If you own a celebrated fiddle leaf fig tree, you’ve probably thought about what you can do to get it to grow new branches. Fiddle leaf fig notching is a fairly advanced strategy. Today, we’ll break down what you need to know to get new growth right where you want it with notching and pinching.

We all know the story…the hapless home decorator falls in love with a fiddle leaf fig and hops online to find a local retailer that may sell one of these charming indoor trees. Dropping everything and running to her local nursery or home improvement store, she arrives to find a few dozen small, bush-looking plants. Confused, our protagonist double-checks the label against what she’s sure she came for. She shrugs and buys the thing, assuming it will magically transform it into a lovely tree someday. 

Pinching and Notching 101 for Fiddle Leaf Fig

Months go by. The 18-inch shrubbish plant grows to 2 feet, then 3. The plant’s owner is delighted. “Progress,” she thinks. “Trees are taller than bushes, so we must be on the right track!”

The fiddle leaf fig continues to grow. At some point, the observant indoor gardener begins to wonder, “Is there something I should be doing to produce branches?” 

Yes, there is!

To turn a fiddle leaf fig from a bush into a tree shape takes intentional work from you, the plant’s caregiver.

Thankfully, we’re here to show you when and how to pinch and notch your shrub-shaped fiddle leaf fig plant–and eventually transform it into a tree.

Fiddle Leaf Fig Notching: How to Turn a Single Stalk into a Multi-Branch Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree (With Before, During, and After Photos)

Here is a picture of my four fiddle leaf fig trees the first day I brought them home. Like most starters, they were about 2 feet tall. 

Fiddle Leaf Fig Pinching and Notching 101: When, Why, and How to Encourage Branching (With Before and After Pictures)

A few months later, I saw they were responding well to my home office (a sunroom-type space), watering regimen, temperature, and relational climate. They were thriving. I was overjoyed.

Fiddle Leaf Fig Pinching and Notching 101: When, Why, and How to Encourage Branching (With Before and After Pictures)

Around this time, I noticed these were simply taller versions of the same plant I had brought home originally. In other words, where were the branches I was supposed to start seeing?

I phoned my local nursery and was taught how to pinch and notch the plant to encourage branching. Here’s exactly what I did: 

  • First, I decided where I wanted my first branch.
  • Next, I located a node nearest the desired branch position. Nodes are the almost-imperceptible thickening of the trunk located between leaves.
  • Then, using a sharp knife, I made a 1/8″-deep cut into the trunk of the plant just above that node. The immediate appearance of white, sticky sap startles some growers, but this is completely normal and healthy.

This is called fiddle leaf fig notching. Notching a fiddle leaf fig tree encourages the tree to develop a branch at that location. Click here for the full notching tutorial video.

The other method of branching is called “pinching.” Here’s how it works:

  • First, locate the newest growth on top of your fiddle leaf fig plant.
  • Using high-quality pruning shears, cut this new growth off. Again, you’ll see sap appear immediately. When it dries, you’ll see a dark scab.

Fiddle Leaf Fig Pinching and Notching 101: When, Why, and How to Encourage Branching (With Before and After Pictures)

Pinching the top of your fiddle leaf fig forces it to branch out at that location. If all other conditions are favorable, then this branching should take less than 2 or 3 weeks to appear. 

Fiddle Leaf Fig Pinching and Notching 101: When, Why, and How to Encourage Branching (With Before and After Pictures)

It’s been a year since I first pinched that original shrubby fiddle leaf fig above. It is now over 9 feet tall and has many big, beautiful branches. 

Pinching and notching should both be done near the beginning of or in the middle of the growing season. Never pinch or notch your tree unless you can safely let it recover for a few months after the treatment. For example, don’t cut or pinch a fiddle leaf fig if you know you’ll be moving its location or changing its watering or feeding routine in the near future.

Oh, and since knifing your treasured plant will always test your grit, don’t do it alone. Pop into the friendly Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant Resource Group to get some encouragement and tips from fellow ficus lyrata owners who have lovingly pruned and pinched their own beloved trees (and lived to tell the tale). And don’t forget to share your own before-and-after photos!

Meg S. Miller is an influential speaker and multiple award-winning author with nearly a decade of writing experience. In her latest book, Benefit of the Debt (April 28, 2018), Miller offers a unique perspective that gives fresh insight into common sources of brokenness within Christian marriages. Miller, her husband, Joe, and their three children live near Washington, D.C., where they own and operate an organic farm. When not writing, Miller loves doting on her six prized fiddle leaf fig trees. Learn more about Meg at www.benefitofthedebt.com.

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