Hailing from western Africa, this fig variety has since been cultivated and domesticated, guaranteeing its reputation as a popular staple in our gardens and homes.
While the plant is definitely in vogue, you should know that some people consider it to be quite finickity. Getting it firmly established in satisfactory conditions can take some work, and if you plant it outdoors, you’ll have to bring it indoors over winter. With that in mind, though, the rewards offered by getting a fiddle-leaf fig properly settled far outweigh the work involved.
Also be aware that some people think the fiddle-leaf is over-used. If you’re keen to get involved with the trend, don’t be offended if your snobbier friends turn their nose up at your new addition!
Choosing a plant for your garden or your home isn’t about impressing people, though. It’s about selecting something you find aesthetically appealing, and which contributes to the scene it’s introduced to. The fiddle-leaf fig definitely delivers on that count.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide: To give you all the information you need to decide whether a fiddle-leaf fig tree is the right addition to your home.
What is a Fiddle-Leaf Fig Tree?
Fiddle-leaf fig is the common name for ficus lyrata, a flowering plant in the Moraceae family, otherwise known as figs and mulberries.
Unfortunately, however, this member of the family doesn’t put forth fruit when grown indoors, and the fruits it does put forth outdoors is inedible. So if you’re hoping for a tasty bounty from your fruit tree, we recommend looking elsewhere.
The name comes from the leaves’ resemblance to violins – or fiddles – although we can’t remember the last time we saw someone playing a green one!
Out in nature, this plant has a fearsome reputation. As an epiphyte, the fiddle-leaf fig deposits its seeds on top of other trees, then grows downward toward the ground. While this may sound innocent, the branches wind their way around the host tree, gradually strangling it and starving it of resources.
In a British garden, these tendencies are unlikely to reveal themselves, so you’ve got nothing to worry about.
Introducing a Fiddle-Leaf Fig Tree to Your Garden
Despite its murderous tendencies and inability to provide edible fruit, the fiddle-leaf fig tree remains an excellent addition to any home. It can be relatively demanding compared to other plants, but we wholeheartedly recommend it.
This section of the guide outlines all aspects of caring for your fiddle-leaf fig tree. After reading, you’ll know all you need to know for your plant to thrive.
This plant has a hardiness rating of H1B, indicating that it can be grown outside in summer (doing best in temperatures of 10-15 degrees or above).
Given the plant’s African origins, this makes sense. The fiddle-leaf fig evolved in an area of high temperature and frequent sunshine, meaning that a move to often-soggy British climes can be a bit of a shock to the system.
It’s still possible to plant a fiddle-leaf fig in your garden, however. You just need to take the relevant actions in winter.
How to Care for Your Tree Over Winter
While they can acclimatise partly to cold, freezing temperatures can cause shock and loss of foliage. Given the unpredictability of our weather and the fact that winter temperatures often dip below zero, we definitely recommend reading this section carefully.
While fiddle-leaf figs are fussy when being moved, they’ll respond well to a move to a more suitable environment. And in winter, indoors definitely counts as a more suitable environment.
There are a few steps you can take to ease the transition –
- Move to a shady spot outdoors for a couple of weeks to get your plant used to lower light conditions.
- Use a grow light to simulate sunlight and help your fiddle-leaf fig acclimatise to the dark depths of winter.
- Go steady on the watering: Check the top two inches of soil with your finger and only water when these are dry.
- Keep your plant away from radiators, heaters, or any other sources of hot air, as this can further disrupt their already-sensitive humidity requirements.
What Soil Does a Fiddle-Leaf Fig Tree Need?
This plant requires well-aerated soil that promotes fast drainage. It’s not fussy in terms of materials – sand, clay, chalk, and loam are all fine – but you must ensure that the roots do not become saturated. It’s not fussy with acidity, either: acid, alkali, or neutral soils will work.
You can also get specially-formulated fiddle-leaf fig nutrient mix to ensure the soil remains suitably nutritious for your new green friend.
Where to Plant Your Tree
This plant enjoys being outdoors. It likes the fresh air, the humidity, the sunlight, and the soil. When planting your fiddle-leaf fig outdoors, look for a sheltered west- or south-facing spot in direct sunlight, if possible.
Be vigilant for leaf burn, which can be caused by particularly intense periods of sunshine. Because many leaves grow out of a single bud, it can take a while for lost leaves to be replenished.
The RHS recommend planting a fiddle-leaf fig in a container in a low-maintenance area like a patio.
As we’ve mentioned before, the temperature is what you need to keep an eye on. When things start to dip below ten degrees, it’s time to think about moving your plant indoors.
Aside from ensuring the environment is suitable for your fiddle-leaf fig, it’s actually quite easy going. It’ll need a very light pruning once in a while, and there are a few potential pests to be aware of. Beyond that, it’s plain sailing.
How to Prune
The fiddle-leaf fig tree is a proud member of RHS’ pruning group 1. Plants in this group require “little to no pruning and in fact may be spoilt by harder pruning.”
This bodes well for the casual gardeners amongst us, and goes some way to offset the tree’s demanding environmental needs.
Give your plant a light pruning in late winter or early spring. All you’re looking to do is remove diseased or damaged shoots and any that are crossing each other or growing in unwanted directions.
After you’ve done that, mulch and feed the soil to give your plant a nutrient boost.
Protecting From Pests and Diseases
Few plants are free of risk from opportunistic pests, and the fiddle-leaf fig tree is no different. Here are the main offenders –
Glasshouse Red Spider Mite
These minuscule nuisances feed on the sap in plant leaves, which can lead to mottled leaves and even leaf loss in severe cases.
They’re especially prevalent in summer and, given that your fiddle-leaf fig will be spending its summers outdoors, you need to be vigilant. If you catch an infestation early, you’ve got a better chance of controlling it.
You can deliberately introduce predatory mites to eat the red spider mites, or you can use pesticides like plant oils, fatty acids, and more. We recommend gauging the severity of the problem and deciding accordingly.
Thrips are another small sap-sucking insect that can damage the leaves of your prized fiddle-leaf fig. If you notice discolouration on your leaves, see whether you can find any thrips lurking under the leaves.
Methods of control are similar: predatory mites or a variety of pesticides. You can also hang sticky fly-catching sheets if your plant is indoors, as this will attract the thrips away. Don’t do this outside, however, as you’ll likely catch and kill many innocent flying creatures.
Mealybugs also like to eat sap, and in exchange for this tasty sustenance, they leave a sticky trail on your leaves which can give rise to mould. Gross.
Look for fluffy wax, small woodlouse-y bugs, or black mould. All indicate visiting mealybugs. And when you have visitors, your choices are pesticides, tolerating small amounts of damage, or, sadly, destroying heavily infested plants.
Fiddle and Find Out
A fiddle-leaf fig tree is a stylish addition to any home or garden. And if you’re up for a challenge, you could soon be the proud owner of a thriving specimen.
Don’t be put off by the plant’s finickity reputation. Sure, it’s slightly more demanding than the easiest houseplants, but it’s certainly manageable. Just make sure to remain observant, and to move the plant to a new spot if it’s starting to struggle.
We hope that our guide has inspired you to adopt a fiddle-leaf fig tree, and we hope that your new plant becomes the talk of the town.