The finicky fiddle leaf fig
Ficus lyrata, commonly called the fiddle leaf fig, is a beautiful tropical tree with striking, wide leaves and a rich green hue that makes it very popular as a house plant. This stylish favorite routinely pops up in home decor magazines and house plant blogs, as well as adorning lobbies and living rooms all over the world. The plant species is native to western Africa, where it grows in lowland rainforests. As members of the ficus family, they can make wonderful additions to your space, especially in the right conditions. Like many others in this plant family, they also have a reputation for being a bit fickle. Here is a helpful guide on properly caring for your fiddle leaf:
Like many other members of the ficus family, your fiddle leaf fig loves bright, indirect light. In their natural habitat, they are understory plants, where they get ample filtered light after it passes through the canopy above. They are easily burned by direct light, so be careful not to put them too close to southern or western windows (light filtered through other plants or a thin curtain is ok). In your home, your lyrata will do best within a few feet of an eastern or northern facing window or across the room from a direct light source from the west or south. Many people find that the best place for their fiddle leaf is an interior corner across from large windows.
Giving your fiddle leaf with the proper amount of water is crucial–over- or under-watering is the most common plant issue. These plants like plenty of water, but they also need to dry out for a day or two between waterings. Check the moisture level by inserting your finger 1-inch deep into the potting soil. If the soil feels dry at your fingertip, it’s time to give your plant a good drink. If you’d rather not touch the soil, keep an eye on the leaves; the upper-most set or two will begin to droop when the soil is thoroughly dry. Be careful not to let it dry out for too long–chronic under-watering will lead to unsightly brown spots on the leaves. These spots may also appear with excessive sunlight or if the humidity is too low. Your fiddle leaf will benefit from weekly and sometimes daily misting. We recommend investing in a plant mister to keep close at hand. If you don’t want to mist, a humidifier can help keep your tropical plants happy.
Over-watering is also a common issue for fiddle leaf owners. To prevent over-watering, be sure your plant is potted in a ceramic or terra cotta pot (not the plastic nursery pot it came in), and that it is in a well-draining, aerated potting medium (look for organic soil with perlite added). A pot with a hole in the bottom, or a generous layer of bark or pebbles in the bottom, can also help prevent water-logged soil. If your plant gets too much water, all the leaves on the plant will droop, lower leaves will begin to turn yellow, and soon after both yellow and green leaves will begin dropping from the plant. Keep an eye on your plant if you’re suspicious you’ve over watered – its best to catch these problems before the plant starts dropping leaves.
Fiddle leaf figs come from fertile rainforest land, and they like to be fertilized consistently. Add an organic, all-purpose fertilizer (avoid chemical based fertilizers such as Miraclo Gro–these will kill the ecosystem in the soil and cause your plant to go into shock if not fertilized religiously) to the water once every 2 – 3 weeks during its most active growing seasons and cut back to monthly when it is dormant.
Over time, even the best potting soil compacts due to repeated waterings. Compacted soil traps water around the roots and can lead to root rot, especially in tropical plants that prefer a consistent level of moisture. Aerating your soil prevents compacting and replicates the benefits provided by earthworms in natural environments. To aerate your soil, take a chopstick and poke holes around the base of your potted plant once or twice a month. Avoid roots as much as possible, but some slight root damage and properly aerated soil is still better for your plants longterm.
Chances are you love your Ficus lyrata largely because of its showy, wide leaves. Polishing each leaf with soft rag and neem oil (an organic oil and natural pesticide) keeps them shiny and dust-free for longer periods of time. In addition to discouraging nasty insects like mites, aphids and white flies, neem is a natural antifungal that can effectively treat powdery mildew, a common houseplant threat.
As a rule most plants like to be repotted once a year, and definitely within two. Your Ficus lyrata is no exception — at least once a year, check for signs of root binding by gently lifting your plant partially out of the pot. Winter is the best time of year to repot your ficus, as your plant is in its dormant period. This means less transplant shock afterward, and it also prepares your plant for a great growing season in spring and summer. You may also want to trim the roots if the binding is severe, or if your plant is quickly outgrowing your space. However, you should approach trimming the roots on a ficus with care; use a sharp, clean pair of trimmers and only trim the smaller thread roots, not the tap roots (the bigger, sturdier roots). Many ficus have dramatic reactions to any changes, especially re-potting, so you may want to bring your plant to Urban Sprouts and let our expert team handle the process for you.