The Ultimate Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus Lyrata) Plant Care Guide

Whether you know it by the common name Fiddle Leaf Fig or botanical name Ficus lyrata, this is the cool kid of houseplants. It seems like the Fiddle Leaf Fig is always trending. If you're after a statement plant, you've found your perfect match with those huge, lush, glossy-green leathery leaves and ability to reach a good 3 metres or so when grown indoors, adding a foot or two of growth every year when happy and healthy. If you love their leaf shape but not their size, there's also the Ficus lyrata 'Bambino' or dwarf Fiddle Leaf Fig, which is more compact and more likely to branch, but can still eventually reach 1 to 2 metres.

Once you learn what they like (and don't like), I'd give these guys about a 2 to 3 out of 5 for difficulty. Trickier than their Ficus cousins in the Elastica family, but they do share the same Ficus-family drama queen tendencies (especially when moved). However, once settled in, and you've learned their needs, you'll be able to keep your Fiddle Leaf Fig happy and healthy with relatively minimal maintenance. Here's how... 

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How much light do Fiddle Leaf Figs need?

Plenty of bright, indirect or filtered light is KEY to a happy Fiddle Leaf Fig. Common signs of not enough light include leggy growth where the stem length between leaves gets longer, stunted or slow growth, small new leaves, or drooping leaves that don't perk up when watered. Pale or yellowing leaves (when the cause isn't water or food), can also be a sign the light level's too low.

When those light levels are simply far too low, Fiddle Leaf Figs will sometimes dramatically shed the unnecessary leaves that the light level is simply too low to support, and only hold on to the bare minimum, resulting in bare stems and only a handful of leaves.

Aim to give your Fiddle Leaf Fig at least 6 to 8 'good light' hours a day. If you have a light meter, find a spot with at least 500 foot candles in a pinch (although at lower light levels a grow light is a good idea to boost light levels part of the day), but ideally aim for an average of 800 foot candles for a good 8+ hours a day for a happy Fiddle Leaf Fig. That's just the average though. 

Low light? Or good light but not for enough hours? Two words: grow lights. Because of their notorious hatred of being moved, in winter, instead of shifting my FLF to a brighter spot, I leave it be and use a Sansi grow light for mine (that link is for those in NZ), to supplement low light levels. If you're overseas, this Sansi 24 watt from Amazon is the same one I use in a floor lamp.

You'll often see the advice to avoid direct sunlight for Fiddle Leaf Figs, however I find it's the strength of the sun that matters and they handle direct sun fine if it's not too intense. Mine get an hour or two of weaker early morning sun or late afternoon sun and are thriving. I just wouldn't go from low light to direct sun in a great rush. Instead let the plant have time to adjust slowly to big light changes or their leaf-dropping drama-queen tendencies can kick in. 

If your Fiddle Leaf Fig is getting a lean on, that's likely because it's leaning towards or away from the light. That can be a sign of too little or too much light, but to avoid that happening, give your plant a quarter turn every fortnight or so to keep that growth even. In the wild, Ficus lyrata are actually climbers, using other trees to reach better light nearer the top of the rainforest canopy. 


When should you repot a Fiddle Leaf Fig?

I personally avoid repotting a Fiddle Leaf Fig unless it really needs it as they can be a little dramatic during recovery. For me, a sure sign to repot is when I have to water far too often. Normally caused by the substrate no longer holding water for long enough, or there's no longer enough substrate left to hold water!

I don't have time for watering more than weekly, so if it's drying out faster than that, it's time to repot. Or if you've just got your Fiddle Leaf Fig and find it takes forever to dry out because the substrate's holding too much water, rather than risk root rot that's another time I'd repot, albeit reluctantly.

However, if you're thinking of repotting because the soil level on drop has dropped over time, that's not normally a reason I'd repot. Unless the substrate's become hydrophobic and refusing to hold water, I just lift the plant out of the pot, add fresh substrate to the bottom, then simply put the plant back in on top to lift it up and give the roots new soil to expand into, causing minimal disruption to the roots.

Whatever the reason to repot, try to disturb the roots as little as possible. I've also found a seaweed or nutrient bath before you repot works wonders to help reduce transplant stress. There are lots more tips in this free repotting guide: Don't repot without doing this first >


What's the best substrate for a Fiddle Leaf Fig?

Getting the substrate right makes Fiddle Leaf Fig care a lot easier. Although your own conditions and plant parent style come into it of course, I like a half-and-half mix of a soil-based and soil-free substrates for mine. Soil-based or peat-based for the organic goodies and higher water retention, but mixed well with a chunkier, soil-free mix to bring up the free-draining, airy properties to the right balance.

Two combos I'm loving is a soil-based mix like Wildvine Houseplant Blend mixed with a soil-free aroid blend, such as either Bio Leaf Indoor Fine/Medium for smaller plants, or Bio Leaf Aroid Medium/Chunky for a bigger FLF both being great choices for the soil-free half of your mix.

Another combo mine like is Wildvine Houseplant Blend (soil-based), mixed with Wildvine Aroid Blend (soil-free). For a Fiddle Leaf Fig in really bright light which dries out quickly, you absolutely can use a soil-based mix by itself. If you're not in New Zealand, I've also heard fantastic reports about the custom Organic Fiddle Leaf Fig Potting Mix (available from Amazon).


What temperature range do Fiddle Leaf Figs prefer?

Coming from rainforests along the West African coast, Ficus Lyrata or Fiddle Leaf Figs prefer relatively warm conditions. One reason they do so well as indoor plants is they prefer the same temperature range we're comfortable in. Just watch those lows in winter. Aim for between 15 and 24 degrees Celsius (around 60 to 75 F). Lower than 12 degrees C (54 F), is best avoided.

When to water your Fiddle Leaf Fig 

Lightly, evenly moist is the sweet spot you're aiming for. Over-watering is much worse than under-watering, so if in doubt, don't water. I wait until my Fiddle Leaf Fig is just over 50% dry before watering again, a little more in winter, but they don't like going fully dry, at least not for long.

The right substrate makes getting watering right much easier, as do clear pots which mean you can keep an eye on moisture levels through the side of the pot. Otherwise a water meter helps take the guesswork out by telling you the moisture level down at the roots where you can't check with your finger. Just keep in mind water meters can't be 100% relied on. You still have to make the final decision on whether it's time to water based on the needs of the plant.




Why do the new leaves on my Fiddle Leaf Fig have small brown spots on them?

Something unique to Fiddle Leaf Figs (although I have seen it in hoyas occasionally also), is small, rust-coloured brown spots on new leaves that appear after you water (like the photo above). Often mistaken for pests or rot.

Called edema, it's normally harmless, and caused by cells bursting from more water being sent from the roots to the leaves, than the leaves can 'breathe out'. Not necessarily a sign of over-watering, more a sign that light, temperature or airflow are too low for the plant and something needs to change. Learn more about edema and how to fix it here >


How to avoid and treat root rot in Fiddle Leaf Figs

The most common (and concerning), water-related problem with Fiddle Leaf Figs however is root rot. When you do water, water heavily enough so the entire substrate is saturated. However, over-watering is when you water again too soon (it's about the frequency of watering, so how often you water, not how much you give when you do water). In typical household conditions, you want to let your Fiddle Leaf Fig dry to at least half way before watering again. 

Water too little, or not often enough, can also cause root rot, also called dry root rot. That happens when the root hairs die due to being too dry too long. Then the next time you water, hello root rot, because the roots can no longer absorb the water. 

No matter the cause, the fungus and bacteria that cause root rot to flourish prefer low-oxygen, moist conditions. Because it spreads fast, you need to get those dead, rotting rots out of the pot asap. 

Symptoms of root rot in a Fiddle Leaf Fig include yellowing, droopy leaves (often the lower leaves first), brown spots and leaf drop. If you suspect root rot, get your plant out of the pot right away and look for wet, mushy, soft, dark roots. Trim off all the rotting roots. Then repot into fresh substrate.

Some also recommend a rinse or soak of the remaining healthy roots with hydrogen peroxide first to kill any remaining pathogens and help prevent root root spreading. If you do that extra step, make sure to get between 3% to 6% hydrogen peroxide, or dilute according to the percent. 


What's the best fertiliser for a Fiddle Leaf Fig?

Although slow'ish growers, those glorious leaves definitely need fertiliser to stay in good health and avoid common nutrient deficiencies. Feeding little and often has worked great for mine, called the weekly weakly method >

Keep in mind a plant's growth is limited by the nutrient they need the LEAST of (yes, the least, not the most), so not feeding at all can inhibit growth and health. Go for a complete fertiliser, ideally one higher in nitrogen (also called a foliage fertiliser), in order to keep up with the needs of those huge leaves. 

This isn't officially 'a thing' but some fertilisers get known for working wonders on certain plants. And when it comes to Fiddle Leaf Figs, it's Plant Runner Indoor Plant Food. Here's Dom's epic Fiddle Leaf Fig (Dom is a horticulturalist and the co-founder of Plant Runner).  

A warning: Be careful what you use to clean your Fiddle Leaf Fig


Before you go and put all these tips and tricks to good use caring for your Fiddle Leaf Fig, a quick warning on keeping those beautiful leaves dust-free. A downside of their big, leathery leaves is dust, and lots of it. They are dust magnets! A little dust isn't a biggie, but it can build up and end up blocking leaves both from getting all the light they love, as well as blocking stomata, the pores on the surface of leaves that our plants use to 'breathe' in and out or transpire. Dusty leaves can also attract pests like spider mites. 

So when you're faced with a dusty Fiddle Leaf Fig, what you use to clean them matters. The last thing you want is replace being blocked with dust, with being blocked with leaf shine. Most leaf shine products are silicon-based and tend to leave behind a layer that can block stomata, not to mention a gloss so shiny it looks fake. The reason a lot of planty experts will tell you to stay away from leaf shine.

Plant Runner to the rescue again. The Plant Runner Neem Oil Leaf Shine is non-comedogenic, meaning it won't block your plant's pores, and restores the plants natural shine. Neem Oil is also thought to act as a mild pest repellent (only in much higher concentrations is Neem Oil a pesticide though). I like putting on my muppet hands (otherwise known as microfibre dusting gloves), spritz on a little Neem Oil Leaf Shine, and together it makes quick work of dusting those big leaves.


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