Ask a Question forum→Fiddle Leaf Fig Root Bound? Leaves turning brown?

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Chicago, IL (Zone 5b)
Scarlet57
Nov 27, 2018 1:02 PM CST
I've had this Fiddle Leaf Fig for about 3 months now. I live near Chicago which I know it's not ideal for these plants but wanted to give it a go. But I'm getting worried about it.

It looks pretty good from this side.
Thumb of 2018-11-27/Scarlet57/b4f39b

But has some browning and yellowing leaves on the back. I've already lost 2-3 leaves that started like this. I had it in a corner so maybe those leaves in the back weren't getting enough light? I've moved it to another room with more windows.
Thumb of 2018-11-27/Scarlet57/709775

It has grown a new leaf in the last few weeks (on the left in this pic) and has another one starting so that feels promising.
Thumb of 2018-11-27/Scarlet57/d8a537

I've been watering it about once a week when the top leaf that is usually straight up starts to droop. Sometimes this happens before it's been a whole week. I read to water until water starts coming through the drain holes. Well that happens almost instantly when I water it. After researching, I'm pretty sure it's root bound. There are lots of roots along the top and coming out of the bottom.

Thumb of 2018-11-27/Scarlet57/fdffb3

Thumb of 2018-11-27/Scarlet57/573e4c

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My research indicates I should repot it but is that a bad idea in winter? Do I wait 6 months to do it next spring/summer? Will it make it that long?

I can't figure out if I'm overwatering/underwatering it. I used a water meter and it was at like 2.5 out of 10 but that top leaf is still straight up. I watered it 3 days ago. Should I water it before that leaf droops? Are the roots causing this brown leaves problem? It seems like the water goes straight through and then it's pretty dry within a few days.

Looking for any advice on what to do to save my fig! I'm fairly new to plants that are not succulents. :)
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Prof. plant consultant & educator
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WillC
Nov 27, 2018 2:11 PM CST
Your FLF is doing fine. You are keeping it inside so it doesn't matter if it is in Chicago or Miami.

It is important to rotate the plant in place so that all sides get equal amounts of light.

If water runs straight through a soon as you start to water, there are several possible explanations. One is that the soil is already saturated and cannot hold any more water. Second is that the soil is so dry that the water is running around the outside of the rootball and not getting absorbed by the soil. The third possibility is that it is so rootbound that there is not enough soil to absorb and retain water for at least several days.

If you are sure yours is rootbound, then you can move it into a pot one size larger. Be sure the new pot has drain holes. Trim off some of the roots around the outside of the rootball, but leave the rootball and soil intact. Put 1-2 inches of a porous, soilless potting mix in the bottom of the new pot. Set the rootball on top of the soil. Add potting mix around the outside. Do NOT put any soil on TOP of the rootball. Water it thoroughly and you are all set.

If there is enough soil to keep it from drying out more than twice per week, then it is fine to leave it as is and water it thoroughly twice per week.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at wcreed@HorticulturalHelp.com
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Chicago, IL (Zone 5b)
Scarlet57
Nov 27, 2018 3:28 PM CST
Thank you! It's not drying out more than twice a week so I think I will wait to repot it. I imagine it will be messy and it's too cold to do it outside now.

Is there anything that can be done to save the leaves with brown spots? Do you think that was from those leaves not getting as much sun?
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Prof. plant consultant & educator
Image
WillC
Nov 27, 2018 6:46 PM CST
As long as you can keep the soil properly moist, it should be fine in that pot until next spring.

It is hard to know what caused the leaf discoloration. Some lower leaf loss is normal and inevitable. Discolored leaves never regain their green color. Best to trim off the spots or remove the leaf entirely. That will not harm the plant.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at wcreed@HorticulturalHelp.com
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Name: Critter (Jill)
Frederick, MD (Zone 6b)
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critterologist
Nov 27, 2018 10:52 PM CST
Nice looking plant! I'm not sure I have much to add to the good advice Will gave you... but if you want a quick way to relieve root-bound-ness without a total repot, you can do this over your sink... pull the plant out of the pot (if rootbound, the rootball will hold all the soil together) and use a serrated knife (not your best one!) to cut off the lowest inch or two of the rootball. Put an inch or two of fresh potting mix in the bottom of the pot (the same one) and whump the plant back in. Now there's some soil to hold a bit of water, and the roots have a little room.

You could also just work in/over a cardboard box (lots arriving in our house this time of year!) to repot. That would let you loosen roots around the edges of the rootball as well as on the bottom, before putting into a new pot. Don't double the size of the pot... it's probably better to go up just a couple inches in diameter at a time. That said, I plonked a FLF from a 4 inch pot into a tall 18" pot at the beginning of summer, and it flourished even though rain kept it almost constantly soaked.

Alternatively, watering from the bottom (letting the plant sit in a saucer of water or even in the kitchen sink half-filled with water) will give the plant a good soaking even if it's really rootbound. Just don't leave a lot of water in the saucer... whatever hasn't been soaked up in a couple hours should be dumped out (half an inch is OK) or removed with a turkey baster.

Don't worry about losing a few leaves, especially lower ones. Design magazines have been showing FLF's for a few years now, usually with tall single trunks and a tuft of leaves at the top. Mine looks more like yours now, but with a single stem... but when it gets taller I might "limb it up" by removing a bunch of lower leaves to expose the trunk.
I'm learning to dance in the rain. Thank you, Sally & Chris & Sharon.

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