5 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Fiddle-Leaf Fig

They’re a pretty, but particularly picky bunch.

August 15, 2016
fiddle fig houseplant
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The fiddle-leaf fig is the cool kid in town. It’s graced the pages of Architectural Digest, held court in The New York Times Magazine, and has been featured on every hip blog, from Popsugar to Gardenista. Who are we kidding, it’s so popular you probably already have one. The problem is that plants championed by the design world are generally selected for their good looks—not necessarily for how easy they are to maintain. So, the real question is: Do you know how to take care of it? (Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

If you’re a novice in the world of green thumbery and want to successfully nourish your own fiddle-leaf fig, you must learn to think like a chimp. Or at least become a little more familiar with the African jungle habitat both the chimp and the fiddle leaf call home. These lowland jungles are dense, dark, warm, wet places and generally nothing like your home or apartment, but that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. Read on to learn the five most common mistakes with fiddle-leaf fig care, plus how to overcome them to grow a healthy, thriving plant.

Related: 7 Gardening Mistakes You’ve Been Making Your Whole Life

watering can
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Overwatering

Watering is the simplest yet trickiest part of caring for plants—and it’s really easy to overdo it. In its native West Africa, the fiddle-leaf fig gets ample water in the form of rainfall, so try to emulate this meteorological reality by keeping the soil consistently moist—but not soaking. Chris Raimondi, president of the Raimondi Horticultural Group, warns against overwatering and suggests planting the fig in a well draining medium to combat potential problems. To water properly, wait until the top inch of soil is dry. Then, thoroughly drench until water comes out the bottom of the pot, and leave it to slowly dry out again.

underwatered plant
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Underwatering

Too little is almost as bad as too much when it comes to water. Remember, you want your fig’s roots to be consistently moist—right at home in their mini West African jungle pot. Signs of underwatering include limp, floppy leaves. If you’ve gone way too long without watering, foliage will start to yellow, brown, and then drop. The Missouri Botanical Garden recommends watering more as winter turns to spring to provide the plant with enough water for new growth.

Related: 6 Tomato-Growing Mistakes You're Making

too much light
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Too Much Light

The fiddle-leaf fig needs the kind of light most houses and apartments naturally provide—not too much, not too little, nothing too bright, nothing too dark. Harnek Singh, gardener at New York City’s Wave Hill Public Garden, recommends an east-facing window. “Fiddle leaf figs need lots of indirect light and some direct sun,” he says. “Afternoon sun from a south- or west-facing window will be too strong.” So remember, just like the nourishing rays that filter down from the jungle’s dense canopy, your fig needs good sun in your home, too. Save the south-facing window for desert dwellers like cacti and succulents.

Singh also suggests purchasing fiddle-leaf figs from reputable buyers to avoid running into the opposite problem. “Many of these plants are often already on the decline from sitting in the dark too long.” Signs of incorrect light exposure include flagging foliage and pale, spotty, or wan looking leaves. If your plant exhibits these symptoms, try moving it to a new spot for a week or two.

Related: 5 Houseplants That Thrive In Dark Apartments

cleaning a houseplant
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Too Much Food

Members of the fig genus Ficus tend to be gluttons for fertilizer. Not so with the fiddle leaf. Instead, try to mimic the natural seasons of growth for the fig in its new temperate home and fertilize only a handful of times a year—once in the spring and monthly throughout summer. Over-fertilization can cause plants to grow leggy and can even kill them. Scott Appell from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden recommends renewing the top several inches of soil with a fresh, nutrient-rich layer annually. Then, dose with your favorite regular water-soluble fertilizer. 

cold houseplant
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The Wrong Temperature

Although you may like the thermostat at a tepid 68 degrees, the fiddle leaf fig likes it hot (jungle, remember?). The plant will tolerate normal indoor temperatures just fine, but will falter if exposed to cold drafts. Unfortunately, the best light is generally found where all the drafts are—in front of big porch doors or next to windows. Do yourself a favor and seal up drafty areas before situating your fig. Drafts also tend to dry rooms out, making your indoor habitat even less like the steamy, sticky African tropics figs know and like. Experts recommend misting the fiddle leaf’s leaves throughout the dry winter months to keep your plant sufficiently moist…and happy.

Related: Grow Fantastic Figs

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