The two most common problems for fiddle leaf fig plants are ironically the opposite of each other: too much water and too little water. But what’s worse is that it’s actually tough to tell which is which. Over-watering leads to root rot, a fungal condition that kills the plant’s roots and leaves. Under-watering leads to a dry plant with leaf damage.
First, one clarification. Over-watering and lack of sunlight work together to produce root rot, so if your fiddle leaf fig doesn’t get enough sun (and they like lots of light), the symptoms may mimic those of too much water. Under-watering and too much sun work together to dry out and burn your plant, so you’ll want to treat those issues together.
But how do you know for sure if your plant is too wet or too dry? First look; brown spots, dropping leaves, and curled edges can be a symptom of both conditions. Here are the subtle differences between an over-watered and under-watered fiddle leaf fig plant.
Symptoms of a Dry Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant
There are a few ways you can discern a dry plant from an over-watered plant. First, chronically dry plants will always have brown spots and curled leaves. You can see this extreme example of leaf curling for a plant that was completely dried beyond repair.
But what’s different about the brown spots of a dry plant is that they’ll typically start at the edge of the leaf, not in the middle. They’ll also affect leaves all over the plant, from top to bottom, where root rot will usually affect the lower leaves more than the top leaves.
Finally, the leaves of your dry fiddle leaf fig may look otherwise healthy, whereas the leaves of a plant with root rot will begin to look sickly, yellow, or have tiny brown spots. Both cases will drop leaves, but dry plants will drop leaves throughout the plant, not just the bottom leaves.
Symptoms of Root Rot in a Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant
The telltale sign of too much water and not enough sunlight is that your plant will start to get brown spots in the middle of the leaf as well as at the edges. You may also see a yellowing of the leaves before they fall off. Yellow almost always means too much water and not enough sun or fertilizer.
Over-watered plants will get tiny brown spots or brown shaded areas on their leaves before they turn to brown spots, like you can see in this example.
You will also notice that with root rot, the plant will drop its lowest leaves first. A plant’s instinct is to protect the newest growth (which has more access to sunlight in the wild) and drop the older leaves that it doesn’t need as much. In this image, you see a plant with root rot that has lost many of its lower leaves.
At first glance, it may be tough to determine whether you are giving your plant too much or too little water, but the things to look out for to diagnose root rot are yellowing leaves, brown spots in the middle of the leaf, and dropping the lowest leaves.
If you’re still not sure, try using a moisture meter to check the water in your plant. Read how to use a moisture meter with your fiddle leaf fig here. For more information, read Diagnosing and Treating Root Rot in Fiddle Leaf Fig Plants, and get your Root Rot Treatment here.
Could it Be Erratic Watering?
Does your plant have symptoms of both over- and under-watering? There’s a chance it could be both, or a condition called erratic watering.
The trick to solving this problem is to remove all of the leaves damaged by root rot (you can leave mildly damaged dry leaves), then setting a schedule and watering your plant only once a week. Water until 10% to 15% of the water comes out of your pot’s drainage holes. Wait a full week and check to make sure the top inch of soil is dry before you water again.
- For more information on how to water your fiddle leaf fig, read The Ultimate Watering Guide for fiddle leaf figs here.
- If you want to find out when to water your fiddle leaf fig, read How Dry Is Too Dry? When to Water Your Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree.
- Sign up for our free Fiddle Leaf Fig Care 101 Webinar or our free Fiddle Leaf Fig Course for advanced fiddle leaf fig care, and make sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
- Order your Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant Food, your Premium Fiddle Leaf Fig Potting Soil, and your Root Rot Treatment here.
- Order Houseplant Leaf Armor, designed to protect houseplants from insects, bacteria, and fungus. (As an added bonus, the Houseplant Leaf Armor also cleans and adds shine to your houseplant’s leaves!)
- Purchase The Fiddle Leaf Fig Expert, your complete guide to growing healthy fiddle leaf fig plants. The book is available in full-color paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon now.
- Click to join our community on Facebook: Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant Resource Group.