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How To Save Overwatered Fiddle Leaf Fig

I brought home a fiddle leaf fig tree from a local garden center just about a week ago. Its full-bodied, glossy leaves were simply beautiful. However, just after a week – and don’t get me wrong, I was watering it diligently every day – the leaves started to wither, making the whole plant seem like it was succumbing to time.

Perhaps I was doing something wrong or something had been going on with this plant continuously. I’ve cared for numerous houseplants before, so I’m somewhat familiar with the signs and symptoms of various plant problems.

In this case, I suspected inconsistent and over-watering to be the culprit. I found some green moss growing on the topsoil of the pot, and the soil never seemed to dry out; it was always damp and soggy.

I’ve placed my fiddle leaf fig on the sunny, southern side of my house, and I’m fairly confident I’m not over-watering it. If you’re in a similar predicament, you might be scratching your head, trying to figure out where things went wrong. Well, I’m here to share some insights that might help clear up your confusion.

Over-watering is not just about pouring a lot of water into the pot. It can also be due to other circumstances, like the soil not having good air and water drainage, the pot lacking a drainage hole to let out excess water, or the plant being placed in a shaded area with poor ventilation.

In such conditions, the water in the pot doesn’t evaporate quickly, which means the soil stays wet and soggy all the time, creating the same harmful effects as over-watering.

Black and Mushy Roots Indicate Root Rot

Signs of Overwatered Fiddle Leaf Fig

Over-watering your plants can actually encourage fungal growth, leading to root rot. As a result, the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients from the soil gets compromised. To protect itself, the plant starts to shed its older leaves first.

You may notice brown and black spots appearing and gradually spreading across the leaves. These spots could be a result of various issues such as pest infestations or other types of fungal diseases.

However, if the leaves are dropping, turning yellow and you’re observing black and brown spots spreading slowly across them, there’s a high likelihood your plant is suffering from over-watering.

Furthermore, fungus gnats, tiny insects that often hover around plants, thrive in environments that are consistently damp and soggy, or where water is stagnant.

More advanced signs of an overwatered fiddle leaf fig include a musty smell emanating from the soil.

This odor occurs when the soil has been in anaerobic (without air) conditions for an extended period, causing organic material in the soil or the root system of the fiddle leaf fig to decay.

If you bring your nose close to the plant pot, you’ll be able to detect this unpleasant scent.

How to Revive an Overwatered Fiddle Leaf Fig

Plants create their own food through the process of photosynthesis, which requires water, carbon dioxide, sunlight, and nutrients. Water plays a pivotal role in transporting food and nutrients from roots to other parts of the plant.

The cycle looks like this: Overwatering -> water doesn’t drain -> oxygen deficiency occurs in the soil -> microbes that thrive in oxygen-deprived environments proliferate massively ->  roots rot.

Plants breathe by taking in oxygen through their root system. If the soil is overwatered, it will become waterlogged, reducing the oxygen available to the roots.

Essentially, the excess water pushes the air out of the soil’s pockets, causing the roots to suffocate. Over time, this leads to the decay of the root system. 

A damaged root system becomes susceptible to decay and fungal infection, leading to a dangerous condition known as root rot. This disease can be lethal for your fiddle leaf fig plant, and indeed, many other plants.

Without a functioning root system, the plant can’t absorb water and nutrients from the soil. This impedes the food production process through photosynthesis, causing the plant to gradually exhibit symptoms of dying.

Hence, it’s crucial to recognize and identify these signs of overwatering in your fiddle leaf fig, and take swift action to save your plant. If you’re too late, your plant may not survive, as root rot caused by overwatering can quickly progress deep into the soil.

This might delay your identification of the symptoms, so it’s important to be vigilant in observing any abnormal signs. 

Inspect the root system if necessary. If you find the roots are decaying, slimy, or lack firmness to the touch, it’s time to take immediate action to save your fiddle leaf fig.

Step 1: Inspect the Root System 

If you’ve done everything you could – such as adjusting the watering schedule, relocating it to a different environment, and providing it with ample light – but nothing seems to work, it’s time to inspect the root system. You might find your answer hidden beneath the soil.

Gently remove the plant from the pot. If the roots are black and mushy, it indicates root rot. Shake off the soil; the roots will follow along when you gently tug at the base of the plant.

Step 2: Trim the Root System and Leaves 

Now that you’ve spotted signs of progressing root rot in your fiddle leaf fig, it’s time to trim the rotten, blackened root system to halt its further progression.

To do this, rinse the roots with fresh water so that you can clearly identify the affected areas. Get rid of anything black & mushy!

Carefully cut off the damaged parts. Make sure to inspect the roots again to ensure you haven’t left any rotting parts behind, because if any remain, they’ll likely come back and re-infect your fiddle leaf fig with root rot.

Having pruned a portion of the root system, you should also trim some of the branches and leaves accordingly. A plant’s above-ground size should maintain a logical ratio with the size of the root ball; this is because the root system can only support a certain amount of leaves and plant parts.

You might be wondering which parts of the plant to prune. In this situation, remove or prune older leaves that have started to droop, change color, or lose their lush green look.

Also, trim any parts affected by root rot and overwatering, like leaves with brown spots or stems that have started to wrinkle. You might find that pruning some branches gives your fiddle leaf fig a bit of shape and allows for better ventilation – if so, go for it.

Step 3: Repot Your Plant Using a New Pot and Fresh Soil

Due to your old pot and soil possibly harboring the fungus pathogen that leads to root rot in your fiddle leaf fig, it’s wise to discard the old potting mix and introduce a new pot.

While repotting can add some stress to your plant, when dealing with root rot, the process also inevitably involves removing a significant portion of the infected root system. This can be quite stressful for your plant, so it’s essential to ensure its new home is as inviting as possible.

To ensure a smooth transition, make sure your plant’s new soil base is well-draining, yet retains enough moisture to support its natural physiological activities.

You could opt for a standard potting mix that already has a good balance of nutrients and the drainage capacity we’re seeking.

Alternatively, to further enhance your soil’s performance, consider adding perlite or pumice. These additions can help retain moisture and improve drainage simultaneously.

Adding perlite or pumice increases the porosity of your soil, creating additional air pockets. More air in the soil means more available oxygen for the roots to absorb.

This creates a healthy environment for your fiddle leaf fig’s root system to re-establish and spread. Thus, after repotting and trimming, your plant’s root system should bounce back more quickly, providing stability and resilience.

As for the pot, I’d advise using a new one with drainage holes. If you are considering using an old pot, remember it could harbor spores from the root rot causing fungus.

To avoid this, you can disinfect the old pot by submerging it in a bleach water solution (5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach per gallon) for at least 30 minutes or rinsing it in a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution diluted with two parts water.

To finish up, fill the new pot to about one-third of its volume, then carefully place your fiddle leaf fig’s root ball inside. Proceed to fill the pot with your chosen soil, lightly pressing down at the top to secure the root system and provide the necessary support for your plant to stand upright.

Lastly, it’s time to water your plant. Gently water it from the base until you see moisture seeping out from the drainage holes. And there you have it: your fiddle leaf fig’s fresh start in a new, nurturing home.

How Different Situations Affect Watering Your Fiddle Leaf Fig

If you’re in a region where summer temperatures are scorching, you might be wondering about the best practices for watering your fiddle leaf fig. Because of the summer heat, your plant demands more water, so you might find yourself watering it daily.

However, if it’s raining and your plant is outside, you may end up overwatering. The rainfall combined with your own watering can oversaturate your plant.

Here’s an experience I had, which might sound familiar. I was regularly watering my fiddle leaf fig, but despite my daily attention, it seemed to be suffering from thirst, showing signs like drooping leaves.

I could tell something was off just by looking at it. I was left puzzled, unsure whether to water it more or less each day. Then, I figured out something that was right in front of me all along.

After watering, I noticed that the water was quickly draining out of the pot, indicating that my soil wasn’t retaining any moisture for the plant to use. As you may know, plants absorb water slowly over time – they don’t soak up water from soil like a sponge.

So, I decided to replace the soil with a well-draining type that also retains moisture for the plant to use. When you water it, it’s best if the water doesn’t immediately flow out from the bottom, but seeps in gradually.

This allows the soil to retain more moisture. Once your soil achieves this moisture level, it’s okay to skip watering once in a while. It’s all about balance and careful observation of your plant’s needs.

How to Avoid Overwatering Your Fiddle Leaf Fig

Are you the nurturing type who tends to go overboard with caring for your indoor plants, just like I used to? Here’s a simple trick I discovered from experience.

Resist the urge to water your fiddle leaf fig until the soil feels dry. Yes, even if the soil appears dry, don’t trust your eyes, I mean it!

Get your hands dirty, literally. Stick your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. If you sense moisture, hold off on watering for a bit. If it feels dry, then it’s time to give your plant a drink. Simple, isn’t it?

If you’re using a well-draining soil and a pot with drainage holes, there’s less risk of overwatering. Even if you accidentally add too much water, the excess will simply drain out through the holes.

However, there are a few other things to keep in mind to maintain consistent watering:

  • When watering, ensure to soak the entire surface of the soil rather than focusing on one spot. Ideally, the water should cover the top soil and be gradually absorbed.
  • Remember, the soil pores not only contain oxygen, but also carbon dioxide produced by the plant and other microbes living in it. Watering ensures a fresh supply of oxygen mixed in the root zone. As the water seeps in, it pushes out the carbon dioxide, creating a healthier environment for the roots.
  • Your watering frequency and quantity should be adjusted according to the season. In summer, plants need more water due to increased evaporation and plant activity.Avoid overwatering in winter because it’s the plant’s dormant period.
  • During the drier seasons, particularly when air conditioning or heating is used, the room becomes drier, which can harm your plant and affect the evaporation rate from the soil. To prevent your fiddle leaf fig from drying out, consider using a humidifier or gently wipe the leaves with a damp, clean towel. 
  • Regardless of the season, if you notice your plant is forming new shoots, provide additional water as this is a sign of growth and increased water needs.
  • If you’re unsure about the best time to water your fiddle leaf fig, remember that it also depends on the season. During summer, watering during the day could heat the water and stress your plant, so opt for early morning or evening. In winter, avoid watering in the cold evening or night, as it could chill the roots. Instead, water your fiddle leaf fig during the day when it’s warmer.

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