This post shares all about how to care for a fiddle leaf fig or Ficus lyrata plant! From watering to light, temperature, repotting, pruning, the difference between a fiddle leaf fig tree and bush, and more. This post may contain affiliate links.
How to Care for a Fiddle Leaf Fig
Pretty amped to talk fiddle leaf figs today, not gonna lie. I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because, although fiddle leaf figs are on a downward trend on the Instagram trendy scale, they are an amazingly beautiful plant.
I also don’t follow the Instagram trendy scale when choosing which plants to love. I love all plants…and love plants that I can easily keep looking amazing even more 😉 The fiddle leaf fig is not an entry-level plant, but it’s also not incredibly difficult to keep alive.
I’d probably put it in the same category as the African Mask plant (a variety of elephant ear I talk about in this post). Is pretty easy to keep from dying. Is harder to keep thriving because it’s a bit picky. Looks amazing when it does well.
I’ve also been sitting on this post for a while, jotting down notes in bits and pieces as I gain more experience working with this plant in a variety of conditions: indoors, outdoors, big plants, small plants, potted with drainage, potted without a drainage hole, propagating it, etc.
Ficus Lyrata vs. Fiddle Leaf Fig: What’s the Deal?
Before we start talking about how to care for a fiddle leaf fig, I want to chat a bit about the plant’s background info. When shopping for a plant or looking for care info, keep in mind that the proper name of the fiddle leaf fig is Ficus lyrata.
Always good to have that knowledge in the back of your head—but most people call it a fiddle leaf fig, a fiddle fig, a fiddle fig tree, or a fiddle fig bush (more on tree vs. bush later).
The fiddle leaf fig, Ficus lyrata, or whatever you want to call it, is a flowering plant in the mulberry and fig family (Moraceae). It is native to West Africa, where it can grow up to nearly 50 feet tall in lowland tropical rainforests. Can you imagine a 50-foot tall fiddle? I’m not a religious woman. And I’d probably pray to it.
Whatever the plant’s size, its leaves have a leathery look and texture, as well as very prominent veining. They kind of look crinkly to me, too. Keep in mind that, as with many plants, the name is a bit misleading. It isn’t a fig tree, and no, the fiddle leaf fig probably is not going to grow figs in your house (though in nature it does grow green fig fruit). Sorry 🙂
Fun fiddle leaf fig fact for you: Wondering where the name “lyrata” comes from? It comes from the fact that its leaves have a lyrate shape. What’s a lyrate shape, you ask? Well, it’s something resembling the shape of a lyre (or a fiddle), which is a string instrument most strongly associated with the Greeks. Learning new things is fun.
Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree vs. Fiddle Leaf Fig Bush
The plant comes in two forms: a plant and a bush. I did not know this for an embarrassingly long time. Don’t tell anyone. I have one of both, I for a while I just wondered why one of mine looked like a waif-y 90s fashion model and the other looks like a bush.
My smaller guy is more of a tree, while my big guy is very bushy and lovely and full. The tree look is what really helped the fiddle leaf fig gain popularity a few years ago. An indoor sassy-looking tree—what’s not to love? I like both looks.
Never fear, though. It’s the same plant. The “tree” version is that one you’ve seen all over the Internet and in really cool people’s houses. Its signature look is a tall, thin (sometimes braided) single trunk that comes out of the soil. It then has a beautiful bunch of leaves at the top.
The bush type has a cluster of trunks that you can easily see are separate structures above the soil. The multiple trunks clustered closely together creates the bushy look. However, the trunks still grow upright, so the plant doesn’t just grow out. It grows up—and beautifully, too!
It is possible to train your fiddle leaf fig bush to grow into the skinny tree version of the plant. However, this takes time. Maybe even years, from what I’m reading. I don’t have experience with this, but I’d like to try it. (So, I’ll report back in 3 years, I guess.) In the meantime, I’m going to link you to this handy post from Dossier Blog.
Light & Temperature Requirements
Whatever type of fiddle leaf fig you have, the rest of this post will apply just fine. 🙂 Fiddle leaf figs like bright, indirect light. If you’re growing yours indoors, by a window is great. I’ve had my smaller one in a few different locations, front of the house and back of the house, but each location was by a window. It has done great in both.
Tip: Your fiddle leaf fig will probably grow toward the sun indoors. Make sure to rotate it every few months so it grows evenly.
The fiddle leaf fig can also tolerate bright sunlight. My large fiddle leaf fig bush ex-plod-ed with growth this summer. I bought it at Home Depot, actually, and put it immediately outside. It lives on the corner of our patio (covered by a top deck), which gets light almost all day.
If you’re bringing a fiddle leaf fig plant outside from indoors, don’t put it immediately in bright sunlight. Give it some time to slowly acclimate or else the leaves can burn quickly. Here’s an example of a burnt leaf.
When I brought this plant inside for the winter, I put him in the only place I had. Next to my desk, which is next to the sliding glass door. They are picky about cold air and temperature changes, so we’ll see how this works through the winter. So far it has done very well.
As for minimum temperature, this plant is not a fan of the cold. Anything below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and it will not be happy. If you have yours outside for the summer, monitor the temps so you don’t leave it outdoors for too long. (And remember to debug before you bring it back inside.)
How to Water a Fiddle Leaf Fig
Like a lot of houseplants, the fiddle leaf fig does not like being over-watered. Water is probably the most important topic when talking about how to care for a fiddle leaf fig. It will be massively unhappy with you if you over-water it and its roots are sitting in a puddle. This will probably lead to root rot, which is a killer! Literally and figuratively.
Some plants like to be kept constantly wet. This is not one of those plants, especially indoors. Once you get on a watering schedule with your plants—which I recommend—you’ll get to know exactly when and how much water your fiddle leaf fig needs.
Until then, you can use your fingers. Check the surface level of your plant’s soil. Is it wet? Back away. DO NOT WATER. If you stick your finger in and the soil is dry at the top but wet about an inch below…continue to let the plant do its thing. Don’t water.
When the soil feels dry down a few inches, it’s time to water! Keep vigilant for soil shrinkage, too. This happens when you underwater a plant and can be a nice canary in a coal mine before the plant is affected. If you notice the soil becoming hard and compact and “shrinking” away from the inside of your planter, it’s too dry. Don’t water it as is.
Instead, use your fingers to gently break up the soil a bit. If you don’t break up the soil, your water make just run down the sides of the planter (on the inside). And worse, it could sit in the bottom of the planter if your planter doesn’t have great drainage.
So how often do I water mine? Indoors during late spring, summer, and early fall, once a week. Through the winter while they are hibernating—once every few weeks. Outdoors in the summer? Nearly daily when it gets super hot, which it does here in Maryland.
Do Fiddle Leaf Fig Plants Need Drainage?
To water your plant with a drainage hole, completely soak the plant’s soil until the water stops running out of the pot’s drainage hole. This is easiest outside. Inside, you can set your plant in a sink, in a tub, or on a large plastic drainage saucer.
Since fiddle leaf figs hate being overwatered, planting them in a pot with a drainage hole is best. However, I’m a big ol’ hypocrite and have one planted in a pot that does not have a drainage hole. This one is strictly indoors. He seems pretty happy.
I just have a layer of perlite at the bottom of the pot and am careful not to overwater. When he outgrows this pot, I’ll repot to something with a hole in it. (See my post about how to plant in pots without drainage holes.)
Best Soil & Fertilizer for the Fiddle Leaf Fig
The best soil for a fiddle leaf fig is any well-draining indoor potting mix. Don’t overthink it! Just head to your local big box store or nursery and pick something up that’s labeled for houseplants or indoor plants. For plants that are picky with watering, I sometimes add in a bit of perlite to the mix to help facilitate drainage.
Getting a good potting soil is the first step. The second step is fertilizer. I use a basic indoor houseplant fertilizer for the majority of my houseplants. It’s just a nice little boost that helps them develop healthier leaves, stronger roots, and vibrant colors.
Look for something designed specifically for houseplants. The fertilizer should be an NPK fertilizer (stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—the goodies), and it should have a 3-1-2 ratio. Most will come in a concentrate that you just dilute in a watering can.
Repotting Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
Because the fiddle leaf fig is a fickle plant, it doesn’t handle changing situations with ease. That includes repotting, which can shock its system. If your plant is established, has been in its pot for a few years, and has been growing steadily, it’s probably time to repot. Likewise, if you notice your root system is growing out of the drainage area, the plant needs a bigger home.
If your plant is small, you’ll likely need to repot every year while it’s ramping up. It’s best to repot in the spring when the plant can rebound quicker. When you repot it, make sure to add some fresh indoor potting mix and fertilize it.
Pruning: Yay or Nay?
Yay! If you want to. 🙂 Pruning should also be done in the spring or summer. I don’t really see a need to prune my fiddle leaf fig bush plant. Though when I was washing it down and debugging it to prepare for bringing it inside, I removed some yuckier looking leaves and some dead leaves that had fallen in the soil (don’t worry, it happens!).
Pruning is more applicable to fiddle leaf figs in the tree form. To get those long, sturdy trunks with the big beautiful leafy tops (those glorious bobble head plants), it’s best to have patience. Treat your plant with care and make it part of the fam. After a few years, the lower leaves should begin to drop on their own, revealing that beautiful trunk.
One of the reasons why you shouldn’t just yank the leaves off yourself is—one, it’s mean—but it also can make the trunk weak. The leaves help keep the trunk strong where they are attached, so pulling them off prematurely is probably a bad idea.
Those big ol’ bobble head fiddles need strong trunks. (Also, the leaves you pull off will not grow back. Just something to be aware of.) If you do have a bushy fiddle, you can separate the plant’s trunks. I might consider doing this in the spring as an experiment. It will make me so nervous, though.
Good thing I have all winter to stew over it. The Internet says you can separate the trunks carefully, ensuring each one has a sufficient root ball. And then re-pot separately. This would also be the first step to training a bush to become a tree.
“Notching” a Fiddle Leaf Fig to Encourage Growth
Gonna be real honest here, gang. Pruning scares me. I’m always afraid I’m going to mess something up or do something I’ll regret. But notching? Notching doesn’t scare me. It’s like the JV version of Varsity pruning. Varsity pruning requires cutting things off! Notching just requires a cut while leaving the plant intact. Cool.
Notching is simple the process of encouraging your plant to branch at a specific area. It’s a good idea to do when you want to start training your fiddle to grow outward to get that bobble head look. To notch a fiddle leaf fig, use a knife (clean, obvs) to cut just under half way around a branch.
And make sure it’s above a leaf node. The leaf node below the notch should begin to grow in a few weeks. If it doesn’t, try it again. Same spot, a bit deeper.
Fiddle Leaf Fig Propagation
The best time to propagate a fiddle leaf fig plant is in the spring. (Seeing a theme here? Basically don’t mess with them during the winter.) Fiddle leaf fig cuttings can be propagated in water or soil.
To propagate in water, just dip a leaf or cutting into water and let it chill for a few weeks. Roots will begin to develop if you put it in a place with bright, indirect light. I love propagating in water because I love monitoring the root growth very closely. When it roots, plant in fresh soil and keep moist for a few weeks while the roots develop.
To propagate in soil, dip your cutting’s end (the part that will go in the soil) in rooting hormone and plant it. Keep it moist until roots begin to develop. The best way to do this is by planting it in a clear container. Then, when the roots develop, plant in a pot and treat normally.
Troubleshooting: What’s wrong with my fiddle leaf fig?
So many things can be wrong with your finicky fiddle. I don’t want to scare you, but this is no snake plant! Its issues are usually due to watering or light. So troubleshooting the various issues that can pop up is definitely an important part of learning how to care for a fiddle leaf fig.
If your fig has dark patches…
You’re probably over-watering it, don’t have adequate drainage, or both. And, I don’t want to freak you out too much, but you might be dealing with root rot. Fungus can be beneficial in nature, but it can also be really bad.
Grab a tarp and take your plant out of the pot. Does it smell? If so, I’m sorry. 🙁 It’s yucky, and you have to cut the bad roots away. Snip them off, let the plant dry for an hour or so in the open air, and then repot with fresh (important!) potting soil. Remember not to over-water after repotting or this will happen all over again.
If your fig has crispy edges…
It’s probably not getting enough water. I know, it’s a dangerous game, watering those fiddles. If it’s coupled with droopy leaves—yep, not enough water. Don’t open the floodgates on it, though. Then you’ll over-water, and god knows we don’t want that. Loosen the soil a bit and then water as normal. Monitor for a week or so.
If your fig has tiny reddish-brown spots…
I have this! Especially on the underside of leaves. If a plant is over-watered while it is grown and the leaves absorb too much of it, the overfilled cells can cause these tiny reddish-brown spots.
It’s common while the plant is going through a bit of a growth spurt and getting more water. I don’t stress about it as long as the rest of the plant is doing swimmingly. The spots aren’t permanent.
If your fig’s leaves look white/yellowish…
It’s sunburned! This is leaf scorch. It’s getting too much direct light. But, like I said, mine did great outdoors with some direct sun, so…make of this what you will.
If your fig is dropping beautiful leaves…
Check for drafts. It doesn’t like sudden temperature changes. Also, have you moved it or changed something significantly in the space? Heating vent nearby kick on for the season? Chances are that it will rebound. It’s just being difficult. <eyeroll>