Fiddle Leaf Ficus

vassar85June 16, 2012

I've had my fiddle leaf ficus tree for almost three years. Some of the leaves have dropped and it's looking like a Charlie Brown special right now. Although there's been new growth at the top which is encouraging, the lower branches remain bare. (The tree is near a window in my office facing East.)

My question - will cutting the lower branches back promote new growth? Should I put it outside for the summer or will it burn the remaining leaves?

Thanks, in advance, for any helpful hints or information that you can give me...

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If the trouble isn't lack of light (are the window treatments normally closed?) it's almost certainly a problem related to root health. I wouldn't give it much more than no chance of back-budding if you were to prune it back because back-budding relies on stored energy to fuel new growth. Your plant has depleted its reserves and is surviving on current photosynthate only.

I'd unpot it & see what's up with the roots. Root rot is the prime suspect, resultant of over-watering/excess water retention. If you find dark, mushy, sour smelling roots or sulfurous smelling soil, you'll need to toss the plant or repot (not just pot up) and hope for the best. Getting the plant outdoors into better light and air movement would be a significant positive for any plant, so I would include that move in my plan.

I'll leave a link that has a lot of info about Ficus in containers, as well as some information on repotting. Hopefully, you'll find it helpful.


Here is a link that might be useful: Click me & I'll take you to more info ....

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 9:34PM
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The drapes are always left open so the tree gets plenty of light on a daily basis.

I removed the tree from the pot and took a picture of the roots. There were no dark, mushy or sour smelling roots only what looks like some type of white spongy type of mold or growth.

Should I still repot, or do you suggest just putting it back in the original container and moving it outside for a few months for some rehab? (I live in Los Angeles so I don't know if that matters.)

Thanks for all your help. I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 12:43PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

My assessment is going to be pretty straightforward - here's what I see: Your plant is circling the drain, and that requires a rather proactive position on your part. If I knew the white stuff was mold, I'd say "Don't worry about it". The problem is, with the condition your plant is in, it could be root mealybug .... and that's a serious issue. Your options are to toss the plant, ignore it and hope it's benign, get it diagnosed by someone who will know and then treat, or assume it's a problem and treat it with a soil drench.

I also can't tell HOW congested the roots are, but they look pretty congested. I'm not sure the plant should be asked to tolerate a full repot right now. It looks like it needs to be coddled a little until it gets back to the point it will tolerate some work. I'd saw off the bottom third of the root mass, then cut deep vertical slits in the root ball and tease away an inch or so of soil around the perimeter of the root mass; then, fill the bottom of the container with fresh soil and fill in around the sides, or pot up, if you have a slightly larger container.

Before you do the root work, I think you should flush the soil VERY thoroughly..


    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 2:08PM
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I followed your instructions about flushing the soil and cutting the bottom third of the root mass. I'll keep you posted and let you know what happens-

How long before I know whether my efforts were successful? I'm guessing that the few remaining leaves will either drop off or there will be new growth?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 7:10PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Make sure you move it into full shade - at least until you see evidence of new growth. Test the soil before you water, to be sure you're not over-watering. If you flushed the soil thoroughly, you can fertilize with a full recommended dose of any popular 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer. The most common 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer is 24-8-16, usually listed as an all-purpose fertilizer. MG also makes a 12-4-8 liquid, which is also a 3:1:2 ratio, and Foliage-Pro makes 9-3-6, which is very difficult to beat for anything in containers.

You'll know within 2 weeks, if your plant has reversed course.


    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 9:06PM
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Eleven days in and absolutely no change. I know that I'm supposed to wait two weeks but it's odd that no leaves have dropped and there is still no new growth.

The tree remains sitting in full shade and I haven't watered it...

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 1:19PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Just be patient. There's a difference between tree time & people time. Take heart in the fact that it hasn't shed any additional foliage. Check the soil regularly for moisture, because if the part of the soil where the roots are dries completely, defoliation will follow and you can't afford a defoliation until the tree gets back on its feet. Did you fertilize?


    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 1:50PM
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ChemGardner(10a SWFL)


My fiddle leaf fig went through some shock after a repot complete with root trimming and placement into the gritty mix. Itmwas my first repot and root trim, so i might have been a little over zealous with it.

It lost quite a few of leaves for about a week, then went through a period where it didn't lose leaves, but also didn't put out any new growth. It's leaves we're dropper than usual.

Then one day its leaves propped up and it looked much healthier overall. About a week to two after that, (so this is now about four weeks after repotting), I noticed some new sprouts, back-budding(!), coming out. Patience seems to be key :)

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 10:37PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

In trees that are bursting with energy, things happen fast because the tree has the reserves to devote to recovery. In trees that are circling the drain, we can expect things to happen much more slowly because they have no reserves to speak of and rely on current photosynthate production as the sole energy source. It sounds like CGs tree was at least still holding its own, but Vassar's tree was in pretty rough shape. When it DOES start to make leaves and turn around, I think he'll feel pretty happy that he took a proactive stance .....


    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 10:49PM
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Two weeks and nothing has changed so I'm guessing that 'no news is good news?' By the way, I have not watered or fertilized the tree during this time.

Any suggestions on what to do next?

Thanks for all the input - I really appreciate it...

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 12:11PM
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New growth on my fiddle leaf ficus - all on the stems that already have leaves...

Just happy that it's showing some signs of life!

Do I continue to fertilize the tree with the feed you recommended?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 5:39PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

..... a qualified yes on the fertilizer - and I'm soo glad your tree is coming around. If you're watering in sips, be sparing with the fertilizer. Now that your tree seems to be recovering some of its vitality, you should put a plan in place to get it through the winter in good enough shape that you can repot late next spring (in Los Angeles). Is it outdoors now? You can probably saw off the bottom of the root mass (3"?) and cut some deep vertical slits in the remaining root ball, then scrape an inch or so of soil off the sides & return the plant to the same container. Use a wick in the bottom of the container when you repot. Then, whenever you water, you should water so you flush the soil. Set the plant up on blocks and tip it after you water, so the wick is hanging down, but not dangling in the effluent (drain water). Use a wood dowel as a 'tell', to let you know when it needs water. You can fertilize about monthly all winter if you treat the plant this way. You're using a 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer?

How about a picture so we can be sure we're not getting ahead of ourselves before you act?


    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 6:21PM
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Here's a photo with the new growth. I know my tree has a long way to go, but at least it's a step in the right direction!

Thanks for all the great advice.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 10:54AM
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Congrats, it is looking better - old leaves are not droopy, and the new growth looks great.
I am sure you feel great to see changes...hope you update again.
I followed Al's advice too, and see great improvement.


    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 7:17PM
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I know tapla said don't prune, but I'd be very tempted (once other things done) to cut one of the growing stems back to a couple of inches from a junction and see what happens.

To be honest if it didn't respond to being pruned it's days are numbered anyway because it's so leggy.

My 2p, sorry: 2c!

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 4:11AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Trees circling the drain are either sinking so fast there is no saving them or are hanging on only because they are relying on current production of photosynthate (food). This tree was barely hanging on and is clawing its way back up out of the drain. ;-) Since the plant is essentially devoid of any energy reserves to push new growth, if you prune any foliage off now you remove a notable amount of the plant's ability to make food, which would have a lot of potential to seal the deal (death) or greatly extend the recovery period and leave the plant highly vulnerable to any biotic or abiotic pathogens that might make an appearance. I agree that it's highly desirable to get rid of the legginess, and though we can't make a specific prediction about what would happen if any significant pruning was done now, we know that in general terms the plant hasn't been (and isn't) prepared for it. So for that reason, I wouldn't be tempted in the least to do any unnecessary pruning at this point.

I don't agree with the idea that the plant's days are numbered, no matter how leggy it is. Legginess is a symptom of other cultural issues, and as such is entirely correctable - as long as you have a plan in place that takes into consideration the current state of the plant's vitality, and you work WITH the natural ebb/flow of the plant's energy levels. If a plant doesn't respond to pruning in the way we might expect, it's not the plant's fault, it's a judgment error by the grower. If this plant was pruned and didn't respond, it's quite certain that the plant would die, but the cause would be the inappropriate timing of the pruning, rather than the plant's inability to respond for lack of sufficient energy.

Bringing trees and other plants back from the brink is sort of a leap frog process that begins with building energy reserves, then working on the plant (roots/pruning) within the limits of what the plant can tolerate, then building energy reserves again before more work is done. There really isn't much guesswork when you are working at either end of the vitality curve. Plants with high energy reserves will tolerate a LOT, are very resilient, and respond well to pruning/pinching; while plants at the low end of the curve tolerate much less, lack the energy required to bounce back, and CAN'T be expected to respond well to pruning because they lack the energy reserves, and almost all of their current energy production is dedicated to the day to day business of keeping their systems orderly.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 12:29PM
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Well, my poor fiddle leaf ficus is starting to look droopy again. I'm not sure if it's the exceptionally hot fall that we've had that makes us leave the air conditioning on or if it has more to do with the previous issues listed above. Do you recommend that I put the tree outside for the winter? Thoughts?

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 11:01AM
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toffee-el(Z8b Sunset Z13 Elev 4650ft)

I know this is an ancient thread. But any updates?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2013 at 12:12AM
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    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 1:07AM
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Aww. I was hoping that this plant had made it. I came here in search of finding help for my Fiddle Leaf Ficus having the same issue.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2014 at 11:26AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Why don't you describe your plant's problems, and tell us what you think it might be, based on your understanding of this and any other threads you've read about F lyrata. I'm sure you can get the help you need, and this part of the year is the beginning of the best growth cycle stage to take a proactive stance in maintaining your trees over the long term. That's a good topic for a thread.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2014 at 2:14PM
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