Ask a Question forum: dying Fiddle Leaf Fig

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Los Angeles, CA
Oct 13, 2017 4:02 PM CST

So, my fiddle leaf fig has died. Sad I want to replace it with another, but before I do I want to know if I did something wrong, or if the location is just not suitable for a fiddle leaf. The details are this: I bought a big, beautiful, expensive fiddle leaf. 10 feet tall, over 10 years old. Looked spectacular at the market. Got it home, placed it in a corner of my living room that is flanked by windows on both sides. The windows face north and east, so the plant gets indirect sunlight all day, but no direct sunlight. I live in Los Angeles, it was August/September, so it was warm and dry, but it doesn't get especially hot in my home. In the chaos of moving into my new home, I then forgot to water it for like two weeks after getting it in. Don't know when the last time it was watered at the market was. So all I really know is that it went at least two weeks without watering, maybe more. Then when I did water it, I gave it a lot of water, but I wouldn't say I flushed it thoroughly, as I have since read I am supposed to do. I also added some Schultz 10-15-10 plant food to the water. Shortly after, it all went wrong. The leaves all started turning yellow, and getting big brown dead-looking spots, and cracks. I hoped it would get better, but it did not. Eventually I flushed it with A LOT of water, letting it run off out the bottom quite a lot. It didn't get better. Now, all the leaves have turned brown and dropped. Photos attached, including one of the very sad current state, with most leaves gone, to show the placement next to windows. So my question is, did I kill it by watering/fertilizing it incorrectly? or is the placement with indirect, but no direct sunlight likely to kill another one if I replace it and put it in the same spot?

Appreciate your thoughts!

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Name: Will Creed
Professional indoor plant consultan
Oct 13, 2017 5:57 PM CST
Tom - Fiddle-leafed Figs require lots of sunlight and do not tolerate dryness very well at all. I suspect most of the leaf spots on yours are a result of the excessive dryness it experienced. Unfortunately, the discolored leaves will not recover.

The plant is too tall for that space. Not only does it look awkward, but most of the foliage and all of the new growth is up above the window line where the light is greatly reduced.

Thorough watering is recommended. That means slowly adding enough water each time you water so that a bit runs through the drain holes. That is not flushing and flushing is not needed. Fertilizer should not have been used as a medicine or as a cure for your plant's ills, but it is also not the cause of the problems it is experiencing.

If you decide to replace it, get one that is well below the top of the window line. Keep it in its nursery pot and water it thoroughly as soon as the top surface of the soil feels dry. That is all it requires.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Name: Celia
West Valley City, Utah (Zone 7a)
Pour vivre parmi les fleurs
Irises Garden Photography I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Butterflies Birds
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Oct 14, 2017 7:17 AM CST
My concern is the pot. Does it have drain holes? If it does, do you empty the excess water?
Los Angeles, CA
Oct 16, 2017 4:52 PM CST
Ok that's very helpful thank you. A couple of follow up questions...

@WillC, or whoever might be able to help...

Does a fiddle leaf fig require DIRECT sunlight? Or will indirect from the flanked windows shown in the photo above work, as long as I get a shorter tree so that it isn't above the window?

You said not to flush it, but I have been told to flush any plant when you get it home from the nursery because they are presumably so saturated with growth fertilizer that the nursery has used to keep it looking its best, but is actually too much for the plant to take, so flushing is necessary. Would you agree with that?

@Zencat, yes, there are holes in the bottom of the planter, so water does run through and get emptied

Thanks so much for your guidance!
Name: Will Creed
Professional indoor plant consultan
Oct 17, 2017 10:13 AM CST
Tom - A shorter tree should be fine between the windows as long as it is not pushed too deep into the corner. It would do better directly in front of a window, but in-between should provide adequate light.

Flushing the soil of excess nutrients is not necessary and may not even be effective. Most nurseries use timed-released fertilizer pellets that release nutrients each time you water, so flushing doesn't really work. If you see little colored balls on the surface of the soil, those are the pellets and can be scraped off and discarded. I use this plant frequently, never flush the soil, and have never had a problem.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Los Angeles, CA
Oct 19, 2017 2:45 AM CST
great thank you @WillC
Los Angeles, CA
Oct 19, 2017 2:47 AM CST
@WillC, ps, it did have those little fertilizer pellets. I didn't know that's what they were. Would you recommend me removing them when I get a new plant, for future reference? there were so many, I'm not sure how I would have weeded them out. thoughts?
Los Angeles, CA
Oct 19, 2017 2:55 AM CST
@WillC, lastly, for ongoing care (of a new one), I should just give it thorough waterings (slowly until some runs out bottom) every time the top soil feels dry? go through the whole thorough watering every time?
Name: Will Creed
Professional indoor plant consultan
Oct 19, 2017 2:44 PM CST
Tom - The fertilize pellets are not a major concern. Many of them are probably already depleted or used up. You can remove any that scrape up easily but don't worry about getting them all.

Yes, it is best to water thoroughly each time you water. That helps prevent the build-up of soil salts.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Name: M2
Berkeley (Zone 10a)
Oct 25, 2017 12:07 PM CST
Hello All! I am SO SO grateful I've found this thread because I'm really desperate.
WillC, if you're out there, can you please chime in? I'm in a state of panic and loss. Over a plant. But very expensive one(s) at that.

Here's the quick backstory.
I bought my very first FLF in July. It was full and beautiful. I listened to all the instructions. I placed FLF in a totally empty corner in my living room. The room has a big window facing west. The plant is "next" to the window but not in front of it. There's another small window (north facing) diagonally (across the room) from the plant. The room is decently lit during the day (it has dark blue paint so don't let that throw you in the photos) but gets blinding sun in later afternoon (we have to close shades to see the TV). So there is sunlight in the room all day but not directly on the plant---though some sun rays are always splashing the edges of the closest side of the plant to the window, I can see the glistening on the leaves when I walk by.

I watered 1x a week and removed any water that seeped out the liner. After a few weeks, the leaves developed a load of brown spots, and started dropping off. After 6wks, almost all leaves were gone, I have 4 left. I spoke to 3 different nurseries during this time and all think either a) I over watered or b) plant had a fungus. I HAD checked that top soil was dry and IT WAS, but it was moist a few inches below--when I thought you are supposed to water! But one of the nurseries said NO, wait until soil is more dried out. But what does THAT mean? And also....there are so many confusing reports as to HOW MUCH water you give. One said just 2 cups of water. Another said fully flush it until water comes out bottom. Another said put in bathtub and cover entire pot inside of another container, then lift plant out and let it fully drain. This is a LOT of disparate information. Also seems like a difficult houseplant to keep. When I checked literally a dozen links about FLF, I found countless people who said they are finicky and a challenge to keep happy, but if you can, they are the most gorgeous and rewarding plants to have.

Case in point---I was turned onto this plant by a friend who's FLF is 9ft tall, has lost a leaf only a few times, and she doesn't check the soil. She just fills a kettle and dumps it every Sunday. Her plant is fully green and has doubled its growth in 2 years. It's massive. She has it parked in a corner flanked by 2 windows.

I took my horribly defeated FLF and moved it upstairs to hopefully recover. I put it in the bathroom where there's a skylight next to it (not directly under so it won't burn). I wiped the leaves to remove dust for better breathing. I water when top soil is dry and there's barely moisture 1-2" below. I have no idea how it'll go.

And now my living room looked sad and empty again.
Armed with all this "new info" about watering, I decided to press my luck and try again. Considering I had the plant not even a month before it started withering. We'll call the original plant "Fig 1".

I went out and bought Fig 2. Another gorgeous specimen. I went over ALL the instructions again with the nursery (different nursery to ensure it's not a problem with the grower or an onsite fungus). Fig 2 soil was fully wet when I got it--they had just watered recently. I was told to let it dry out, top soil dry and about 2" down.

One week later, the soil was still moist. I had lost a leaf. The nursery said it was likely due to the transition to my house and the plant was adjusting. These plants sure seem sensitive. My home is in Berkeley, it's not warm like LA but not freezing. It's probably about 65-70 degrees in the room on any given day.

Second week, the top soil was dry BUT an inch down the soil was slightly moist. I had lost 2 more leaves. And I was noticing some dry spots on the leaves.

2.5wks later, I called the nursery explaining the soil still had a slight moisture to it but top soil was dry and that I'd lost 3 leaves already.
They said to go ahead and water it. That they would have watered it at the nursery. She said give it a good watering, let it drain.
She said the leaves dropping are still the adjustment.
She said if the plant needed more light, it would have taken longer for the plant to communicate that. She said a light issue wouldn't surface in only a few weeks (another nursery said the same thing about Fig 1)
So I took the plant into the bathtub--I didn't submerge it. I poured about 2 kettles of warm water slowly over the plant, all over the top. And I let it sit there for overnight until it was fully drained out.

I'm now at 4wks. I've lost a total of 5 leaves. There are multiple dry cracking spots all over Fig 2. (Fig 1 had brown spots mostly, Fig 2 is dry cracking spots).

I'm terrified all the leaves will go and my plant will wither away again.
I can't buy another one and I wouldn't--the depression and fear is too great. These plants cost a pretty penny but I loved the way my friend's looked and it was the perfect filler for my living room. I wanted to grow a thriving plant.

I have no idea what to do.
2 plants in 4 months. Both withering within 2-4wks.

Can you PLEASE give me any direction, advice, insight into what the heck is going on???
I would appreciate it SO VERY MUCH. I'm really hoping there's a chance I can turn this around!
THANK YOU TRULY in advance.

I have photos enclosed in this order:

Fig 2 the day I bought it
Fig 2 with light/west facing window conditions - dark blue paint makes room look darker than it is
2nd window in room, it's across the Fig diagonally, north facing
Fig 2 cracking on leaves
Fig 2 another side of plant with cracking leaves
Fig 1 during the losing leaves stage
Fig 1 the brown spots

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Name: Will Creed
Professional indoor plant consultan
Oct 26, 2017 12:15 PM CST
Hi Michelle,

I apologize for not responding sooner. I have been away from the NGA site for the last week or so while I was out promoting my book and doing an indoor plant workshop for some Master Gardeners.

I am so sorry that you have been victimized by nurseries that should know better. Nurseries often do not have a clear understanding of how different home environments are from a carefully controlled nursery environment.

To sum up, your Fiddle-leafed Figs have suffered because they were not getting enough light and not enough water. Lots of light and water are critical elements for this plant.

Like most folks, you are overestimating the available light. Light intensity drops off dramatically with every foot of distance away from the window. In addition, when the plant is off to the side of the window or in a corner, the light is greatly reduced even though the overall light in the room appears very bright to our eyes. Finally, I will note that the dark walls make a big difference because they absorb much of the usable light rather than reflecting it. To thrive, a FLF would have to be placed right in front of your west window and no more than 3 feet away from it. The window should be completely uncovered throughout the daylight hours. This plant can and will react to inadequate light quite quickly, contrary to what you were told.

No responsible nursery is allowing their FLF’s to dry 2 inches deep into the pot before watering. I don’t know what they told you that. When kept in their nursery pots which I believe yours are, then they need water as soon as the surface of the soil feels dry. When you water, add it slowly until, a small amount trickles through the drain holes. That means the soil is completely saturated. That small amount of water in the saucer does not have to be removed. Water again only when the surface soil feels dry. In most instances, that is about once per week. However, for ailing plants that have lost a lot of foliage, it may be less often. In general, it is much more of a problem to under water than over water a FLF.

The leaf spots are a generic symptom caused by either inadequate light or improper watering or both. It is not a fungus! Temperature is not an issue between 50 and 85 degrees F.

This is not a difficult plant as long as it gets lots of direct sunlight and lots of water. It does not do well in some home environments where the light is inadequate. My instructions on how the water are not the only way to water, but it it is the simplest and most reliable. I find online plant care information to be all over the place, unreliable, and often posted by well-meaning non-professionals who are reporting on their own unique experiences.

I suspect that due to extensive leaf loss, one or both of your FLF’s may need pruning. If you want to send me a photo that shows their current condition, I may be able to help with that.

Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
I now have a book available on indoor plant care

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