If you’ve researched even a little bit about Fiddle Leaf Figs (Ficus lyrata), you have probably seen that they do well with lots of light. However, did you know you can give them, in certain situations, a bit too much sunlight? What happens to Fiddle Leaf Figs when they get too much light?
Fiddle Leaf Figs can suffer from sunburn, usually presenting as brown, leathery marks or splotches on leaves that have been in too much direct sun. Leaves usually won’t recover from sunburn, so removing a portion of the leaf or the entire leaf is necessary to maintain the plant’s health.
I’ll be honest on this one…this has happened to me. This summer, after moving my Fiddle Leaf from a bedroom to the living room in order to paint, I quickly realized I had mistakenly placed my plant in a spot that gets way more light than the bedroom. Within a matter of hours, I had some crispy leaves on my Fig.
After that, I realized that there are ways to protect your Fiddle Leaf Fig from sun exposure and avoid sunburn altogether. If you find yourself in a situation like mine, I also cover the best ways to help your plant recover below.
What Causes Sunburn?
Just like people get burned when they’re out in the sun too long, plants can suffer from the same problem. Sunburn in plants occurs when the leaf tissue is overexposed to too much direct sunlight.
All that extra UV light, and in most cases, extra heat, damages the top layers of leaf tissue. Although plant leaves are designed to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis, it is often the extreme amount of exposure that causes the burn.
Many plants, Fiddle Leaf Figs included, can actually tolerate a lot of direct sun exposure, but they have to be gradually introduced to more and more sunlight to do so. That way, they become acclimated to more intense levels of exposure and are better equipped to protect themselves.
Sunburn most commonly occurs when we introduce too much sunlight to our Fiddle Leaf Figs too fast, like in the case of my Fig, which couldn’t handle the brighter light in the living room. It can also happen during the spring when gray winter weather suddenly clears up, and sunlight pours into our homes for the first time in months.
Signs That Your Fiddle Leaf Fig Is Sunburned
Sunburn can happen to many different houseplants. Because our homes are climate-controlled and relatively easy places for plants to live, they often are protected from the harshest sunlight coming in from outside. However, even a small change in light levels can have a big impact on your houseplants.
Fiddle Leaf Figs love lots of bright, indirect light, and even some direct sunlight, but if they are exposed to too much, you’ll often see sunburned leaves.
Sunburn on Figs usually presents as light to dark brown spots or larger splotches on the tops of the leaf structure. They can sometimes look completely bleached out (white) or even have varying brown, red, or yellow shades throughout the burned section of leaf tissue. Burned tissue will often look shriveled or leathery.
In really bad cases, entire leaves can be affected, usually turning brown and shriveling up. These leaves are often way beyond repair and will eventually fall off.
If you ever come across leaves that look like this on your Fig, immediately investigate whether or not it is getting too much direct sunlight. If necessary, pull it back from a window, making sure no leaves are physically touching the glass, as that can speed up a sunburn.
It’s also worth noting that brown spots on the leaves can indicate a myriad of health issues, such as overwatering, underwatering, and pest infestations. Be sure to rule those possibilities out when trying to identify sunburn.
How to Nurse Your Sunburned Fiddle Leaf Fig Back to Health
If you find yourself with a sunburned Fiddle Leaf on your hands, there are only a few things you can do. Unfortunately, once a leaf has been sunburned, there’s really not a whole lot of hope that it will fully recover. Sunburns can be pretty devastating to Fiddle Leaf Figs. Not only is the sunburned tissue severely damaged, but the plant exerts an enormous amount of energy trying to repair those tissue to survive.
If it’s a mild burn, you can sometimes let the leaves be, and you might see some improvement over time, but the high energy cost may not be worth it. More severe burns won’t ever recover and will eventually shrivel and fall off if left on the plant.
Although it may be hard, the best thing you can do to help your sunburned Fiddle Leaf Fig is to prune away any burned portions of the plant.
With mild sunburn cases, you can assess each leaf and only cut away the portions that are affected by the sunburn. You may have a few half-cut leaves, but the cuts should heal over, and your plant will still be able to utilize the rest of the leaf for photosynthesis and respiration.
For more intense sunburns, where the entire leaf is affected, it’s better to just remove the leaf now rather than having your plant try to heal itself. It might make your Fig look bare, but the energy it would have used on futile attempts to repair burned leaves can be redirected into new growth.
If you have a really bad case of sunburn affecting the entire plant, consider a hard prune back to some lower branches on the plant. Often, the lower portions of the plant are more protected by branches and leaves above, so the sunburn isn’t as intense. If the top of the plant looks really bad, cutting it back to healthy, unaffected stems may be your best bet in keeping your Fiddle Leaf alive. It’s a drastic move, but over time, your plant will branch at the cuts and eventually grow back out.
Where to Place Your Fig for Healthy Light Exposure
Because we know Fiddle Leaf Figs are susceptible to sunburn, let’s talk about what healthy light exposure looks like for these plants. I’ve written an entire article on the subject of proper lighting for Fiddle Leaf Figs, but I’ll give you a quick overview here.
For Figs, there’s no such thing as too much bright, indirect light. Indirect light is light that reflects off of surfaces and then bounces around your room. Think of it more like ambient light that has no heat associated with it. Fiddle Leaf Figs will happily take as much of this type of light as they can get.
These Figs can also take, and often prefer, some direct sunlight every day. Direct sunlight is the light pouring into your south window that casts shadows and, if you hold your hand in it, you can feel the heat. Fiddle Leaf Figs can usually tolerate a couple of hours of direct sun exposure in the mornings or evenings, as long as they have some protection from the most intense noonday sun.
Now, if you want to place your Fig in a brighter spot or move it outside during the summer months (weather permitting), you’ll want to ensure that it can tolerate more than just a couple of hours of direct sunlight.
To do this, you need to make sure your Fiddle Leaf is acclimated to the amount of sun exposure it’s getting. This requires doing a little dance with your plant. Plan on moving your Fig towards its new spot in your home (or on your patio) gradually over the course of several days. Slowly increase the amount of direct sunlight your plant gets by 30 minutes to an hour each day, being sure to protect it from too much light too quickly.
Over time, you will find that your Fiddle Leaf Fig can and will thrive with lots of direct sunlight without succumbing to sunburn.
Like many houseplants, Fiddle Leaf Figs are susceptible to sunburn. When it happens, it’s best to remove your plant from direct sunlight as quickly as possible and, although it may be hard, remove any severely damaged leaves. They likely won’t ever recover, and you’ll be saving your plant tons of energy that it can put into new growth.
Also, remember that you can acclimate your Fiddle Leaf Fig so that it doesn’t burn so easily. By gradually exposing your plant to more intense light, you’ll find that your plant will tolerate and actually can thrive in many hours of direct sunlight at a time.
It all comes down to keeping an eye on your Fiddle Leaf Fig and introducing change slowly. If you want to continue reading about how to provide your tree with the best lighting, read this article: Everything You Need to Know About Light and Your Fiddle Leaf Fig.