The fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) is a perfect indoor specimen plant. The plant features very large, heavily veined, violin-shaped leaves that grow upright on a tall plant.
These plants are native to the tropics, where they thrive in very warm and wet conditions. This makes them somewhat more challenging for the home grower, who is likely to have trouble duplicating these steamy conditions, but they are fortunately relatively tough plants also that can withstand less-than-perfect conditions for a fairly long time.
F. lyrata are really meant as larger specimen plants. They are perfect if you can situate them in a floor-standing container where the plant is allowed to grow to 6 feet or more (the trees commonly reach heights of 40 feet or more in their native habitat). Because of their very large leaves, these are not natural plants to trim down to a manageable size.
Follow these requirements to keep your fiddle-leaf fig happy:
- Light: F. lyrata requires bright, filtered light. These plants can even tolerate some full sun, especially if placed in an eastern-facing window. Plants that are kept too dark will fail to grow rapidly.
- Water: Keep steadily moist, but don't allow it to sit in water or it will drop leaves and suffer from root rot.
- Temperature: As a tropical plant, your fiddle-leaf fig likes it warm, between 60 and 80 F, and doesn't like extreme temperature variations. Position it away from air conditioning and heating vents.
- Soil: Any good, fast-draining potting soil will likely do.
- Fertilizer: Feed with a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season. F. lyrata don't have remarkable fertilizer requirements.
Fiddle-leaf figs can be propagated from stem-tip cuttings, but it's generally advisable to buy a plant. Commercial growers use a cloning method called tissue culture to produce consistently superior plants to the ones that average growers can obtain from cuttings. Matching their efforts at home is unlikely to impossible.
Healthy specimens are fast-growing plants with aggressive root systems (which is pretty typical for a ficus). Try to repot the plant annually, stepping up the pot size until the plant reaches the desired size or until you can't manage the container anymore. Once plants are in large containers, scrape off the top few inches of soil and replace with fresh potting soil annually.
As with most ficus, significant work has been done with F. lyrata to produce a superior specimen plant. In this case, growers have been working on developing compact plants with even larger leaves. The Compacta and Suncoast cultivars are both compact growers with a bushier appearance. The main plant, F. lyrata, is still the most common in the trade.
Ficus lyrata are not especially demanding plants. One of the most common complaints about these plants is spotting on the leaves, which is especially noticeable in such a large-leaved plant. This spotting is usually caused by injury to the leaf, either mechanical injury or an attack of mites. The F. lyrata has mildly caustic sap that causes these brown spots when exposed to air. The plants are also susceptible to various leaf-spotting and fungal diseases, which are typically caused by lack of air flow and too much moisture sitting on the leaves.
You can help prevent this kind of attack by keeping the plant well-trimmed, removing dead leaves and twigs as you see them. If your plant is losing leaves, however, it's likely a sign of too little moisture, especially humidity, or cold, dry air. Try misting the plant regularly to increase the ambient humidity. Finally, these plants are also more sensitive to high salt levels, so make sure to flush your potting medium very thoroughly, preferably monthly, to prevent the build-up of fertilizer salts.