A complete guide to growing the perfect fiddle leaf fig
“The fiddle leaf fig has rocketed in popularity as one of the most stylish and trendy indoor plants one can have. With it’s famous broad and glossy leaves, as well as the ability to grow as large as a tree (and form many different shapes), there’s something retro and fab and bold about the fiddle leaf that can just make a room.
It is however a plant that requires some know-how to grow successfully. Fiddley by nature, it requires the correct combination of light, drainage, consistent scheduled watering, fertilisation and pruning to meet its true potential.”
Growing tips for the fiddle leaf fig; the complete care guide
In 2016 the New York Times called fiddle leaf figs “the ‘IT’ plant of the design world”, and for good reason. This beauty of a house plant adds some panache to a room, lets your guests know you mean decorative business, and proves to your mother you could be responsible for a life after all.
So why don’t we all have 8 foot tall fiddle figs adorning our living rooms or favourite reading corners? Because the Fiddle Leaf Fig is in fact a fiddly obnoxious bastard to grow. Slow and definitely not steady. If you don’t handle this high maintenance diva with care, she’ll probably create a scene.
When researching this topic online, I was surprised at just how average, oversimplified and sometimes wildly incorrect the available information was.
This guide is carefully researched – and I think trustworthy. I’ve even altered my own fiddley ways as a result of this research. Relevant sources included below for science and whatnot.
If you’ve the attention span required to read a page in entirety, you’ll learn about these things and become the fiddle leaf fig whisperer you always wanted to be;
- How to pot a fiddle leaf fig
- How much light your fiddle leaf fig needs to succeed
- How to overcome low humidity
- How often to water your fiddle leaf fig
- The best fertiliser your fiddle leaf fig, and how often to feed it
- Pruning your fiddle leaf fig like a bonsai master
- Propagating your fiddle leaf fig like a Catholic family pre contraception
This is a long post, and a lot of effort went into it. It’s worth your time if you want to be a fiddle master. Don’t sell me short Janice. Read it.
Facts about the fiddle leaf fig: a dark past
Firstly, lets learn a little more about the common household Fiddle Leaf Fig.
Her true name is Ficus lyrata, which I’m told is not a Harry Potter spell but rather means she belongs to the Mulberry and Fig family Moraceae.
An evergreen tree, in her natural habit a plucky specimen might reach as high as 15m – though 3m is more typical for a potted specimen. Her signature leaf takes the shape of a lyre or fiddle – wide at the apex and narrow in the middle. That makes sense then.
Now here is where it gets interesting. Back in the days before cool blogs, Fiscus Lyratahailed from the tropical rainforests of Western Africa, where she has to my significant surprise conducted a bloody and murderous trade for some 150 million years. That’s right. Whilst her name might sound like a cute café in a Melbourne laneway, this banyan fig makes Voldemort look like a vitamin D deficient postman. Fighting words, I know. Let me elaborate.
Our friend Fiscus“the fiddler” lyratais actually an epiphyte– and yes I know I’ve dropped a lot of science names already and it’s confusing, but just stay with me Janice.
A epiphyte begins its life growing on the surface of another plant like some uninvited rainforest squatter avoiding a soil tax. Taking what it will from surrounding host debris and airborne moisture and nutrients, it grows in strength and begins to sends roots down toward the ground. Our friendly host – unaware of the imminent and approaching danger – is soon encircled at its base. Without warning or mercy noose, it is then strangled to death within its sinewy noose. Dark stuff.
Now you know what’s living in your living room.
How to pot a fiddle leaf fig
Choosing the correct pot to use for your fiddle leaf fig is actually super critical. Like maybe one the most important aspects of not sucking at this. Obviously the pot should be sexylicious, but aside from that – the key thing here is good drainage.Your fiddler likes quick draining soil and doesn’t care about your excuses or aesthetics Janice.
So the perfect pot for a fiddle leaf fig will have generous drainage, with my favourite being a single large central or peripherally located hole. If you’re losing heaps of soil, put some coarse gravel in first (or mesh), then pour your soil.
If you’re getting a decorative pot (which I highly recommend, because Queen Fiddle deserves better than your Bunnings plastic atrocity) – there are some easy workarounds. Either use a woven basket with a draining pot and tray inside, or size your decorative pot bigger than your cheap draining pot which can then be placed inside, making sure it has room to drain.
Once you’ve chosen your pot, you’ll need some soil (told you this guide would be ground-breaking). The good news is almost any decent potting mix will have enough perlite to drain well. Look for ones that are quick draining contain some organic compost. Humus rich is a winner as well. But you’re not going to go wrong with a premium potting mix so just go buy something geez. Maybe add some extra perlite if you want to be el fancy.
How much light does the fiddle leaf fig need to grow well?
Despite its dark and sinister origins, the fiddle leaf fig needs a good amount of light to thrive. Guides that say it grows well in low light are like listening to a politician during election season. So you need to do some thinking here. A common mistake I see are people placing their fiddler next to that schanzzy occasional chair because it just looks fabulous. Nary a thought for the survival of the plant. It won’t work Janice.
Most online guides share optimal window positioning for North America, but not God’s land down under. Luckily you have me to sort you out.
Sunlight and window aspect for Australian homes
North facing windows: the honey pot. These windows receive twice the winter sun than east or west facing windows. You’ll usually get more than 8 hours of direct sunlight through these babies. Plants that like light (such as the fiddle leaf fig) will do well in rooms with north facing windows.
East facing windows: You’ll get some gentle early morning sun (up to 6 hours worth), but there is nothing gentle about our fiddle queen. She demands stronger sun, and more of it. You’ll get by here if you have a room with ample windows in other directions which create an overall bright experience for our Queen.
West facing windows: Get smacked with intense afternoon rays. The Fiddle leaf is a demanding type, its true. But she has feelings too. And they might be hurt by a west facing window in summer. Make sure its not getting baked here and you’ll be ok. Maybe move her back a touch from the window if she’s getting crispy baked.
South facing windows: No direct light in winter, and only a touch of early morning and late afternoon sunlight in summer. Not a great place for plants. Unless you’re up in Northern Australia – the closer to the equator the less pronounced this effect. You might get away with it there, so check your map and compass.
You’ll have to use some observational skills here Janice. You want a window with 8 hours of light a day minimum, but preferably not a wide unshaded due west facing window. Get your phone out and turn on the compass and work out what’s what. Observe the windows and rooms in your house at different parts of the day. You might find your house only has 1-2 spots where the fiddle leaf fig will get enough of the right sun. In that case you might not have the luxury of placing your plant exactly where you would have liked. But at least you won’t suck at houseplant magics and your mum will be proud. If you have several rooms with good light, good for you. Choose away or start a fiddler army.
Make sure you also rotate for excellent an excellent all round tan, or she’ll start to bend and your Instagram photo will be ruined forever.
The fiddle leaf fig we learnt earlier hails from the tropics. Unsurprisingly for those playing at home, a fairly high ambient humidity – 40-60% seems to be her sweet spot – works best for our dark queen. But don’t fear if you live in the majority of Australian cities in which this ambient humidity is a thing of myth – for once she gives us a bit of leeway. Just keep her out of the direct path of aircon vents and give her a little misting facial during the driest months and you’ll be ok.
How much to water your fiddle leaf fig – and how frequently
Now we’re into the meat of things Janice. How much of the transparent nectar to give our silent watcher in the corner, the plant that protects the realm of men?
The exact right amount. No more, no less. Perfection is expected, and you will deliver.
Water your fiddle queen too much and she will rot. Underwater her and the leaves will dry and fall, like your hopes and dreams.
So what is the right amount then?
It depends a bit on your sunlight level. If you’re pushing the boundaries with a dim position, you’re prone to root rot and need to be more gentle with the watering. Bright and sunny room? Open doors and draft? A little more moist please.
If you’re watering weekly or more, you’re too keen and you need to settle right down please. Similarly if your plant has brown spots at the edge, you’re probably watering too much. If your soil smells like your aunts underarms, you’ve got a watering addiction and it needs to stop.
If, on the other hand, your plant is dropping leaves randomly, is going yellow, or the new growth is small and weak, you might be leaving our green Queen out to dry.
If still unsure, its more likely you’re overwatering than underwatering.
So, this is what you need to do.
- Set a schedule – erratic watering is worse than either over or underwatering, so you need to be consistent or take your plant to an adoption centre.
- Stick to said schedule. Id suggest every 7-10 days depending on how much sun you’re getting.
- Every time you water, stick your finger deep inside the soil and pull it back out – was it dry for the first inch or so? Or moist just beneath? – if dry for an inch or so you’re bang on. If moist, push it out another 2 days or so. If its dry as far as you can feel, or if the dirt is pulling away from the edges of the pot, move your schedule forward 1-2 days.
- Repeat steps 2-3
Soon you’ll find a happy medium where you can predict when the plant is starting to get dry and needs a water. In winter, you’ll probably find you have to push your watering day back 2-3 days, and vice versa for summer.
Be consistent, keep checking the dirt moisture content and adjust as necessary.
How much water you ask? If it’s a baby less than 3 feet or so, 500-750mls should be plenty. If it’s a large specimen, 1-1.5L. Just a wee bit of your offering should drain from the bottom when you get it right. And remember – don’t let it sit in water. Remove it to water, let it drain fully, replace. Repeat. Profit. Instagram.
Fertilising your fiddle leaf fig
Ok so you’ve potted your fiddle sensibly in good soil, selected a prime spot for maximum success, and have a regular watering schedule. How do we make this slow grower get her skates on a bit?
You need to feed her Janice. The fiddle has big old bombastic leaves that need regular and delicious nourishment.
So, what’s the game plan? Easy. Fertilise every second time you water, except for the hottest 1-2 months of the year when you can fertilise every single time. In winter, leaver her be and wait until spring rolls around to resume your offerings.
Which fertiliser to use? There’s conflicting information available on this. Most articles online just try to sell you whatever brand they can get a cut from locally I reckon Janice. Doesn’t mean they are bad. There’s a lot of chat about the NPK ration (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium) and the most common ratio touted is 3-1-2. But I can’t find any good scientific research to back this, so make of that what you will.
If you can find something fiddle specific its likely they’ve made some effort to tailor it a little more to the fiddle and that (may) be worth something – maybe not. I reckon any decent fertiliser will cut the mustard. Liquid is easy and I dilute mine into the watering can when I water. A bit of good compost once a year and a repot every second year won’t go astray either.
So, fertilise with some liquid goodness every second time you water spring-autumn, and in a hot summer make it every time. Go get at it.
Pruning your fiddle leaf
Pruning isn’t so important when you have a baby plant, but when they are getting older you need to get the scissors out and get them in line.
First things first – if you’re just reading this guide for the first time and your fiddle leaf is currently as healthy as your bedroom is clean, then you’ll want to go ahead and cut away any damaged or unhealthy looking leaves. They are draining good food and water from the mothership so get rid of them. Leave them and they slow the growth of the rest of the plant plus they can spread their icky sticky diseases if they are infected.
Next up, you’ll need to prune for either practical or artistic reasons. On the practical side, if your fiddle is getting too busy and the leaves are all up in each other’s faces, take some leaves off to thin it a touch and make sure the remaining leaves are still getting adequate sunlight and airflow. Or if its growing into the ceiling / window / chimney – obviously cut it back at the stem. As with all cuts don’t place them within an inch of a leaf node, or you risk transmitting infection into the leaves. Also be aware that when you severe the stem, it’ll likely form two new branches beneath the cut. More on this below.
As your baby bush grows, it’ll start to look more like a tree. If you’re inclined to enjoy the tree look, you can help this fiddle bonsai become even more tree like.
There’s a few ways to do this – double or single branch methods.
Single branch notching
Say you want a new branch to the right only about half way up your fiddle leaf tree. What you do is find a bud somewhere along the stem (a bud is a little bump (or leaf scar)– they are pretty easy to find. Now you want to cut about an inch above this node with clean sharp scissors about 1/3 of the way into the stem, just above the node – so the cut extends approximately 1/3 the circumference of the stem. This is called notching. You’ll know you’ve done it correctly when some milk of success seeps from the cut line (sap).
After you’ve made your notch, the flow of nutrients is cut off at this level, and beneath the plant responds by sending a new branch to circumvent the road block. Yay, new branch
You can repeat this process on the other side at the same or different level to create whatever branching pattern you like.
Double branch cut
Now, for the double branch method; pretty self-explanatory. Cut through the entire stem, and beneath you should get a branch shoot in two directions. Easy.
There’s another cool little technique called pinching. In this method (best for smaller plants) you pinch the small bud present at the apex of the growing stem. Milky sap should appear. This helps smaller skinny plants grow a bit more laterally and may induce branch growth as well.
One other tip – fertilise post notching/pruning. This helps the new branch fulfil its destiny.
I’ve linked below to a great YouTube video which demonstrates these methods nicely. You’re welcome Janice.
All credit for that amazing video goes to PLANTERINA – check out her snazzy channel while you’re there
How to propogate a fiddle leaf fig
Making an army of dark queens is actually not too difficult. That said, a word of warning for all you propagation sensations out there – in my opinion it is probably a better bet to cultivate a commercially grown cheap baby fiddle leaf plant then growing from a cutting. But perhaps less satisfying. If it’s satisfaction you’re after baby (or if you don’t want to spend money) then read on.
Steps for propagation
- Wait until you prune. When you do prune, you can use your pruned stem or leaves for propagation. Either a stem with leaves or just a leaf can work. With stems, strip down leaves until 1-2 leaves remain up top. Smaller / younger stems work better but give the big boys a go as well. With leaves, they’ll work better is small-mid sized with a decent leaf stem at least 1-1.5 inches long so you can get it into water without making the leaf swim.
- Place in a container with water. The water should be filtered or left to sit for a day or two before you use it, so the chlorine and some other nasties evaporate.
- Place contained with stem/leaf in a nice bright spot but without direct sunlight
- Wait a month – but change your water weekly
- After a month you should have a root ball
- Pot per previous instructions once the root ball is golf ball sized or bigger
- Brag to friends
Optional: add a root hormone at step 2 to speed up the process.
And that’s all there is to it. Badda bing badda boom. Use these powers wisely.
In case you forgot why you’re here and what you just read, let’s do a quick summary.
Essential steps for fiddle leaf success
- Pot in premium potting mix, in a well draining pot
- Place in bright but indirect sunlight
- Establish a watering routine that is consistent, don’t overdo it, and adjust based on soil dryness at watering time
- Fertilise every watering session during summer, every second session during spring and autumn, don’t water in winter
- Prune dead leaves, and notch or cut the stem to induce new branching
- Use pruning times to acquire leaves and cuttings for propagation
And that’s it my friends. Whew. A big one. I’ve been scouring the web for a few weeks, reading a few books and I’m pretty certain all the good stuff is here for you to enjoy. If you did enjoy this offering, I’d ask you to share it with your friends, family and all strangers you ever meet. Cheers for that.
Much love despite the sass,
Miss Pot Plant xoxo
Royal horticultural society https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/pdfs/agm-lists/agm-ornamentals.pdf