How to Grow and Take Care of Fiddle-Leaf Figs

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When I first started growing plants a decade ago, I only wanted to grow what would provide food for my family. Then I found the fiddle-leaf fig (ficus lyrata) Unlike the fig trees in my garden, this tree does not grow fruit (or if it does, it is inedible). So why do I love growing fiddle-leaf figs?

have you seen them? they are gorgeous. No wonder they have become “in” plants. You see them everywhere in design and fashion magazines, in upmarket hotel lobbies and stylish homes. They are one of the best selling houseplants out there.

They’re also finicky, so if you want to start growing one, or grow one you want, keep reading.

What are fiddle-leaf figs?

Native to the West African lowland rain forests, the fiddle-leaf fig is an evergreen ornamental also known as banjo fig or lyre leaf tree. You can grow them outdoors if you live in the right climate, but in most places they are more suitable to be an indoor ornamental.

In their native environment, they can grow up to 50 feet long. In the US, outdoor specimens typically grow to be about 20 feet tall. Indoors, they are limited to about 10 feet tall.

You won’t usually see fiddle-leaf figs producing fruit, especially indoors, but don’t worry, you’re not missing out on anything. They are not like the edible figs that people spend money on in supermarkets.

While beautiful with its huge, Jurassic-looking foliage, this popular houseplant has a reputation for being particularly playful with regards to light, water, soil, and temperature.

Fiddle-leaf figs release a latex that can irritate the skin. Wear gloves when working with this plant.

propagation of ficus lyrata

It is possible, but growing a fiddle-leaf from seed is very difficult, so I don’t recommend trying. Well, there are two easy ways to propagate this plant.

air layering

If you’ve never tried it before, it’s not overly complicated. Basically, you are growing new roots on the stem of the mother plant. Once roots have formed, you can cut off the stem with the new roots and plant it in its container.

  • Wet a large bunch of sphagnum moss and squeeze out the excess water.
  • Cut the leaves off a portion of the wooden stem. You need a 12-inch open side if possible.
  • Make a cut horizontally around the stem. Don’t cut deep. You’ve gone too far when you see the latex coming out.
  • Do the same thing three inches below the first cut.
  • Make a few vertical cuts around the stem, merging the two horizontal cuts you made. Be careful not to cut too deep, or slip and cut your hand.
  • Remove the brown outer layer between the vertical cuts so that the green inner layer between the horizontal cuts is exposed.
  • Brush this exposed part with rooting hormone.
  • Wrap a good handful of moss around the open stem and wrap it in a thick clear plastic (some people use a plastic bottle cut in half lengthwise).
  • Seal both ends with wire.
  • Unwrap the plastic top every week and mist the moss to keep it moist and sealed.
  • After two to four weeks you will see the roots filling the plastic bag.
  • Once the roots have almost filled the bag, cut off the stem just below the plastic bag.
  • Remove the plastic and gently pull the roots out of the moss. Plant in a new container.

The air layering method is extremely easy and you don’t have to worry about trying to keep a different plant alive, as the mother plant is still feeding off the newly formed part.

Increasing ficus lyrata by stem cutting

Stem cuttings are a reliable method, but take longer to produce roots and transplanted cuttings are usually smaller than air layered stems.

  • Cut off a healthy side branch near the stem, taking care to get at least three leaves. Make sure the leaves are in good condition and not brown at the edges.
  • Cut the leaves off the lower half of the branches. You want to expose at least two nodes. Nodes are where the leaves connect to the branch. Make sure there is at least one or two leaves left on the top of the branch.
  • Cut the branch at 45 degrees, just below the lowest node.
  • Dip in rooting hormone and plant in a small container filled with seed-growing mix. Be firm to keep the branch in place.
  • Place a large plastic bag over the plant and lift it up using sticks so that it does not touch the foliage.
  • Keep the soil moist and test for root development in four to six weeks by pulling the plant very gently. If you feel resistance, roots have formed.
  • Transplant it to your new home.

planting fiddle-leaf figs

Whether you buy a fiddle-leaf fig or propagate your own, you’ll need to keep it in its new home. As a quick aside, if you do buy a transplant, try not to do it during extreme heat or cold. Moving the plant from the store to your home could result in shock or even death. This plant really does not like extreme or rapid changes in temperature.

Choose a container that is a few inches larger than the fiddle-leaf fig transplant and make sure it has at least one drainage hole. Fill with a few inches of loamy, well-draining soil at the bottom. Place your plant in a pot and fill in the soil around it.

Place your figs in a location that gets a lot of indirect sunlight. Six to eight hours next to a window with a sheer curtain over it would be ideal. It can handle an hour or two of direct sunlight, but not during the hottest part of the day. Not enough sunlight and your FFL will flourish.

care and maintenance

Don’t overwater your potted plant, but keep the soil moist. If you’re not sure how moist it should be, aim to keep the soil slightly dry rather than too wet, so that the roots can dry out between waterings. You don’t want to let the soil dry out too much, but it should never be too wet.

Fiddle-leaf figs are sensitive to standing water and will quickly rot if the roots are not in well-draining soil. If there is too much moisture in the roots you will see brown spots on the leaves. Allow the first inch or so of soil to dry out between waterings.

When you water, be sure to empty the catchment at the bottom of your pot so the water doesn’t sit.

Fertilize with a slow-release granular compost made for container plants. ficus lyrata Loves food so to avoid feeding it a liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks, use the slow release option. Otherwise, use a liquid fertilizer every other week.

Prune to maintain symmetry. You will often find that fiddle-leaf figs grow slightly unilaterally to the point where they receive more light. New branches emerge from the nearest node at any location you cut, so you can create fullness in a sparse spot with careful pruning.

If you prefer the modern ‘tree’ look, make a stem by removing the lower leaves and cut off the tips of the upper branches to encourage a bushier growth habit. If you like a more bush-like growth habit, don’t cut the lower branches.

ficus lyrata At times grows quite rapidly and can be root bound. If the plant appears to be growing out of its container, repot it every couple of years.

The fiddle-leaf fig has aerial roots, which are roots that emerge from the trunk above the soil and reach into the soil. These are not signs of being root bound. Instead, look for roots protruding from around the perimeter of the pot or through the drainage hole. That’s when it’s time to repot.

Gently wipe the leaves with a damp cloth every month. Be careful and wipe both the front and back of the leaves. If you don’t do this, the dust clogs the pores of the leaves and they cannot breathe.

Rotate your plants regularly so they don’t grow unilaterally. In dry climates, spray the leaves regularly to improve humidity. You can also grow plants on trays filled with rocks. Add water to the rock tray to increase the humidity around the plant.

How to Grow Fiddle-Leaf Figs Outside

If you plan to grow your fiddle-leaf figs outdoors, you need a subtropical environment, such as those in USDA Growing Zones 11-13. But just staying in the right temperature zone is not enough. They need moisture, proper lighting and moist soil.

Nighttime temperatures cannot drop below 50ºF and daytime temperatures should not exceed 95ºF. They need six to eight hours of sunlight. They like moist, cool air and plenty of water. The soil should be rich and well-draining, with a pH of 6.6 to 7.

Choose compact varieties like ‘Compacta’ and ‘Bambino’ if space is a problem. ‘Suncoast’ is more cold tolerant than others for outdoor planting.

Fertilize the tree three times a year in spring, summer and fall.

For an outdoor tree, you can cut it hard enough to keep it the size you want. Just don’t trim more than a third of the plant at a time.

growing in containers outside

You’ll be far more successful keeping the figs inside and leaving them there, but if you prefer, you can move the container outside during good weather.

At first, you’ll need to transition outside gradually over a few weeks so you don’t shock the plant. Make sure it is not exposed to strong wind and rain.

Place the container in a slightly shady spot, gradually moving it to a full sun position. If you live in a sunny, hot area, place it in dim sunlight, especially during the hottest part of the day. Every two weeks, rotate the container 1/4 turn clockwise to expose all parts of the plant to sunlight.

If the plant loses some leaves, don’t panic. They will often do this with changes in temperature. They will usually grow back.

Common problems and solutions for growing fiddle-leaf figs

Fiddle-leaf figs are not only finicky about their growing conditions, but they are prone to many pests and diseases.

Spider mites

Often the first time you notice a spider mite is when you see webbing on the leaves or yellow and brown spots on the leaves.

This tiny creature can kill your plant if left unchecked in sufficient numbers. Use a miticide or oil-based spray such as neem oil. You can also try dish soap solution. Use 1 tsp of liquid dish soap to 1 liter of water. Wipe the leaves regularly with this mixture.

mealybugs

Mealybugs like sapsuckers a . can do a lot of damage to ficus lyrata. Yellowing of leaves and reduced vigor are often symptoms of this pest.

You can clear out small infestations. Indoors, use rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab to touch the bug, or use the dish soap method above.

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats love potting mix and seed raising mix and chewing them can damage the roots. They look like tiny mosquitoes and are often seen in the light from windows.

The best natural way to control them is to cut a potato into large cubes and place it on medium in its container. All harm larvae love potatoes and will infest them. Remove the potatoes every couple of days and replace them with fresh pieces.

root rot

If your plant is turning yellow, developing large brown spots, or is dying slowly, you may have root rot. This can happen from overwatering or there is a pathogen in the container medium.

Remove the plant from the container and wash the roots under running water. Cut off any root that looks rotten, muddy, or diseased. Dip the remaining roots in the fungicide. Before reapplying, wash the container with bleach and water. Transplant, ensuring good drainage. Use a new potting mix.

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