As far as Fiddle Leaf Figs go, nothing is quite as distressing as realizing that your beloved plant is suffering from some unknown ailment, causing its health to decline. Figs are sensitive to even small changes in care or environment, so even though you may not have noticed what changed, your plant might be having a strong negative reaction to it. What are the common reasons that cause the health of Fiddle Leaf Figs (Ficus lyrata) to decline?
Usually, a decline in the health of your Fiddle Leaf Fig is due to a change in the plant’s environment or improper plant care techniques. Over or under watering, poor drainage, light or nutrient levels, poor acclimation, and pests can all stress your plant and negatively affect its overall health.
While an unhealthy or dying Fiddle Leaf can be disheartening, the good news is that these plants can be rather resilient. Most of the time, even minor corrections can make a world of difference in your plant’s health. The key is to understand why your plant may be suffering and to learn how to spot the warning signs early enough to make the necessary changes.
What Does a Healthy Fiddle Leaf Fig Look Like?
To start, I think it would be worthwhile to quickly review what a healthy Fiddle Leaf Fig should look like. We see our house plants every day and can sometimes miss the gradual changes (good or bad) for quite some time until one day we realize our plant looks a lot different than how we remembered it.
Having a good idea of what a healthy plant should look like makes us better equipped to spot early warning signs the plant may be exhibiting when something in its world is amiss. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.
A healthy Fig should have a thick, straight stem protruding from well-draining, aerated soil. If you were to dig into the soil, your plant would have a robust root ball full of white, plump, strong roots. In some cases, usually in smaller plants, you might have three or four stems planted together in one pot, which is totally fine, as long as they have enough room in the container.
Your main stem may be a single stock that is growing tall, or it may have branched (or been pruned to encourage branching), so there are multiple forks. Either is fine, as long as it is strong enough to hold the weight of the plant aloft. As you get higher up the plant, the thick, woody stems will start to look greener and more supple, perhaps bending under the weight of the leaves attached to it. This is normal.
Your plant should have leaves covering a good portion of the stems and branches. It’s ok if the lowest parts of the stem have lost their leaves. This is common with age. However, the newer parts of the plant should have well-stacked leaves protruding at regular intervals.
The leaves themselves will be a nice, dark green with a glossy cuticle. The leaves will fan out near the ends, taper as they get closer to the stem, and will be gently scalloped along the edges, giving them the classic Fiddle Leaf look. They should be free of blemishes, holes, spots, and be uniform in color.
You will see brown, dried leaf tissue stuck along the stems above each leaf. These are old growth sheaths where the plant produced the next leaf bud, and they are normal.
Overall, your plant should have vibrant-looking leaves, strong stems, and no visible signs of drooping or leaning.
What I described above should be the standard against which you evaluate your Fig if you suspect it has any of the issues below. To read more about what to expect from a healthy Fiddle Leaf Fig, click here.
Common Reason Why Your Fiddle Leaf Fig is Unhealthy
This section outlines the most common reasons Figs get sick or die. Aside from a few rare, catastrophic diseases, most of the time, your Fig’s health declines gradually over a longer period due to neglect or a change in environment. If you catch it quickly and figure out the cause, a simple fix is usually all that is needed to turn your plant around.
Let’s start with a big care issue. Fiddle Leaf Figs can be a bit particular regarding how much water they prefer. Unless we develop a reliable system for knowing when to water, over-or under-watering are both quick ways to kill your plant.
Probably the most common care issue houseplant enthusiasts make is overwatering. It is very easy to water your Fig too frequently, whether it’s because we don’t want to neglect our plants, fear they will dry out, or water on a set schedule every week.
Adding too much water does not allow the potting soil to dry out, and that excess moisture can waterlog the root system, making important functions like nutrient absorption and oxygen exchange very difficult for the plant and causing serious health issues down the road.
Signs That You Might be Overwatering Your Plant Include:
- Yellow Leaves: Yellowing leaves are an indication that your plant is having trouble absorbing the necessary nutrients it needs, a common side effect of overwatering.
- Brown Leaves: Brown spots on leaves can be a sign of rot, which can spread to other parts of the plant.
- Drooping Stems: In severe cases of overwatering, the entire plant may droop, with stems turning soft and bending under their own weight.
- Severe Leaf Drop: Overwatering may also cause your Fig to drop a significant amount of leaves all at once.
How to Help You Fiddle Leaf Fig
In the event of overwatering, it is important to act quickly. Stop watering your plant immediately and allow it ample time to dry out. Do not water it again until the soil has dried out properly.
To test this, stick your finger into the top two inches of soil and see if any bits stick to your finger. If the top two inches are dry, you can water your plant thoroughly once more. Use the finger test to determine when it is safe to water again moving forward.
If you’ve habitually overwatered your Fig, you might need to break out the big guns and work quickly to overcome a case of root rot. Read this article for the game plan to save your overwatered plant: How to Save an Overwatered Fiddle Leaf Fig from Root Rot, Step by Step.
Another aspect of watering our plants has to do with their ability to drain quickly and effectively. Overwatering usually describes watering the plant too frequently, causing the soil to retain too much moisture. However, when your plant has poor soil drainage, it has the same effect as overwatering because the water has nowhere to go, and too much is retained in the container.
This causes the same symptoms as overwatering and can damage or kill a plant just as fast. Poor drainage can also accelerate issues like root rot and other diseases, as many detrimental microorganisms thrive in wet environments.
How to Help You Fiddle Leaf Fig
If you suspect your overwatering issues are caused by poor drainage, it’s time to transplant your Fiddle Leaf into a new container. For better drainage and to keep it from compacting down, you can add some perlite or pumice to the soil mixture to lighten it up and keep it well aerated.
Also, make sure your container has a drainage hole at the bottom. This will take some of the guesswork out of watering because, even if you get a bit heavy-handed from time to time, any excess water will be allowed to drain from the pot.
If you are like me, overwatering isn’t usually an issue, mainly because the chore of watering my houseplants often slips my mind for days at a time. Instead, underwatering is the greater threat for us “Neglectful Nellies.”
If you are watering your plant too infrequently, your Fig will begin to show some classic signs of underwatering. These are early warning signs that your plant is stressed and will be quickly followed by your Fig switching to survival mode, which taxes its energy reserves and slows or stops growth.
Signs You May be Under Watering Include:
- Wilted Appearance: This is one of the first signs your plant is thirsty. As the water available to the plant diminishes, the water content and internal pressure of the plant drops, causing the leaves to wilt.
- Leaf Curl: You may notice that your Fig’s leaves begin curling up or in on themselves. This is an attempt at retaining moisture and stopping evaporation by reducing their surface area.
- Brown Leaf Tips: This is a more severe sign of underwatering that presents as dried, brittle leaf tissue that starts at the tips and works its way down the leaf.
- Leaf Drop: The longer your plant goes without water, the more drastic steps it will take to survive. This includes dropping leaves, usually one at a time, to retain what limited moisture is left in the plant.
How to Help You Fiddle Leaf Fig
If you are seeing signs of underwatering, the solution is pretty obvious. Water your Fig! Be sure to give it a deep, thorough drink, allowing excess to drain from the hole in the bottom of the pot. From here, you can use your finger to feel for moisture in the top few inches of soil before watering again.
Sometimes people think in order to save an underwatered plant, they need to water it frequently as it recovers. This is not the case. In fact, cycling your plant through very dry and very wet conditions, again and again, can cause more stress to the plant in the long run.
Don’t worry! As long as you give your underwatered plant one good drink, it will know what to do to recuperate. Overcompensating by adding lots of water will end up with an equally distressing overwatering situation.
The one exception to this is if your plant has dried out so much that the soil is hard and withdrawn from the sides of the pot. Often when water is added to a container that is so severely dehydrated it runs straight through. In this case, I always like to water my plant thoroughly, wait about ten minutes, and then do it again.
If you’re sure that your watering habits are accurate and your plant is neither under nor overwatered, the next most common cause for unhealthy Fiddle Leaf Figs stems from illumination.
Too Little Light
Fiddle Leaf Figs thrive on lots of bright, indirect light and will even welcome a few hours of direct sunlight each day. However, if you’ve placed them in a spot that is too dark, you better believe your Fig will let you know about it.
Too little access to sunlight puts your Fiddle Leaf on high alert. Your plant will have a hard time continuing on with normal functions due to a reduced rate of photosynthesis, and most of its energy will be allocated to searching for new sources of light.
Signs That Your Fig Doesn’t Have Enough Light May Include:
- Slowed or Stopped Growth: In the early stages of low light exposure, your plant may just stop growing, as it conserves energy for other vital functions.
- Leaning: You may notice your plant is leaning towards a window or other natural light source. This is another early sign that your plant is struggling under current conditions.
- Leggy Growth: Another strategy your Fiddle Leaf implements is to put out leggy growth. This spindly, weak growth isn’t meant for structure but instead meant to spread quickly to help find and secure more sunlight for the plant to utilize. (Read more on leggy Fiddle Leaf Figs here.)
- Leaf Drop: In severe cases of low light, your Fig may start dropping leaves. This is a sign that basic plant functions are struggling, and your Fig is trying to conserve resources.
How to Help You Fiddle Leaf Fig
If you notice any of these warning signs, you need to get your Fig to a brighter spot in your home. Aim for a place that gets lots of bright, ambient light, like a room with east- or south-facing windows. Eventually, your Fig will be able to handle some direct sunlight, but you’ll need to acclimate it first (more on this later).
Mainly, you just want to focus on making sure your plant is getting enough light to resume normal functions, so try to find a spot that allows for six or more hours of indirect sunlight each day. If you are having trouble finding a spot that supplies many hours of light, you should consider supplementing with a grow lamp.
Too Much Light
Figs sure do love lots of light, but there is such a thing as giving it too much light. In most cases, this isn’t a common problem, as many folks keep Fiddle Leaf Figs as an indoor houseplant, but for those who live in warmer climates and bring their Fig outside or for anyone who has their Fig next to a window that gets lots of direct sun exposure, this is definitely something to keep an eye out for.
Sunburn is the main threat of too much light. When a Fiddle Leaf Fig is exposed to direct sun exposure for too long, the leaf tissue can get scalded, which results in leathery, dry leaves that contain brown, red, or even white spots. Sunburned leaves have little chance of recovery and usually need to be removed to spare the plant the energy it would put forth trying to repair itself.
How to Help You Fiddle Leaf Fig
If you notice your Fiddle Leaf has leaves that look burned, move the plant back from its light source. You want to find a spot for your Fig that still gets plenty of ambient light but has some reprieve from the hot, direct sunlight. If you can’t move it far enough away, you can use a sheer curtain to help cut some of the light and heat to make your Fig’s spot more tolerable.
For more information on the proper lighting for your Fiddle Leaf Fig read Everything You Need to Know About Light and Your Fiddle Leaf Fig or Is My Fiddle Leaf Fig Getting Enough Light? Should I Use a Grow Light?
Improper Acclimation to a New Environment
Here’s a scenario…perhaps you’ve just brought home a new Fiddle Leaf Fig that you picked up from the plant shop and proudly display it in your home. Everything looks good for a day, maybe two, maybe even a week, and then all of a sudden, you find leaves dropping from your plant left and right. Sound familiar?
This is a classic example of the importance of acclimation. These plants are not huge fans of change, and big swings in light, temperature, humidity, or care can leave them a bit shocked if they don’t have time to adjust to their new conditions. I believe this is a big contributing factor to why Fiddle Leaf Figs have gained a reputation for being high maintenance. They just need some time, folks!
In many cases, shock from improper acclimation can look very similar to other issues, but it is essential to consider this aspect when diagnosing a cause.
Signs That Your Fig Hasn’t Acclimated to a New Spot Properly May Include:
- Slowed or Stopped Growth Rate: As your Fig tries to Figure out where it is and what its inputs are, it’s likely going to pump the brakes on new growth.
- Potential Leaf Issues: Depending on the issue your plant is struggling to acclimate to, the leaves may discolor, turn slightly yellow, or even curl up or wilt.
- Leaf Drop: This is the classic example of poor acclimation to lower light levels. When people bring plants home, they are bringing them from the high light levels of a plant shop or nursery/greenhouse to a much darker living room.
- Sunburn: The other classic example occurs when your indoor plant accidentally gets blasted with too much direct sunlight.
How to Help You Fiddle Leaf Fig
When you need to move your plant to a new spot in your home, consider how much of a change it might be for your Fig. Often, one spot in the house is close enough to another, so your plant does just fine with the move. However, if it’s a bigger change, you need to gradually move your plant to the new spot to acclimate it slowly.
In the case of light levels, it’s always good to give your plant at least a few days to gradually get used to its new exposure level before moving it permanently. Regardless of whether you are moving the plant to higher or lower light, move the plant to the new spot for just a couple of hours the first day before returning it to its old spot. Over the next several days, slowly increase the amount of time in the new spot until it can easily handle six or more hours at the new exposure level.
You can do the same thing when moving your plant to new spots with differing humidity or temperature, for example, but just remember that your Fig needs to stay within certain ranges to function, so never put it in a spot that is too dry or cold.
Other Reasons for Unhealthy Figs
What we’ve covered so far are the most likely reasons your Fiddle Leaf may be struggling, but it’s worth mentioning a couple to keep on your radar.
Another potential health issue with Figs can be caused by low levels of nutrients in the soil. Even though Fiddle Leaf Figs are moderate feeders, I still consider this a less common cause of health issues, mainly because most quality potting soils have sufficient amounts of nutrients to support a Fig for several seasons.
Over time, the soil can definitely become depleted, especially if it is never supplemented with occasional fertilizing, so if your Fig has been potted in the same soil for quite some time, this is something you’ll want to keep in mind.
How to Help You Fiddle Leaf Fig
If you see any discoloration of the leaves or browning of the leaf tips that can’t be explained by poor watering practices, you might have a nutrient issue. The fix is to either start applying a supplemental feed at regular intervals or to repot your Fig into fresh potting soil.
If you opt for fertilizing, pick a well-rounded, liquid feed of good quality. Mix the feed to half strength and apply monthly, checking to ensure the leaves get their green color back. There’s no need to apply fertilizer when the plant is dormant in the winter months. It doesn’t need the extra nutrients at that time, and you actually run the risk of burning the roots.
There are a whole slew of different pests that can wreak havoc on houseplants, but luckily Fiddle Leaf Figs are pretty resistant to many of them. Compared to health issues caused by improper watering or light exposure, pest infestations aren’t often the reason why your Fig is suffering. Still, it is important to watch out for them.
You’ll often notice a pest infestation by the state of the leaves first. If you see any discolored leaves, chewed on, tunneled through, or dropping off, give your plant a good inspection and see if you can spot any critters.
Fiddle Leaf Figs are susceptible to spider mites, scale, and mealybugs, and you will usually find evidence of these pests on the underside of the leaves. Fungus gnats are another common culprit and are often found flying around the plant, especially down in and around the soil.
There are many commercial and home remedies available, depending on what kind of pest you have. It’s up to you which one you implement based on your preferences and comfort level. Ideally, you’ll want to act swiftly once you identify an infestation to save your Fig from further damage, as well as to stop the infestation from spreading to any of your other beloved houseplants.
For a more thorough explanation of the signs and remedies for different types of infestations read What Pests Are Common to Fiddle Leaf Figs Plus How to Get Rid of Them.
Fiddle Leaf Figs are great plants to have in the home. They are super popular because they are hearty, robust, and add so much beauty to any space. If you find your Fiddle Leaf is looking a little under the weather, remember that most issues are caused by incorrect watering practices, poor light levels, or improper acclimation to a new environment.
By taking a few easy steps to correct these issues and making sure you’re providing what your Fig needs, it should recover quickly and be back to normal within weeks.