You might have heard of the fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata), a popular plant that can be grown outdoors in southern climates but has become a popular houseplant.
This West African native gets this distinctive name from its 18” inch long fiddle-shaped foliage.
Oddly enough, this plant is rather finicky than most well-loved houseplant species. However, it’s not difficult to care for once you get the lighting and a few other environmental requirements right.
Like most indoor plants, this ficus hates getting its feet wet and can easily develop root rot if overwatered.
The good news is that giving it the proper amount of water is easy with the right techniques.
How Often To Water Fiddle Leaf Fig?
This Ficus isn’t a heavy drinker but still needs moderate water. Various factors will dictate how often you’ll need to give it water, so a good watering technique is essential.
Warning: NEVER Use The Calendar Method
Chances are, you grew up listening to people saying to water plants on specific days.
But, think about it, do you rely upon a timer to tell you it’s time to drink a specific amount of water?
Well, neither do plants.
The calendar method is the most common reason plants end up overwatered or underwatered.
The simple truth is that plants devote 97% or more percent of the water they drink to transpiration.
The best way to describe this process is that it’s similar to sweating and helps increase the humidity around a plant (although it can also help with photosynthesis and other methods).
This means the amount a plant transpires will depend on the humidity levels.
Additionally, the soil will dry out faster in bright light or higher temperatures, and the soil content can affect how much water is retained.
Rain can also play a role for both potted and grounded plants sitting outdoors.
In other words, many variables factor into how often and how much water you’ll need to provide.
The Risks Of Improper Watering
There are many potential problems a poor watering regimen can cause.
Underwatering can lead to the lower leaves turning yellow and may attract some pests.
It can also result in the foliage drying out and becoming crispy or developing brown along the edges.
Overwatering is even worse.
This can lead to fungal infections and attract a wide range of pests, such as fungus gnats.
Even worse, it can lead to root rot, a disease caused by strains of both fungus and bacteria that destroys the plant’s root system, often leading to symptoms similar to underwatering, as the plant can no longer absorb nutrients or water.
The good news is that a single overwatering can be remedied by simply letting the soil dry out properly before adding more water.
The bad news is that multiple waterings will require repotting your ficus in fresh soil and a new pot, as well as potential surgery if you’ve discovered root rot.
So How Much Water Does A Fiddle Leaf Fig Need?
Fiddle leaf figs are adapted to live in a tropical rainforest, which equates to higher humidity and consistently moist soil.
However, it’s better to allow the soil to dry out to a depth of 2” inches between waterings for potted plants.
The Benefits Of The Soak And Dry Method
The soak and dry method is one of the easiest and most reliable ways to water your plants and will work on both indoor and outdoor plants equally well.
The secret to its success is that it relies upon the soil to tell you when it’s time to water and when it’s had enough.
In fact, there’s only one thing you’ll have to master – the pouring rate.
Simply put, the goal is to pour slowly enough that the soil can absorb the water instantly.
If it isn’t, you just have to pour a little lighter.
Don’t worry if this sounds intimidating, as it only takes a couple of times for the proper pour rate to pass into muscle memory.
There’s only one caveat to using the soak and dry method: clearance.
You can’t use this technique on plants where the foliage is too close to the ground, as getting plant leaves wet can lead to fungal disease.
The only reason this doesn’t happen in nature is that the water droplets from rain evaporate so quickly.
In such cases, the bottom-up method is usually used, although this requires you to move the plant (which will result in your fig having a temper tantrum every time).
Using The Finger Trick
Many rely upon hydrometers and other fancy equipment to test water levels, but you only need a finger.
Known simply as the finger trick, you merely have to stick your finger straight down in the soil to feel how far down it’s dry.
For fiddle leaf figs, this is 2” inches, or the second knuckle on an average-sized adult human hand (each knuckle is about an inch).
If you have unusually small or large hands, you can just put your finger up against a ruler and mark the inch intervals.
Again, after a few times, you’ll be able to tell the proper depths without measuring.
Best of all, you can get so good at this technique that you can test potted plants as you walk by without coming to a full stop.
If you cannot tell when the soil’s dry from the touch, you can substitute a popsicle stick or bamboo chopstick.
Mark the inch intervals and stick it straight down into the soil to the required depth, then let it remain there for 20 minutes.
When you pull it back out, the stick will be darker where moisture is present.
Using The Soak And Dry Method
Once you’ve determined it’s time to water your ficus, the soak and dry method comes into play.
Always use room temperature distilled water or natural rainwater, as tap water contains mineral salts and gasses, which can be toxic to your plants or leave chemical burns.
If you only have tap water, run it through a Zero filter to remove the minerals and let it sit overnight so the chlorine and fluoride gasses can escape.
Start pouring, slowly and evenly covering the soil surface around the roots but not getting the plant wet.
Work your way around the plant, so all sides are getting watered.
You’ll know it’s time to stop for indoor and outdoor plants when the soil surface can no longer absorb as fast as you’re pouring.
However, you can also tell when a potted plant has had enough when you see moisture beginning to seep from the container’s drainage holes.
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