Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus Lyrata)
As a rule, professionals know their stuff. Want advice on your basketball shot? Ask NBA sharpshooter Steph Curry. Need a mouth-watering dinner for two? Find a Julia Child cookbook. Looking for a tropical plant with “WOW” appeal? Choose the plant home makeover experts like Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper” and Erin Napier of “Home Town” go to most every time: Ficus Lyrata, the Fiddle Leaf Fig.
It’s not hard to see why Fiddle Leaf Fig is a bona fide TV star: Like a true celebrity, this plant absolutely knows how to make an impression. It just seems to exist at a different scale than the rest of the plant world. First off, it has a maximum indoor height of 10’, but it’s incredibly prunable, so the question isn’t “how tall does it get?”, but “how tall do you want it?”
Then there’s the leaves. Oooh, those massive, beautiful leaves. Up to a foot long and nearly as wide, shaped roughly like a paddle (or sure, a fiddle), dark green, and as shiny as a freshly waxed floor—there’s just nothing about them that isn’t awe-inspiring.
Also like a celebrity, the Fiddle Leaf Fig is the subject of quite a few rumors, many of which accuse it of having a finicky temperament. Don’t be spooked. Some of these stories have a point—this is not a beginner plant—but you can absolutely handle it.
Just give your Fiddle Leaf Fig as much bright indirect light as possible, don’t move it around much (it gets stressy), never let it sit in soggy soil, and keep an eye on its leaves for telltale signals of anything out-of-order. (Naturally, give our Plant Care and Expert Advice sections a good read, too.) You—and your larger-than-life TV star roommate—will have many wonderful years together. Just don’t ask it for an autograph.
Characteristics and traits of a Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus Lyrata)
- Scientific Name: Ficus Lyrata or Ficus Pandurata
- Genus: Ficus
- Family: Moraceae
- Common Name: Fiddle Leaf Fig, Fiddle-Leaf Ficus, Fiddlehead Fig/Ficus, Banjo Fig
- Indoor: All year round as long as temperatures are above 55F
- Outdoor Zones: 10b-12
- Type: Perennial; propagated via air layering (preferred) or cuttings
- Mature Height: 3’-10’ (25’-50’ outdoors)
- Mature Width: 2’-5’ (25’-35’ outdoors)
- Plant Height when Shipped: XXXXXX
- Growth Rate: Medium
- Flower: Technically yes, but very rare with indoor specimens. Also, they’re inside the “syconium”, the hollow, vase-like bulb that non-botanists would call the “fruit”.
- Foliage: Huge, elongated oval leaves up to 12” long and almost as wide, dark green with prominent veins and shiny, leathery surfaces.
Plant Care and Advice for Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus Lyrata)
- Grown In: Inside: all zones year round, Outside: zones 10b-12
- Light Requirements: Full sun to bright indirect (best) to part shade/medium light
- Water Requirements: Water when top 1” of soil becomes dry. Drainage is essential—soil must never be soggy. Reduce water in winter. Do not let plant stand in water.
- Drought Tolerance: High
- Temperature: Likes indoor room temp. 60°F-75°F. If outdoors, bring inside when temps fall below 45°F
- Air Purification: Excellent - removes airborne pollutants including formaldehyde
- Toxicity: May induce mild toxicity symptoms (nausea, vomiting, lethargy) in pets and people if ingested, sap may irritate skin
- Fertilizer: General liquid feed at half strength monthly in spring/summer, none in fall/winter
- Container Friendly: Yes - But soil must drain well
- Planting: The most important factor to consider when planting or repotting Fiddle Leaf Fig is the soil composition. This plant absolutely requires good drainage. A general potting soil with lots of peat and bark is a good base, and added perlite is highly recommended. When the plant’s roots begin to poke through the pot’s drainage holes, it’s time to repot. Choose a pot roughly 2” wider than the plant’s existing pot. Make sure it has drainage holes for an overflow tray. Also, it’s wise to choose a heavy pot, as Fiddle Leaf Ficus can get top-heavy and “tipsy”.
- Plant Care: Placement is a big deal for Fiddle Leaf Figs. First off, pick a spot with as much bright indirect light as possible. Direct sunlight is okay for an hour or two in the morning, but direct afternoon sun runs the risk of scorching the leaves. Medium light or partial shade is usually okay as well. Secondly, avoid placing this plant near an AC vent, an exterior door, or even a heat vent (which isn’t chilly, but decreases humidity). Thirdly, once you choose the spot, stick to it. Fiddle Leaf Fig acclimates slowly to new environments, and is unlikely to enjoy being moved outside in summer and inside for winter. A better approach is to decide the best indoor spot for it, put it there, and leave it there. It’s a great idea to rotate the plant every couple weeks so it grows evenly, but resist the temptation to relocate it frequently.
- Proper watering is also vital. Fiddle Leaf Fig is highly susceptible to root rot. As such, be extra careful to not overwater the plant. Those thick, waxy leaves don’t lose as much water to transpiration as thinner, more delicate leaves would, so Fiddle Leaf Fig isn’t as thirsty as you might expect for a plant of its stature. During the spring/summer growing season, water (with room temperature water) when the top inch of soil is dry, but don’t drench the soil or let it get waterlogged. In fall and winter when the plant goes dormant, reduce water significantly to avoid root rot. If the plant needs more water, it will tell you by letting its leaves droop a bit.Fertilizer has a similar yearly cycle. Feed your Fiddle Leaf Fig a half-strength dose of quality general houseplant fertilizer once per month during spring and summer. But there’s no need to fertilize during the fall and winter. Fiddle Leaf Fig does fine in typical indoor humidity—but as a native of the African jungle, it likes above-average humidity even more (especially in winter, when artificial heating can dry the air). Give your figgy friend a treat with an occasional light misting, or by placing the pot on a drainage tray filled with water and a slightly taller layer of pebbles (so the pot touches the pebbles, but not the water).
- You’ll want to keep your Fiddle Leaf Fig’s leaves clean, both to maximize its ability to soak up the sun and because it helps stave off pests. Simply wipe both sides of each leaf with a damp cloth every month or two.
- Fiddle Leaf Figs are trees in their native habitat, so their natural tendency is to grow tall. Fortunately, they’re quite tolerant of pruning. If left unpruned, the plant will develop a fairly columnar shape and can reach a height of 10’ (or much higher if planted outdoors). Pruning, however, will enable you to keep the plant a manageable size and will also encourage it to branch out more, developing a more rounded shape.
- Expert Advice:
- Ficus Lyrata drops its lower leaves as it grows. Don’t panic, this is natural.
- Also, be aware that Ficus Lyrata, like most Ficus species, tends to drop leaves when stressed, repotted, or even just moved, especially if going from medium to bright light or vice versa (move them gradually over a week or two to minimize the shock). This is also no cause for alarm. If all is well otherwise, the plant will (slowly) acclimate and regrow many, if not all, of the lost leaves.
- However, if the plant drops leaves in large amounts or for an extended period of time, there may be a different, more dangerous cause that needs to be addressed.
- The first and most hazardous possible cause is overwatering. If the soil smells rotten or is soggy, and/or if the leaves turn yellow before falling, the plant probably has root rot. For mild cases, cutting back on water may be enough. For more extreme cases, it’s worth repotting the plant into dry soil (and trimming off any rotting roots as part of the process), and offering less water going forward.
- If Ficus Lyrata needs more water or higher humidity, its leaves may droop and the leaf edges can become dry and “crispy”. Examine the soil to see if it’s parched, then either offer more water or, if the soil isn’t dry, take steps to increase humidity (misting, a pebble tray, a humidifier).
- Brown spots on Ficus Lyrata’s leaves are typically a sign of a fungal or bacterial infection. We have to warn you that treating these is often a losing battle—that said, if you detect the infection early enough, you can beat it. Remove and dispose of any infected tissue, repot the plant in fresh (hopefully uninfected) soil, and treat with the appropriate fungicides and/or copper-based bactericide—but know that these are better as preventatives than cures.
- Remember that repotting actually increases a plant’s stress. So if your Ficus is just dropping leaves, repotting should be viewed as a last resort. The exception is when you’re dealing with a soil-based condition such as an infection or root rot (which is technically also a bacterial infection), when the move to fresh, clean, dry soil is a vital part of the treatment.
- Ficus Lyrata is vulnerable to a handful of plant pests, most notably mealybugs, aphids, scale, and spider mites. Keeping the plant’s leaves clean is the best preventative. If pests arrive anyway, possible treatments include removing them by hand, treating them with neem oil or insecticidal soap, dabbing them with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, or spraying the plant with a mix of 50/50 rubbing alcohol and water, with a small amount (1 tsp) of dish soap added.
- Propagation of Ficus Lyrata is typically done via cuttings (easier but less reliable) or air layering (more complex but with more success).
- To propagate via a cutting, simply cut a stem with at least three leaf nodes, strip the leaves from all but the top two nodes, and place the cutting in fast-draining soil (or, paradoxically, straight water). Roots should form within about six weeks.
- Air layering is a slightly more involved process. Find the branch you want to form your new plant and make a 45-degree cut half way through the branch about 4”-6” below a node. Slide a small piece of plastic into the cut (to keep it from re-sealing), then wrap the cut area in moist sphagnum moss (optional: add rooting hormone to the water you use to moisten the moss). Finally, “bandage” the moss with plastic wrap and secure it with string or tape.
- Once that’s done, all you have to do is wait. 4-6 weeks is typical, but it may be longer. At some point, you’ll start to see roots growing into the sphagnum. At that point, it’s safe to make a new cut all the way through the branch just below the moss ball, remove the plastic, and plant your new Ficus in its own pot.
- One final bit of Ficus Lyrata trivia: Fig trees flower, but humans will almost never see the flowers without making special effort. What most non-botanists would consider the fig’s underripe fruit is actually a “syconium”, which is a hollow, pear-shaped container with 50-7000 tiny flowers inside it. If needed (some figs self-pollinate), insects enter the syconium through a hole in the bottom and fertilize the flowers, which then produce vast numbers of tiny fruits which grow and combine to form what most of us think of as the fig.