How to Keep Your Fiddle Leaf Fig Alive and Healthy

About Ficus lyrata


It’s easy to see where the fiddle leaf fig got its name. The leaves on this tree species are indeed lyrate (meaning lyre-shaped, which also explains the scientific denomination). A fiddle’s foliage can grow very large, with leaves reaching up to 15 inches in length on adult plants. Combine that with the species’ elegant, thin trunk and it’s no wonder houseplant lovers worldwide have long swooned over this plant!

In the wild, fiddle leaf figs can reach a whopping 50 feet in height. Luckily, they stay much smaller indoors. 

Natural habitat

The fiddle leaf fig is naturally found in western Africa, where it grows in tropical rainforests. It’s also an introduced species in a few other places, such as the Canary Islands.

Ficus lyrata varieties

Unlike some common houseplants, of which hundreds of different selectively bred varieties exist, there aren’t very many fiddle leaf fig cultivars to choose from.

As far as I’m aware, there are two:

  • Ficus lyrata ‘Bambino’: A patented variety bred to be much more compact than a regular fiddle leaf. It also has smaller foliage.
  • Ficus lyrata ‘Variegata’: Yep, although they’re difficult to find, variegated fiddle leaf figs exist. They’re very pretty, but expensive and more finicky.

I’ve also seen references to a Ficus lyrata ‘Compacta’, but I’m thinking this might just be another name for ‘Bambino’. There’s no patent to be found, and the reference to compactness make it sound like a ‘Bambino’ as well.

Caring for Ficus lyrata

Light and temperature 

The fiddle leaf fig may be incredibly popular, but it’s also notorious for being a species that many houseplant enthusiasts struggle with. A lot of this has to do with light: your Ficus really won’t tolerate being placed in a shady corner.

Many sources recommend indirect light for a fiddle leaf fig. But… I don’t agree.

Think about it: In their natural habitat, these guys would be blasted with sun! It’s better to place your fiddle in front of a sunny window, preferably a south-facing one (although you should acclimate it slowly if it was in a more shaded spot before). 

A plant that’s receiving enough light will be much more forgiving in terms of watering and any beginner care mistakes. If you can’t offer a bright window, you can also consider a grow light. 

As for temperatures, this is a tropical. In warm climates it’s commonly grown as an ornamental in parks and gardens, but unless it stays toasty year-round where you live, your fiddle leaf fig is better off as a houseplant—at least during winter. It prefers room temp or above. 

Water and humidity

Attention, please! Watering is where things tend to go south with this slightly finicky Ficus. The majority of fiddle leaf figs is loved to death—they like a good sip of water, but if the soil stays wet for too long, root rot can set in.

Don’t blindly water on a weekly schedule. The amount of water your fiddle needs depends on factors like the season (light, temperature) and the soil type you’re using. It’s better to check the soil moisture level first and decide whether to give the plant a drink based on that.

Stick a finger into the soil. If it feels around halfway dry (and especially if the leaves seem a bit limp), you can go ahead and water. Still moist? Give it another day or two. If the soil feels wet, you should cut back on the watering to prevent trouble.

In practice, you’ll usually end up watering once or twice a week during the warm summer months (possibly more if your fiddle leaf fig is outdoors). In winter, when most of our houseplants are more or less dormant, a fiddle may only need watering every one-and-a-half to two weeks. 

Soil and planting

At least there’s one thing fiddle leaf figs aren’t too particular about: soil. The main thing is to use an airy soil mixture that allows excess water to drain quickly, as our houseplants, including this one, don’t like wet feet. 

Mixing soil for your fiddle leaf fig can be as easy as combining normal houseplant potting soil with a handful or two (about 10 percent of the mix) of perlite. 

If you’ve got some organic material on hand, be sure to add some of that as well. Compost or worm castings are great. You can also use peat or coco coir, especially if you tend to underwater (both of these materials are water-retaining). 

The type of planter doesn’t matter much either, although it should definitely always have a drainage hole in the bottom to help prevent standing water. For large fiddle leaf figs, it’s best to use a sturdy and wide pot so your plant doesn’t topple over if you accidentally bump into it.

Depending on how well it’s growing, you can repot your Ficus every one to two years. You’ll know it’s time for a repot next spring if the soil is starting to dry out more and more quickly, or if the plant’s roots are starting to peep out of the drainage hole. Go up one pot size and don’t forget to give your fiddle some nice fresh soil.