The complete guide to making indoor tropical plants THRIVE! (PART 2) Advanced Fiddle Leaf Fig Care & Techniques!
Hey all! Last week I spent 11 hours typing up a pretty epic Guide to Indoor Plant Care (Part 1). To my surprise that post got crazy pageviews and a ton of interest SO I’m continuing the series to teach you guys more!
Be sure to start with the first post and read the Fiddle Leaf Fig Section of that post before reading this one..as some of the info here may not make sense if you aren’t educated yet on the basics!
I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with a REALLY talanted woman with the biggest fiddle leaf tree’s I have ever seen! Meet Alison! I asked her to pass along some of her more advanced knowledge.
Alison runs an very active Facebook Group for plant lovers. She’s there to answer everyones questions. All are welcome! You can JOIN HERE. (Full disclosure..if you are offended by “bad” language..it may not be the group for you. haha! But there are a lot of very helpful fun people in the group!) Alison is very active in her group and regularly answers questions..and she somehow knows basically all the answers! Be sure to answer the questions to join the group or access will be denied!
Tell me about your work and tropical plant experience.
Hi! I’m Alison & I do interior landscape design & do the general maintenance for interior plants in various buildings. My main part of the job is caring for an Atrium with many different tropical plants from 25’ palm trees, flf trees & Monstera Deliciosas. This is my 15th year this.
When did you start working with the ever so popular Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant? How Many FLF's do you have and how long have you had them?
We got two 6-7’ trees about 7 years ago for the front entrance of our main building. It was love at first sight. I did a ton of research just so I could keep them looking majestic asf. As of now there are 7 full size trees, a new tree & bush we’re over wintering for a client. Then I have four more full size trees in a different building. So 13 all together.
What do you consider are the MOST important care tips for the FLF?
I would have to say light! They are FULL sun trees in nature so the more sun/light the better.
There's a lot of mis-information on the internet about how to care about this plant. What wrong information do you feel needs to be overturned?
The most common thing out there that is incorrect would be they can’t take direct sun. Once acclimated they will thrive in direct sun all day. The 9 inside of my Atrium get full direct sun all day. Fertilizer would be another myth. They are light feeder & only need it once a month March to September. With the correct light it’s not even really needed at all.
How much should a fiddle leaf tree be watered?
You should always soak the entire root ball to ensure the roots get the water they need to grow strong & healthy then allow to drain. Then repeat once the top 2” of soil is dry again. Remember they are tropical plants & enjoy staying slightly moist but not soaked. Never let your flf dry out completely.
Do you recommend beginners using a moisture meter? If so do you have a recommended brand?
When unsure I always suggest using a moisture meter. But keep in mind they need to be calibrated for a correct reading after a while. It’s always good to also double check by sticking your finger in the soil up to the second knuckle in a few spots to be safe. I use a Moisture, Light & PH Meter. You can find it on amazon for around $10. It’s great because on the back it has a list of the most common house plants with the correct moisture, light & PH levels.
Humidity is essential for a healthy thriving tree! What is the best way to provide humidity?
For humidity the best way to supplement is with a humidifier. Misting isn’t effective at all & can lead to bacterial or fungal disease on the leaves. Not to mention fungus gnats from the top soil staying moist too long from misting. Pebble trays only help to boost small percentage of humidity. Clustering is another method where you place plants close together to create a mini rainforest effect. I use this method with my calatheas & they love it. My humidity stays around 60%-70% using this method during the winter while the heats on.
Thanks to you- I now understand that Fiddle Leaf Figs prefer FULL sun whenever possible. Can you explain step by step how to acclimate a FLF plant to full sun without having sunburn issues?
When you acclimate any plant from inside to outside you want to start in shade. You would do shade for a couple days. Then move on the dappled sun for 2 days. Then start with morning sun for an hour for a couple days. Then gradually add an hour of sun every couple of days until you’re at 6 hours of sun. Now keep in mind areas like Arizona, New Mexico & Texas are more of a desert climate. The dry air & sun in the afternoon can do to much for them it would be best to sick with 6-8 hours of morning sun or late afternoon evening sun in those areas. If you visit California or Florida they grow out in the open in full sun.
If someone doesn't have enough light- do you have an grow light suggestions?
For those of us that have limited natural light grow light or plant bulbs are excellent in supplementing the light source. You want to make sure you’re getting full spectrum agro plant bulbs. LED will work as well. Always check the lumens for the light they should be over 5,000 to produce new growth on plants. I use Philips led full spectrum plant bulbs in white for foliage. The purple grow lights are ideal for flowering plants. Just make sure they say for plants growth & not to just highlight the plants natural looks.
How to acclimate a plant when it first comes home! What window to choose... etc.
You want to pick a spot with good light & let it hang out for a few days before you pot it up. Windows have coatings to protect from harmful UV rays but may still cause leaf scorch so slowly move them closer to the direct sun from a window over the course of a few days. It’s not as long as you would do for outside. For the best light a south, southwest or west window will give you the best natural light. Especially over the winter months.
Lets talk about the technique called Notching. Can you explain its purpose and how to use it (and what tools to use).
Notching is when you make cuts/slices into a trunk or stem to promote new growth in those areas. A bare trunk or stem can look thin so you would want to notch to fill it more & create new branches. You want to use a sterile pair of pruners like Felcos for larger thick trunks or a new sterile razor blade for thinner trunks. You then cut into the truck at an angle going deep enough to make the flf tree bleed white sap. You do this up & down the trunk all round leaves an inch or two in between each notch. Over the next week you should start to see little buds develop on or near the notches. If you cut too deep that branch will die-so be careful of that.
Lets talk now about Propagating. What does it mean to propagate and how do you do it with success?
To propagate you would cut off a branch or portion of the flf tree. Then you remove the lower leave making sure to leave at least two leaves on the cutting. You would then use a rooting hormone & can use two methods to root it. The first would be the water method where after the rooting hormone is added you put it in a clear glass vase or cup of spring or filtered water. It takes time & the water should be changed every few day. Make sure to keep it in a bright area as well. The second method is by using the rooting hormone & wrapping the stem with moist sphagnum moss them putting it inside a plastic bag to root. After it grows healthy roots- you can replant it to start a brand new plant! Just be sure to water a bit extra when you first plant so that the roots have time to adjust and get settled.
What shears do you use for notching ?
I use my Felco #9’s because I’m left handed. Felcos are a great brand & will last a lifetime. Just change the blade once a year & keep them clean. My brother is also a landscaper & has had a pair of Felcos for over 20yrs. It’s a great investment & product. They are sharp enough to cut a finger off so always wear gloves when pruning.
What are your thoughts on fertilizer? What is your favorite brand and how often do you use it?
Since they are light feeders it’s ok to use a 3-1-2 combo fertilizer once a month during the growing season of March to September. Since house plants do not go dormant during the winter you can either stop feeding or use half the recommended dose for the off months. I use a Lesco brand fertilizer 20-20-20 that breaks down to a 1-1-1 ratio once mixed. Another option that you can order on amazon is this one.
What is a 3-1-2 combo fertilizer ?
The numbers are for the percentage of N- nitrogen P- phosphorus K- potassium Nitrogen if for above meaning the foliage. Phosphorus is for below for the roots. Then potassium is for all around health of the plant. The 3-1-2 is the percentage of NPK in the dose.
What is your favorite soil to use for FLF Trees? Any brand recomendations?
I like the Coast of Maine potting soil & Lobster compost. I use both in every plant I pot up. Anything besides Miracle Grow can be used. They tend to cause fungus gnats due to the chemicals used to treat the soil instead of heat. I recommend everyone stay away from the Miralal Grow brand.
What does it mean if new baby leaves coming into my FLF plant have little red spots all over them?
This is edema. You want them to get 6-8 hours of bright light or direct sun if acclimated. This happens when too much moisture is retained & it burst capillaries in the leaves. It will grow out. To prevent it as all new growth should come out green & healthy. Give it more light & repot with a mix of premium indoor potting soil, compost, bark & active charcoal. It’s important for the roots to have good air circulation & for it to dry out evenly but not all the way. Clay works best to help with air circulation. I have 9 in full sun none have this on the new growth.
What does it mean if a Fiddle leaf keeps growing new leaves that end up with holes? (With no other signs of damage -such as root rot or dry spots!)
This can happen if a plant lacks humidity. You can prevent them from ripping while forming by Misting only the new leaves 2xs a day until they open. When they’re dry they stick & it causes this.
What are some of the common bugs that fiddle leaf fig trees get? How to tell which bug is which and how to get rid of them?
The most common are the dreaded mealybugs that look like cotton & also spider mites that are extremely tiny specs that make a webbing in the leaves. The best way to prevent bugs is to use a systemic insecticide mix into the soil. If you do get bugs treat the soil with a systemic & get a good insecticide safe soap that’s specifically for either bug. You have to keep up with the treatments to eradicate the life cycle of any bug you may encounter.
Can you recommend a good insecticide safe soap? Have you used Neem oil to eradicate bugs?
The top brands I use for insecticide soap are Captain Jacks & Dr. Earth. I’ve only used neem oil cold pressed once in the 15yrs of being in the plant field & it was not effective as a one then done method. Plus oil used on plants of any kind if not cleaned off properly will clog the pores & stomas for the plant. I’m not a fan nor do I recommend anything like oil or detergent soap for plants. Unless of course you want dead bugs along with a dead plant.
Should damaged leaves be removed from a FLF tree?
Never remove leaves that are less then 50% damaged. The healthy green parts are still working to photosynthesis for the plant. You can use sterile scissors to cut away any damage then use cinnamon on the cut edges to prevent any type of bacterial or fungal disease.
Is there anything else you would like to add that we haven't covered?
A big issue I find is people are scared to water in fears of over watering & causing root rot. In order to prevent this make sure the pot you use has good drainage & the soil mix fast draining. A mix of Coast of Main Potting Soil, compost, bark & active charcoal are what I usually recommend for the mix. The root ball should always be thoroughly watered & allowed to drain. They are tropical rainforest plants & like to stay moist but not soaked or sitting in water. Root rot only occurs when the fungus is present, the roots sit in water or the suffocate from a heavy potting medium. Clay pots work great to keep the air circulation good around the roots. Anytime you visit a botanical garden or zoo all the pots are terra-cotta. It’s for their porous structure allowing the roots to breathe & the soil to dry out evenly.
For you convenience here are some quick links to amazon for all of the products mentioned above!
Here is a list of tropical plant essentials. Click on the links to view the products.
This is a great inexpensive hot mist humidifier- it does a great job. You will just need to fill it up more often due to its size.
A second hot mist (Nicer) option is THIS humidifier. It will run for a full 24 hours.
Cool Mist Humidifier option 1 (this one runs up to 30 hours!)
Cool Mist Humidifier option 2 (This one runs up to 40 hours!)
For the soil you have two options: