Houseplant Help: Cat's Fiddle Leaf Fig Comeback


While it’s true that everyone on the terrain team has a passion for plants, it’s also true that our plants sometimes require a little extra love when they’re not at their best. Only a couple years ago, Cat King, our editorial director, had a fiddle leaf fig that was almost completely dead. But with some serious care from Chris DeSilvis, our garden utility buyer, it is now happily thriving! We recently chatted with Chris to get the dirt on how he brought this beauty back to life. Read on for his tips that you can use for your own ailing plants.

terrain: Hi Chris! Thanks for joining us. To start, would you say that in general, fiddle leaf fig trees are hard to take care of?

Chris: Although I love a fiddle leaf fig, I have always found them to be the most temperamental and finicky of any houseplant I’ve ever tried to keep!

terrain: What are some of the most common reasons that a Fiddle Leaf Fig starts having problems?

Chris: Overwatering and the subsequent root rot is a big one. But underwatering, giving too much light (or not enough light!), improperly positioning it in your space, feeding it too much food, or keeping it too cool are all reasons why it may start dying. It’s a high maintenance plant–they don’t even like to be repotted or moved from place to place in the same house.

terrain: What are the warning signs of an unhealthy fiddle leaf fig?

Chris: They are notorious for dropping their leaves when they get upset!

terrain: Can you tell us how you determined what was going wrong with Cat’s plant?

Chris: Just by the looks of it, it seemed to be dehydrated and was possibly receiving too much light. The soil was bone dry and it had lost every leaf except one!

terrain: Once you determined what was wrong, how did you decide the steps you’d take to make it healthy again?

Chris: It definitely needed a good root soak (from underneath so the saucer could be removed to prevent root rot). It was also looking malnourished so I suggested we also get it on a mild feeding schedule of FoxFarm Big Bloom. This fertilizer has an extremely low NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) and is gentle enough to use with every watering. This fertilizer simply ups the microbes and organic matter in the soil and helps with nutrient absorption. I also suggested misting regularly and moving the plant to an area that has bright, indirect light. New leaves started popping up about 3 weeks later and though the growth has slowed, she’s still a very healthy lady!

terrain: That’s a lot of good info! Any other tips or suggestions for how to continually keep a fiddle leaf fig healthy?

Chris: Ficus Lyrata likes bright, indirect light. Confused what that means exactly? A great way to test if the light is direct or indirect is to hold your hand out to cast a shadow on the leaf. If the shadow outline of your hand is crisp and sharp, that’s direct light. If the outline is fuzzy or soft, that’s indirect light. Additionally, they are extremely vulnerable to drafts and temperature changes so be sure to position the plant in indirect light that’s also in a spot with no drafts and a consistent temperature. Humidity is also key, and while maintaining a humid environment may be tough in most homes, you can mist the foliage daily to the same effect.

terrain: What would you say is the most common mistake people make when caring for a fiddle leaf fig?

Chris: Over or underwatering. It should be planted in a soil mixture that provides excellent drainage (Organic Mechanic Container blend is made especially for containers with rice hulls and pine bark to help aid in proper drainage). To properly water, wait until the top inch of soil is dry by checking with your finger. I always like watering thoroughly with a deep saucer under the pot. I’ll allow the excess water to sit in the saucer for an hour so the plant has a chance to wick up a little more before you dump the saucer to prevent root rot.

terrain: Thank you so much for all these helpful tips! Any parting advice to leave us with?

Chris: Sure thing! Although most ficus are fertilizer hogs, the fiddle leaf fig is not. Like I mentioned earlier, I like to use The Big Bloom from FoxFarm with every single watering just to keep up the organic matter in the soil and aid in nutrient uptake. Then in the spring and summer I’ll hit it every few weeks with a fairly flat NPK fertilizer like the FoxFarm Grow Big 6-4-4. Once the winter comes around, fiddle leafs go dormant so I’ll pull back on the supplements and just continue with the gentle Big Blooms formula for overall soil health.

Looking to grow your indoor greens knowledge even more? Be sure to check out our Houseplant 101 Series to learn about repotting new plants, taking care of succulents, aroids, ferns, and citrus trees!

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