Once regular people-turned-plant lovers realized they could keep succulents alive, they moved on to a much larger challenge: Caring for the fiddle leaf fig. Though the fiddle looks effortlessly styled beside mid-century modern furniture (see above), next to layers of bohemian-inspired, vintage rugs, and in trendy planters… These things take effort to keep alive. Not in a bad way, just in a “you’ll have to try harder than with a succulent” type of way.
To get every tip and trick on how to care for your fiddle leaf fig, we spoke to Erin Marino, the PR & Marketing Manager of The Sill (one of our favorite NYC-based houseplant shops!) and Baltimore-based artist and dedicated plant collector Hilton Carter, who’s been caring for his first fiddle, “Frank,” for over four years.
Know the Types
The fiddle leaf fig houseplant (fiddle for short, aka the FLF, technically speaking, the Ficus lyrata) is native to Western and Central Africa. Though the fiddle can grow up to 50 feet in the wild (!!!), there are two common sizes you’ll find in most people’s homes (and sold on The Sill). The bushy-looking type (left) will grow to be 3-4 feet tall, and the taller, trunked fiddle (right) grows to be 5-7 feet tall. You can buy fiddles that range from 1-10 feet in height, but generally speaking, those are the two most common silhouettes. They’re all the same species, the just grow differently.
Worried your fiddle might grow through your ceiling? Don’t be. Marino says, “It’s almost impossible to recreate those tropical conditions inside your apartment, so don’t fret about a Jumanji-like situation arising.”
When to Buy
NOT in the winter. Since their natural climate is tropical, transporting a fiddle—exposing it to even a few minutes of cold air—can be detrimental to its health. Marino advises buying and transporting your plant when it is above 50, preferably 65 degrees.
Pot Your Plant!
Rule #1: Don’t leave your plant in the black plastic "grow" pot you bought it in.
Marino says, “Plants that are potted live longer, happier lives because they have better access to water, and their roots can continue to grow and not be pot bound in the black plastic grow pot.”
Look for a pot made of a substantial material, like a ceramic, stoneware, terra cotta, or fiberglass that is 2-3 inches larger in diameter than your fiddle’s plastic pot. (Marino says bigger pots tends to lead to overwatering, which is a no-no.) Drainage holes aren’t necessary.
How to Pot Your Plant
While drainage holes might not be necessary, adding the right rocks to the bottom of your pot is. This will both protect the plant’s roots from excess water sitting in the bottom of the pot and absorb it. Marino recommends lava rocks mixed with gravel because of their porous qualities.
As for the soil, make sure to buy the variety made for indoor plants. Look for perlite and vermiculite on the soil bag—Marino says this mix will hold and keep water for the plant between waterings. If you plan on doting on your fiddle, spraying it with organic liquid fertilizer once a month will be a real treat. (The Sill is a fan of Fox Farms liquid fertilizers.)
What About Watering?
You need to water your fiddle once week, for sure. Half a liter is good for the larger 5-7 foot fiddles and a bit less for the shorter, bushy guys. Another thing to remember: The air gets very dry in the winter, which is not at all like their natural habitat. Fake humidity by misting your plant with water once a week—if not year round, then definitely in the winter. This can be done at the same time you water your plant. If you’re still not sure how often you should be watering your FLF, remember that your plant will tell you when it’s ready. A fail-proof indicator that your green friend is craving some H20?
“You know an FLF is ready to be watered by placing your finger about two inches deep into the soil. If your finger comes out dry, it’s time to water. And you should water your plant until water drains into the base tray,” says Carter.
Pro tip: Always remember to empty your base tray, as sitting water can cause root rot.
Taking care of houseplants requires more thought than placing them directly in or out of the sunlight.
Marino advises, “Fiddle leaf figs require bright light, but not direct sun. This means as close as possible (no more than a foot away) from a large, bright window of any exposure. Southern exposure is usually the best, while northern exposure is generally the worst...”
(For more on the nitty-gritty details of sun exposure for different plants, look over The Sill’s plant care tips. I promise, you won’t regret it.)
When to Fertilize
The fall and winter months can be tough off a Fiddle Leaf Fig. That’s why, during the grow seasons (aka spring and summer) it’s important to fertilize your FLF—and your other greenery, too—to ensure they regain their strength and necessary nutrients.
“I fertilize Frank every other watering during those months,” explains Carter. “Fertilizing helps to place nutrients back into the soil that has been lost from watering over time. Given that you’re fertilizing during the grow season, you should see much more growth in your plant.”
Over the weekend I decided it was time to rotate Frank(the fiddle Leaf Fig) to encourage growth on other branches and cleaned off his leaves to take that layer of dust off. That not only helps to give the leaves back their natural shine, but it allows more light to be absorbed into the leaves. In full transparency, the shiner leaves you see here in the front of the tree are newly formed leaves. They still have their early “glow”. I also just begun to fertilize every plant at home and in the studio. Given that spring aka the grow season is here, fertilizing your green friends will help give the soil regain some of the nutrients it loss over the fall and winter months. When I first got into plants, my friend’s mother suggested a fertilizer called Eleanor’s VF 11 that I’ve been using ever since. Thanks Patty! 😉🙏🏾💚🌿
Let Your FLF Get Comfortable
Fiddles take a few weeks to acclimate to their new homes. Marino says the FLF is pickier than other houseplants and that you will be able to tell if it’s unhappy very quickly based solely on its appearance. Give your fiddle extra attention until you’re sure it has adjusted.
The Sill recommends checking in with all of your plants every 3-4 days, just to make sure they’re doing well. That way, you catch signs of distress early and can easily nurse your plant back to health. The same goes for your fiddle leaf fig!
Carter might be a seasoned FLF parent now, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t make his fair share of mistakes along the way. There were a number of moments over the years where he thought he was going to lose Frank for good.
“Moving Frank from New Orleans to Baltimore was the first thing I did wrong,” notes Carter. “Fiddle Leaf Figs don’t like ot be moved for one, and that trip took a toll.”
No matter how excited you are to take on an FLF, consider holding off on bringing one into your home until you’ve settled down somewhere permanent.
Decided I should update my post on fiddle leaf fig care. So many have so many questions and concerns about their fiddle that it only felt right. Either you've been unsuccessful in the past or have just heard how hard they are to keep alive. For me, my fiddle has been the most finicky plant I've ever owned. But when you've learned your particular fiddle and its needs, its well worth it! I already had one and then 6 months ago I purchased this one.😬 Here are a few tips I've learned about caring for my fiddles that I hope will help guide you with yours: 1. I make sure they have bright indirect light. If it's ever going to get direct sunlight, it's best that its early AM sun rather than bright PM sun. The more bright indirect light the better. Hard sun will burn the leaves creating yellow and brown spots and eventually kill your plant. 2. I water mine only when the top 2” of soil are completely dry. Stick your finger in the soil and see for yourself. Once I know they're dry, I water them with the exact amount of each time. I base how much water they need on how much water comes out into the base tray. Once the water drains completely into the tray, I discard that water or I'll take a towel and wrap it at the base of the pot, allowing it to soak up the water. I NEVER LET THE PLANT SIT IN WATER. This will surely cause root rot over time and again, eventually kill your plant. 3. Rotating the plant every 2 months for me has been key. I noticed at some point that the branches closest to the window were the ones that would grow new leaves the fastest. So to encourage a balance of growth, rotation is everything. 4. I try to clean the leaves every 3-6 months with a little dish soap and water. Clean leaves free of dust and grime help give the leaves their natural shine and also allows more light to reach the surface of the leaves. 5. Name your new plant friends and talk to them from time to time. This just makes you more likely to care for the plant like you would your pet llama. You tend to care more about things with names, right? But to be real, you should be fully invested in your Fiddle anyway. They are expensive af! Good luck because hey...you'll need it 😉😂✌🏾
Fiddles grow slowly, so don’t worry if you don’t see immediate growth. Green leaves signal you have a healthy plant on your hands. If it receives plenty of sun and the proper care, you should expect for your fiddle to grow its entire life.
Marino says, “We say true success with a plant is when you need to eventually repot it in a larger pot!”
When it comes time to repot your fiddle, the season doesn’t matter, just as long as you stay indoors. Repotting in the early spring (right before the FLF’s growth season!) is preferable, but not required for a successful transfer.
Pro tip: Make sure to rotate your plant so it grows evenly—not lopsided.
When Things Go Wrong…
Think of your fiddle like you would a pet. You need to love and care for it, pay attention to how much you feed it, and take action if it looks sick.
What to Do If…
The leaves are...
- Falling off: Water more (your plant is most likely under-watered).
- Browning: Give your plant more sunlight (it’s not getting enough!).
- Wilting: Water more!
- Yellowing or lightening: Water less—leaves should be a nice dark shade of green.
Appearances Matter (Well, Kind of)
Clipping browned leaves isn’t necessary to the health of your plant, but it will make it look prettier!
Marino says, “The browning of leaves is unfortunately permanent on this plant, so once the damage is done, it can’t be undone without removing the entire leaf. Don’t fret though—if you give it more sunlight, it’s new growth should not brown.”
There is one appearance-related matter that is important—dusting. Be sure to dust your fiddle often, as dust particles prevent your plant from absorbing sunlight. Marino compared the dust sitting on your fiddle’s leaves to leaving your makeup on—except for instead of just clogging your pores, you’re preventing photosynthesis and transpiration from occuring, which is basically like starving your plant. Lightly spraying your fiddle with water, using a feather duster, or wiping leaves with a soft cloth are all great ways to keep your plant clean and healthy.
When to Give Up :(
If you’ve given your fiddle all the love and care you can, but you’re pretty sure it’s dead, Marino shared when to officially throw in the towel.
Signs it’s time for a plant funeral:
- When 50% of leaves have changed color.
- When your plant has lost 50% of its leaves.
- When it no longer uplifts you with its appearance because it looks damaged and unhealthy.
Purchasing a fiddle leaf fig is an investment. Before you spend big on your plant, know that most last a few years (if cared for correctly). If you’re an overachiever, know that they can last much longer, too.
Marino says, “We’ve heard plenty of stories of houseplants passed down through generations.”
Did we hear someone say #lifegoals?
Large, needy houseplants aren’t for everyone. If you’re a frequent traveler or live in an apartment with less than optimal natural light, buying a different species of plant might be a better move.
Here are three of Marino’s suggestions:
If you have a sunny window sill but are looking for a more low-maintenance plant…
Look for a colorful succulent or unique cactus. They need little water and are easy to care for.
If you don’t have lots of light but want something larger than a succulent…
Think about getting a snake plant or ZZ plant. They’re both very low-maintenance but can grow to be sizable.
If you don’t have much space…
Try a trailing pothos or philodendron! They tolerate moderate to low light. (Pst, The Sill nicknamed the pothos “the cubicle plant” because it can survive pretty much anywhere.)
The Sill has a whole guide to finding the right plant for your personality and lifestyle. Bonus: It’s super cute and funny and we love it.
Most of All…
HAVE FUN! I know all the facts make this sound like more responsibility than it's worth, but it’s not. Though you should keep your fiddle near and dear to your heart, it’s important to remember it is just a plant, and if you follow these instructions, you will be fine.
Marino added, “Reading about where your plant grows in the wild (and looking at photos online of it in it’s natural habitat) is super helpful too.”
For more houseplants and tips to taking care of them, visit The Sill or follow @hiltoncarter on Instagram.
This story was originally published on February 4, 2016. It has been updated with new information.
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