Something is very clearly amiss if your fiddle leaf (Ficus lyrata) begins sprouting small leaves. This beautiful plant is famous for having large, veiny leaves, with some bearing the shape of fiddles.
New leaves should sprout every four to six weeks, and they should be about the same size as the older leaves.
The three main causes for fiddle leaf figs producing small leaves are incorrect water intake, sunlight, and lack of nutrients (fertilizer). There is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained, so read on to find out how to achieve it.
Now let’s learn about the Causes of stunted leaf growth on your FLF. This way you can identify the exact cause and then take measures to fix the problem.
If your plant gets too much water, the leaves will begin to drop off and the roots will rot. Pair overwatering with a container that has clogged or no drainage holes, and you’ve yourself a recipe for root rot.
This disease affects the plant’s roots, causing them to rot and decay (more on this later).
If your plant develops root rot, the roots become damaged and the plant is prevented from properly absorbing nutrients and water.
This can subsequently cause stunted growth and leaves will not reach maturity.
Now, on the other hand, if you are giving your plant too little water, the plant will lose leaves. The leaves will droop and become dried out.
A good rule of thumb is to keep the soil moist, NOT wet. By watering your plant once each week and letting it dry out in the days between, you’re ensuring that it is on a regular watering schedule and that you won’t overwater or underwater it.
Another thing to consider is the quality of the water you are using. Even though tap water is considered ‘safe’ to drink, there are still harsh chemicals, like chlorine, found in it.
Chlorine is added to water to kill off microbes, but high levels of chlorine can be toxic to plants.
It can also cause a serious threat to beneficial soil microbes. As a result, the leaves may develop brown edges and growth can be affected.
The best water to use for your plant babies is water that you leave to stand out for 24-hours before you use it.
Chlorine dissipates easily and will evaporate from the water by itself. Better yet, if you have a water filter system, use that to water your plants.
How Much Sunlight is Enough?
Fiddle leaf fig plants will not thrive in conditions where it is low-light. It needs plenty of indirect sunlight and some direct sunlight to grow well. Do not place it in direct sunlight for extended periods, as that could lead to sunburn.
If your fiddle leaf is not getting enough sunlight per day, the new leaves that sprout won’t be as big as the older leaves, and the plant may start to look lopsided. This is why it is important to place your plant in a sunny area.
The best light would be sunlight that’s filtered through a window. It should provide steady light throughout the entire day. You will be able to discern through trial and error which window is best-suited.
Large, dark brown spots will appear on the leaves if your fiddle leaf is getting too much direct sunlight. Sunburnt leaves won’t be able to recover and will need to be pruned away.
If new leaves sprout and are sunburnt, they won’t be able to grow to their full potential.
Think of it as getting a sunburn, then recovering from it, only to get sunburnt once more.
That is what will happen to your fiddle leaf if left unchecked in too much direct sunlight.
Lack of Nutrients
Not all plants need fertilizer to grow well. I have reared many plants with no fertilizer at all, and they have all turned out fine.
That being said, the aforementioned plants were all outdoor plants that got plenty of sunlight and water.
Plants that require bright light, like our fiddle leaf friend, would also require fertilizer to replace any nutrients in the soil that would have already been absorbed.
So if you think that fertilizer is what is lacking in your plant and causing the leaves to have stunted growth, then it’s worth a try to buy some fertilizer and see if that helps.
If after using fertilizer for a few months and there is still no change, then it is likely not the cause.
If you don’t have fertilizer, you can always make your own by using materials like:
- Peels (Banana, Potato, Carrot, etc.)
- Grass Cuttings
- Wood Chips
Tip: You can also create a mulch with the above ingredients, which is a great way to prevent weeds from sprouting up around your plants.
You should fertilize your plant once per month, with a good quality fertilizer. By fertilizing it more than once per month, you are giving the soil too many nutrients.
Think of it as taking five vitamins per day when the bottle says to only take one.
This can be very dangerous for your plant. Not only could it be the CAUSE of stunted growth, but it could also cause death.
If you have been giving your fiddle leaf too much fertilizer, you might see some of the following symptoms:
- Slow / No Growth (Stunted Growth)
- Yellowed and Wilted Leaves
- Browning of Leaf Tips and Roots
Follow the instructions on the fertilizer so that you know exactly how much you should give your plant.
You can also put a reminder on your phone or calendar so that you know exactly when you should be fertilizing it each month.
Fiddle leaf figs prefer fertilizers that have an NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) ratio of 3-1-2.
This ratio means it has a higher content of nitrogen and the FLF loves nitrogen.
You only need to provide fertilizer while the plant is growing, so there is no need to fertilize it during winter.
It is vital that you have a plant container that has drainage holes at the bottom. Once the soil is thoroughly wet, any excess water will drip out.
(If you are using something like an ice-cream or yogurt container, you can cut makeshift holes into the bottom.)
Having these drainage holes allows the soil to dry out, thus ensuring that there’s a much lower chance of overwatering.
The bigger the pot is, the bigger your fiddle leaf will grow. If your fiddle leaf fig’s roots are growing out past the drainage holes, then it’s a clear sign that it needs a larger pot.
New leaves could potentially be a lot smaller if this is the case. Try repotting the plant into a slighter bigger container and watch to see if the leaves that come up are bigger.
Pests and Diseases
Anthracnose (Leaf Spot Disease)
This is a terrible, fungal disease that attacks plants. You might see brown spots with small, black dots in them, appearing on the leaves.
Eventually, the leaves will begin to fall off of the plant, with new leaves being affected by the fungus also.
The only thing to do in this situation is to remove the infected parts before it has time to spread to the entire plant. Use a fungicide spray to coat the unaffected parts so that it will be protected from any other spores.
Though it is rare, pest infestations can happen in fiddle leaf figs. The most common infestation being scale insects. You can often mistake them for small, brown, bumps on your plant.
Once they attach themselves to a specific area of foliage, they harden up their outer shells and don’t move again.
The female will continue to feed on the plant and lay her eggs, which in turn will hatch and attach themselves to more of the plant.
- First, separate the plant from the rest. You don’t want these buggers spreading to your other plants!
- Next, remove the insects by picking them off. This can only work if there is a slight infestation. If the infestation is severe, use alcohol or neem oil to get rid of them. Neem oil is an effective, organic insecticide and fungicide.
- Prune away all of the leaves, twigs, and stems that were affected. Don’t be disheartened if you have to remove quite an amount of leaves, they will surely grow back healthier and happier.
It can even cause leaves to wilt, discolor, and grow stunted. You will need to remove your fiddle leaf from its container to check the roots.
If they’re soft, brown, or limp and mushy, then your plant could be suffering from this fungal disease.
Worry not! It is possible to save your fiddle leaf if the root rot hasn’t spread amongst the whole root system. There is still hope if there are still some viable, healthy, white roots.
- Remove the rotten roots with a pair of scissors.
- Place the remaining roots in a fungicide to remove any lingering fungi.
- Replant your fiddle leaf in a new container with fresh potting soil.
Temperature and Humidity
The optimal temperature for your fiddle leaf is between 60 – 75°F (15 – 24°C).
Native to West Africa, this tropical plant loves warm, humid conditions and they are highly sensitive to environmental changes.
Extreme cold or warm temperatures are not good for your fiddle leaf and could cause problems with future growth.
DO NOT let your fiddle leaf stay in temperatures that fall below 55°F (12°C) – cold damage and shock can occur. Make sure to bring an outdoor fiddle leaf inside during cold weather.
Fiddle leaf figs respond well to medium humidity. If they aren’t receiving enough humidity, new leaves may be shriveled up when sprouting. Leaves could end up tearing or developing holes because of dryness.
- Using a spray bottle, mist the leaves every so often. Misting the new leaves will help them retain moisture and prevent cracks and tears.
- If you can, invest in a humidifier that will benefit yourself as well as your plants.
- Having more houseplants will increase the humidity through transpiration; this is an easy fix for plant lovers.
Genenal Care Guide For Fiddle Leaf Fig
Broad leaves mean more space for dust and dirt to collect on. Looking after the leaves by wiping them down with a damp cloth will keep them healthy and clean. You can also check for any pests or problems while doing this.
Investing in a quality pair of pruning shears will be beneficial in the long run. When pruning your plant, be sure to remove all parts that have a disease, insects, or irreparable damage. This will keep the rest of the plant in good health.
Tip: Clean your shears with a disinfectant to kill any unwanted bacteria or fungi that might cling on after use to avoid transmitting it to your other plants.
Keep in mind that if you do replant your fiddle leaf for any reason, it can cause some stress to the plant.
Keep an eye on it to make sure that it is still doing well after you have moved it to its new home.
If the soil is still good, ie. you are replanting it because of size and not disease or pests, then you can move it to the new container with some of the soil from the one it was in before.
Tip: Wait at least a week after repotting before watering your plant, because any damaged roots will have time to recover.
Say Goodbye to Small Leaves
Fiddle leaf figs are NOT the easiest plant to look after. Nothing good in life comes easy, and the same can be said here.
You have to be prepared to put in a great deal of work if you want your plant to thrive.
- Be mindful of the amount and quality of water you use.
- Fiddle leaf figs need bright light to grow.
- Make use of a good fertilizer, but don’t overfertilize.
- Correct container size is needed.
- Regularly inspect the foliage for signs of pests and disease.
- Warm, humid conditions are best.
Don’t be discouraged if you see no changes over the weeks. Just keep at it, and you will reap the rewards. As long as your fiddle leaf fig plant doesn’t give up, you should not either.
I hope that this article has helped you get your fiddle leaf fig back on track again.