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The fiddle-leaf fig has enchanted houseplant lovers and designers alike in recent years. But, unlike the easygoing monstera or unfussy Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides), this must-have houseplant can be incredibly frustrating to grow when the right conditions aren’t met. Luckily, your fiddle-leaf fig can be a lush, verdant source of beauty in your space with a few simple care steps.
The fiddle-leaf fig, or Ficus lyrata, is related to the rubber tree, the weeping fig tree, and other members of the Ficus family, which includes the common fig tree grown for its fruit, Ficus carica. The fiddle-leaf gets its name from the violin-like shape of its green, leathery, wavy-edged leaves, which show tan veining on a matte underside and can grow up to 15 inches long. Fiddle-leaf fig trees can also get very tall with the right care because they grow up rather than branching out, making for a striking showpiece in a roomy space. However, this species is toxic to both people and pets, so it may not be the best choice for everyone.
- Botanical Name: Ficus lyrata
- Common Name: Fiddle-leaf fig
- Plant Type: Tree
- Mature Size: 8–10 feet indoors; 30–50 feet outdoors
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light and some direct sun
- Soil Type: Well-drained, indoor potting mix
- Soil pH: 6.0–7.0
- Toxicity: Toxic to people, toxic to pets
Plant your fiddle-leaf fig in a well-draining, all-purpose potting mix with peat moss added. These plants only thrive when they have lots of bright, filtered light, ideally from multiple directions, so choose a spot no more than six feet from a sunny window for your plant to live.
Fertilize your fiddle-leaf fig no more than every six months, or else it may grow too large too fast. You'll need to repot every three or so years until the plant is your ideal size.
Since fiddle-leaf figs prefer light from multiple sources, it’s a good idea to turn the container once it has started to grow toward the light source to balance things out. If your plant's large, shiny leaves collect dust, clean them periodically by wiping them carefully with a damp cloth.
When it comes to long-term success with your fiddle-leaf fig, location is key. Changes in conditions like light or temperature can cause leaf drop—the primary pitfall with this plant.
Best Growing Conditions for Fiddle-Leaf Figs
Even moisture in the soil will help fiddle-leaf figs to grow large and lush. It’s fine if your potting mixture dries out a bit between watering; just make sure it's watered if the top two inches of soil feel dry. To ensure the soil drains properly, choose a pot with drainage holes on the bottom (and don’t forget to place a tray underneath to protect surfaces in your home from water).
Sun exposure is an essential requirement. If you’re unsure if you have enough light in your home, it might be best to go with low-light plants instead. It is, however, also possible to give your fiddle-leaf fig too much direct sunlight, which can cause sunburn in the form of brown splotches on the leaves. South-facing and west-facing windows will provide bright, direct light, while east-facing windows let in the weaker morning light if you live in a particularly sunny area.
You’ll get the best results if you choose a space without drafts or temperature changes. Daytime temperatures in the 70-degree range and nights no lower than the high 60s are ideal for your fig. It helps to ensure that windows are properly sealed and to avoid placing your plant near an air conditioning vent. Since these jungle plants prefer a humid environment, it’s best to keep fiddle-leaf figs away from your heater as well.
How to Propagate Your Fiddle-Leaf Fig
While it takes time, you can propagate fiddle-leaf figs with a couple of different methods: stem or leaf cuttings and air layering.
The former can be done to create new small plants to add to your collection, to give as gifts, or to put pruned leaves and branches to good use. The latter technique comes in handy when you’re hoping to rescue and repot a fiddle-leaf fig that has experienced leaf drop, with all of its growth clustered at the top of a tall, bare stem. Here's how you can go about each of these options.
How to Propagate Fiddle-Leaf Figs With Leaf Cuttings
To propagate from cuttings, you'll need a new pot filled with all-purpose potting soil or a small jar, a sharp knife, a clear plastic bag big enough to fit around your pot or jar, and chopsticks or twigs taller than your cuttings.
Step 1: Prepare a small pot with all-purpose potting soil, and then add water to moisten the soil. You can also use a small jar filled halfway with water as your propagation container.
Step 2: Using a clean, sharp blade, trim a leaf off (close to where it meets the stem, if possible). If you’re propagating many cuttings from a pruned-off branch, simply cut the branch into short segments with a leaf or two on each one.
Step 3: Plant the base of one or two cuttings in the container of moistened soil. Cover the cuttings with a clear plastic bag, placing chopsticks or twigs into the soil to keep the bag from touching the leaves. Mist daily, and tuck the bag around the pot to keep in moisture. If using water, simply submerge the stems in the jar, and ensure that no leaves are submerged.
Step 4: Place your cuttings in a sunny window and keep an eye on them for any signs of rot. Roots should start to grow from the stem within six to eight weeks.
Step 5: Repot your rooted cuttings in small containers and care for them as usual. While the plants are young, they’ll benefit from increased humidity (so a bathroom window is ideal if it gets enough sunlight).
How to Propagate Fiddle-Leaf Figs by Air Layering
To propagate using the air layering technique, you’ll need a sharp knife, a toothpick, a handful of long-fibered sphagnum moss, twine or twist ties, a sheet of clear plastic (like a plastic sandwich bag or a piece of cling wrap), and optional rooting hormone.
Step 1: Examine your fiddle-leaf fig's stem or a healthy side branch and identify the spot where you’d like the roots on your new plant to grow. If you’re air layering before pruning the leafy top of a too-tall specimen, choose a spot that’s at least 6 inches below the lowest leaves.
Step 2: Using a clean, sharp blade, carefully make an upward diagonal cut about one-third of the way through the stem or branch at the point you chose.
Step 3: Insert a toothpick sideways into the cut to keep it open. To speed the process, you can apply rooting hormone to the cut surface of the stem at this point, but new roots will still grow without it.
Step 4: Moisten a big handful of sphagnum moss and tie it around the cut on the stem using twine or twist ties. This will give the new roots a medium to grow into.
Step 5: Tie the plastic around the stem or branch just above and below the cutting so that it’s completely covering the ball of moss. This will hold in moisture.
Step 6: When you see new roots within a few months, remove the plastic wrap, and cut through the stem or branch just below the new root growth. Plant your new fig tree—leaving the moss on the roots—in an appropriately sized pot with fresh soil, and then care for it as usual.
If you still need to cut back a leggy plant after the air layering process, cut off the remaining bare stem about 5 inches above the soil line, and add some fresh soil to the pot.
Water your pruned fiddle-leaf fig sparingly, but keep a close eye on the soil moisture. Since the plant has no leaves, it doesn’t need the same amount of water as before, but the soil should still be kept just barely moist. When you see new growth appearing on the stem, you can gradually give your tree more water.
Common Problems With Fiddle-Leaf Figs
As we've said, fiddle-leaf figs are notoriously fickle about their care, particularly when it comes to sudden changes. Anything from moving your plant to skipping a watering can cause a very dramatic reaction from your tree, so take care and be consistent.
Leaves Turning Brown
If your fig's leaves are showing signs of browning, it could be one of a few things. Most likely under or overwatering is the culprit. If the leaf edges are dry and curling, your plant probably isn't getting enough water. Shorten your watering cycle and ensure the roots are actually receiving said water—soil shrinkage can cause water to run down the sides of a pot instead of through the soil. If the brown spots are very dark, overwatering may be causing root rot. Other culprits of brown leaves are too much direct sunlight and bacterial infection.
Leaves Falling Off
Too much or too little water can cause your fiddle-leaf fig to drop leaves, too, so do your best to be consistent. Typically, moisture issues will first show in browning or yellowing leaves, and then leaf drop follows. How often you’ll need to water depends on how much light and warmth the plant gets in your space, so monitor closely until you get into a good rhythm, taking care to adjust as the seasons change and your fig needs less water.
If seemingly healthy leaves are falling off your fiddle-leaf fig, it's likely due to some sort of environmental shock. If it's a new plant, don't panic—give it a few weeks to stabilize. If you recently relocated your plant or have it placed near a vent or drafty window, it's likely responding to that, and you'll need to find it a more desirable spot.
Fiddle-leaf figs need humidity. If your space is particularly dry, it’s a good idea to mist the plant's leaves occasionally to keep humidity levels high.
In addition to their finicky temperature, light, and moisture needs, fiddle-leaf figs may be more susceptible to pests than other common houseplants. Keep an eye out for scale insects—which look like flat, brown, oval-shaped spots smaller than a grain of rice—on the leaves. If you see any, gently rub the spots with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Check back every few days to ensure the pests haven’t returned.
If one of your fig’s branches has heavy scale infestation, it may be best to simply prune off the branch and remove the remaining insects on the plant. Dispose of it in a plastic bag outside, away from your other houseplants, and clean your cutting blade or pruning shears with rubbing alcohol to avoid spreading the infestation.
Potting and Repotting Fiddle-Leaf Figs
If the roots are growing from holes in the bottom of the plant pot, it’s time to repot with fresh soil in a container one size larger. Repot every three or so years until the plant is your ideal size or has become too large to handle easily.
Are fiddle-leaf figs easy to care for?
While it is possible for a beginner to keep a fiddle-leaf fig alive, we wouldn't recommend it as your very first houseplant, simply due to how dramatic these guys can be. Consider starting with one of its slightly more easygoing cousins like the rubber tree or weeping fig before graduating up.
Will a fiddle-leaf fig grow fruit?
Sadly, the Ficus lyrata doesn't produce any fruit. Its close relative, Ficus carica, is the fruit bearer of the family that yields the common fig.
How fast does a fiddle-leaf fig grow?
In the right conditions (plenty of light, consistent watering, and the occasional fertilizing), an indoor fiddle-leaf fig can grow one to two feet every year and tops out at about eight to 10 feet tall.
Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants—Toxic Plants (By Scientific Name). University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Is That Houseplant Safe for Your Pets? ASPCA. February 27, 2019