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This Tall Houseplant Is So Finicky — These Are The Secrets To Keeping It Alive

March 29, 2022
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The fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) is the statement houseplant of your wildest dreams—that is, once you get the hang of how to care for it. Because despite how popular this floor plant is, it does bring on the drama. Have no fear: We asked a couple of plant enthusiasts to share how to tend to the fiddle leaf fig without tearing your hair out in the process.

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The fiddle leaf fig.

The fiddle leaf fig is native to the rain forests of western Africa and it gets its name from its leaves, which resemble violins.

A cousin of the strikingly similar Ficus Audrey (Ficus benghalensis), fiddle leaf figs require a lot more patience as houseplants. They love a warm and wet environment, making them hard to keep indoors by nature.

In their native environment, these beauties can grow up to 100 feet tall and bear fruit. As a houseplant, however, they tend to max out around 10 feet—still fairly tall! As a symbol of abundance and good luck, they're magnificent to look at when they're healthy, and they can make any space feel more inviting. 

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Planting & growing a fiddle leaf fig.

You can usually find a fiddle leaf at your local nursery or the garden section at a home improvement store. Online nurseries are also great places to look. Fiddle leaf figs can cost anywhere from $20 to $300, depending on how far along they are in their growth. Another plant you may find in your search is the "Bambino," a dwarf variety that doesn't grow as tall but is visually similar to the fiddle leaf.

A word of caution: Fiddle leaf figs are known to be divas about their environment. Knowing the kind of conditions they enjoy can help you determine where in your home you should put the plant. Ideally, you'll want to find a space that receives consistent light throughout the day; "Not direct hot sun but very bright light," Ananda Yankellow, home and garden designer behind A Piece of Rainbow, tells mbg. Steer clear of vents, drafts, and doors. And know that a humidifier will make your fiddle leaf fig incredibly happy.

"The most important part is figuring out the best location for the fiddle leaf fig before you bring it home," Meg Renninger, the founder of Southside Plants, adds. "I recommend getting a baby plant because this allows the plant to adapt to your house and you don't risk spending hundreds on a mature specimen that will wither away."

It's a good idea to let your new fig hang out for a few days in one spot before repotting or moving it. Let it get acclimated to its new home. And when you do find a space for it, let it do its thing. It hates being moved.

Caring for the plant.

Sunlight:

As previously mentioned, the key to a happy fiddle leaf fig is access to consistent sunlight. "Wherever you place your fiddle leaf fig should be sunny and receive at least six hours of light," designer, founder of Design Addict Mom (and plant mom to Glory the fig) Stacey-Ann Blake says in her blog. Artificial grow lights can also be used if your home doesn't get this level of sunlight.

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Water:

Fiddle leaf figs aren't huge fans of sitting in mushy soil. They like to dry out in-between waterings. "How much water you give your fiddle depends on your soil and environment," Alessia Resta, the creator behind Apartment Botanist and author of Plants Are My Favorite People, tells mbg.

You can use a soil moisture meter to see when your plant needs a drink or just dip your finger into the top layer of its soil. Use distilled water or rainwater to give your fiddle leaf moisture without the extra nutrients found in tap water.

During the winter, water less frequently and either group your plants together or invest in a humidifier to keep the environment moist and fiddle-leaf-fig-friendly.

Soil:

Your fiddle leaf fig will love any well-draining, organic soil you put it in. Resta recommends a nice soil mixture of potting soil, orchid bark wood chips, and horticultural charcoal.

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Pot:

Repotting is typically a good idea if your fiddle leaf is outgrowing its home (here are the signs to look for). This guide to repotting will walk you through what to do.

Fertilizer:

There are fiddle-specific fertilizers designated for this finicky gal. But as long as the fertilizer you use contains a 3-1-2 N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio, you should be fine. Some people like to feed their fiddle leaf figs once a month; some don't feed them at all—the sunlight and water are enough. Do what works for your fiddle leaf fig and its environment.

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Common problems & how to fix:

  • Brown leaves: There's a good chance your fiddle leaf is struggling with its sunlight-to-water ratio. Brown spots are your fiddle leaf fig's way of telling you it's either been receiving too much sun without enough water or vice versa. Remember: Give your plant consistent light and breaks between waterings!
  • White specks: Fiddle leaf figs are prone to spider mites and mealybugs. The latter look like fuzzy white spots in distinct areas of the plant, whereas spider mites look like tiny white specks all over a leaf. If you do think you spot an infestation, first use a microfiber cloth to wipe the leaves of your fiddle leaf. If you see evidence of bugs, it's time for treatment.
  • Dropping leaves: If you spot healthy leaves on your plant dropping at a whim, it's probably because of shock. This is why picking a good location is incredibly important after the initial move-in. Fiddle leaf figs are temperamental, so try not to change their conditions too quickly.

How to propagate.

Perfect for a housewarming gift or continuing your own collection, propagating a fiddle leaf fig is simple. Yankellow suggests placing your cuttings in water for propagation using the following technique:

  1. The best time to propagate is in the spring or summer, when your fiddle leaf fig is already in the mood to do some growing.
  2. Look for a 12- to 18-inch stem on your plant that has at least one node and two leaves. The node is where all the root growth will happen. The leaves ensure the stem continues to receive nourishment through photosynthesis. If your cutting has more than two leaves, remove the ones on the bottom.
  3. Transfer the stem cutting to a jar with distilled water and place it in a spot that receives consistent (but not direct) sunlight. You can also use tap water if you allow the chlorine to evaporate out of it overnight before using it.
  4. Wait. It will take about a month before signs of rooting start to show. As you wait, change the water whenever it looks cloudy, using the same type of water used in Step 3.
  5. After tiny white roots develop, you no longer need to worry about changing the water. Give it another one to two weeks before potting it into well-draining, organic soil.

Tips to keep in mind.

Here are some other care tips to keep your fiddle leaf fig happy as can be:

  • When pruned, fiddle leaf figs excrete toxic white sap. It can cause skin irritation for you and stomach issues for your fur babies if they munch on any of the leaves, so be mindful.
  • Mimic a strong breeze every once in a while and give your fiddle leaf fig trunk a good shake. It strengthens the trunk!
  • "Dusting off the leaves regularly is important for plant health," Renninger tells mbg, so feel free to wipe them down using a damp microfiber cloth.
  • Rotate your fiddle leaf fig once a month to make sure every inch of it gets a chance to soak up the glorious sunshine. "Fiddle leaf figs tend to lean toward the light," says Renninger, so rotating your fiddle leaf fig regularly will give you a bushier effect.

The bottom line.

Notorious for its diva behavior, the fiddle leaf fig is a magnificent plant that knows its worth. While it's currently trending, it is no buy-it-and-leave-it type of greenery. Learning how to care for one takes patience and resilience, but it'll reward you with beauty beyond belief.

Alex Shea
Alex Shea

Alex Shea is a storyteller and generational healing life coach with words in Byrdie, Verywell Mind, HuffPost, Shape, and more. Outside of publications, Alex writes stories that touch on, and sometimes intertwine, themes of grief and magic.

With a unique view on life, she taps into her own experiences to guide folks to live life for themselves, empowering them to explore their inner wild and find their own way in adulthood. Her weekly newsletter is a tiny way she furthers her mission to hold space for the unfathomable, romantic, and messy parts of life that make it that much more beautiful.