The Ficus Lyrata, or fiddle-leaf fig is such a beautiful and popular houseplant, that if you have not heard about it by now, move the rock 😛 😛 . Its stunning foliage and compact growing habit make it the perfect edition for everyone who love to grow a tree indoors.
Despite its popularity, that has left many of us “fiddle-leaf fatigued” it also has gained quite the reputation for being a pretentious, theatrical diva prone to fits of melodrama. Leaving most of us puzzled as to: “Why this sudden change in behavior when it was doing just fine a week ago?”
So let’s break it down on how not to kill our fiddle-leaf fig.
The short answer to why most of us fail in caring for our fig tree has a lot to do with the environment we are growing it in. I know I said this before but knowing where a specific plant comes from helps us better understand what type of care we need to provide in order to keep that plant happy, aka not dead. Keep in mind that Ficus Lyrata is native to western Africa, where it grows in lowland tropical rainforest. Therefore it is more prevalent in humid forest and will grow moderately fast up to 40 feet. It has a high tolerance for drought and can grow in full sun, partial sun, or partial shade and can withstand a range of soil types including sand, clay, loam, alkaline, and acidic, as long as it is well-drained. Quite an adaptive plant wouldn’t you say?
Furthermore, its tolerance to a wide range of soil types and lighting conditions, and the ability to regenerate by cuttings, makes it quite the versatile plant. Ok fine, if it is such a hardy and adaptive plant why the melodrama when we try to grow it indoors, despite it being cultivated in most European Botanic Gardens since 1916. Well, dear reader, there is a catch! From what I gather, that catch has a lot to do with the lighting. Yes, it can adapt to withstand low humidity and various soil types but it can’t adapt to low light. Fortunately for us, this can be easily addressed by placing it in front of a west or south-facing window or, like me, supplement by using a grow light, nothing too high tech, I just use a normal IKEA RANARP work lamp (I chose this in order to adjust my light where I needed it to be) and a VÄXER LED bulb for cultivation PAR30 E27. To recap, the trick for a thriving Ficus Lyrata tree is to provide at least 8 hours of full sun, supplemented via grow lights if you do not have any west or south-facing windows.
IN-DEPTH CARE GUIDE
Now that we looked closely at the environment this plant comes from and we have extracted some ideas, let`s go a little in-depth
Bright light (bright shade, if kept outside during the summer months, especially if your climate is dry and hot). Supplement by using a grow light if you are lacking in this department, they adapt beautifully to artificial lighting. Otherwise, the leaves will start to drop since the plant is not getting enough light to sustain its foliage.
Tolerant to low humidity, however, depending on where you are in the world, you have the following options: a humidifier (we get really dry and hot summers here, so that works best for the plants), misting once or twice a day (I’d stick with the humidifier since the mist evaporates in 5 min), or you can place your plant on a tray of wet pebbles or use humidity mats.
Drought tolerant but don’t push it, especially during hot summers. Water thoroughly but make sure that the pot has drainage, no one likes rotten roots. Chose whatever soil mix works best for you but remember that bog conditions work for carnivorous plants, not Ficus Lyrata. Find the sweet spot, I check-up on mine about once a week. If the soil is dry then I water thoroughly and if not then I will check again in 1 or 2 days. Struggling with how to tell if the plant needs watering or not, a moisture probe takes the guesswork out of the equation. Also, if the foliage starts to yellow and drop, that means the soil stayed too wet for too long and you have root rot on your hands. Another sign of overwatering in Ficus Lyrata is edema or small red spots on new leaves.
The main nutrients that you should be focusing on are Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and potassium (K). Keep your ficus happy and well-fed during the growing season, they will thank you for it in the long run ;p
Inevitably, the artist within prevails aka I want a tree NOW! even if it is just a small tree for the moment. So you can nudge your ficus to encourage the plant to branch out or you can leave it as is.
Regarding “Houseplant Toxicology” The Ficus Lyrata is not pet-friendly. The proteolytic enzyme (ficin) and psoralen (ficusin) contained in the plants’ milky sap can lead to gastrointestinal and dermal irritation in cats and dogs. SO WHAT DO WE DO? Well, you can troubleshoot this issue. We do have an article further exploring some options for a stress-free indoor jungle, so if you have the time be sure to take a look. HOUSEPLANTS & CATS: 5 HACKS FOR A STRESS-FREE INDOOR JUNGLE
Ficus Lyrata is not a difficult plant to care for once you understand it. As for me, I love my little tree that lives on a shelf above my desk. It lives happily underneath a grow light far away from the paws of my fur baby and keeps me company as I work. So with this, I leave you and I deeply hope that you found this article useful in demystifying the ethereal fiddle-leaf fig.
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