Known for their big, fan-like, glossy, green leaves, Fiddle Leaf Figs (Ficus lyrata) are quite the showy houseplants. However, it is pretty common to run across a few leaves on your Fig tree that have started turning yellow. While it can be worrisome, it usually doesn’t indicate a serious issue and, as long as you know why it is happening, it should be a fairly easy thing to correct. So, what causes yellow leaves on Fiddle Leaf Figs?
More often than not, yellowing leaves on a Fiddle Leaf Fig is an indication that the plant is overwatered. Excess water saturates the soil, making it difficult for the root system to absorb nutrients properly, resulting in a yellow appearance on the leaves. Other causes of yellow leaves include low light exposure, nutrient deficiencies, soil imbalances, and shock.
It is best to think of the appearance of yellow leaves as your plant’s early warning system that it is experiencing something it doesn’t like. By keeping an eye out for discolored leaves, you should have plenty of time to investigate why it’s happening and make any necessary corrections to get your plant looking healthy and happy again.
First Thing’s First…Don’t Panic
Before we get into the common reasons why you might be seeing yellowing leaves on your Fiddle Leaf Fig, I thought it might be good to point out a couple of instances where yellow (or at least pale green) leaves normally occur on your Fig.
First off, any time you see a new leaf emerge from your Fig, know that it is normal if it is a little discolored at first. New leaves often unfurl with a pale green or yellowish color, but as they mature, they will green right up, gaining that vibrant, glossy, dark green hue as they become fully grown.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ll probably witness the oldest leaves on your Fig beginning to turn yellow one at a time. This is part of the natural aging process of the plant, which sheds old, less efficient leaf tissue in lieu of new growth. The plant begins to divert nutrients away from the old leaf, recapturing any useful resources from the tissue, before the leaf is shed.
Again, this is totally normal. If you notice, however, the yellowing spreading up past the first couple oldest leaves of the plant in a short period of time, this indicates there is a different issue going on and you aren’t dealing with natural aging.
A Quick Note on Brown Spots
Whereas yellow leaves can be taken as a warning sign that your Fiddle Leaf Fig is unhappy about some aspect of its care or environment, any brown spots you notice should set off alarm bells. Brown almost always indicates something is wrong with your plant and requires immediate action. The appearance of brown spots on your Fig typically occurs only after your plant has been suffering from an issue for an extended time and previous warning signs have been missed.
In many cases, brown spots on your Fig’s leaves can be attributed to root rot, a condition often caused by overwatering and a serious issue that must be corrected in order for your plant to survive. There is often still time to save your plant, but you’ll need to understand what is causing the brown spots to appear so you know which actions to take. To learn more about brown spots and what causes them, read an article I wrote on the subject here.
Common Reasons Why Fiddle Leaf Figs Get Yellow Leaves
In this section, we’ll cover the most common reasons why yellow leaves might show up on your Fig. I’ll go over what causes the yellowing, how to best correct it, and some tips on how to prevent it from happening in the future.
#1 Overwatering and Poor Drainage
Out of all the reasons a Fiddle Leaf Fig might have yellowing leaves, nine times out of ten it is because the plant is suffering from overwatering.
Sometimes, in our efforts to be diligent houseplant owners, we tend to get a bit heavy-handed with the watering can, watering more frequently than is necessary. I know we all dread the discovery of a thirsty, wilted plant, but the reality is that Figs don’t actually require as much moisture as many people think.
In situations where a Fig has been overwatered, or is suffering from poor drainage (which results in the same issues), excess moisture in the soil ends up waterlogging the root system. This prevents the roots from performing essential functions for the plant like gas exchange and nutrient absorption.
Over time, the reduced capacity to absorb what the plant needs results in a nutrient deficiency that shows up clearly in the leaf tissue. The leaves begin to yellow, usually starting at the veins of the leaf and working out towards the edges. The leaves at the bottom of the plant are affected first and, over time, the yellowing will spread up the plant towards newer growth.
How to Help Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
Luckily, if your Fig is experiencing yellow leaves due to overwatering, the solution is pretty straightforward. Stop watering your plant! Not forever, of course, but long enough to give the soil adequate time to properly dry out.
A good rule of thumb to use is something I often refer to as the “finger test.” Stick your finger down about two inches into the soil that your Fig is planted in. If it is still damp or wet to the touch, your plant does not need any water. Give it a few days and test again. When the top two to four inches of soil are properly dry, you can give your plant a nice, deep watering, being sure that any excess water is allowed to drain out from the bottom of the pot and down the drain.
To prevent yellow leaves due to overwatering in the future, you’ll want to continue using proper watering habits. Never water your Fig on a set schedule! Your plant’s water requirements will change throughout the year, depending on the season and environment it is placed in, so continue using the finger test as your watering guide.
You will also want to be sure your plant has good drainage. Your Fig should be planted in a pot that has a drainage hole in the bottom to allow excess water to flow freely away from the soil.
It is also a good idea to periodically check the condition of your potting soil. Over time, the soil can compact or compress, often resulting in poor drainage issues. You always want your soil to be light and well-aerated so that it can retain the moisture necessary for the plant, while still allowing excess to drain away.
Usually, if you amend your watering habits and make sure your Fiddle Leaf has adequate drainage, you should see your plant recover from yellowing leaves within a matter of weeks.
Are you afraid you’ve been overwatering for a long time? If so, you’ll need to take some corrective actions to save it. For our advice, read How to Save an Overwatered Fiddle Leaf Fig from Root Rot, Step by Step.
#2 Low Light Exposure
Another common reason you might notice some yellow leaves on your Fiddle Leaf Fig is inadequate light exposure. Figs are light-loving plants that thrive with lots of bright, indirect sunlight, so when they are placed in a spot that is too dim, they tend to struggle.
Fiddle Leaf Figs are larger plants with big, fan-like leaves. In order to keep their leaves looking vibrant and dark green, these plants require a good amount of light to keep the production of chlorophyll, the pigment responsible for plants’ green color and crucial to photosynthesis, high.
When your plant is in a dim spot, the lower light intensity has an effect on the genes responsible for chlorophyll synthesis within the plant, typically downregulating it so there is less chlorophyll present in the leaves. Because of this, the plant’s ability to photosynthesize is negatively affected, because it relies on its stock of chlorophyll to carry out the process to create food for the plant. The resulting lack of chlorophyll and nutrients available to the plant causes the leaves to yellow over time.
How to Help Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
Once again, a solution is easily attainable. If you suspect your Fig isn’t getting adequate light, you need to find a spot in your home that has more sun exposure. Pick a spot that gets at least six hours of bright, indirect light each day. Your Fig will gladly take more if you can give it, but try for at least six hours.
Fiddle Leaf Figs can also handle a few hours of direct sunlight through a south-facing window so don’t be afraid to place it in a really bright spot in your home. However, if you are moving it from a really dim spot, be sure to acclimate it to its new location slowly, so as not to shock it. You can do this by slowly increasing the amount of bright, direct light the plant gets over several days, protecting it from the most intense light with a sheer curtain when necessary.
To prevent yellow leaves due to inadequate light exposure moving forward, you will need to be sure you are providing your Fig with the amount of sunlight it requires. This may mean giving it the most premium spot in your home with the best access to light, like a south-facing window. If you don’t happen to have great exposure, you can always supplement your Fig’s needs with a grow light.
Most of the time, Figs recover rather quickly when moved to a brighter location. Within a matter of weeks, you should see previously pale or yellow leaves becoming much greener and more vibrant looking.
Want to better understand the best location and lighting setup for your Fiddle Leaf Fig? Read Everything You Need to Know About Light and Your Fiddle Leaf Fig. And if you aren’t sure your plant is getting enough exposure, check out Is My Fiddle Leaf Fig Getting Enough Light? Should I Use a Grow Light?
#3 Nutrient Deficiencies
All plants require a wide range of nutrients and minerals to keep essential functions and processes running smoothly and keep the plant alive and healthy. Fiddle Leaf Figs are no different. Although not usually a common issue, there are instances where various nutrient deficiencies can cause your Fig’s leaves to yellow.
For example, a nitrogen deficiency can cause yellowing starting in the inner parts of the older leaves, eventually spreading up towards newer growth. This is similar to what happens when nutrient absorption is disrupted by overwatering and poor drainage. Potassium deficiencies can cause yellowing along the edges of leaves, while the inner parts stay green. Inadequate supplies of iron, magnesium, and sulfur can also have various yellowing effects.
How to Help Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
Regardless of what type of deficiency is causing the yellowing, you typically have two options to correct the issue. First, you can apply supplemental feedings of a well-balanced liquid fertilizer like this one about once a month during the growing season.
Dilute the fertilizer to half strength and apply it during a normal watering session only about once a month. Do this during your Fig’s growing season, from early spring to fall. Supplemental feedings are not necessary during the winter months when the plant is dormant. It won’t utilize the feed during this time and you actually run the risk of burning the plant’s roots if too much accumulates in the soil.
Your second option is to transplant your Fig into new potting soil. This is an especially good thing to do if your Fig has been planted in the same soil and container for a long time, as the soil has probably been depleted over several months or years.
Many quality potting soils have some type of slow-release fertilizer mixed into them, which provides all the necessary nutrients a plant will need for several months. Replanting your Fig into new soil will ensure an adequate supply of everything it needs to thrive. This is also a great excuse to pot your Fig into a container with a proper drainage hole, if you haven’t already.
Nutrient deficiencies are usually pretty quickly resolved once you start applying supplemental fertilizer or reinvigorate the soil, and you may even see improvements to your Fig’s color within a matter of days.
If you go the transplanting route, don’t be alarmed if you see your Fiddle Leaf Fig look a bit wilted for a week or two. Any changes in environment can stress a Fig out, so just take extra special care not to overwater or make any other changes until it levels back out.
#4 Soil Imbalances
Although not a super common issue with Fiddle Leaf Figs, there’s a chance that your plant’s yellowing leaves can be attributed to a pH imbalance in the soil.
Over time, soil can become more acidic as organic compounds within it decay and water leeches away more basic ions like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. This is a pretty typical process that occurs gradually, but can also be intensified by the application of many fertilizers or the addition of things like used coffee grounds.
As the soil becomes more acidic, various nutrients get a bit tied up and aren’t readily available for the plant, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies and yellowing leaves. Because Figs prefer a more neutral soil pH, somewhere right around 6.0-7.0, the more acidic the soil gets, the more prevalent these deficiencies can become.
How to Help Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
To fix this, you have a couple of options. The easiest option is to occasionally repot your Fig in new, neutral pH potting soil. Again, soil acidification typically happens over time as the soil breaks down, so you usually won’t see it if you regularly transplant your Fig to larger pots with new soil. Figs should be repotted every two years or so.
The other option is to occasionally apply lime to the soil. Lime is a material that mainly consists of calcium and magnesium, two nutrients essential to plant growth, and will help replace hydrogen levels in the soil to neutralize pH. This may be a good option for larger plants that are harder to repot.
If you’d like to evaluate the pH of your soil before swapping out or amending its soil, consider purchasing a soil pH tester kit. Again, pH issues are rare, so double-checking the situation would be helpful before potentially upsetting your Fig.
#5 Transplant Shock
If you’ve owned a Fiddle Leaf Fig for a while, you are probably aware that shock is a real concern with these plants. Figs can often be overly dramatic when it comes to a change in their environment and can respond with yellowing leaves, or in extreme cases, leaf drop.
Usually, Figs experience shock when they are transplanted to a new container or when they experience large environmental changes, like major differences in light levels or extreme temperatures. They tend not to adapt quickly to a big change and their health suffers as they struggle to acclimatize to their new conditions.
How to Help Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
If you suspect your Fig’s yellow leaves are caused by transplant shock due to a recent repotting, or you are just trying to prevent it from happening in the first place, you should try to provide your plant with everything it needs while avoiding any extreme conditions.
For example, watering your plant thoroughly after transplanting is essential to helping it establish in its new home, but make sure it has proper drainage and there is no chance of overwatering.
The same is true of light levels. After transplanting, you want to give your Fig as much indirect light as you can, but it is smart to protect it from direct sunlight while it is acclimating. You should also hold off on applying any additional fertilizer directly after a transplant, as new potting soil will have everything your plant needs already.
To avoid shock induced by big changes in environmental factors, always take the time to acclimate your Fig. Allow your plant several days to get used to new light conditions by gradually moving it to a new spot or slowly increasing the time exposed to a new light level over several days. Consider other things like humidity levels, temperature, and exposure to drafts or heating vents, making sure your plant is protected from extremes fluctuations.
As long as you give your Fig plenty of time to adapt to a new location or condition, it should be fine. Any yellowing leaves should be temporary and turn green again as your plant finds its footing.
It turns out that yellow leaves on Fiddle Leaf Figs are a pretty common occurrence. While there’s no need to panic, it is a sign that your Fig is struggling with something that requires your attention.
Most likely, your Fig is suffering from an overwatering or drainage issue that is only beginning to get serious. You’ll definitely want to correct the problem before any brown spots appear. Thankfully, when dealt with swiftly, Figs tend to bounce back pretty fast. In most cases, small changes in how you care for your Fig, or perhaps an occasional repot into new soil, is all that is needed for your Fiddle Leaf to stay healthy, green, and vibrant.