A post by resident plant expert Claire Akin of the Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant Resource.
The two most common problems for fiddle leaf fig plants are ironically the opposite: too much and too little water. But what’s worse is that it’s actually tough to tell which is which. Over watering leads to root rot, a fungal condition that kills the plant’s roots and leaves. Under watering leads to a dry plant with leaf damage.
First, one clarification. Over watering and lack of sunlight work together to produce root rot, so if your fiddle leaf fig doesn’t get enough sun (and they like lots of light), the symptoms may mimic those of too much water. Under watering and too much sun work together to dry out and burn your plant, so you’ll want to treat those issues together.
But how do you know for sure if your plant is too wet or too dry? At first look, brown spots, dropping leaves, and curled edges can be a symptom of both conditions. Here are the subtle differences between an over watered and under watered fiddle leaf fig plant.
Symptoms of a Dry Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant
There are a few ways you can discern a dry plant from an over watered plant. First, chronically dry plants will always have brown spots and curled leaves. You can see this extreme example of leaf curling for a plant that was completely dried beyond repair.
But what’s different about the brown spots of a dry plant is that they’ll typically start at the edge of the leaf, not in the middle. They’ll also affect leaves all over the plant, from top to bottom, where root rot will usually affect the lower leaves more than the top leaves.
Finally, the leaves of your dry fiddle leaf fig may look otherwise healthy, whereas the leaves of a plant with root rot will begin to look sickly, yellow, or have tiny brown spots. Both cases will drop leaves, but dry plants will drop leaves throughout the plant, not just the bottom leaves.
Symptoms of Root Rot in a Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant
The telltale sign of too much water and not enough sunlight is that your plant will start to get brown spots in the middle of the leaf, as well as at the edges. You may also see a yellowing of the leaves before they fall off. Yellow almost always means too much water and not enough sun or fertilizer.
Overwatered plants will get tiny brown spots or brown shaded areas on their leaves before they turn to brown spots, like you can see in this example.
You will also notice that with root rot, the plant will drop its lowest leaves first. A plant’s instinct is to protect the newest growth (which has more access to sunlight in the wild) and drop the older leaves that it doesn’t need as much. You can see in this image a plant with root rot that has lost many of its lower leaves.
At first glance, it may be tough to determine whether you are giving your plant too much or too little water, but the things to look out for to diagnose root rot are yellowing leaves, brown spots in the middle of the leaf, and dropping the lowest leaves.
Could it Be Erratic Watering?
Does your plant have symptoms of both over and underwatering? There’s a chance it could be both, or a condition called erratic watering.
The trick to solving this problem is to remove all of the leaves damaged by root rot (you can leave mildly damaged dry leaves), then setting a schedule and watering your plant only once a week. Water until 10% to 15% of the water comes out your pot’s drainage holes. Wait a full week and check to make sure the top inch of soil is dry before you water again.
For more information on how to water your fiddle leaf fig, read the ultimate watering guide for fiddle leaf figs here. Best of luck in solving your plant’s problems!
Claire Akin is a Fiddle Leaf Fig lover and created the Fiddle Leaf Fig Resource to share what she's learned about growing healthy and vibrant plants. She even created her own fertilizer specific to the needs of Fiddles! Learn all you'll ever need to know about these gorgeous plants at fiddleleaffigplant.com