If your heart wants a fiddle leaf fig tree but your black thumb is standing in the way, San Francisco Bay Area editor and garden consultant Julie Chai can help! While she considers fiddle leaf fig trees to be reasonably low-maintenance, she insists on tried-and-true methods for keeping them healthy and beautiful. Anxious to master the art of indoor tree survival? See Julie’s 10 tips for fiddle leaf fig tree success!
- POPSUGAR Home: What should people consider when searching for a spot to place their fiddle leaf fig tree?
- PS: What do brown spots on leaves signify? Is there a way to stop the brown spots from spreading?
- PS: If the large leaves begin to collect dust, is it important to wipe them? Does that really keep them from getting enough sun?
- PS: How often should these trees be watered?
- PS: Is there a way to ensure that the tree grows multiple branches instead of forming a top-heavy silhouette?
- PS: If a fiddle leaf fig tree is dropping leaves, what does that mean?
- PS: Will moving the tree around the house or even outside harm it?
- PS: What if the roots start to push through the bottom of the pot or poke out above the soil?
- PS: What should people look for when buying a fiddle leaf fig tree?
- PS: What are the best places to look for fiddle leaf fig trees?
Julie Chai: Fiddle leaf figs like it bright, so choose a spot where it’ll get plenty of light for as much of the day as possible. Just make sure your tree won’t have sun shining directly on it since that can damage leaves.
JC: Brown spots could indicate a number of problems, but they’re generally related to too much or too little watering, and either of those could lead to disease. You’d need to troubleshoot, starting with making sure you’re watering with the right frequency. Once you’ve resolved the source, which is most often water-related, the brown spots should stop.
JC: You definitely want to keep your tree’s leaves clean. Though dusty leaves could impact your plant’s ability to absorb light to a degree, you’d need to accumulate quite a layer for that to be a major concern on its own. A bigger problem is that the dust could interfere with the plant’s “breathing,” and could also invite fungus and bacteria that may lead to pests and disease. I wipe my large-leaved plants with a soft, damp cloth – old cotton t-shirts are perfect for this! You could also use a duster. I even rinse my plants in the shower or hose them off outside a couple of times a year. If you do this, be sure you use lukewarm water – plants don’t like cold showers any more than we do! If you’re rinsing outside, do it on a warm day and dry the plants in indirect sunlight.
JC: How often you need to water is the biggest question in gardening, whether indoors or out. The answer is: it depends. As a general rule for a fiddle leaf fig in an 8-, 10-, 12-, or 14-inch diameter pot (these are common sizes for this plant), you’ll want to water when the top inch or so of soil is dry, but the soil directly below that is moist. The easiest way to tell if it’s dry is to stick your finger in the soil.
The temperature and humidity in your home will affect how quickly the soil dries. After a few weeks, you’ll have a sense of how often that happens, and then you can get on a schedule. Just remember to water consistently, and pay extra attention if it gets hot in the Summer, or if you have the heater on in the Winter, as you may need to adjust your schedule.
JC: Fiddle leaf figs are typically sold as either a standard (with a single trunk and a leafy top) or a multi-branched tree (with evenly spaced branches up and down the trunk), so look for the form you prefer when you buy one. They do grow quickly – in average environments, this can be two to three feet a year! Prune annually to maintain the size you want – early Spring is the best time for pruning. These trees will also lean towards the light, so rotate your tree every few weeks to keep a uniform shape.
JC: Leaf drop is generally caused by getting too much or too little water, or being exposed to cold air (from a drafty spot) or too much warm air (as from a heater). If your tree’s dropping leaves, first check its location and move it if necessary. Remember that these trees are native to warm, humid, tropical places where they get consistent moisture and even temperatures. Fiddle leaf figs are pretty easy to grow and don’t need special pampering, but the more you can mimic their natural environment, the happier they’ll be.
JC: You can move your tree around your home, provided you give it bright light wherever you place it – it’s not touchy like some of the other ficus trees that often drop their leaves when moved. They can’t handle cold weather, but in warm climates, you can grow these trees outdoors for part or all of the year. In most cases, though, they tend to look better indoors than out.
JC: If you’ve had your tree for a year or more and you see a lot of roots creeping out of the bottom of the pot, it’s time to either repot into a larger container or root prune. Both of which are easy – I promise!
To repot, take your tree outside or into the garage, and set out a tarp. Gently lay the plant on its side, then ease it out of the pot. If the plant is big, you may need to have a friend help you! Do not yank or force the plant from its container; if it doesn’t come out easily, I would firmly tap the container all around to help release the root ball. Then, replant in a pot that is a couple of inches bigger than the one it came from, and fill in with fresh potting soil.
If you want to keep your tree in the same container, you can root prune – which is equally easy, though a bit messier. After removing the plant from its pot, stand the plant upright and use a pruning saw or an old, sharp knife (not one you use in the kitchen) to slice off about an inch of the rootball, all around the sides. Even if you’re doing this for the first time, it’s really simple – the key is to remove no more than 20 percent of the root ball in any given year. After pruning, place it back in its pot, and fill in with new soil.
JC: When shopping, look for a healthy tree – one that has even, green leaves with no discoloration, signs of pests or disease, or masses of roots coming out of the bottom of the pot. Don’t be afraid to really inspect the plant, looking closely at both sides of the leaves, where the branches meet the trunk. You’re making an investment – especially if you’re buying a larger plant – and want to start off with as healthy a tree as possible!
JC: I recommend buying from your local independent nursery. You can trust that they take good care of their inventory and have knowledgeable staff who can answer your plant questions. Even if your nursery doesn’t carry fiddle leaf figs, many are happy to special order one for you from a wholesaler – one I work with a lot and love is San Francisco Foliage/LA Tropicals. They supply to retail nurseries in many of the Western states.