There’s no denying that Fiddle Leaf Figs (Ficus lyrata) have been the thing to have in your home for many years now. Their amazing structure and unique leaves can create quite the showpiece when the plants are properly cared for. So, if you find your fig is starting to look a bit leggy, it can be a little concerning. What causes this, and how can you fix it?
The most likely cause of leggy, spindly growth on your Fiddle Leaf Fig is insufficient exposure to sunlight. Fiddle Leaf Figs like lots of bright light, so making sure they are properly situated near a window with lots of sun exposure will help reduce leggy growth.
If you see that your fig is starting to look stretched out or is producing leggy, weak growth, this is a sign that your plant is situated in a spot that is too dark and is searching for higher amounts or more consistent sources of sunlight. Below, I cover why this happens and the steps you can take to fix the issue.
What Causes a Plant to Become Leggy?
When given adequate lighting, most houseplants produce healthy, sturdy growth, with strong trunks and stems and tightly space leaves. If all of their inputs are being met (water, nutrients, light), plants can just focus on churning out strong, vibrant growth without any limiting factors.
However, without proper exposure to sunlight, the plant is thrown for a loop because the ability to photosynthesize has been hindered, and, all of a sudden, the things it needs to produce healthy growth are suddenly in short supply.
This, of course, happens in the natural world all the time. Not every plant has access to a master gardener or houseplant enthusiast who tends to their every need. However, plants have adapted to deal with this by employing a process of growth called etiolation.
Etiolated growth is the “leggy” growth that plants produce when growing in environments with insufficient sunlight. Basically, because a plant is too shaded or can’t utilize photosynthesis as much as it needs, it will start to produce weak, stretched-out growth to seek new sources of light.
Although this is a survival technique of plants, it is also a sign that they are in distress and are sacrificing healthy growth to secure the proper amount of light needed to stay alive. If you see your fig producing this kind of growth, action should be taken to find a more suitable spot for your plant.
What Does Leggy Growth Look Like In Fiddle Leaf Figs?
In Fiddle Leaf Figs, you may see thin, flexible stems that bend under their own weight or leaves that are smaller than normal, spaced further apart from one another. Overall, the plant will take on a limp, stretched-out appearance and will begin to lose the tightly stacked foliage typical in healthy fig trees.
In areas shaded by other parts of the plant or those that can’t reach enough light (like below a window sill, for example), leaves may drop off and the trunks will look pretty bare. In older parts of the plant, leaf drop due to old age is somewhat normal, but when it is due to low light conditions, it can happen anywhere on the plant.
How Much Light Does a Fiddle Leaf Fig Need?
A general rule for most houseplants is that you can’t really go wrong giving them lots of bright, indirect sunlight. Sure, many plants can tolerate less light, but most are happy to have an overabundance of light and perform better when light isn’t a limiting factor.
Fiddle Leaf Figs take it a step further and want as much as possible! Of course, lots and lots of indirect light is great for your fig, but it is a full-sun plant, meaning that it can also take up to 5-6 hours of direct sunlight each day.
An optimal place to set your fig would be in a bright, south-facing window where it has access to both direct and indirect light all day. It’s often a good idea to have the ability to pull the plant away from the window or have a sheer curtain that you can draw if your plant is getting too much direct light.
Remember, direct sunlight is the light that comes through the window where you can feel the heat. Too much of it can burn leaves and dry out soil faster than normal, so you always want to keep an eye on your plant, even with Fiddle Leaf Figs.
One other thing to keep in mind with your fig is that more mature specimens that have been hardened off can take more direct light. If you have a young plant that you’ve recently brought home from a nursery or propagated from cuttings, just know it’s more fragile than mature plants and can be more susceptible to sun scorch.
Always give your fig plenty of indirect light. If you are placing it in a spot that gets lots of direct light, introduce the plant gradually by slowly increasing its time in the direct sun over the course of several days and shielding the plant during the most intense exposure of the day.
How To Fix a Leggy Fiddle Leaf Fig?
First thing first…the most important thing to do when you realize your Fiddle Leaf is putting out leggy growth is to give it more light. Most likely, this means that you’re going to need to find a more suitable spot for it to live.
Like I mentioned above, find a spot with lots of indirect light and even some direct sun throughout the day. South-facing windows are ideal. As a reminder, in cases where your plant is coming from really low light conditions, avoid shocking or burning it by gradually introducing it to its new, brighter location.
By moving your plant to a brighter spot, it should start producing healthy growth again. However, any leggy growth on a Fiddle Leaf Fig is unlikely to improve much, and in most cases, it is better to prune it back to allow new, compact growth to resume.
If you caught the issue soon enough, you might only have to trim stem tips back a bit to encourage healthy growth to start at the highest node.
In more severe cases, where you’re dealing with stretchy growth and leaf loss across most of the plant, you may need to make more drastic cuts lower on the plant (up to a third of the stem length) to encourage new branches to emerge.
If you choose to leave leggy and/or bare growth on the plant, know that lost leaves won’t grow back, and stems often bend or break under the weight of any new growth. It can be a bit devastating to take so much material off your beloved fig, but know that you’re doing your plant a favor in the long run.
After a few months of proper sunlight exposure and healthy growth, you’ll see just how vibrant Fiddle Leaf Figs can be.
Other Things to Consider When You Suspect Leggy Growth
There are a few more things you should consider if you notice your Fiddle Leaf is producing leggy growth. This growth could be due to seasonal changes or general plant care issues.
First off, light levels change throughout the seasons, so be sure to consider the time of year when finding a spot for your fig. A bright spot in your home can become dimmer as the sun tracks lower in the sky towards fall and winter. On the other hand, a plant in a suitable spot in the spring may be a victim of overexposure as the sun gets more intense in the summer.
You may find that you have to adjust your fig throughout the year, depending on light levels and the weather, so periodically check in and look for signs of leggy growth during your fig’s growing season.
Also, there are some aspects of general plant care that, when neglected, can cause your plant to look like it’s getting a bit leggy. Overwatering can lead to droopy stems and leaves, nutritional dips or spikes can lead to uneven growth, and root-bound pots can hinder water absorption, leaving your fig looking wilted.
So, if you are worried that your plant is looking leggy but are sure it has sufficient sunlight, evaluate these other factors and see if you need to correct any aspect of your general care.
Finally, you may find that you don’t actually have a suitable spot in your home that provides enough sunlight for your fig. It happens. I once lived in an apartment that only had north-facing windows, much to my many houseplants’ despair.
If your fig is struggling with low light conditions, you can always opt for a grow light to supplement when natural sunlight isn’t quite cutting it. In many cases, a desk or floor lamp fitted with a grow bulb and placed near the plant does the trick. This bulb is our favorite.
If you notice weak, leggy growth on your Fiddle Leaf Fig, it’s time to find a brighter spot for your plant! Be sure to give your fig as much exposure to indirect or filtered light as you can, and up to 5-6 hours of direct sunlight each day.
Once your plant’s light requirements have been met, evaluate whether or not you need to prune back any weak growth. It may be hard to do, but just remember that your fig will benefit in the long run by having a strong, sturdy base from which new, healthy growth can flourish.