My first plant--help please! (ficus lyarta)

LZK22December 11, 2013

Hello all,

I've been reading through the forums for the past few weeks trying to learn how to take care of my new fiddle leaf fig. I've read Al's very helpful posts on soil/aeration and container size. But the more I read, the more confused I've become as to my situation and hope you guys can help sort me out :)

I fell in love with the FLF in home decor photos and though it'd be a great companion for my little San Francisco bedroom (I recently moved from Chi). Finding a large tree has proven nearly impossible in my area, so I ordered my little guy on Amazon. (photos below)

The plant arrived looking a bit sad with dull leaves, brown spots, and a few torn dried up areas. I even removed one of the leaves because it looked terrible.

I've been watering once soil is dry, probably once every 10 days or so, by flushing the soil completely with water under a slow stream in the sink. Then I let it drain on a few paper towels so there is no puddle in the plastic tray.

About a month ago, I noticed a bud on the top, so I think the plant is liking the watering/lighting conditions.Within a few days the bud turned into this gorgeous shiny leaf! I was so surprised at how quickly it happened. The experience made me really love my little fig and I want it to thrive.

Onto my confusion:

I planned on placing the fig in the Gritty Mix after reading all the great experiences. I was going to order a pre-mixed version available at because I don't have the room to store all ingredients and this is the only plant I have right now.

Is the gritty mix appropriate for such a small plant? It's about 11-12in tall from soil up. The roots look very thin and fine.

And how do I adjust the watering schedule? It was easy to see the soil go dry and figure out the 10 day watering schedule, but how do I do this with the Gritty Mix?

And if it does need to be watered much more frequently (2-3days), is there an alternative soil mix I can use since I travel for days at a time.

Also, does it need fertilizer with each watering in a Gritty Mix? And what should I use?

I'd like to have the fig grow to a significant size, with a tree shape. I'm not sure how long that will take and how large of a pot I should place it in now.

It's also hard to find small ceramic pots with drain holes. Can I plant it in a plastic pot and then place the plastic pot in a ceramic one. taking it out to water? or is it best to plant directly in pot with a drain hole and saucer?

Clearly, I'm a novice. Any and all help/suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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grabmebymyhandle(6 Kentucky)

Looks good to me!

I'd just drop it in a big pot of promix or the like...I'd steer clear of gritty mix in your case, maybe add some grit to a store bought mix at most.

They are pretty tough trees! It looks like your meeting it's needs just fine so I'd not worry a bit, but a new pot in needed!

If you goal is a large tree, then I'd go with a large pot! These can grow fast! A few months of being restricted by too small a pot won't do any damage at all, but being able to expand as much as it wants will lead to a larger plant sooner!
I'd also think about time release fertilizer, it's easy for a novice to use, easy to find and you only need to use it 2-8 times a year depending on the plant and water schedule. You'd use it 2-4 times a year I think, you can suppliment with water soluble fert too, if you feel the plant needs more.

Good luck on the road to a green thumb! It's fun stuff!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2013 at 2:38PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

LZ - Growing is about compromise. There is no question that given a choice between the gritty mix and most off the shelf soils (like Promix), the gritty mix has significantly more potential. That doesn't do you any good though, if the gritty mix will only allow your plant to go 5 or 6 days between waterings, and you're gone 7 or 8 days at a stretch ....... which is where the compromise comes in.

If you do need a soil that offers week-long intervals between waterings, that's what you'll need to use. Fortunately, there are things you can do that offer help in dealing with more water retention than you want/need.

If you're not going to take advantage of all the attributes of the gritty mix, you might as well pass it by. That probably holds true for buying it online, too. I really doubt that the seller is screening out the dust and fines, and if that's true it would be the gritty mix in name only.

Keep in mind that when it comes to soils that offer week-long watering intervals, they're all going to be pretty much the same. In fact, you can more easily tell the quality of a potting soil by the interval between waterings than by what they are made of. IOW, a soil that's made from Turface/grit/bark in such a way that it offers that week-long interval, wouldn't offer any advantage over an off the shelf soil with the same amount of water retention.

It often seems to turn into a point of contention when you tell someone that they are sacrificing growth/vitality potential when using soils that take so long to dry down, but it's just how it is, and you deal with it in whatever way you think is best.

Also, you probably don't want to drop it in a big pot of any type of soil at this point in time. If it was badly root bound (it's not), you COULD pot up slightly, but I'd wait until next summer to do the first repot/root-pruning. I'd also bare-root it at that point and put it in whatever soil you choose.

If you get into the habit of hefting the pot it's in every few days - more often as the time to water grows nearer, you'll soon learn by heft when it's time to water. I encourage you to water so you're saturating the entire soil mass & flushing it at each watering. I'd probably use the equivalent of 1/2 tsp of the 9-3-6 in a gallon of water at every 3rd watering for the rest of the winter. If you know someone with a RO water filtration system, use that water if you can - or rain/snow/dehumidifier water.

Lots of people use pots w/o holes as cache pots, but the pot the plant is actually in, should be allowed to drain well before it's returned to the cache pot. If you read the link above, you'll see how tipping the pot, wicks, and other strategies can help reduce water retention.

Best luck!


    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 1:51PM
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Hello grabmebymyhandle!

Nice name! I’m glad you think the fig is looking pretty good and that these are pretty tough trees!

Though, I think I’ve been swayed in the gritty mix direction after reading about how we can really limit our plants with the poorly aerated soils. If it doesn't work out, I know the plant will let me know.

Thanks for taking the time to share your input!


    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 8:47PM
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Hello Al!

I really took to the way the way you make a distinction between what’s best for the grower (convenience) vs. what’s best for the plant (maximum growth/vitality potential), and I understand the level of compromise will be different for everyone.

I became overly concerned with travel and the watering interval because somewhere I got notion that watering might be a daily requirement. I do travel, but I realized it’s very rarely for more than 3 days at a time. And I’m willing to make the appropriate watering arrangements if I’m away longer.

After reading all the info on how much we actually limit our plant’s potential with the poorly aerated soils, it’s not what I want for my tree. I want to be able to say 5, 10, 15 years down the line that I grew this tree from a little fig. So now I feel committed this notion, and in turn, using the gritty mix.

As for the quality of the online gritty mix, you may be very well right, but I sure hope not since I took the plunge and ordered it!

The website says the granite particles are between 3/16”-5/16” and they offer smaller (1/16”-3/16”) and larger (5/16”-1/2”) sizes for order. The pine bark is described as Precision Orchiata Monterey Pine Bark and roughly 1/8”, with other sizes also available. There is no particle description for the Turface MVP. I’m hoping all this means that the mix is actually screened to some degree, and I figured I could try and screen the dust that will generate through the packing/shipping process with a metal sieve at home since I’ll be dealing with a much smaller quantity. I’ll post pics of the mix once it arrives.

If the gritty mix turns out to not be so bad, do you still think I should leave it in this little 4” pot with the crappy soil until next summer? Is it the temperature difference or some sort of plant biological clock that affects the repotting?

I also ordered the Foliage Pro 9-3-6, so thank you for the tip on how frequently to use it. No RO filter, just a Brita :) Also not expecting much rain/snow in SF--very different from Chicago! Should I just use tap water or the Brita filtered water?

Thank you so much for the response!


    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 8:50PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

A couple of years back there was a small group of people who made a habit out of continually making all sorts of false claims for no reason other than the aggravation. Some residual effects of that still linger, one being the idea that if you use the gritty mix, you'll have to water every day. That's simply not true, except perhaps in environmentally driven extreme cases. I have at least 150 plants in the gritty mix, growing indoors right now. I water all but a half dozen plants every 4 days; those half dozen that I water every 2-3 days are bonsai in very small pots. All the other plants are in what you would consider to be small pots and small volumes of soil; this, because the regular root work I do makes for a very efficient root system that can easily sustain large plants in small volumes of soil.

If you're used to an off the shelf, peat-based medium, you'll undoubtedly need to water more frequently than you have been if using a well-made gritty mix, but that's the part where the trading convenience for added potential (for your plants) comes in. I'm not sure why it is, but if you point out that eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner from fast food restaurants several times per week, or relying on trips back and forth to the refrigerator or cupboard as your only form of exercise are probably not good for you, most reasonable people would probably have to agree with the contention; but if you point to the limitations imposed on someone's plants by a planting medium chosen for its convenience, a war might break out. No one should get upset because someone eats at McDonalds or uses a soggy soil; and similarly, no one should be upset if someone points out the ill effects of our choices. They're just facts in our lives and should be treated as such.

If you're intent on 'doing something' to help your plant, I wouldn't do any more right now than pot up into a slightly larger pot, using a soil similar to what the plant is in right now. Because of the difficulty in keeping a root mass evenly moist when it contains 2 distinctly different media, I'm not a fan of mixing soil types. Save your new mix until repot time.

We tend to think in terms of hours and days where if a plant could think it would be thinking in terms of seasons and years. It took me a long time to come to terms with that idea, but when I did, it allowed me to feel like I was more in harmony with what nature intended for the plants. The next step was to learn how to do the work that would bend the plant to my will, while still maintaining that natural harmony. If you think about that for awhile, it will make sense. Long-time bonsai practitioners, even if they have never heard that thought voiced, will know exactly what I mean. Be patient. Learn to keep your plant healthy and properly care for its appearance - the plant will do the rest in time .... and a decade is nothing to most trees.

It's good that the view you hold for your plant is so forward looking. Thinking in terms of decades or even years implies a commitment to your plant and acceptance of the responsibility for its well-being. Bravo! ;-)

"Is it the temperature difference or some sort of plant biological clock that affects the repotting?" Photo-period is your plant's clock. As the days lengthen and soil temperatures rise to 65*+, your plant will begin growing in earnest. Growth rate should peak by about Father's Day, and the plant's stored energy reserves will be at their highest in the months immediately after Father's Day. It's actually the summer solstice on Jun 21, but it's easier to remember Father's Day. That's when your plant will be best able to tolerate any serious work that needs to be done. Hard pruning, chopping the tree back, root-pruning, should all be done during Jun, July, or maybe the first week or two into Aug in some areas of the US. That isn't to say there is a natural law against doing serious work at other times, or that your plant will die if you do; it's just that doing harsh work when the plant is most able to tolerate it and when fastest recovery is assured makes much better sense than an 'I'll do it when it's convenient for me' approach. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1


    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 5:31PM
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