Fiddle Leaf Fig/Ficus Lyrata newbie

andy_sydneyNovember 6, 2013

Hey Everyone,
I live in Sydney and I just received a 1.3m fiddle leaf fig in a 300mm pot 3 weeks ago as a gift. I have been reading the forums about only watering once a week or so when the soil is dry and for it to have good indirect light but I have a couple of questions.

I have noticed a big brown spot on one of the big leaves that you can see in the photo - could that be from not enough water? I am only watering it once a week and about 1 litre of water.

I have gotten 3 new leaves at the top of the 2 stalks - these don't seem to have any brown marks except on the stems new leaves have lots of really tiny dots on them - they don't look too bad though - is this a worry?

I was thinking of repotting or potting up to a 400mm pot to encourage growth - it is spring here in australia - should i do this now or wait till summer? if the pot isn't root bound, should i pot up instead of repotting completely? I can't seem to find how to repot completely. The potting mix my friend bought for me is called "terracotta and tub" - not sure if this is the best potting mix for my fiddle leaf?

When I got the plant home and still now, the lower leaves are a bit droopy - the top ones seem ok - could this still be from inadequate light at the nursery? I have had it 3 weeks so I would have thought it would recovered by now - I am now worried the room I have it in doesn't get enough light - it is a pretty light room though! As you can also see from the photo it gets the light from the other room eastern facing in the morning, and in the afternoon the room it is in gets western sun but not directly at the plant.

Lastly, my fiddle leaf has 2 separate stems growing in a slightly v shape. Like alot of people in the forums, I wanted a more tree shape with branches - how I do I go about doing this? If, after the leaf that is growing out on the tallest stem settles flat, do i just cut the bud off the top off the next bud trying to be a leaf that tries to grow? I still would like more height but would like both stems to grow branches. Also, do I eventually remove the lower leaves to make it look more tree shape or should i do this, say next year? i am slightly enamoured with the fiddle leaf figs that pop up on google image search!

Hope this isn't information overload - I really want to put the work in with this plant!

Andy from Sydney

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

There are a number of potential causes for the leaf damage. Too much/ too little water; a high level of solubles in the soil solution; soil compaction or root-bound conditions; nutritional deficiencies/toxicities; mechanical injury; disease; or other considerations. Back to these thoughts in a second.

If the little 'dots' you're referring to don't appear to be random in how they're arranged, they're probably lithocysts - specialized cells that hold cystoliths. That should give you some search words to help you with your investigation if you're interested. They're a normal part of the anatomy in many plants, and commonly conspicuous in the family Moraceae, so nothing to be concerned about.

Mid to late Dec would be a great time to repot (for you). You can find much more about repotting and root pruning if you follow the embedded link in this paragraph. Instead of guessing at what might be the problem and putting a lot of eggs in one basket, you can make better progress by making sure you have the bases appropriately covered. Start with getting the plant repotted into an appropriate soil, which is one you can water copiously at will, w/o need for being concerned about the possibility or probability root rot will be an issue or that the plant's vitality might be limited due to the soil remaining too soggy for too long. This is a key point, and one around which a good number of other issues revolve. Gaining an understanding of what constitutes a 'good' soil probably represents the largest single step forward a container grower can make at any one time, so please don't just skim over the thought. Understanding how soils work will put you over the hump on your container gardening journey.

Find a link below to more about soils. Let me know if you have questions. It's good to get rid of problem roots while the root mass is still easy to work on. Tending to root problems while the tree is young makes it much easier on the tree AND you in subsequent repotting sessions, so jump right into it at the earliest opportunity when the timing appropriate.

You can still have what looks like a single tree from a group of trunks. In bonsai, we call that a clump or grove style (arrangement).

5 trunks - looks like a single tree:

2 trunks (mother/daughter style) looks like a single tree as well:

I'll wait to see what you have to say, then we can talk about how to start preparing your plant so it eventually looks more like a single-stemmed plant, even if it has more than 1 stem. Normally, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 9 trunks look good. After 9, your eye usually can't choose between odd & even numbers of trunks. Odd numbers (except 2) are best until you have a LOT of trunks.

Sorry it took awhile to get over here. It's been really busy at work and at home, getting ready for winter, so I haven't had much extra time.


Here is a link that might be useful: More about soils if you click me!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 10:25PM
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Hey Al,
Thanks very much for your reply. I really appreciate it. So I will repot in 1 month's time (I read your detailed trees in container posts and the soil post - thanks! it scares me a little to cut off roots but I will build the courage in december to do this!)- in the meantime I have moved the plant to my bedroom which has brighter light - do you think this is a good idea for a month while waiting to repot to see if this also helps the plant? When I got home from a weekend away the lower leaves looked saggier than ever!

Thanks for the info on the lithocysts - it's funny that they seem to be on one stem and not the other (see photo of affected stem at bottom of this message).

Thank you also for the photos of tree like shapes from multiple stems - I am happy with the 2 trunks with the fiddle leaf - how do I encourage branches on the fiddle leaf and thickening of the main 2 trunks? I can see the 2 single stems that it currently has will eventually grow away from each other in a "V". I would like the plant eventually to have more height but also branches. I guess something like this:

(knowing I will have 2 trucks so it will look different but you get the idea).

Thanks again Al. Also no rush getting back to me - I totally appreciate you are busy!


    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 8:38PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

What you show in the leaf picture isn't what I imagined you were describing. It looks like feeding sites on the underside of your leaves, so you likely have some spider mite issues going on.

Mid-Dec should be about the optimum repot time for you. You needn't be too concerned about lopping off a large fraction of the roots if you keep them wet while you work (so they don't die of dehydration before you get them back to work in the soil). Here's a couple of before and after pictures of how I consistently treat roots during repots. I should probably add that I haven't lost a plant to poor judgement about how to treat roots at repotting time in at least a decade.

This is a before/after fig with more diminutive foliage.

A maple

Notice the wire ^ indicating this tree was layered off its original and much less attractive root system.

A box

So you can see that healthy trees will tolerate significantly more root reduction than the average grower would ever imagine w/o actually having been exposed to root work that extensive. You may not want to be quite as radical as I at first, but at least the pics should offer your confidence a bit of a boost.

I don't know how close to the equator you are. In most cases, your plant can't get enough light through glass to cause photo-oxidation (sunburn), but if there isn't enough air movement, the leaves can suffer heat damage from passive solar gain (over-heating). Your plants will tolerate much more direct light if you have a fan moving air during the day, and the fan will help keep mite populations suppressed while it helps stimulate back-budding. The short answer is - more light is better, but not so much it causes foliage to over-heat

Several things encourage branching (back-budding). Tight roots suppress back-budding, so roots need room to run. Good health, adequate fertilization - especially N, bright light, air movement, and regular tip-pruning will all work together to make a very densely foliated and compact tree.

Trunk thickening is directly related to the photosynthesizing surface area, so the more leaves a plant has, the more wood it makes and the faster the trunk/branches thicken.

Patience is required. You're on people time and the tree is on tree time. The tree isn't going to change, so it's up to you to realize and accept that things are going to happen more slowly than you'd prefer. Make your goal keeping your plant healthy and you'll feel a more satisfying sense of harmony with the growing experience. That's not some new age line, just something my years of trying to gain some degree of proficiency at bonsai has taught me.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 6:13PM
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Thanks very, very much Al!

    Bookmark   November 14, 2013 at 6:05PM
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Hi there,

Similar to what Andy is trying to achieve (a more tree-like shape), should I remove the lower foliage to reveal the trunk?

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 6:06PM
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Hey Floraetfauna,
I nipped off the top bud of one of my branches a few months ago (it's summer in Sydney) but I have had no back budding yet. Guessing it takes a long time?
Also my plant is just naturally dropping one or two of it's lower leaves occasionally when they get old so unless you want a naked tree maybe wait till you have branches? I'm not sure mine is going to branch. I'm actually finding it a really difficult plant when I had read it's an easy house plant.
Good luck with yours!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 8:34PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

FetF - as your tree matures, it will tend to lose the lower leaves as a matter of course. Until then, leave them on the tree; they produce food to fuel the tree's growth, and removing them won't promote back-budding. If you're going to do any repotting (which includes root pruning) or hard pruning of the top, you might want to get after it right away (for those who didn't catch it, FetF lives in Australia).

When your tree gets to be about 2/3 of the ht you'd like to maintain it at, top it. Branches will then start to grow behind the truncation cut, if not before that. Allow each new branch to grow 3-4 leaves, then prune it back to 2 leaves. This will force your tree into a bushier or fuller growth habit.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 9:32PM
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Hey Al
Does back budding take months? I took the tip of the top most bud coming to 3 months ago and nothing has grown since? I trimmed the roots and repotted last December so maybe it's just recovering?

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 9:40PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It can take a while for some trees to get their feet back under them. The better and faster you get at root work, the faster your trees recover. Also, each repotting/root pruning of individual trees improves the ratio of fine roots to heavy roots, and the more fine roots you have, the less stress the tree will incur from repotting.

How well a tree back-buds depends on several factors. You'll get the most vigorous back-budding on trees that are very healthy, growing outdoors in very bright light, and cut back quite to very hard in Dec or Jan (for those in the Southern Hemisphere). The farther you stray from those parameters, the weaker the back-budding will be.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 10:02PM
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Thanks Al!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 10:46PM
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Hi Al

I have a small fig with droopy leaves,

It has been very hot here over 35 degrees a few days in a row.. I believe it's cause is maybe watering not enough?
Will they go back up? The local horticulturalist said put it under the shower for a big drink- I havedone that. Any more advice? I know your the master :)

Best regards,


    Bookmark   January 24, 2015 at 3:06AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Sarah. The cultural issues most likely to cause wilting are over-watering, under-watering, high temps, and a high level of dissolved solids (salts) in the soil solution. The later is usually accompanied by necrosis of leaf margins on lyrata, unless the high level of salts was due to a very recent fertilizing.

If it wilted while the soil was still damp, your issue would probably be related to the effects of over-watering and/or the heat. Water and nutrient uptake is an energy driven process. It takes oxygen to burn (convert) the food (carbohydrates - from photosynthesis) into the energy that drives root metabolism. Too much water in the rhizosphere (root zone) means too little air means not enough O2 means the work of water uptake is compromised. The heat increases the rate of respiration increases water demand and exacerbates the issue.

I would:
Shade the pot to help keep roots cool if the plant has direct sun hitting it

Use a wood dowel or bamboo skewer to test the soil, waiting to water until the soil is nearly but not quite dry. When soil is at first dry to the touch, there is still 10-15% additional water left that the plant can access - so a built-in margin for error.

Flush the soil thoroughly the next time the plant needs watering by pouring a volume of water equal to the pot capacity up to 10 times, using room temp water; this, to rid the soil of accumulating salts. Then, fertilize the plant with a soluble fertilizer with a 3:1:2 NPK ratio. RATIO is different than NPK %s - ask if you'd like me to explain the difference.

After flushing the soil, water on an as needed basis. Don't let the soil remain saturated for extended periods. I can also help you learn how to deal with soils that hold too much water, if you think that's an issue.

I'll wait on your comments before I offer anything else.


    Bookmark   January 24, 2015 at 1:23PM
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Thanks so much Al!

I woke up this morning to a much happier plant! The leaves were definitely sitting up more than yesterday :) it has been really hot here in Australia and I used to only have cacti as house plants- so not enough water was definitely the issue, thank you for the tips! I have saved them and will refer back to them! I hadn't fertilised recently and I wonder if you could tell me how frequently it sould be done? Thank you so much again :)

Best regards,


    Bookmark   January 24, 2015 at 4:34PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Anything meaningful about fertilizing will take your soil choice and watering habits into account. Ideally, you would be able to water to well beyond the saturation point - so the soil is fully saturated and at least 15-20% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain (and never finds its way back into the soil); this, w/o you having to worry the soil will remain soggy so long it causes problems. If you CAN water this way, fertilizing is very easy, if you can't, it's not.

So, how do you water?


    Bookmark   January 25, 2015 at 2:08PM
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