The Fiddleleaf Fig As An Indoor Plant

Ficus lyrata, the Fiddleleaf Fig, is the chosen indoor accent plant for Interior Décor (Langan, 2017: 112)! Open any décor magazine and voila! find an impossibly tall, amazing fiddleleaf fig in one or more spreads… And they look stunningly imposing in the modern minimalist environment – especially when placed in large simple baskets or pots (Langan, 2017: 39, 49, 69, 83). And of course they are essential for creating scale and proportion in an interior (Langan, 2017: 28)

So why is it called Ficus lyrata? Because its large leaves remind one of a lyre or violin (a fiddle) (missouribotanicalgarden: 2019) – they are indeed beautifully large and glossy, and can grow to 30cm long and 15cm wide. In the wild it can grow to 12m tall, and produce figs, but indoors it does not fruit and usually only grows to 2-3m in height. Indoors, it will take about 15 years to mature, so it is quite slow growing (Koster, 2017: 118).

The starting point for understanding any indoor plant is to know where it comes from… So Ficus lyrata comes from West Africa, where it grows from Cameroon to Sierra Leone in tropical rainforest. In the wild, it grows in poor soils where the water drains away constantly.

So now we know that

  • Fiddle Leaf Figs like humidity – so spray it sometimes
  • They grow in filtered light to low light, or an indirect light environment
  • They grow in a nutrient poor environment
  • They grow in a sheltered environment ie wind free

Fiddle Leaf Figs have developed quite a reputation, a star status in a way, a much coveted plant that almost becomes a pet to its owner. Why is this so? It needs to be cared for, and responds endearingly amazingly responsively by growing a new leaf! And a new leaf is a large event – the entire plantscape changes!

But some say it is a difficult indoor plant…? Well, not really. It is regarded as suitable for starter plant carers, as long as watering is kept on the low side. And that requires learning how often to water, on the part of the new plant owner. You need to learn how often to water it in your environment. As a general guideline, for a small plant, give it a ¼ cup of water weekly, on the same day (they love routine!). For a medium plant, ½ a cup of water. And a large plant? Start with 2 cups.

Now check moisture level before you water next week:

Method 1: Stick your finger in the soil up to two digits – if it is dry, repeat the same amount of water. If it is moist, water next week.

Method 2: Insert a dry stick deep into the pot – if soil sticks to it when you withdraw the stick, you can wait a week before testing again. If it comes out more or less clean, yes, you can water

Sometimes low weekly watering works well. Sometimes a good watering once a month works better. It depends on your environment, and perhaps on your lifestyle needs as well.

Remember though to reduce watering in winter – winter is dormant time for most plants.

Make sure that your Fiddle Leaf never stands in a tray of water –its roots will rot and its leaves will develop brown marks inside the leaves. If you suspect over watering, stop watering until it dries out. If it is really waterlogged, remove it from the pot, cut off damaged leaves and soggy roots, and repot in dry soil (Themaiaiblog: 2019). My grower says they love a little bit of real peat in their soil mix (but use it with care – it is no longer sustainably harvestable).

If however your Fiddle Leaf develops brown tips to the leaves, that is possibly the result of dryness – either under watering or too dry air eg from a heater.

If your Fiddle Leaf Fig drops leaves, it could be shock (they don’t like being moved), or a watering problem. Identify the cause and change the routine, and don’t give up on your plant – even if they drop all their leaves, they start all over again! They are amazingly tough plants – my friend’s prime specimen was rescued from the dump in a rather sorry state!

Feeding should not be at full strength – use a natural fertiliser at half strength, monthly in the growing season – spring through autumn. No feeding in winter, it is rest time (Bailey, 2018: 152).

Repot only every 2-3 years until the plant matures – only go up one size at a time. Once mature, you probably need to refresh topsoil every year (Koster, 2017: 118).

But what if you don’t want your plant to get too big?

Trim the roots every year – about 20-30% is fine, not too much (you may just need to cut off roots that creep out of the pot) (themaiablog: 2019)

Or you want branching from a single stem plant?

Chop off the plant at the height you want your trunk to be, cutting a little above two leaf nodes

Place the cut off stem in water, eventually it may root and you can start a new Ficus lyrata baby plant in a pot. Care for it in the same way as an adult – don’t over water (Themaiablog: 2019).

Watchpoint

The sap is an irritant (Bailey, 2018: 152)

Remember to gently wipe dust off those huge leaves every now and again. And you can ’polish’ them the old fashioned way, wipe them with a 50:50 solution of milk and water. Don’t use oil sprays – they clog the plant breathing pores.

Enjoy the long standing relationship you develop with your Fiddle Leaf Friend!

Bibliography

Bailey, F & Allaway, Z. 2018. Royal Horticultural Society Practical House Plant Book. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited

Koster, M & Sibley, E. 2017. Urban Botanics: An Indoor Plant Guide for Modern Gardeners. London: Aurum Press

Langan, A & Vidal, J. 2017. Plant Style – How to Greenify Your Space. Port Melbourne: Thames Hudson

https://themaiablog.com/2018/09/07/fiddle-leaf-fig-trees-the-ultimate-guide/ (as accessed 08/07/2019)

https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=282753&isprofile=0& (as accessed 08/07/2019)

Sue Kingma
Sue Kingma
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