Plant profile: how to care for…Fiddle-leaf Fig Trees
Despite being the diva of the house plant world, the Fiddle-leaf fig tree remains one of the most popular house plants going.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, they’re cool and yes, I do have one, but so many plants are just as big and striking without being so damn finicky.
A big-ass philodendron (something like a Golden Dragon, or a tree philodendron) would give a space the same wow factor, without having a hissy fit and dropping down dead every time you try to move it.
I’m not trying to put you off, merely warn you that these things are a dreadful combination of being picky about conditions and expensive.
Still cool though.
Origins of the fiddle-leaf fig tree
Believe it or not, Fiddle-leaf fig trees (ficus lyrata)are actually epiphytes. They embed their seeds in tree trunks and grow down, often accidentally (or so they say) strangling their host on the way down.
Oh, and get this: in the wild, they can reach heights of FORTY FEET. They can grow up to two feet a year in the home.
They hail from the jungles of Western Africa and have leaves in the shape of a fiddle. Although if you think about it, they’re actually in the shape of lyres (hence ficus lyrata) which sounds much nicer.
Should I start a petition to get them renamed lyre-leaf fig tree? I like alliteration as much as the next person, but fiddle is gross word.
Where to put your fiddle-leaf fig
It’s important that you position your plant well if you want it to survive because if your plant enjoys where it’s living, it will not appreciate being moved. And by not appreciate, I mean it’ll literally commit suicide.
So don’t put your plant somewhere where it’ll cause an obstruction, or you’ll need to move to, I don’t know, put up the Christmas tree or something.
Mine is on an west-facing window sill in my spare room. It seems happy enough there and doesn’t seem bothered by the radiator below the window.
I’ll have to move it when it outgrows the window sill, but I’m hoping moving it a couple of inches onto a side table won’t bother it too much. We shall see.
Light conditions for Fiddle-leaf figs
I have bad news. Not for you, for me.
Ideally, fiddle-leaf figs like a lot of bright, indirect light (what plant doesn’t, tbh). But they prefer east light because their large leaves are quite delicate and can easily crisp up and burn. West light is too strong for ’em. Oops.
I’m hoping that because the light we get in the UK isn’t particularly strong apart in the height of summer (and even then it’s usually raining), I’ll be ok.
The move to my living room might kill it, and even then, it can’t stay there in winter because it’s too cold. Aaaaargh.
Be sure to turn your fig tree every couple of weeks or so – they’re buggers for leaning towards the light.
Temperature requirements for fiddle leaf figs
The usual when it comes to plants that hail from tropical climes: they prefer temperatures above 18 degrees C (65f) and do not like draughts. My house does drop to about 12 degrees C in winter sometimes, but no one’s died (yet).
Humidity preferences for FLFTs
Tropical plants with big leaves usually like a bit of humidity, and fiddle-leaf fig trees are no exception.
Having said that, my spare room is about the driest room in our house and my plants are doing ok.
For a bit of extra humidity, try this DIY humidifier:…air dry your clothes near your plants. I actually run a dehumidifier to dry my laundry a bit quicker, and wet clothes really give the humidity a boost.
Fiddle-leaf figs like to be moist but not wet. I water mine when the moisture probe reads 3, but if you don’t catch until it’s at 2, you’ll probably be fine.
They tend to need watering on about a weekly basis, and about every three weeks in winter (although mine is near a radiator, so it may need more water than one that isn’t).
I can’t find any information to suggest that you can’t water your fiddle-leaf fig with tap water, but I ALWAYS water my finicky plants with rainwater, just in case.
And remember to let the water come up to room temperature (or add in a bit of warm water).
As usual, water thoroughly until the water is running out of the drainage holes, and don’t let the plant sit in water.
I bottom water my flft. I leave water in its saucer, and an hour or so later remove any that’s left with a turkey baster (or flick it onto the cactus next to it).
Fertilising fiddle-leaf figs
According to fiddleleaffigplant.com, a 10-10-10 fertiliser will do the job, but the ideal NPK ratio is 3-1-2. They also recommend to fertilise every other time you water, and obvs to stop fertilising when growth stops in winter.
You can buy specialist fiddle-leaf fig fertilisers if you’re so inclined.
Pests common to fiddle-leaf fig trees
The usual: mealy bugs, aphids, spider mites, and scale. Like with all big-leafed plants, I recommend cleaning their leaves with diluted neem oil to ward off any bugs.
You really should be keeping the leaves of fiddle-leaf figs clean anyway, since they like a lot of light, so this is a necessary step that helps prevent a lot of problems further down the road.
Potting mix for fiddle-leaf fig trees
They like a well-draining soil mix, so equal parts potting mix, orchid bark and perlite will serve it well, or any aroid mix you happen to have.
I can’t stress enough that you should keep your fiddle-leaf fig tree in its nursery pot for as long as humanly possible.
These things do NOT like change. Mine’s only a little one, but I have no plans to shift until it’s busting out and I have no choice.
I think I’ll move my fiddle-leaf into a terracotta pot. This could be a controversial choice because fiddle-leafs don’t like to dry out BUT I have a thriving Boston fern in terracotta so I think it’ll be fine.
Propagating fiddle-leaf figs
Ok, I had to research this because for some reason I assumed it’d be a right chew on propagating such a picky plant but apparently it’s pretty straightforward.
You can propagate flfts from leaf or stem cuttings: cut off a bit of stem with 2 or 3 leaves and put in a jar of water. Dip the stem in rooting hormone if you’re impatient, and then wait for roots (usually about a month).
I might have to try it next year.
It does take a while (like a year) for the new cutting to really get going, but that’s the case with a lot of plants I’ve propagated (snake plants, I’m looking at you).
- If it’s happy (i.e. not visibly unhappy) then LEAVE IT WHERE IT IS. Change makes fiddle-leaf fig trees drop leaves and die
- Brown spots on the leaves are a common problem and often indicate root rot. Check you have adequate drainage and that your soil isn’t too heavy. There’s more on overwatering here.
- Brown spots can also be caused by insect damage (treat with neem oil – if you’re unsure that it is insect damage, neem oil won’t harm your plant), bacterial infection (cut off the infected parts, change the soil and pray), or it’s dried out (er, water it, and cut off the crispy bits).
If you have your heart set on a Fiddle-leaf fig tree, don’t let their reputation for being divas put you off. They’re NOT that difficult to take care of (mine’s still alive, for example, and I put little effort in) if you know what you’re doing.
And if you’re watering it when it gets a bit dry, fertilising it, cleaning its leaves and then LEAVING IT ALONE, you know what you’re doing.
Oh, and I got a baby one from a garden centre for less than a tenner, so don’t go spending your life savings on a big one, just to have it die.
Practice on a little one first, and hope that it does grow the rumoured 2 feet a year. I’m sceptical, to say the least.
That must be in optimal conditions.