Fig tree losing leaves

A Fiddley Rescue: How to Revive a Dead Fiddle Leaf Fig

I get a lot of questions about whether you can revive a dying fiddle leaf fig. Plants can be extremely resilient with the proper care, so bringing a plant back from the edge is definitely possible!

I received this amazing story from a reader who rescued a fiddle leaf fig just teetering on the brink and emailed me to ask for tips.

Pauline and Tara’s Story:

Pauline in Melbourne, Australia, was a complete newbie to fiddle leaf figs, and received a plant that was just a stick!

She named the tree Tara after the green goddess and immediately cut the plant down by half.

Pauline had a good general understanding of the biology behind plant growth and the redirection of energy when pruning occurs, but she’d never had a fiddle leaf fig before.

Beyond pruning, she wasn’t sure what would happen.

Would Tara try to balance herself after her initial growth spurt wore off?

Would she try to recreate a main trunk?

Should Pauline cap the new growth bud to encourage the lower buds?

Or would that just cause Tara to split the main branch?

So many questions!

We can’t always predict how plants will react to our care, but we can make educated guesses.

Tips for Reviving Your Fiddle Leaf Fig

First, start by pruning any dead or damaged leaves and stems. Learn more about pruning here. (And this applies to any plant. Once a leaf or growth turns brown, remove it so it doesn’t drain resources from the rest of the plant.)

Then try some of my favorite tricks for bringing a plant back to life: pinching and notching.

These techniques gives you a little control over where the plant puts out branches so you can encourage growth and better control the shape of your tree. It also works great if some of the leaves have died and it needs to grow new ones.

Notching a tree involves making a small cut just above a node on the trunk where you’d like it to put out a branch.

You could also try pinching your tree. Locate the newest growth on top of the tree and cut it with a sharp pair of pruning shears. This will encourage the tree to branch out in that spot.

Read more about notching and pinching here!

We’re happy to report that Tara is growing beautifully!

She has some new leaves and has one major growth branching out, and there are two other promising-looking buds peeking out at two nodes on the bottom.

Pauline might be a lifelong fiddle leaf fig fan!

‘Dead’ fig tree brought back to life through pruning

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A reader from Atco writes: I thought I had lost my 15-year-old fig tree this year. I uncovered it as I usually do and noticed there were no new buds or new growth. By the middle of June, I cut all the dead branches back to the ground. Then in July, I noticed some growth. It really took off and now I have a fig bush with fruit on it about 5 feet wide and tall and very dense.

What should I do now? Do I cut it back, and only leave one or two strong shoots. Can I try to root some of these? How would I cover it in the fall ? The fig is purple, and the tree was given to me by an uncle who had taken it off a tree that was brought from overseas.

Your initial action of pruning back the dead branches was the correct judgment call. Pruning stimulates growth in a plant. And that is what happened in your case. The roots were alive, the plant was not dead, and you cut the seemingly dead branches back to some live wood, causing its regeneration.

You have lost the first crop of figs, called the breva crop, because it is produced on the previous year’s shoot growth. This crop has the largest fruit but it may not be as high in quality. What you have now is the second crop which is located in the leaf axils of the current season’s growth.

Last winter was an anomaly. Many plants that had wintered over successfully in the past, were suddenly hard-hit, and the flower and fruit production this summer is different from previous years.

Your choice is whether to continue this plant in a bush form or to recreate it as a tree. I have seen both forms grown successfully here in southern New Jersey. To create the tree form you might lose a couple of years of fruit production. On the other hand, a Rutgers agent suggests that the bush form is less vigorous and yields a lesser quality fruit.

If you want to keep it in a bush form, which I would recommend, continue to care for it as you have in the past. Mulch the root zone, but keep it away from where the shoots are coming out of the ground. Wrap it, perhaps with a tarp, and be sure to cover it to keep water out over the cold autumn and winter seasons. You can cut it back to chest-height to make it easier to wrap.

Once the severe weather is over, in early spring, cut back any frost damaged shoots to healthy (or green) wood. In early summer, thin out the shoots with the goal of letting the sunshine into the center of the plant. Reduce overcrowding. Any leggy shoots from the previous season can also be cut out. This will encourage new growth. In the summer, pinch out the tips of young shoots when they have made five or six leaves.

Propagation of fig plants is usually done by taking dormant or semi-dormant hardwood cutting on 1-, 2-, or 3-year-old wood. So you will have to wait to propagate this particular plant. When you do, the basal cut should be just below a node, about 9 inches long, ¾ of an inch in diameter, and on straight, strong wood.

Send your lawn and garden questions to [email protected] county.com, and include ‘Courier-Post’ in the subject line if you’d like to be considered for write-up in the column. A Rutgers Master Gardener will respond to all questions received.

Visit the offices at the Camden County Environmental Center, 1301 Park Blvd., Cherry Hill. Or call us at (856) 216-7130. Master Gardeners are there from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. Bring your garden questions and samples for identification or diagnosis. Or stop by our next plant clinic on Saturday, Sept. 20, also from 9 a.m. to noon.

1. Repot your plant

Use a high quality indoor plant potting mix to revitalise your plant, and choose a pot that is wider than the last one. If your plant is dehydrated, add some water-storing crystals.

2. Trim your plant

If there is damage to the roots, trim back the leaves. This will mean the roots won’t have to work as hard to support a large amount of foliage.

3. Move your plant

Is your plant getting too much sun? Look for dry, brittle leaves and light or dark patches on the leaves. Alternatively, if your plant isn’t getting enough light, the leaves will be small and pale. Move your plant to a new home with better light conditions.

4. Water your plant

If the soil is very dry and the leaves are brittle, the plant is dehydrated and needs water. Don’t flood the soil – water your plant until the soil feels damp. Next, immerse it in a shallow bowl of water for 10 minutes.

However, if your plant is suffering from too much water, the roots will start to rot and mould could grow. Find out how much water your plant needs, and adjust your routine. Most plants need less water throughout the winter months.

5. Feed your plant

Give your plant a nutrient boost with an appropriate fertilizer. Follow the directions carefully, as you don’t want to give it too much.

6. Wipe your plant

If your plant is being invaded with insects, wipe down the leaves with a damp cloth or a mild soap solution.

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Fig Tree Leaf Drop – Why Do Fig Trees Lose Leaves

Fig trees are popular home and landscape plants throughout the United States. Although beloved by many, figs can be fickle plants, responding dramatically to changes in their environment. If your fig tree is dropping leaves, this may be a normal response, considering it’s a deciduous tree, but it could be a form of protest to growing conditions.

Do Fig Trees Lose Leaves?

Leaf drop on figs is a common problem, but it’s not usually fatal if you can figure out why your plant’s leaves are suddenly falling. The most common causes of fig tree leaf drop include:

  • Winter – The chill of late fall signals to figs that it’s time to go dormant and spend the winter in deep sleep. Dormancy is vital to many fig species and a perfectly normal part of their life cycles. Yearly leaf drop is nothing to worry about — new leaves will emerge in spring.
  • Abrupt Environmental Changes – Figs stress easily, so if you intend to change the lighting, humidity or temperature of your fig’s environment by moving the tree, make sure you do so slowly. Gradually expose your fig to the new conditions, starting with just an hour a day and increasing its time in the new spot over the course of about two weeks. Slow moving will help prevent shock and keep the leaves on your fig, where they belong.
  • Improper Watering – Watering some plants is trickier than others and this is doubly true for figs. Both overwatering and underwatering can result in fig tree leaf drop. Instead of watering on a schedule, water your fig any time the soil, 1 inch below the surface, is dry to the touch. Water deeply, until plenty of water comes out through the bottom of the pot, discarding the excess when it finishes draining.
  • Pests – Scale insects and spider mites are common fig pests that can cause leaf drop with their feeding activities. Scale insects often blend in, looking more like a fungus or unusual growth on the plant than typical insects. Spider mites are too small to see with the naked eye, but you may notice fine silk threads on your fig’s leaves. Both can be smothered with weekly neem oil treatments.

George Weigel Figs forming on a fig tree.

Q:

I have a 3-year-old Italian everbearing fig tree that I bought last summer. I have it potted and in the house. Now the leaves have been turning yellow, then black on the tip and falling off. Do you have any suggestions? I’m not sure what to do.

A: It’s most likely dropping leaves because it’s going into winter dormancy. You basically have two options on how to overwinter a potted fig.

The method I’d suggest is keeping it in a state of “suspended animation,” leafless and in a cool, dark place until next spring.
With this approach, it’s best to just let the tree outside through a mild frost or two until it loses leaves naturally as it would if planted in the ground. Then remove any remaining leaves and fruits and check for scale or other bugs on the stems and in the soil. Some people routinely hose down or even spray all outdoor plants as a precaution against bringing bugs inside. I personally go with a water hose-down and bug-check, not an automatic spray job.

Store the plant in the basement or in an unheated garage, shed or covered porch. Don’t worry. They can take moderate below-freezing temperatures – even down to as low as 5 degrees for ground-planted figs. (Many people in our area – including me – overwinter figs outside in the ground by wrapping them in leaf- or straw-stuffed tarp jackets.)

If the storage area isn’t dark, wrap it in burlap to shut off light. That takes away one potential cue that could trigger growth too soon in spring. Also don’t fertilize in winter, and add only a tiny bit of occasional water – just enough to keep the roots from totally drying out but not enough to trigger growth or risk root-rotting.

Around late April, unwrap the fig and move it outside in a protected area, gradually giving it more time outside and more light over a two-week period. By mid-May, it should be ready for duty in its summer home.

The second option is treating your fig like an indoor houseplant. If you place it inside next to a sunny window and continue to water enough to keep the soil slightly damp, it’ll produce a new set of shade-adapted leaves and stay green over winter.

Do the same gradual move outside in spring as described above, but don’t be surprised if the leaves blanch and drop again then, too, only to grow yet another new set of sun-adapted leaves next May. I think this is more stressful on the plant, which is why I’d rather give the thing a rest in winter.

Good luck. Fresh home-grown figs are well worth the effort.

5 Fiddle Leaf Fig Facts

Is it possible not to fall in love with the Fiddle Leaf Fig? It’s lush, bold, and oh-so-green. Owning one of these sought after indoor plants is a testimony to your excellent style sensibilities and keeping up with the times.

The fiddle leaf fig was named after the fiddle instrument, owing to its broad, fiddle-shaped leaves that it produces. Ficus Lyrata, was named an ‘it’ plant as long ago as 2012 and is still as popular as ever! Design bloggers, Instagrammers and indoor plant lovers alike are ‘all over’ this beautiful plant.

This stylish indoor plant can be found nestled between the glossy pages of home and design magazines, all over Pinterest, blogs and taking prime position in many lounge, bedroom or home office spaces all over the world.

It would seem that fiddle figs are evidence of a refined aesthetic and good taste, on the part of their owners. This potted plant has snuck its way into the spotlight and seems to be enjoying the (justifiable) limelight.

The facts

Let’s explore 5 little known facts about Fiddle Leaf Fig Trees.

1. Origin of the Fiddle Leaf Fig

Although this indoor plant can be found all over the world, the fiddle leaf hails from Western Africa. It is indigenous to In its natural habitat, the Ficus Lyrata can be found in tropical rainforests where it thrives in dense, warm, and wet surrounds. This might seem like a stark contrast to your cottage or apartment, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t successfully nurture a bit of African jungle as a potted plant in your home. With the right conditions and care, your fiddle leaf fig will grow happily indoors.

2. The indoor Fiddle Fig vs the outdoor Fiddle Fig

As an indoor plant, the fiddle leaf does not bear any fiddles (sadly), fruit, or flowers. Unlike the common fig (Ficus Carica), the fruit that the bears, when grown outdoors, are not edible. The figs of these two trees do however look fairly similar in size and shape.

Grown outdoors, the fiddle fig can grow up to 15m in height, whilst indoors it can reach heights of around 3m. The size, shape and height of the indoor fiddle leaf fig can be controlled by pot size and careful pruning.

3. It kills other plants

Yes, it’s true – but only in the wild. The fiddle leaf will often start its life growing on the surface of another tree. As it grows, it will send down roots to the ground which surround and eventually strangle the host tree. Fortunately, not all trees have to start out this way. Having been reared in a nursery, the fiddle leaf that you will have in your home almost certainly didn’t kill another plant to establish itself.

4. It ‘owns’ a decade

“Every era has its trendy houseplant. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was the African violet. In the ’70s, it was spider plants trailing out of macramé hangers. In the ’80s and early ’90s, it was the potted ficus. The aughts (‘00s) gave rise to mossy plants in terrariums and glass jars.” Steven Kurutz – The New York Times

It would seem as though the 10’s belong to the fiddle leaf fig. For a few years now, the fiddle leaf fig has been the ‘go to’ plant when it comes to interior design and décor. It is the indoor plant of the decade.

Open any reputable home décor or design magazine or punch ‘indoor plant’ into Pinterest and you will most likely spot a fiddle leaf, often potted in beautiful planters ranging from hand-woven baskets to minimal white boxes.

Designers and home owners alike love them because of their scale, sculptural quality and because they work with a wide range of interior styles; from bohemian chic to industrial and minimalism.

5. It doesn’t like to move around much.

The fiddle leaf can make for a wonderful house plant, adding a bold statement or brightening up any dull corner in your home. Take note though that the fiddle leaf fig may be finicky and take some time to adapt when placed in a new environment. But, before sounding the alarm, make sure that the Ficus Lyrata has had time to adapt to its new home.

Try to keep the temperature and humidity consistent as the fiddle leaf fig likes that best.
Below are a few tips to keep your fiddle fig happy and healthy:

  • Water – don’t overwater, keep evenly soil damp and allow to dry out slightly between watering
  • Mist – mist the leaves to encourage humidity
  • Dust – wipe down the massive leaves to remove surface dust
  • Light – bright, but indirect light

6. Did you know you can get one delivered to your door?

This is also true.

While you spend hours scrolling through incredible pictures of indoor plants on Instagram and Pinterest, we are busy sourcing healthy, ready-to-ship fiddle leaf figs that can be delivered straight to your door. Get your fiddly friend here.

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Not having a green thumb isn’t the worst thing in the world, but when you’re cursed with the inability to keep plants alive and the desire to turn your home into an Instagram-worthy plant paradise, things can get pretty frustrating. It’s one thing to be a good plant parent to a few succulents here and there (and even those can be a challenge!), but it’s another to keep a majestic tree like the fiddle leaf fig alive and thriving. And it doesn’t help when you constantly see happy, healthy plants practically in droves on influencers’ Instagrams, taunting you with their perfect, lush leaves, leaving you … ahem … green with envy. (Sorry, had to.)

The good news is, even if it feels impossible, even if you struggle with the easiest, most low-maintenance plants out there, you can keep a fiddle leaf fig alive. You just need to know what you’re doing, but once you do, it’ll be fine. Take a deep breath, grab your watering can, and get ready to learn.

Watering Your Fiddle Leaf Fig

The first thing you need to remember about fiddle leaf figs? Don’t overwater them. Seriously. It might seem counterintuitive to water a plant less, but in this case, it’s important. According to Greenery NYC, fiddle leaf figs need to dry out a little in between waterings, and you shouldn’t water them more than once a week. Basically, fiddle leaf figs should only be watered when the top inch or two of their soil is dry — you may not be able to tell this from looking at it, but a quick way to tell is to stick your finger in and see if it feels dry or not. If it feels damp, skip the water for now and check again later.

You can also tell when a fiddle leaf fig is thirsty by looking at its leaves — if they’re droopy or floppy, that’s usually a sign that they’re in need of some hydration. Brown leaves, however, usually signal overwatering. If that happens, give your tree a chance to dry out for a bit before you water it again.

Providing the Right Amount of Sunlight

You want your fiddle leaf fig to thrive, so that means putting it in just the right spot in your home. Somewhere that’s not windy or drafty (so away from air vents!), that gets sunlight but doesn’t totally bake in the sun, and on top of that, some humidity won’t hurt. If you’re not sure if a particular spot in your home is ideal for a fiddle leaf fig to live its best life, Greenery NYC has a light-measuring guide that can help.

Another pro tip? Don’t move your fiddle leaf fig tree, but rotate it often. Since fiddle leaf figs tend to grow toward sunlight, rotating your planter once a month can help your plant grow more evenly and keep it from bending on different sides.

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Keeping Your Fiddle Leaf Fig Clean and Fertilized

Plants have a tendency to collect dust, but that dust can get in the way of their ability to absorb sunlight, so it’s important to keep their leaves clean. There are a few ways you can do this — The Decor Fix recommends lightly dusting them as needed, then following it up by misting them with water from a spray bottle. On top of that, Greenery NYC also suggests rinsing your fiddle leaf fig’s leaves in the shower every three months, which not only cleans the leaves but also fully rehydrates the soil.

Speaking of soil, expect to repot your fiddle leaf fig tree annually — Room For Tuesday has a helpful guide, if you’re unsure of how to do it. And according to The Spruce, you should only fertilize your fiddle leaf fig during the growing season. And as The Decor Fix points out, you can also add some plant vitamins to your tree’s soil, just for an extra boost.

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Beyond that, how you try to break your not-so-green thumb curse is up to you. Some people like to talk to their plants, some like to sing to them or play music for them, and some even name their plants (I’m one of those people and I’m not afraid to admit it. And for the record, my newest little succulent friend, Harry Styles, is thriving, thank you very much!)

Now, all that’s left is for you to be the best tree caretaker you can be. Happy plant parenting — you got this!

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Brittney Morgan Associate Market Editor, House Beautiful Brittney Morgan is House Beautiful’s Associate Market Editor, a noted land mermaid, and a Virgo with a penchant for crafts, red lipstick, and buying way too many throw pillows.

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