How to Tell If Your Fiddle Leaf Fig Needs Water

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Fiddle leaf figs are notoriously difficult to keep healthy because they’re not very good at telling us what they want.

One of the biggest mistakes I see new plant people making is looking for signs on the plant that it needs something. In general, by the time a plant is showing you that it's thirsty, it's too late. 

It’s a bit like how if we wait until we’re thirsty before drinking, we’re already dehydrated.

I check all of my plants weekly, and use various methods, depending on the plant species, to ascertain whether or not they need watering.

I’ll go through all the ways you can check that a fiddle leaf fig needs watering, but I like to keep mine in a plastic pot (with a nice cachepot) so that I can use the first method.

The pot is light

Just pick up the pot and see how heavy it is.

If you’re not sure, pick up a plant in a similar-sized pot that’s recently been watered (like, in the last couple of days).

If they feel pretty similar weight-wise, you’re probably good. If the fiddle leaf fig is lighter, give it some water.

This might sound a bit technical to beginners, but it's surprising how quickly you get to know how much plants *should* weigh when they're watered, and since water is pretty heavy, there's a significant difference in the weight of the pot.

If you’re technically minded (or a bit obsessive *raises hand*) you can weigh your plant when it’s dry, and again when it’s watered, and just weigh it when it comes to watering time and see whether it’s closer to being dry or wet.

The soil is dry

One of the reasons people buy fiddle leaf figs is that they’re literally trees. They add a lot of structure and texture to a room, so are used a lot by interior designers.

Trees are heavy. 

It might not be practical or even safe to pick up your fiddle fig tree every week to see if it needs watering. 

And that's assuming you can even lift it.

Whilst picking up the pot is the easiest way of telling if a plant needs watering, it’s just a simple way of seeing if the soil is wet or dry. When the soil is dry, we water.

Fiddle leaf figs don’t like to dry out too much, but I still let the soil get pretty dry before watering.

As long as you're checking the soil weekly, it's not going to go long enough without water to have a detrimental effect (unless you live somewhere super hot, or there's a heatwave - in which case, check it every three or four days).

The easiest way to check whether the soil is dry is to stick your finger in. If it feels wet, water it.

This is a perfectly good way of checking if you need to water your flf BUT what if it’s in a massive pot? Even Slenderman might have issues in a really big pot.

Water is heavy, and it sinks to the bottom of the pot. The top few inches could be totally dry, but the bottom could be mud (which can cause root rot).

In these cases, you can use something long and thin that'll reach to the bottom of the pot, like a chopstick. 

Wet soil will stick to the soil and you might even see a moisture line on the stick. 

My preferred option is a moisture metre. You just stick the probe in, and water the plant if the metre reads 3 or lower.

There are a LOT of opinions about the accuracy of moisture metres, but I love mine. They’re quite cheap, and I think they’re worth at least trying.

The leaves are drooping

Lots of people like to wait until their fiddle leaf fig droops before watering, but I don’t like to advise other people to do it.

Firstly because I think if you wait for your fiddle leaf to droop, you’re letting it get too dry. They have quite thick leaves that store a bit of water, so if the leaves are so dehydrated they’re drooping, then the soil will be bone dry, and you run the risk of it becoming hydrophobic.

Secondly, not all fiddle leaf figs droop when they’re thirsty. Sometimes they point their leaves up. They vary a lot depending on the conditions they’re kept in and their genetics.

Also, as fiddle leaf figs get bigger, they have a droopier appearance. Just because…gravity. So whilst droopy leaves CAN be a sign that your fiddle leaf fig needs water, it’s a late one, and your plant will be very dehydrated.

If your fiddle leaf fig is drooping, and the soil is still damp, then it can be a sign of pests or root rot.

fiddle leaf fig

How often should I water my fiddle leaf fig?

I water mine weekly at the moment, which is very convenient. It’s quite rootbound, so goes through water fairly quickly.

However, I keep it in a very bright south-facing window. If I kept it in lower light, I’d need to water it less.

If it was in a bigger pot, I’d need to water it less.

It’s also September when I write this. In a couple of weeks I’ll probably need to start watering it every couple of weeks, and maybe only once a month when winter hits.

There are so many factors that influence how often you need to water a fiddle leaf fig that I'm afraid I can't give you a concrete answer to how often you should water it...because there isn't one.

How long can fiddle leaf figs go without water?

If you’re going away on holiday and you’re worried about your fiddle leaf fig, as long as you make sure you thoroughly water it before you go, you should be all right for a couple of weeks.

After a month you might get a couple of leaves dropping but it’ll make a full recovery.

Roots can last a LOT longer than leaves, and can regrow, even if a lot of them dry out, so it’s surprising how long a fiddle leaf fig can be left without water and still be nurtured back to health, (albeit having to start from scratch when it comes to leaves).

The fiddle leaf fig's environment matters too - in winter they can go without water for a couple of months without issue.

How to tell if a fiddle leaf fig is under or overwatered

Nine times out of ten, if you check the soil of an overwatered plant, it’s wet. The soil of an underwatered plant is dry.

You can also check the leaves – if there are black spots and a mushy quality to the leaves, that’s probably overwatering. The cells burst from increased water pressure and the leaves go mushy.

Underwatered leaves just get brown edges and eventually crisp up and drop off.

You can also check the roots - overwatered roots are brown and mushy, and will disintegrate under light pressure. Underwatered leaves are dry and brittle, and snap if you pull them. 

Final thoughts

Check the soil to see if you need to water your plant, not the plant itself.

By the time the plant is looking thirsty, it’ll be severely dehydrated. Similarly, by the time the leaves are showing signs of root rot, it’ll be pretty advanced.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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