Fiddle leaf fig training/ pruning

floridasun13June 8, 2013

Hi all, new to the forum. Glad to be here. Seems like a lot of great advice givers so hopefully someone can help with my new fiddle leaf fig. Pic is attached.

Just got it a few months ago and once the weather broke here, I put it outside which it is loving and growing like crazy, but a few questions:

1) The tree is tending to just grow straight up and get a bit tall instead of branching out and growing "over" like I see some some figs do. Is there anything that I can do to train the tree to grow out instead of straight up? I do not see any signs of any new branches off of the main stalks coming out. While I would not mind it to be a bit taller, I would rather it not grow up to the ceiling lol The bending that you see currently is just due to the high winds we've had here from some thunderstorms and not the "path" that the tree is growing in.


2) It is a triple stalk as you can see in the pic. I assume it is okay to leave it like this? As 99% of the tree pics I have seen are singles. I have read somewhere, although I cannot find it now about pruning bottom leaves as so it grows to be more like a tree with a bare trunk, but does that mean just plucking off the lower leaves even though they are healthy (albeit a few brown edges due to living in doors for a few months)?

If anyone could provide some assistance with this new venture, I'd appreciate it. Any other tips that could be useful would be great as well! Thanks so much!

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They tend to grow like that rather than like some of the other figs. You've probably got 3 plants (3 cuttings placed into that pot). You can prune the tops but I've found they still stay fairly spindly. When they get taller you could always prune the tops and put them back into the pot like cuttings, giving it a bushier look.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 11:09AM
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the best technique to make it branch is to notch it, like they do to fruit trees: make a partial cut of the stem, let it sit until the buds are formed below (takes 1-2 weeks in summer), then cut off the branch. the buds should start growing in 1-2 weeks. root the cutting to make new plant.
search this forum for 'lyrata' - there's much more info available.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 8:39AM
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I have zero advice, I just had to tell you I think she's beautiful !!!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 9:00AM
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teengardener1888(NY Albany 5a)

I think it is very pretty right now

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 9:53AM
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Thanks all! I think I have decided to let it go and grow on it's own for now and then figure out what to do with it once it gets a bit bushier. I'm worried to be doing too much to it and risk killing or harming it, but I did get some good ideas that I will keep in mind.

Wondering if I do end up separating the stalks, do you think it would kill or harm the plant at all? It's not at that point now to do it, but once it gets fuller and thicker, I would love to have a real tree-like fig with a canopy on a big stalk rather than a bushy house-plant, you know? My ideal fig would look something along the lines of these:

It's loving being outside now anyway in our warm/ humid and rainy florida weather, so that is where it will stay for now. :)

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 10:04AM
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teengardener1888(NY Albany 5a)

I heard they love to grow in florida

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 10:19AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you want it bushy, remove the apical meristems (growing tips). I would prune so the thickest stem is the tallest, the next thickest about 2/3 the ht of the tallest, and the thinnest about 1/2 the ht of the tallest. Once the Source of the growth regulator (auxin) that suppresses lateral growth is removed (by removing the growing tips of the stems) the plant will back-bud. When the new branches have 3-4 leaves on them, prune the branches back to 2 leaves, This is the fastest/best way to maximize ramification (branch/foliage density).

If you intend to separate the plants, now is the best time of year to do it, and no harm should come to the individual plants if you root-prune and divide, as long as you follow a few simple repotting guidelines. Repotting and root work is an essential part of keeping potted trees healthy, and the timing of the work you do on your trees can have a significant impact on how quickly they recover.


    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 6:28PM
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removing just the tips won't do it - more often then not they will just grow 1 bud at the tip. even if you remove all tips. notching is the only reliable technique for multi-branching. if you look at pics of standards: you can clearly see sev buds developing closely from each other from main stem. this is achieved by notching.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 10:11AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Axillary back-budding on production Ficus lyrata whips is induced chemically, not via notching - which kind of spoils the theory that notching is the only way. I've successfully pruned/ tip-pruned dozens & dozens (easily into the hundreds) of lyratas and elasticas specifically to force back-budding ..... not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of Ficus belonging to other species (benjamina, macrocarpa, microcarpa, alii, salicifolia/nerifolia, carica, pumila, more ....) that also responded in kind.


    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 3:02PM
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perhaps you have the magic touch. I don't see many posts here claiming great results like you do - most people get 'question marks' , which are super ugly.
I've had my ficus lyrata for over 20 years. and I've been trying to make it branch for awhile, not very successfully, but erratically, here and there. until I did what ronalawn suggested in 'pruning ficus lyrata' post, which is notching. it worked like a charm: 4 branches on each! notched branch. and very easy and fast too. i'll be doing more in a few weeks again. I can do any branch I want at any point I choose.
back budding is quite different in my opinion and will not produce as many branches from one point.
granted, on some trees 'umbrella style' branching is considered a weak joint. but it's perfect for standards and making indoor trees bushy. and then if you have one bud too many you can always remove the weakest.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 3:39PM
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Have you found out anything about trimming yours into a tree? I have a fiddle leaf that's more of a bush, but I would love for it to look like a tree! I have searched everywhere for an answer about trimming the bottom leafs off and making it into a tree, but I cant find anything on it. I don't want to kill it by cutting the leaves off. Let me know if you have done it or if you have found an article on it. I had to write you since you were the only other person that has mentioned it!! lol :)

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 4:16PM
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You seem to be the king on this forum! Maybe you can give us some suggestions.

We rescued an 8.5ft tall fiddle from going into our neighbors garbage. I know it's 8.5 ft because our ceilings are 8.5 ft and it is all the way to the top!

It is still reviving from the shock and change of lighting, we have many damaged leaves. But, it already is growing lots of new green leaves on the very top and gets lots of filtered light (during the day) from the window behind it.

Now that we know it can grow and be happy in this location, we want to begin to shape it. Ideally we would like it to be a little shorter, and a little bushier.

For shorter.. what can we do? Could we by any chance hack the trunk off and replant it (with hormone) to make it shorter? Would it live? It's pretty woody at the base.

For bushier.. should we tip-prune it like you've mentioned?

Or have we just found a tree that is too big to be in our home?

I posted a pic, hopefully you can see it. Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 1:59AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Operating on tree time is different than operating on people time. In life in general, we usually expect to see fairly immediate results as the response to our ministrations. Trees, on the other hand, will either teach us patience or frustrate us by their tendency to replace hours with seasons. I know your tree isn't as pleasing to the eye right now as you want it to be and know it can be, but the shortest route to a healthy attractive tree includes a period that started when you acquired the tree that allows the plant to recover its vitality and build some energy reserves that will act as insurance against collapse when you start working on the tree.

The plan should go something like this: Make sure the tree is healthy and has a good amount of energy in reserve so it responds favorably to any work you do, above or below the soil level. This makes the first priority ensuring the roots are happy and the tree is unencumbered by anything that we know will severely limit it. So before you start to make the top look nice by removing anything green, you should first consider whether or not the plant can afford the elimination of a portion of its ability to make food. I can see it really can't afford it, even if it might tolerate it.

Because you live in SoCal, I'd repot it now, w/o pruning anything you aren't certain is dead ...... that's after you check carefully for insect issues. I'd make sure it goes into a soil that allows you to water w/o worry it will remain soggy long enough to waylay your good intentions. After the plant has recovered from the repot and you can see it's pushing new growth, you can start thinking about your pruning and layering options.

A leap-frog plan of alternately building vitality and energy reserves, then working on the plant, then starting the cycle over again can be structured so it serves the best interest of the plant. Eventually, if you plan it so you repot in Jun every second or third year, then let the plant grow for a month or so in repot years before you prune the top, you should be golden. In years you don't repot, do your pruning in mid-Jun, which will ensure you have the opportunity to take off any lanky growth that came over winter, and that your plant will be nice and full/compact.

If it was mine, and in spite of how much I might want to start pruning, I'd repot now into a fast-draining, well-aerated soil. I'd feed regularly & keep the plant outdoors if possible (unless night temps are below 55*), and wait until next early summer to start shaping or layering.



    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 11:59AM
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I bought my fiddle leaf fig about a year ago. When I brought it home, my cat became a bit too curious, so I put it outside on my covered porch where it thrived and grew a considerable amount. I'll be the first to admit I know nothing about caring for plants, and I watered the tree when I remembered, so I was impressed by its progress. I have never pruned it, done anything with the soil, or even repotted it. It's in the same plastic pot that it was in when I bought it.

Last week, suddenly the leaves all turned very dark green- almost brown- after two days of unusually cold weather, so I pulled the tree back inside. The leaves all began to drop, and now there are no leaves at all. I can't tell if it's completely dead or not. Is there anything I can do?

I've attached a photo of its sad current condition.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 10:44PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

"Is there anything I can do?" Yes, you can wait to see if the plant is still viable and has enough energy reserves to push a new flush of growth. Keep the plant warm and in very bright light. Don't fertilize until after you see new growth, and be very careful that you wait until the plant is almost but not quite dry before you water. Use a wood dowel or skewer stuck deep into the soil to help you judge whether it's time to water. If the stick comes out damp. dark, or cool on the inside of your wrist - wait to water.

Good luck to you!


    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 3:37PM
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Hi Al!

Just thought I'd ask what you'd think about putting a dry cleaner bag over it in order to trap humidity,thereby shrinking stomata and reserving the water supply to avoid desiccation? ...Or are stomata strictly a leaf thing?

As to keeping it warm,in the above example I would use some way or another to provide the heat from underneath,like with a heating mat.

Any thoughts?

This post was edited by asleep_in_the_garden on Tue, Jan 14, 14 at 18:34

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 6:28PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It wouldn't hurt if a little air movement was provided for to stave off the fungaluglies, but I suppose I would reason that if any small fraction of the roots are alive, there is little chance that a defoliated tree could fall pre to desiccation. The leaf tissues either froze, or had chill injury severe enough to cause lots of cells to rupture, thus the leaf loss. The question is, how cold did the plant get - colder than a killing low, or just cold enough to cause it to defoliate. My guess is that the tree will probably survive unless it got ridiculously cold - like into the 20s for a day or more. Some of the woody tissues might die back, or the tree might resprout from the base.

I actually had a small (and really nice bonsai) ficus get frozen this fall. I somehow missed it when I brought plants into the garage, and it went down into the 20s. There couldn't have been more than a cup of soil in its pot, so I know the roots took a serious hit along with the foliage. I put it in the basement under lights, and had pretty much given up on it, but around the middle of Dec I saw a few shoots coming from the underside of existing branches - unusual. It's going to make it, but it will be a looong time before it looks as nice as it did. ;-(

Stomata are pores that occur in both leaf and stem dermal tissues and the purpose of which are to make gas exchange possible. Specialized cells (guard cells) regulate the size of the opening, which is determined by a number of cultural conditions, humidity levels being one. Air containing carbon dioxide enters the plant through these openings where it is used in photosynthesis and respiration.
Oxygen a byproduct of photosynthesis exits through these same openings. Water vapor is released into the atmosphere through stomata during transpiration.

Lenticels are another type of pore that are found mostly in the cork surfaces of the stems, roots. Their job is to make possible the exchange of gases between the internal tissues and atmosphere, through the periderm, which would otherwise prevent the exchange. So stomata are primarily a leaf thing and lenticels (with a soft 'c') a woody parts thing.

Heat mats are good under certain conditions. Most plants root best when root temps are about 10* warmer than ambient temperatures, but root temps above the 72-75* range often inhibit rooting. I'm guessing that most propagation mats promise to raise soil temps by about 10* for that reason. Also, once root growth has started, roots grow better when cooler than ambient temps, to a point, so for plants with a viable root system, heat may or may not be a good thing. For the ficus, I'd say if the actual soil temp is below 65*, a propagation mat would probably be a plus.

That was longer than I thought it would be when I started. ;-)


    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 10:52PM
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Thank you kind sir!

Knew you'd steer me in the right direction. :)

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 5:40AM
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floridasun13, 'notching' triggers the lateral bud(s) below the notch to develop into lateral(s) by disrupting the flow of certain chemicals from the apical meristem to the dormant bud(s); in the same way as complete removal of the apical bud would.
The difference, I have found, is that complete removal of the apical bud can stimulate the development of many buds.
Notching has the effect on the bud immediately below the notch. The method affords better control.
Here is a LINK with an explanatory drawing.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 7:33AM
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great article, ronalawn!
i've been following your advice for many years now with consistent results.
i have notched my 3 lyratas very successfully every time.
on the older 20 yr tree with 10 yr old branches i got 4 shoots per branch, 2 of the top ones grew very strong, 2 others remained much shorter.
on the younger 4-5 yr old trees i notched the leader and the 2nd strongest branch and got multiple buds, but only 2 of those developed into new branches.
on 1 weaker branch only 1 bud developed and i managed to nock it off to my dismay. however ! it proceeded to develop 2 more buds that both grew well.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 11:47AM
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