Despite their wildly meteoric rise in popularity of the last few years, Fiddle Leaf Figs (Ficus lyrata) sometimes still carry the reputation of being a bit…persnickety. Typically, this comes down to a couple of key factors in care, one of which is proper watering. We all know overwatering a Fiddle Leaf Fig can have huge consequences on health, but how do you know if you are, in fact, watering too little?
There are some telltale signs that your Fiddle Leaf Fig is being underwatered. You may notice that, initially, the leaves begin to show signs of wilt. In more severe cases, you will notice leaf curl and burnt leaf tips, which appear as brown spots starting at the ends and edges of the leaves. Plant growth will usually slow or stop, with any new leaves that may develop being irregular and likely to dry up and drop off.
It seems everyone loves Fiddle Leaf Figs and, nowadays, they are a pretty ubiquitous presence in friends’ homes, doctors’ offices, and bank lobbies. It can be a bit disconcerting when it looks like your fig has a watering issue, but fear not! Although severe cases of underwatering can push your fig to the brink, it’ll usually bounce back once you get your watering habits dialed in.
How Much Water Does A Fiddle Leaf Fig Need?
This is a great question to start with when trying to figure out if your plant is suffering from being underwatered.
Generally, Fiddle Leaf Figs perform their very best when they have consistently damp soil. Like many other houseplants, and like many of their Ficus brethren, Fiddle Leaf Figs need a consistent supply of moisture to draw from to keep their big, broad leaves healthy and operating efficiently.
How does one achieve “consistently damp”? The easiest way to know you are properly watering your fig is to wait until the top inch of soil have dried out in the pot. Stick your finger down in there and wiggle it around a bit. If your fingertip is coated in damp soil, you can wait it out a couple more days. If everything seems dry, it is time to water thoroughly, allowing excess liquid to run out of the drainage hole.
In many indoor settings, this roughly equates to watering once every week or so. However, it is important to remember that there are other factors to consider that can significantly affect how much water your Fiddle Leaf needs.
Remember to consider the time of year. Fiddle Leaf Figs have an active growing season during the spring and summer months, so as they are working to push out new growth, they may require more frequent waterings. As they begin to go dormant, you may find that you can space the waterings out to every two or three weeks.
The plant’s environment will also have a big impact on watering needs. If the fig is placed in a bright spot in your home or you live in a relatively dry area, your plant may require more frequent waterings.
Regardless of your climate, the time of year, or the placement in your home, the soil test is a reliable way to determine if your Fiddle Leaf is receiving enough water on a consistent basis.
Now that you know what you’re shooting for, let’s cover the signs that your Fiddle Leaf Fig may be underwatered.
Signs Your Fiddle Leaf Fig is Underwatered
If you suspect you are underwatering your fig, read through this list below and see if you can identify any of these signs in your own plant. One of the tricky things about these figs is that some of the signs of underwatering are very similar to signs of overwatering, so where applicable, I try to point out the differences.
This will probably be the first indication that your plant is thirsty. But this is the least dramatic warning your fig will give you of all the signs, so it is often missed initially.
As your fig’s water supply dwindles, the amount of water pressure in the plant cells begins to lessen, resulting in leaf wilt. Your plant will do what it can to protect itself, often closing its stoma, small pores on the underside of leaves that control moisture evaporation, but if the plant isn’t able to absorb any more water from the soil, that pressure will continue to drop.
It is sometimes hard to see this happening in real-time, but be on the lookout for leaves beginning to droop all over the plant. They will also look a bit dry, even losing some of their glossy luster.
This is different than leaf droop from overwatering. In some cases, an overwatered Fiddle Leaf Fig will exhibit leaf and stem droop all over the plant. This is typically accompanied by other signs of overwatering, like yellowing leaves or signs of rot.
Think of this as an extreme case of wilt. As your fig continues to dry out, the wilted leaves may begin to start curling along the edges, up over themselves. At this point, the plant is ready to start sacrificing leaves, pulling moisture to its most essential parts to stay alive.
This is another sign that can sometimes be hard to spot since Fiddle Leaf Figs already have somewhat scalloped leaf shapes. However, as this symptom becomes more pronounced, the curling leaves often begin to feel really brittle, like they can be easily cracked.
Brown Spots/Burnt Leaf Tips
The curling of the Fiddle Leaf Fig’s leaves is often accompanied by browning leaf tips. As the plant continues to suck moisture from the leaves to keep itself alive, the tissues at the edges and ends of the leaves get so dry that they begin to brown, crack, and dry out.
You may witness this as either slight browning along the entire edges of the leaves, or more likely, you’ll see large brown sections appearing at the ends of the leaves before they dry out and curl up.
Brown spots can be a sign of overwatering, as well, but you’ll typically see these spots occurring anywhere along the leaves, not just the tips or edges. Also, if overwatering or rot is the cause, you’ll probably notice brown spots appearing in the lower leaves first.
Browning or burning due to overwatering can occur all over the plant, as it tries to conserve moisture.
In the most severe cases of underwatering, your Fiddle Leaf might start dropping leaves as a way to save itself. Fewer leaves on the plant means lower overall water needs, but it’s a dangerous last-ditch effort for your plant because, without any leaves remaining, it won’t have the ability to photosynthesize and create needed nutrients.
Figs drop leaves in severe cases of overwatering, as well, but this often happens starting at the bottom of the plant and working its way up, whereas in cases of underwatering, your plant may drop leaves from anywhere along the stems.
Irregular Growth/New Leaf Drop
If a Fiddle Leaf has been chronically underwatered, but not to the degree that severe symptoms like leaf burn or drop are an issue, your only sign might be stunted or irregular growth.
Plants are survivors and will always try to find a way to flourish, so even with inadequate care, sometimes they attempt new growth.
In the case of Fiddle Leaf Figs, underwatering will have a dramatic effect on their growth rate. In most cases, growth will slow significantly or stop altogether. On the off chance that it does produce new leaves, you might see that they are irregular in shape or size and often will wilt and drop before they mature.
Unfortunately, growth rate and new growth aren’t great indicators of underwatering stress because they are already hard to track with any accuracy, in general, and many other factors can contribute to a slowed growth rate.
However, if you notice irregular growth or new leaves dropping off your plant, check your watering habits and adjust them if your fig seems too dry.
How to Save an Underwatered Fiddle Leaf Fig
If you read through those potential signs and suspect your Fiddle Leaf Fig is suffering from underwatering, it’s best to act quickly.
The good news is that saving your fig is as easy as evaluating your watering habits and getting the plant on a watering schedule that is determined by testing the soil dampness with your finger.
The first thing you’ll want to do is give your plant a nice, deep drink. Water your plant deeply so that all the soil in the pot gets saturated, and any excess water drains through the hole in the bottom of the pot. Once the water has drained, empty the saucer beneath the pot – standing water is a big no-no.
Sometimes, soil can get so compacted or dried out that it won’t actually absorb water very easily, resulting in any water just flowing around the sides of the root ball and out of the pot. If you notice this happening with your plant, consider replanting it in fresh potting soil or gently try to break up the compacted soil with a trowel, or even a chopstick. For the plant to remain correctly hydrated, the soil has to be able to absorb water effectively.
Once your plant has been properly watered, make sure it has a nice spot with lots of bright, indirect light to aid in recovery. Watch it over the next several days for signs of improvement, checking the soil frequently to test for moisture. Wait until the top inch of soil is dry before watering again.
The biggest thing you’ll want to avoid is subjecting your plant to a repeated cycle of extreme dryness and wetness. This type of environment encourages disease and puts the root system under extreme stress.
After deeply watering a thirsty plant, it is crucial that you then avoid letting the soil dry out completely again. Instead, aim to sustain that environment of “consistent damp” for it to thrive.
In most cases, Fiddle Leaf Figs will bounce back from underwatering very quickly. In more extreme cases, your plant won’t be able to repair any browned or burned portions of its leaves, but any new growth should be strong and healthy.
Even though they sometimes get a bad rap for being finicky, Fiddle Leaf Figs are often wonderful plants to have in your home as long as they get what they desire. Proper watering is one of the keys to a healthy Fiddle Leaf, so make sure you avoid underwatering by testing the soil with your finger often.
Remember that these figs typically need water every week or so, but there are a lot of factors that can change that, so the only reliable way to determine when to water is by testing the dampness of the soil.
The good news is that, as long as you are keeping an eye out for the distress signs above, and adjusting your watering so you achieve that consistent dampness, your Fiddle Leaf will be thanking you with tons of growth and lots of glossy, healthy leaves.