“Finicky-leaf fig” is the moniker many people have given the fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata). With the right conditions and care, however, you can grow a thriving fiddle leaf. As with any houseplant, though, it is imperative to pick the right place for it in your home. Let’s just say that many home-decorating shows use plants for decorative accents without considering the needs of those plants. Placing a fiddle-leaf fig in a dark corner behind the couch because it looks good is not conducive to growing a healthy plant.
How can you help your fiddle-leaf fig thrive in your home? It starts with the right light. A fiddle leaf needs bright, indirect light, meaning it doesn’t need direct sun shining on it for it to grow well. “Bright, indirect light” means a few feet away from a south window, close to an east window, or a foot or two from a west window. It also likes to be kept warm, with no cold drafts. An occasional dusting of the leaves is also appreciated.
Consistent moisture is crucial
This West African native likes consistent moisture around its roots—not standing in water but not completely drying out either. As this is usually a large plant, it most likely will be in a large container. When you are deciding whether to water your fig, it is crucial to find out what is going on at the bottom of that large container. The potting medium might be dry at the top and even down a few inches, but it might be quite moist in the bottom of the pot. In this case, it would not need to be watered. A good way to determine this is to insert a wooden dowel into the side of the pot, pushing it all the way down to the bottom. Leave it there, and then check it in a few minutes. If the dowel is dry, it is time to water. If it is wet, hold off watering for a few more days and then check it again. It is best to water the plant until water runs out of the drainage hole, but if a fiddle-leaf fig is left standing in water, it may develop yellowing leaves that start to drop off the plant. The same thing happens with underwatering, but the edges of the leaves normally turn brown and crispy before falling off the plant.
They certainly make a statement. A fiddle-leaf fig can get so big that you consider it a piece of furniture. But unlike a lamp or a recliner, this thing has needs: decent light and moisture. It can be hard to tell if such a large plant is thirsty or not, so when you think it needs a drink, insert a dowel into the soil deep enough to reach the bottom of the pot (above left). After a few minutes, remove the dowel to see if it is wet or dry (above right).
Options: A smaller selection is still special
If you believe a smaller plant is a better choice, there is a fiddle-leaf fig called ‘Little Fiddle’ or ‘Bambino’. It looks just like its larger counterpart, but it grows only about 4 feet tall.
Lisa Eldred Steinkopf is the author of several books on house- plants, including Houseplants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing, and Caring for Indoor Plants.