to become a fuller more tree-like houseplant. However, many remain shorter with a singular branch and dense upright leaves covering the bark.
How to Grow
Fiddle Leaf Figs are often labeled easy-to-grow. While there is some truth to that, you need to understand the intricacies of this tree in order to give them the right care.
They don’t require any special attention and in that sense, aren’t more difficult to care for than other common houseplants. But they are sensitive to changes in environments and need optimal conditions to grow to their full potential.
Once you’ve developed the right routine, the most important thing is to stick to it. These trees will respond to any dramatic changes in conditions by dropping their leaves, wilting, and turning yellow. Each of these problems has a long recovery time once the problem is resolved.
Take a look at these care essentials and try to replicate them as much as possible – these plants are not very tolerant of differing conditions from their native habitats.
Search the internet for the Fiddle Leaf Figs preferred light level and you will find a wide range of answers. Some say they are tolerant of low light, while others say they need direct sun. So let’s clear up some of the confusion by starting with their native habitats.
They are native to low-lying tropical rainforests. Here, they can grow underneath other taller tropical trees, or form the top of the canopy in other areas. You may even see them growing in some areas in full sun for a large part of the day. Essentially, they are able to adapt well to a range of situations where bright light is available.
This adaptive quality is the first thing to consider when bringing your plant home. Most Fiddle Leafs from nurseries will have been grown in a greenhouse where the light is bright but usually not direct. As they don’t respond well to change, bringing them home and thrusting them into either direct sun or low light will quickly result in growth problems.
Ideally, aim to give your Fiddle Leaf a full day of bright indirect light to best match their greenhouse growing conditions. If you only have a spot with some direct morning sun, or low light, they can survive in these areas but will need to be slowly introduced to them over time to prevent shock.
Some gentle direct sun is far more preferable than lower light if you’re looking for strong growth. Fiddle Leafs in moderate to low light areas will grow incredibly slowly (if at all) and won’t survive in these conditions long term. If you need a lower light houseplant, there are other alternatives.
If you have a bright south-facing window, leave your Fiddle Leaf right in front of it. Slowly give it 30 minutes to an hour of direct sun in the early mornings, covering the window with a sheer curtain for the rest of the day to filter the light. Alternatively, an east-facing window is also suitable.
The amount of water you give your Fiddle Leaf will depend on several factors, including light level and age. Generally, they are not thirsty plants, requiring watering only when the top layer of soil has completely dried out.
Younger plants will require watering more often as the soil dries out quicker and the stems don’t carry as much moisture. Larger and more established trees can go a week or two without additional watering. Lighting also has an impact – those in brighter areas will need water more often than those placed in lower light.
The most important factor is consistency. As these trees are easily stressed, they need water at consistent intervals to look their best. Make it a habit to check the soil regularly, allowing you to water at the perfect point each time to maintain consistent moisture levels.
If they are really struggling for water, the upright and structural leaves will slowly start to bend downwards. This is because the cells within the leaves and petioles lack water, unable to fill out the plant and hold the leaves in place. While it’s better not to wait till this point to water again, it does help prevent any serious issues with underwatering.
If possible, use filtered or distilled water when it comes to watering. They are quite sensitive to the chemicals in tap water and a build-up can lead to long-term issues with growth. If you live in an area with high-quality tap water, this may not be necessary, but those who live in cities with highly treated water may want to consider it if you want to keep the plant alive for years to come.
Fiddle Leaf Figs don’t stray far from other houseplants when it comes to soil requirements. They need light, well-aerated soil that drains quickly to avoid waterlogging and ultimately, root rot.
To create the perfect texture, there are several materials you can use to amend any high-quality potting soil. Perlite is the first, make of expanded volcanic glass. These small white rocks increase the spaces between soil particles to improve drainage and lighten potting mixes.
Next, we have peat moss, an indoor and outdoor garden staple. It holds onto moisture without weighing down the mixture or becoming soggy. However, there is some controversy surrounding the use of peat moss and its sustainability. For a more environmentally option, opt for coconut coir that performs the same function without the environmental impact.
Most premixed houseplant soil mixes will have a combination of these elements. If you have many houseplants and want to save some money, you can also add one part of perlite and coconut coir per two parts potting soil to make your own mix.
But, if you really want to keep your Fiddle Leaf happy, the best thing you can do is examine the soil it was originally planted in. Since these trees take a while to adjust, replicating the original soil as best you can will limit shock when repotting, ensuring it stays happier long term.
Temperature and Humidity
Like most houseplants, Fiddle Leafs are fans of warm and humid conditions. They prefer indoor temperatures between 60F and 75F throughout the year. They can tolerate temperatures down to 50F, but will slow growth dramatically or even stop completely if it remains this low for long periods.
While they can handle warmer temperatures well, consistent temperatures above 85F can also result in stress. They will need extra watering and potentially protection from harsh direct light during these periods to avoid long-term problems.
As for humidity, they’re generally happy with a humidity between 40% and 60%. They can tolerate humidity of around 30%, but again won’t grow very well under these conditions. Aim for 50% or higher for the best possible growth.
Like all other conditions, consistency is key. Keeping temperatures at a consistent 70F throughout the year is far better than having some warmer days and some cooler days. The same goes for humidity. Aim to keep it the same throughout the year without major fluctuations for the best growth.
The best way to maintain consistent humidity is with the use of a humidifier. This is especially beneficial in drier areas where humidity doesn’t each reach the absolute minimum of 30%. Humidifiers allow you to control humidity levels around the plant but, more importantly, they let you keep humidity at the same level throughout the year.
Fiddle Leaf Figs benefit from a regular fertilizing routine in spring and summer. This helps replenish nutrients in the soil and spur faster growth, especially when they are larger and remain in the same pot for a few years without a soil change.
Any balanced houseplant fertilizer is ideal for these plants. Alternatively, you can use one slightly higher in nitrogen to kickstart new leaf growth. Don’t overdo it on the nitrogen though, as excessive use can lead to an imbalance in the soil that harms root and stem development.
Liquid fertilizers are the easiest to apply, simply added to your regular watering routine every 4-6 weeks. The nutrients are made immediately available to the plant, improving absorption at the perfect time.
There are also many slow-release fertilizer options that are applied less often, ideal for those with busy schedules. These generally come in pellets or sticks, adding to the soil to slowly break down and release nutrients every time you water.
No matter which option you choose, make sure you read the label carefully. Fiddle Leaf Figs are very sensitive to fertilizer burn and will take a long time to recover if there is a build-up of salts in the soil. Always add too little rather than too much and don’t fertilize in fall and winter to prevent any problems with growth.
Though they are not high-maintenance plants that need tons of attention, there are a few small tasks you should think about every couple of months that will greatly improve overall growth.
The first is wiping down the leaves. Thanks to the impressive size of the foliage, they tend to attract dust very quickly. This not only ruins their glossy appearance but also impacts photosynthesis and transpiration, slowing growth overall.
Around once a month, simply take a damp cloth and wipe down each of the leaves. Use a gentle hand to avoid accidentally pulling any off. You can also place them under your shower head, rotating the pot to clear off all the dust, but due to their packed and upright growth, you may not be able to remove all the dust in this way.
The second task is pruning. This is especially important in the early stages of growth if you want your Fiddle leaf to develop more branches. When trimmed at the right spot (just above a set of leaves) and at the right time, the branch should split into two from that point, giving you even more leaves and a stronger plant later on.
Start with a clean pair of pruning shears. They should be sharp enough to handle the thicker branches of the Fiddle Leaf – normal scissors won’t do the job. Then, trim a few inches off the top of each branch just above a leaf node. At the same time, remove any dying or damaged leaves and clear all debris from around the base of the pot.
Fiddle Leaf Figs aren’t the easiest houseplants to propagate in the sense that successful rooting does not happen as often as it does with soft-stemmed plants like many types of Pothos. However, with the right products and a little patience, you can greatly increase your chances of success and a new plant at no cost.
But before we start, let’s dispel some myths. Although you may have seen images online of people propagating these plants from leaves, with close-ups of their developing roots, it’s important to note that these will never turn into full trees. They make wonderful décor features on their own, but without a piece of the stem, they cannot develop into full plants.
Propagating From Stem Cuttings
The best way to propagate Fiddle Leaf Figs is through stem cuttings. As they are somewhat woody plants, you’ll need the help of some rooting hormone and extra warmth and humidity and these cuttings are quite reluctant to root.
Take a cutting
Firstly, start with a healthy plant and a healthy branch. Count three nodes down from the tip, cutting at an angle just below the last node. If you want the branch on the original plant to grow back, it’s better to count down four nodes and cut right above that, trimming the cutting to just below the node afterward for better rooting.
It’s best to cut at a 45 angle to increase the surface area at the bottom of the cut. You’ll notice a milky sap coming out of the cut – avoid getting it on your skin as it can cause irritation. You can also use gloves if preferred.
Once the cutting is removed, trim off any leaves from the bottom two nodes, leaving only one set at the very top. These nodes will be buried in the soil so need to be completely bare before planting.
If the leaves at the top are large, it’s best to cut them in half horizontally. This directs all the energy toward root growth, rather than increasing the size of the leaves, and conserves moisture vital for new root growth.
Once prepared, dip the cutting into rooting hormone powder to stimulate root growth and plant in an airy propagating mix of equal parts perlite and coconut coir. You can also try rooting in water, but your chances of success will be far higher in soil. Water immediately after planting until the water drains from the holes in the pot.
Next, you need to increase the humidity and warmth around the cutting to spur root growth. Simply grab a clear plastic bag, like a sandwich bag, and place it over the pot. You can use wooden skewers at the edges to hold the bag up and away from the cutting to prevent rotting.
Move the pot to a warm area away from direct sunlight. Continue to keep the soil moist by spraying with a misting bottle, replacing the bag each time. Root growth will slowly develop, ready to be moved into a larger pot once new growth is visible.
Many fast-growing houseplants need to be repotted once every 1-2 years to make space for their new growth. However, this is not the case for Fiddle Leaf Figs. Since these plants are sensitive to changes in environments, repotting can cause major shock and is best left until absolutely necessary.
You should only repot your Fiddle Leaf every 3-4 years to change out the soil and increase the pot size slightly. Younger plants may need repotting more often due to their quicker growth, but older plants should be happy with this interval.
The only time you should repot sooner is when your Fiddle Leaf displays signs of stress, such as drooping leaves, stunted growth or lack of new leaves. You may notice roots growing through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot too, or circling around the bottom and becoming tangled.
How To Repot
The process for repotting is simple. Start by choosing a new pot around two sizes up. Don’t go too large, but don’t pick one that’s too small either to stop yourself from needing to repot too soon.
Lay some newspaper down and remove the plant from its current pot. This helps keep dirt off the floor while repotting, especially if your tree is large. It also makes clean-up much quicker and easier. Gently loosen the tangled roots, removing some of the old soil as you go.
Next, grab your new pot and fill the bottom layer with the correct soil mix. Again, matching it to the original mix is the best way to prevent shock. Place the plant in the pot as soon as possible to limit the exposure of the roots to the air and fill in the gaps with more soil mix until filled to just below the rim. Press down to remove air pockets.
Water the plant immediately and return it to its original home as soon as possible. You may notice signs of shock, such as yellowing or dropping leaves, soon after replanting. It’s important not to panic or change your routine – this is simply a response to the change in conditions. Once the plant has recovered, growth should return to normal.
As with all houseplants, this plant is not without some common problems that it will endure. Let’s take a look at the most common issues you are likely to see with this plant, as well as some tips on how to handle them.
A problem most Fiddle Leaf Fig owners face at some point is wilting leaves. While this is not a major cause for concern and happens quite often, it is something that needs to be resolved quickly.
Wilting leaves are almost always caused by a lack of water. As soon as the soil begins to dry out, the cells in the leaves lack water and aren’t able to hold the leaves upright, causing them to start falling over. Simply water the plant and they should return to their former shape.
Overwatering can also cause the leaves to wilt, but this problem is far more difficult to solve. When the water is kept consistently moist, the roots of the plant begin to rot. Once they become soft and mushy, they can no longer draw up any water, again causing wilting.
If you have overwatered, leave the soil to dry out before watering again. If the problem is still not resolved, repot immediately and wash off any soil that may be harboring the fungus or bacteria. Trim the affected roots to promote new and healthy growth.
Brown Leaf Edges
Underwatering can also cause the edges of the leaves to turn brown, slowly expanding until the plant receives water again. This usually indicates a severe lack of water. So, bottom watering is the best way to completely saturate the soil again.
Although less common, lack of humidity can also cause the edges of the leaves to turn brown. They will also be thinner than usual and almost crispy at the edges. Don’t mist as this can lead to irregularities that the plant does not respond well to. Instead, use a humidifier to improve conditions.
As they are so sensitive, Fiddle Leaf Figs can encounter stress for many reasons. Sudden changes in temperature, irregular watering, lack or light, excessive nutrients and several other environmental concerns can cause your Fiddle Leaf to start dropping its leaves until it adjusts to its new environment. To prevent leaf drop, keep conditions and care as consistent as you can throughout the year.
Fiddle Leaf Figs can be tricky trees to get the hang of. But, once you do, they are incredibly well worth the effort. While they may be less popular than the pothos, or certain types of philodendron, they are visually stunning, and can help diversify any indoor garden space. If you haven’t already, there’s no better time to join the club.