How to Grow and Care for a Finicky Fiddle-Leaf Fig Tree

These expert tips will ensure your fabulous, yet fussy houseplant thrives.

To celebrate moving into a new apartment, my boyfriend and I decided to treat ourselves to a housewarming gift. Fittingly, we live directly above Petals + Moss, a Des Moines plant shop bursting with potted beauties. When we walked in, my boyfriend (who is no plant expert) immediately pointed to the biggest plant in the store: A large tree with sprawling green waxy leaves. Yes, it was a fiddle-leaf fig, and though the plant is gorgeous, it's notoriously finicky, and can be difficult to take care of. After a couple of months, I'm pleased (and slightly surprised) to report that our fig is doing well, even though we're still plant parent newbies. To make sure I was doing everything right, I enlisted the expertise of Joyce Mast, a former plant expert for Bloomscape. She shares her best tips here for keeping a fiddle-leaf fig tree thriving.

fiddle leaf fig tree in an apartment
Here's my 8-foot fiddle-leaf fig next to my 15-inch Christmas cactus in all of their glory. Jennifer Aldrich

How to Care for a Fiddle-Leaf Fig

Fiddle-leaf figs became the must-have houseplant in the mid-2010s, because the tree is big, dramatic, and can instantly enhance a dull room. "They're still fan-favorites, but they tend to require a bit more extra care," says Mast.

The fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) is a tropical plant native to rainforests in central and western Africa. In nature, a fiddle-leaf fig ($249, Bloomscape) can grow up to 50 feet tall, but don't worry—your houseplant won't break through your ceiling. As houseplants, they can grow up to 10 feet tall with some methodical TLC (mine is about eight feet tall).

Fiddle-Leaf Fig Lighting Requirements

Fiddle-leaf figs thrive in warm, bright, and humid conditions, which is exactly why these tropical weather-loving plants are difficult to grow indoors, Mast explains. "Your fiddle-leaf fig will grow best with consistent, indirect bright light," she says, adding that you should "turn the plant every few months once it begins to lean towards the light." However, be very careful when you're rotating your plant, because fiddle-leaf figs do not like to be moved. "If it's necessary to move your plant, be prepared for some leaf drop until it's acclimated again, in approximately two to three weeks," Mast says.

For example, when we first moved our fig from the plant shop to our apartment, the tree started to droop and lost about 10 leaves. I thought we'd already managed to kill it, but the leaves soon turned upward and the fig was fine. It didn't even drop a leaf when we re-potted it about a month after first getting it.

Fiddle-Leaf Fig Watering Needs

First, choose a pot with a drainage hole, so the roots don't rot if you over-water. "With pots that don't have drainage holes, water will often collect at the bottom and deprive the roots of oxygen, eventually causing them to die," Mast warns. If your planter has a saucer, don't fail to empty that out after watering. My fig lives in the Zen Large White Planter ($159, CB2), and the pot is perfect for the large plant. Another option for a smaller fiddle-leaf fig is the Classic Ceramic Pot Planter ($44 for two, Wayfair).

When you water your fig, drench the soil until water drains from the bottom. Because fiddle-leaf figs vary in size, there's no exact amount of water your plant needs; it all depends on how big (or small) the houseplant is. "Your plant will let you know if it's not getting enough water when its leaves become limp and floppy, eventually turning a light brown and becoming crispy before falling off," Mast says. On the flip side, "If you see dark brown spots or areas ringed in yellow, this can indicate that your plant is getting too much water and the roots are becoming unhealthy."

Joyce mast, Bloomscape

Your plant will let you know if it is not getting enough water.

— Joyce mast, Bloomscape

If you're struggling to devise the perfect watering calendar for your fig, Mast recommends letting your plant "tell" you when it's ready for water. "Different variants in an indoor environment, like temperature, humidity, and placement, make it difficult to schedule watering," she explains. "I recommend the touch test: Push your finger into the soil until it reaches your middle knuckle. When you remove your finger and see soil clinging to it, that indicates the plant still has enough moisture, and you can check again in a couple of days." When you try again (and maybe again) and your finger is dry after placing it in the soil, it's time to water your plant.

"I tend to keep the soil on the drier side to avoid an over-watering situation," Mast says. "However, I do mist the leaves regularly." Speaking of the leaves, Mast says a trick she uses to keep her own fiddle-leaf fig looking its best is to periodically dust off the leaves with a pair of microfiber gloves ($15, Bloomscape). "Gently wipe both the top and bottom of its leaves in order to retain the gorgeous glossy look of your plant," she explains.

fiddle leaf fig plant in concrete planter in nicely lit home
skaman306/Getty Images

Fiddle-Leaf Fig Humidity Needs

Rainforests, where the fiddle-leaf fig thrives, usually have humidity levels around 77 percent to 88 percent. Of course, you're not going to keep your house that humid, but if you notice your plant drooping, it could be because the it's craving more moisture in the air. When it comes to boosting the humidity around your fig, Mast recommends either misting the plant regularly, using a pebble tray ($29, Walmart), or moving a humidifier nearby. A highly rated and affordable humidifier to try is the Honeywell Humidifier ($53, Walmart)

Fiddle-Leaf Fig Fertilizing Tips

To encourage fresh growth and healthy roots, Mast recommends giving your fiddle-leaf fig fertilizer ($25, Amazon) once in the spring, and every month in the summer. You don't need to feed your tree in the winter because growth slows during the colder months. "A little [fertilizer] goes a long way, and always make sure the soil is damp before applying any type of fertilizer," she says. "Over-fertilization can cause your plant to grow leggy and can even kill it."

Re-potting Fiddle-Leaf Figs

If you notice your plant's roots appearing through the top of the soil, or if you see them poking out of the drainage hole, that means your plant is root-bound, and it's ready for some new digs. "You can also tell when it is time to re-pot when water rushes through the drainage holes when you water," Mast explains. "This shows the roots are taking up too much room in the current pot, and there isn't enough soil-to-root ratio." Also, don't put your tree in a planter that's too big for it. "When selecting a new pot, do not increase the size more than two inches from its current pot," Mast says.

Common Fiddle-Leaf Fig Problems and Pests

Earning their diva reputations, fiddle-leaf figs are quite sensitive to sudden changes in their care or growing conditions such as water, humidity, temperature, and light. "If you are under-watering or accidentally let the soil dry out completely, you may see branches go limp or leaves crisp up. A good solution is to soak-water your plant." To soak-water, drench your fig until the water drains out. "Keep in mind that when the soil goes from bone-dry to saturated, it can cause stress and may cause leaves to drop," Mast says. "Give it some time to adjust."

You also might notice some fungus gnats flitting around your fig, which happened to my tree. Fungus gnats like to lay their eggs in moist soil, so your tree's pot is a prime spot for the insects. To discourage these pests from living in your houseplant's soil, avoid overwatering your fig and drain out the saucer (if you have one) to keep the area as dry as possible.

If you spot the bugs hovering around your fig's pot, remove and throw out the top couple of inches of soil, which is where they tend to lay their eggs. Top the soil back up with fresh potting mix. If you still notice fungus gnats, try Pesticide Free Gnat Stix ($11, The Home Depot). Place the sticky pieces near the plant, but don't stick the traps on your fig. Once the traps are covered in gnats, replace them, until all of the fungus gnats are eliminated.

Little Fiddle: The Fiddle-Leaf Fig Alternative

Fiddle-leaf figs are substantial plants, and they might not be the right fit (literally) for your space. Instead, you could choose a little fiddle-leaf fig ($30, Walmart) that will only grow to three feet tall. The smaller version of the original has similar care needs, but will fill your home with tropical lushness.

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