The indoor plant that has dominated style and design trends since houseplants became popular is the Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata).
Found in either tree form or in its more juvenile shrubby phase, this plant features large, glossy green leaves on a substantially sized plant that can reach up to 8 feet tall or more. The fiddle leaf has some of the largest leaves of any of the ficus family which is compiled of numerous species that have been popular indoor plants for many years. Keeping a fiddle leaf fig happy at home can seem challenging at first, but once you understand some of its basic likes and dislikes, you can keep your fickle fiddle happy and thriving!
Let’s just get one thing out of the way—in general, the fiddle leaf fig is a fickle drama queen. In other words, these plants prefer specific conditions on a consistent basis, and if those needs are not met, they pout by dropping leaves. If your plant goes too dry or stays too wet, it will drop leaves; if exposed to frequent drafts or blasts of heat, it will drop leaves; if moved, turned, or repotted… you guessed it:
But leaves dropping doesn’t always mean the end of your fiddle leaf fig. It is normal to experience some leaf loss in the first 2–4 weeks of receiving your new Ficus plant, but if leaf dropping is extensive or persists, evaluate your plant watering and light requirements to determine if it is in ideal conditions.
The fiddle leaf is not the easiest of the indoor figs to care for, so if you have struggled with one before or want to dip your toe into the Ficus pool before diving in, we suggest trying one of the easier figs first. If you are concerned that your home or office may not be bright enough, try growing the Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) which is tolerant of lower light conditions, or consider growing a Ficus Audrey (Ficus benghalensis) if you are looking for something just as cool, but different from the fiddle leaf.
Consistently bright or filtered light is best but avoid the prolonged direct sun; directly in an east-facing window or just a few feet away from the south or west-facing window. Rotate plant occasionally to keep growth balanced.
Generally speaking, most Ficus like regularly moist soil, but never soggy soil. Always allow the top 2–4 inches of soil to dry before watering, then water thoroughly until it flows out the drainage holes. As you get to know your plant’s watering needs, it’s better to err on the side of too dry than to water too much! Most common problems stem from overwatering, especially during winter months when growth is less active; be sure to adjust your watering frequency to different seasons and water almost half as often in winter. In addition, plants growing in lower light conditions may require less water than the same plant in brighter light.
Use a high-quality, rich, well-draining potting soil to keep fiddle leaf figs thriving—they don’t like soggy soil, but they also don’t want their soil to be too dry, either.
Temperature & Humidity
Fiddle leaf figs prefer to be in warmer temperatures ranging from 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, make sure your fiddle leaf fig is nowhere near a heating vent, fan, or drafts from a window or door.
Fickle fiddles thrive in higher humidity. You can boost the humidity in your home in these various ways:
- Humidifier: Add a large one to boost the humidity of the entire room or a smaller tabletop humidifier to target plants directly.
- Misting: Misting can work great to boost humidity but can encourage foliage diseases if not done carefully. Be sure to use a fine mister and only mist in the morning so the water has the rest of the day to evaporate.
A basic indoor plant food diluted to half-strength can help maintain lush growth and good color. Fertilize during the growth season (March through September), but do not feed during winter months. Malibu Compost Tea for Houseplants can be used to give stressed plants a boost or to help prevent transplant shock during the first watering.
All parts of the plant are known to be toxic to humans and pets, if ingested. Handling parts of the plant can cause mild skin irritation from contact with sap; be cautious and wear gloves when handling.
This can be done to reduce plant height and promote branching or horizontal growth; pruning is best done in the spring as the plant resumes active growth (many Ficus species will “bleed” from cut areas with a white sap that is sticky and contains latex—protect floors and furniture with paper, cloth, or plastic sheeting before pruning indoors, and wear gloves for protection).
Leaf browning: Problems with Ficus leaves is one of the primary struggles growers have and may be due to a range of problems. It is helpful to take note of both the location of the damaged leaves (i.e. toward the top or bottom of plant) as well as the shape, pattern, and color of the spots. Fiddle leaf figs can be the most dramatic with their leaf problems, in part because their leaves are so large—each damaged one makes a great impact. As mentioned above, they can be sensitive to environmental and transplant shock and will most likely do some degree of leaf drop for the first 2–4 weeks after being placed in your home. If brown spots develop or dropping continues it could be caused by one of the following:
- Root rot caused by overwatering – older leaves (toward the inside and lower portions of the plant) are usually affected first; damage is the dark patch in the center of the leaf or random dark blotches
- Extended drought/underwatering – newest leaves tend to be most affected, leaf damage is on outer edges
- Bacterial infection – worse on areas of new growth which may turn yellow or appear abnormally small or spotty; spots are more brown or reddish in color than black
- Insect damage – varies depending on pest; look for unusually shiny or sticky leaves as an indication of pests nearby and inspect in more detail
Fungus gnats and scale: Sadly, Ficus plants are almost as popular in the insect world as they are in ours. Scale can be difficult to spot, especially in the early stages of the ‘infestation’ and once they are noticed, can be numerous and difficult to overcome. They look like small tan bumps, usually oval-shaped, frequently found along the midrib of a leaf (top or bottom) or on a stem at the point where a leaf is connected and can be picked off with a fingernail or small tool. Regular inspection of your plant and frequent cleaning of its foliage will help you catch problems early and put you on the path to recovery quickly. Learn how to identify and get rid of scale here.
If you develop a fungus gnat problem, top-dress with Mosquito Bits or dust the top of the soil with Diatomaceous Earth until the issue is resolved. The best way to avoid fungus gnats is not to overwater your plants; allow the top 2 or 3 inches to go dry before watering again.
The ficus pictured here is called a “Little Fiddle” which is a more compact version of the larger fiddle leaf fig. Not only does it have a fun growth pattern, but it also tends to be a little bit hardier than the larger fiddles. Fiddle leaf figs can grow in many different forms including tree, bush, and columnar.