Growing A Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree Indoors
The fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) is a species of fig tree native to the lowland rainforests of west Africa, primarily along the southern coast extending from Sierra Leone to Cameroon. It starts life in a somewhat unusual manner. Rather than starting as a seedling in the ground, it gets its start in the crown of another tree, usually a tree of some other species.
Over time, F. lyrata will send roots down from the top of its host to the ground. Once the roots have reached the ground, the fiddle leaf fig will continue to grow, wrapping itself around the trunk of its host, and eventually strangling it. The tree will on occasion start from the ground and grow upwards where it will often attain a height of around 50 feet, although it usually requires the support of another tree to do so.
The Tree As A House Plant - While some gardeners will grow the fiddle leaf outdoors, or in an indoor tropical garden, it is generally grown as a house plant. The primary characteristic of the plant is its large, attractive leaves. Some say that the leaves are lyre-shaped, but most will tell you the leaves resemble a fiddle, since they tend to be wide at either end and narrower in the middle. When planted indoors, and in a container, the fiddle leaf does not grow as high as it would in a more natural setting, usually growing no higher than around 12 feet. It has a spread of half that much, and in an indoor setting the tree is usually pruned to shape. Pruning is usually done to keep the plant from growing too tall, or to the point where it would need some support. Fortunately, the fiddle leaf takes well to pruning.
Lighting Requirements - Like many indoor plants, the fiddle leaf likes plenty of light, but does not like too much direct sunlight. In its native habitat it generally grows in partial shade or filtered sunlight. If placed in a well-lighted room at some distance from a south-facing window the plant should do well. A few hours of direct sunlight coming from an east or west-facing window is usually a preferred location.
Pruning The Fiddle Leaf - If you purchase a small fiddle leaf fig in a container, or transplant it into a container and let it be, it will tend to grow tall, on a single stem, and branch out very little. Since the stem is somewhat slender, it won't be long before the plant will start to lean or droop. The cure for this is pruning. Removing the top portion of the plant will encourage it to branch out. It will still grow upwards, but at a slower pace, and can always be pruned back again. The first pruning should be when the plant is still in its first year or so of growth, and pruning should normally be done in the early spring, before new growth begins.
Easy To Care For, Yet Temperamental - If your plant decides to drop its leaves, it can be due to several reasons. Like most fig trees, the fiddle leaf, while generally easy to care for, can be a little temperamental. If it gets too much water, or too little water, it may drop its leaves. If it is placed where there is a draft, or too near a heat register, it may drop its leaves. And, if it gets too much direct sunlight, or not enough sunlight, guess what? It may drop its leaves. It's quite possible there may be a few leaves to pick up now and then before you get things exactly right. As far as lighting is concerned, think abundant light, but not too much direct light, and you'll probably be fine.
Don't Forget To Dust - As far as light is concerned, placing the plant in a good location in a room may not be all that much of a challenge. As time goes by however, the plant may decide to start dropping a few of its leaves. It's located in what should be a good spot, it’s being watered correctly, and there are no heat registers nearby. The problem? The leaves need to be dusted. Dust in itself doesn't harm the plant in any way, but if dust is allowed to accumulate on the leaves it tends to partially filter out light. If it filters out enough light, the plant may start to complain. An occasional very light dusting with a soft cloth will usually prevent such a problem from occurring, plus it will add to the beauty of the plant.
Prune The Roots - Finally, it's a good idea to remove the plant from its container every other year or so and prune back the roots. The longer the roots are, the faster the plant will grow. This may not seem like a bad thing, but if it is an indoor plant, fast growth may not be what you want. By keeping the roots trimmed, you'll not only keep the plant from becoming root-bound, but you will also keep its growth rate at an acceptable level.