By: Shelley Pierce
A few years ago, the fiddle leaf fig was the “it” plant and to some extent it still is. Many became enamored with its large, glossy, violin-shaped leaves which brought the wow factor to a home’s décor. Perhaps you now have this trendy plant in your home and are wondering how to keep your plant as “fit as a fiddle.” Fiddle leaf fig pruning is one good way to keep the plant in top form by giving it good form. So, let’s get a sharp pair of pruning shears in hand and learn how to prune fiddle leaf fig.
The most ideal time for pruning fiddle leaf fig is when it is actively growing, which is typically spring or early summer.
While the thought of fiddle leaf fig pruning may seem intimidating, cutting back fiddle leaf figs is actually very easy.
Be properly equipped when cutting back fiddle leaf figs. You will want to make nice clean cuts on your plant. This will only happen with a sharp clean pair of pruning shears, not a dull pair of scissors. When pruning fiddle leaf fig, it is also recommended to protect the area around your plant with a drop-cloth, as any cuts made may ooze a sticky sap on your floors and nobody wants that.
If you are so inclined, consider saving the healthy clippings and root them in a jar of water to make more fiddle leaf fig plants. Your cuttings should develop good root systems within 1-2 months, at which point they can be planted into small pots.
How you go about pruning fiddle leaf fig will largely depend on your personal preference. Don’t like the look of tattered or scorched leaves or diseased branches? Simply snip off any of these eyesores with your pruning shears. Fiddle leaf figs either have bare or leaf-covered stems or trunks. If you’re angling for a more tree-like look, your fiddle leaf fig pruning will involve removing the older lower leaves on the trunk, provided you have healthy growth happening on top of your plant.
Are you satisfied with the current height of your fiddle leaf fig? At the top of your main stem is a growing tip from which new leaves will emerge. To keep the height of your plant in check, you will need to pinch out these tender leaves as they appear with your fingers. This may also help to deter lower leaf drop as well as encourage branching of your plant near the pinching points.
Is your fiddle leaf fig plant too tall or leggy? Examine the nodes on the main stem (a node is where a leaf attaches to a branch) and make a cut slightly above one of those nodes at your desired height. Follow this same process for any horizontal or outward branches that may be too long for your liking. New growth may develop below the points where you were cutting back fiddle leaf figs.
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I suppose it is a good thing that houseplants don’t have hands because it means they can’t type. Otherwise my fiddle-leaf fig tree would be writing a post for its blog right now, begging for help: “Get me out of here, she’s trying to kill me.” As it is, the tree is looking at me accusingly as it drops yet another browned and dried leaf onto the floor. Can this dying plant be saved?
Maybe I should explain how the fig and I got into this desperate situation. A few months ago I fell in love with a four-foot fiddle-leaf fig tree at Green Jeans Garden Supply in Mill Valley, California, my favorite local plant store, brought it home on a whim, and vowed to care for it properly. I did everything I could think of to please this West African lowlands native: I found it a nice spot in indirect sun let its soil dry out between waterings, and kept it in a tight pot so the roots wouldn’t, in the words of Green Jeans owner Kevin Sadlier, “get freaked out.”
Maybe this should have been the first clue that a needy houseplant was not the best fit for a negligent household where the Tillandsias have been known to resort to crawling to the sink to turn on the faucet themselves after a few weeks without water.
But everything went well for…oh, about four months. We gave the plant a nickname, bought Precious its own rolling plant stand, and invited its little houseplant friends over for play dates so it wouldn’t get lonely (or “freaked out”). On sunny afternoons I even rolled the fiddle-leaf fig tree out to the covered front porch so it could wave to neighbors walking by.
But then? One night the unthinkable happened here in northern California. We had a freeze, and the temperature dipped below 30 degrees. The next morning, I sat up in bed and suddenly remembered: Precious was outdoors all night!
The rest of the story is sad. I brought the fiddle-leaf fig indoors, but almost immediately its leaves started to turn brown–one by one. And all the new buds that had been furled tightly at the base of mature leaves shriveled and turned crispy. Like, a black crispy. Not good. And now, a month later, the plant is looking sicker by the day. Finally in desperation, this week I went back to Green Jeans and asked, Is it too late? Or can my dying fiddle-leaf fig tree be saved?
Good news: Read on for seven strategies for reviving a fiddle-leaf fig tree.
Secret No. 1: Don’t prune the brown, bare branches unless they look moldy. If you see any brown husks, leave them alone too—the hard covers could be protecting new growth. Come spring, leaves will sprout.
(To be fair, there’s nothing prettier than a healthy fiddle-leaf fig tree. See 5 Glamorous Fiddle-Leaf Fig Trees.)
Secret No. 2: Be patient. The fiddle-leaf fig tree is a slow grower in winter it goes dormant. Don’t expect to see any improvement before April (and warmer temperatures). And don’t expect immediate miracles even then. It could be a year before a recovering fiddle-leaf fig tree starts to look really good again.
Secret No. 3: If the stalk is shriveled, it’s too far gone to save. But if it’s still hard and strong, it can recover. Again, give it time.
Secret No. 4: Don’t pull off leaves. But you can trim away brown outer edges without harming the plant.
Secret No. 5: Identify the areas on the stalk where there are damaged buds don’t pull off the hurt tips, but keep an eye on these areas. This is where you can expect to see new growth.
Looking for a low-maintenance houseplant? See 5 Houseplants to Simplify Your Life.
Secret No. 6: Don’t let an ailing fiddle-leaf fig tree dry out completely. Water it once a week or so and make sure excess water drains out the bottom of the pot. (I water mine in the shower and leave it there for a few hours to let the pot drain before returning it to its plant saucer.)
Secret No. 7: Don’t transplant it until you see new growth even if the pot is so tight that roots are visible at the surface.
In summary, the best thing you can do to help your fiddle-leaf fig tree survive is to leave it be to recover, slowly, on its own. Give it indirect sunlight, water once a week, and warm temperatures (it will appreciate a room temperature that’s from 60 to 90 degrees). And certainly–don’t leave it outdoors overnight if there is any chance of the temperature dropping below freezing.
Are you trying to keep your fiddle-leaf fig alive too? See more tips in The Fig and I: 10 Tips for Caring for a Fiddle-Leaf Fig. And see more tips for growing, care, and design at Fiddle-Leaf Fig Trees: A Field Guide in our curated plant guide for Tropicals 101.
Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for a creeping fig with our Creeping Fig: A Field Guide.
Additionally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for fiddle-leaf fig tree with our Fiddle-Leaf Fig Tree: A Field Guide.
Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various houseplants with our Houseplants: A Field Guide.
Interested in other tropical plants for your garden or indoor space? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various tropical plants with our Tropical Plants: A Field Guide.
Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various vines and climbers with our Vines & Climbers: A Field Guide.
PLEASE HELP my fiddle leaf fig tree
Training fiddle leaf fig bush into a tree?
Should I bring my Fiddle Leaf Fig tree inside after new leaves?
Focus sunligh mostly to trunk/area where you want new shoots to grow then cut tip of all 3 branches. Removing the tips will force the tree to grow new shoots, and best spot to grow is where it get most sunligh. When new shoots grow, you can remove all leggy old branches to make the tree look shorter and compact.
..but honestly.. i'm not sure the tree will make it. The trunk is so tiny for broad leaf plant like lyrata, even the 3 branches above i think produced by mother plant since the beginning. Better you propagate those 3 branches as seperate tree, grow it properly, have bigger trunk so it able to support multiple branches.
"Focus sunligh mostly to trunk/area where you want new shoots to grow then cut tip of all 3 branches. Removing the tips will force the tree to grow new shoots, and best spot to grow is where it get most sunligh." This is not so. Whenever the apical meristem of a branch/stem/trunk is removed the most likely location for new branches to occur, regardless of the trees condition or its light load, is in existing leaf axils immediately proximal to the pinch, or, immediately above leaf/bundle scars that occur immediately proximal to the pinch. IOW, because auxin is also produced in leaves, the more proximal to the pinch or pruning cut a potential growing point is, the less it is affected by the pinch/pruning cut. That's why it's important to prune hard instead of just pinching out the branch/stem apex.
"..but honestly.. i'm not sure the tree will make it." WHY? While the tree shouldn't be considered a paragon of vivacity, neither can it be considered to be circling the drain. It's a middling tree, not yet in steep decline, that can easily be turned around with a little effort toward improving cultural influences. "The trunk is so tiny for broad leaf plant like lyrata, even the 3 branches above i think produced by mother plant since the beginning." I agree, but that is easily fixed by pruning hard, and giving the tree more light. A 1/4" x 4ft wood dowel rod is very flexible. prune it in half, and the half-length is far stiffer in comparison to the uncut version. Pruning does the same. With judicious attention to pinching after pruning, the branches will thicken and become very stout. "Better you propagate those 3 branches as seperate tree, grow it properly, have bigger trunk so it able to support multiple branches." Stressed trees make poor parent material for cuttings, and the worst time of the year to start Ficus cuttings is early spring when reserve energy levels are lowest. If I was planning to propagate this tree, I would do it by air layering, but whether by layers or cuttings, you still end up with 3 small trees. The suggestion to work on the trees level of vitality and then prune hard in June is by far the fastest, easiest, and most foolproof way for Christa to bring what she envisions to fruition.
1. Tree near building which have branch that grow on darkspot under the roof, when we cut the tip, the shoot will grow far back where it still able catching light. Long old stem that remain will eventually abandoned and die, not produce any shoot. Stem of ficus elastica/lyrata can be used as example. On small tree like bonsai, that tree character won't easily recognize.
2. Back budding of lyrata is much more difficult compared with other kind of ficus. Benjamina, retusa, or microcarpa is very easy, even elastica can be considered easy. In container, lyrata only produce few leaves in months. Losing the tip can be a dissaster. Back budding is far from immediate.
In my oppinion, to get bushier look from lyrata, best way is start big with many branches from beginning. Second plant 3 or 4 tree in a pot, that's why propagate can be an option. Its very hard to increase trunk size or create branches of lyrata in container.
A heavier photo load on a bare section of a stem/branch is not enough to guarantee new laterals in that area, even if accompanied by a significant increase in air movement. To be sure there will be back-budding in that area, pruning back as close to that area as is reasonable is essential, and under some conditions, no consideration need be given to how far back into the bare area the pruning cut is made. I have cut back F lyrata almost to the soil line, without a leaf left on the plant, with no ill effects other than the temporary slowdown due to lack of foliage. While it is fairly certain that, if the tree is moved outdoors into full sun, and all cultural conditions are near perfect, back-budding will likely occur, it is still not assured unless pruned.
Strong back-budding of lyrata requires only that the tree be judiciously pinched. It's heavy tendency toward apical dominance can be almost entirely short-circuited by pinching after branches have 2 fully formed leaves and the 3rd is on the way. I witness this with 100% predictable regularity, so saying it isn't so isn't a convincing argument. Removing the apical meristem from a lyrata branch/trunk is not a disaster - not even a minor inconvenience as it's a regular part of how trees are developed. On this forum alone, dozens have shown after images of their transformed lyratas, owing that transformation to no more than a bit of cultural fine-tuning and a little judicious pruning.
My opinion is, stuffing a pot with multiple plants in order to achieve a full and compact composition is something I'd leave to beginners unfamiliar with how to manipulate the plant. If I want a multi-trunk planting of Ficus, I can achieve that end by chopping back a 1-2 year old healthy plant and rubbing off the buds I don't want after it back-buds.
Lyrata is like most trees in that thickening of the trunk is directly related to the photo-load and leaf surface (photosynthesizing) area. The more leaves and the brighter the light, the thicker the trunk grows. If forced to grow the plant under a photo load less than ideal, the trunk is kept rigid through regular cutting back of the tree to eliminate any tendency toward laying over.