Fiddle leaf figs, with the botanical name Ficus lyrata, are native to Western and Central Africa. They belong to the mulberry and fig family, Moraceae, and can grow six feet or more in height. They are popular houseplants, despite being quite sensitive to environmental changes. These plants can take some time to adjust to a new home or new indoor conditions, and like most plants, are also prone to the effects of underwatering if their needs are neglected for too long.
Underwatered fiddle leaf fig – Signs and how to revive
Signs of an underwatered fiddle leaf fig
A common sign of underwatering in these plants is curled leaves. You will notice brown spots on the edges of leaves and other parts, from top to bottom. Some of the leaves may appear healthy, but there may be a noticeable leaf drop, with leaves dropping from any part of the plant. The plant’s soil will be dry and hard, and may be shrinking and receding from the edge of the pot.
How to revive an underwatered fiddle leaf fig
To revive your underwatered fiddle leaf fig, you need to water it thoroughly, as soon as possible. Make sure that you give the soil a proper soaking so that all the soil is wet and all of the roots have had access to water. When you see watering flowing out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, you will know that water has penetrated all the soil.
However, because very dry soil is difficult for water to penetrate, you should also test the soil’s moisture by sticking your finger into the soil to make sure that it has, in fact, all been wet, and that the water has not simply flowed past the soil and out of the pot. If the soil is still dry, repeat the soaking process; you can also poke several holes in the soil with a chopstick or pencil to loosen it and make it more penetrable.
Going forward, water the plant at least once a week or when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch. Stick to a consistent watering schedule. Also prevent dry air by running a humidifier or misting the leaves with water every few days to increase the humidity around the plant.
Here are some other steps you can take if your fiddle leaf fig is drying out or dying:
- Leave the brown husks and brown, bare branches on the plant unless they are moldy. These hard covers are protecting the new growth, so do not prune them unnecessarily. New leaves will sprout during the spring.
- Do not expect the plant to bounce back easily. These plants are slow growers and they go dormant during winter. It may take a year before your fiddle leaf fig recovers fully.
- If the stem is shriveled but still hard and strong, the plant can still recover. Just give it ample time.
- Trim the brown outer leaf edges but do not pull off the leaves.
- Do not pull off any damaged buds, but keep an eye on these areas since there may be new growth.
- Water the plants weekly and make sure that any excess water can drain freely from the bottom of the pot.
- Avoid transplanting your plant until you see new growth, even if the pot is tight and roots are visible at the surface.
Allow the plant to recover gradually and place it in an area where it gets indirect sunlight. Provide a room temperature of 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and do not leave the plants outdoors overnight, especially during cold weather.
Fiddle leaf fig plant care
These plants can be tricky to care for. They prefer spots that are directly in front of windows with nothing to obstruct the incoming light. They need to be acclimatized slowly if exposed to sunlight, and will develop sunburn if they get too much sunlight. Exposure should be increased gradually for one to two weeks.
The larger the plant and the more leaves it has, the more sunlight it will need to maintain the leaves and for new growth. If they are not receiving enough light, the leaves become droopy. During winter, natural light is scarce and the plant should be placed in front of windows, but out of the way of cold air from drafts. If the windows are drafty, place the plant two to three feet away from them.
Fiddle leaf figs should be watered weekly. Wait until the top two to three inches of soil are dry before giving your plant a thorough watering. To prevent root rot, avoid letting water sit in the drip tray. Water in a circular motion to cover all the areas of the soil, so that the water can reach all the roots.
Use room-temperature water; hot or frigidly cold water could result in shock, just as when the plant is exposed to extreme temperatures.
These plants require general maintenance that includes habitual dusting. They have large leaves that need to be dusted regularly. An accumulation of dust particles can make it difficult for the plant to absorb sunlight and perform photosynthesis. If you dust the leaves, the plant will stay in better shape.
Rotate the plant weekly to ensure that all sides are exposed evenly to light. To grow branches, cut off the topmost point of growth on the plant, which will cause it to stop growing directly upward and start to branch out sideways instead.
Aerate the soil every couple of months to prevent it from becoming compacted. Compacted soil creates small soil pockets that water never reaches. Insert the aerator into the soil further than the roots, to avoid damaging them. Do this in various spots around the soil to keep the plant healthy.
Do not overwhelm your plant with too many nutrients; less is always more. Use a slow-release pellet fertilizer in the spring and summer months and mix this into the top layer of the plant’s soil.
Fiddle leaf figs have broad, shiny, deep green leaves which make them favorites among plant enthusiasts. They are popular indoor plants because they add great aesthetic value to any room, but like most plants, they are prone to the effects of underwatering. Underwatered fiddle leaf figs will have curled leaves, brown spots and dry soil.
To revive your underwatered plant, soak its soil thoroughly with water to ensure that all of the roots have had access to moisture. Place it where it is not exposed to full sunlight for too long, and be patient as it may take some time to recover. Going forward, commit to a regular watering schedule to avoid further underwatering problems.
Image: istockphoto.com / AnanR2107