Fiddle-leaf figs (or Ficus lyrata for those of us who like to get a little plant geeky) continue to enjoy their popularity and are making quite the scene in style blogs and magazines. They certainly are gorgeous, but they are also a little prone to diva behavior. These enticing plants are not, unfortunately, in the easy-care category. They aren’t overly difficult, per se, but they aren’t the kind you can plant and neglect. Here we break down general care and some of the specific problems and treatments of fiddle leaf figs.
Location and light
It’s true of pretty much everything, and it’s no different for fiddle leaf figs. Location matters, and these guys will let you know if they’re not happy. The two most important factor of location: light and temperature. Fiddle-leaf figs love an east facing window where they might get the less intense morning light but will enjoy bright, indirect light all day. Direct sun from a south or west facing window will be too intense (but a fiddle-leaf will be OK if it’s far enough away from the windows) whereas a north facing window will likely be too dark.
Fiddle leafs don’t like wild swings in temperature. Drafts from doors, cold windows in winter, and hot air from heat registers can all do a number on these plants. Just be mindful of the location of these culprits and place your fiddle leaf accordingly.
This is where most of the problems with figs originate, and they occur with both over and under watering.
Water when the top couple inches of soil is dry. Not before. And if the soil is dry all the way through, water it of course, but for the future, know that it would have been happier if had received water sooner. Under-watering causes new leaves to drop, and over-watering causes the mature leaves to brown, first at the edges and then all the way through the whole leaf, and eventually drop. Water through, until it flows out of the bottom of the container into a saucer. Be sure to drain the water that has collected in the saucer. Sitting in water can cause root rot and browning of leaves.
Like so many indoor plants, fiddles are native to tropical areas. This means they thrive in humidity – something our houses just don’t have in the winter. To help them out, place a saucer with rocks and shallow water under the figs container or grow near other plants. These techniques help add more moisture into the fig’s environment.
Common Problem: Brown Spots
Incorrect watering can cause browning, but it’s not the only culprit. So what else is there? Bacteria, fungus, and bugs – oh my!
Brown spots with an irregular shape and cracking leaves can be signs of a bacterial infection. The best plan is to avoid this issue, so keep leaves dry when watering and clean up leaf litter that falls into the pot. Like any plant, fiddle leaf figs do much better when they’re kept clean.
Root rot and leaf spot are both fungal infections that cause browning on the leaves. Root rot is from too-wet roots and leaf spot is from too-wet leaves (so careful with the watering, don’t overdo it). If leaves turn brown or black, curl and fall off, check soil moisture and let the plant dry out. If there are brown spots with little black dots in them it’s probably anthracnose, so spraying with an anti-fungal such as Fungonil is required.
Feeding insects can cause brown spots, too. Look for other signs such as honey dew (the shiny, sticky excrement) caused by aphids, and webbing caused by spider mites, or little white puffy balls from mealy bugs. Use insecticidal soap, Eight, or Neem oil to combat these buggers.
Despite the extra attention and care they require, these plants are rewarding and well worth the effort. There is nothing quite a like a fiddle leaf fig to make a big statement with those big leaves, yet without taking up too much space. Perfect for narrow spots, corners, or at the side of a sofa or chair, every space has the perfect place for a fiddle leaf.