If you’ve had a fiddle leaf fig tree for a while and it’s grown taller, you may be wondering how to get it to grow new branches. You’re in luck, as there is an easy way to get your plant to start new branches right where you want them. This can give a fuller or more tree-like shape to your fiddle leaf fig. This process is fiddle leaf fig notching.
To learn more, watch our fiddle leaf fig notching tutorial below, and be sure to take before and after photos so you can share your success! For step-by-step notching instructions, check out this guide.
Notching: The Secret to a Branched Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree
The fiddle leaf fig tree is an interior decorating icon right now. It’s trendy. It’s stately. It’s hip. Everything about the fiddle leaf fig tree says stylish, but most of us who acquire a ficus lyrata don’t start out with one of those gorgeous tree-shaped statement pieces.
It’s up to us to turn it into that recognizable statement-making tree shape. For that, there’s a branching method called notching, which is the process of scoring the trunk where you’d like the tree to produce a new branch.
Notching vs. Pruning
Notching involves cutting the plant, but to be clear, you will not be pruning. The difference is that pruning is the removal of unwanted, unneeded, dead, or dying material. Instead, this notching is a strategic scoring cut that encourages the tree to produce a branch at or near that location.
Should you notch your tree?
Not all trees are ready for notching, so make sure your plant meets the following perquisites before you go cutting into the trunk:
You’ve had it for at least a month
It’s important to not stress your plant more than necessary, and moving to a new home is a big stress on a fiddle leaf fig! Give your plant a chance to settle into its new home before you introduce even more change.
Your plant is healthy
If your plant is struggling with disease, insects, dryness, or root rot, its priority is survival, not growth. Let your plant recover fully before coaxing it to grow new branches.
Your trunk is strong
You’ll also need a healthy fiddle leaf fig with a strong trunk. Do not try to force a weak-stemmed plant to branch. At best, it won’t work. At worst, you might decapitate your whole plant!
If you need to strengthen your plant’s trunk, check out our article on How to Strengthen and Thicken the Trunk of a Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree.
Your tree is at least 2/3 the height you’d like it to reach
We’ll explain this one later. If it hasn’t reached this height, give it a chance to grow. For now, stick to pruning if you’d like to change its shape.
How to Notch Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Sharp, sterilized pruning shears or a knife
- A clean rag or paper towel
Step 1: Start With a Plan
This step is important, because once you make a cut, you can’t take it back!
Before you start notching, consider the size of your plant and the goal that you would like to achieve.
Never start encouraging branching until the tree is at least two-thirds of the height that you’d like it to eventually top out at. For example, for a standard room height of 8 or 9 feet, you want to let your single-stalked shrub achieve a height of about 5 or 6 feet before notching.
We do this for two reasons. First, to let the trunk grow strong and thick before developing a canopy, that is, branching. The other reason is because this way, branches can begin appearing at 5 or 6 feet, allowing space for those branches to branch yet again, creating a total of 8 or 9 feet.
Now, if you have high ceilings and want a taller tree, that’s possible too. Simply add 12 to 18 inches to wherever you plan to put your first notch. Let your single-stalk fiddle leaf fig grow to about 6 or 7 feet and then begin notching right around where you’d like your first lowest, largest, most prominent crevice, also known as the crotch.
Now, what if your fiddle leaf fig tree has gotten too tall and you’d like to generate more branches below that main split? Will the notching that we’re about to see work in the same scenario to prompt new growth there too? Yes, it will.
Step 2: Find a Node
Once you’ve decided where you would like your first largest branch-off or trunk split, grab your pruners. You already know down the general area, so now it’s just time to identify exactly where you will make your cut.
Within 2 or 3 inches of your target, you will see a node. A node is a slight thickening of the trunk. Near that node will be another one. Locate the space between these two nodes, and that is where you will want to score.
Now, some experts advise finding a spot about a quarter-inch above a healthy leaf or old leaf scar, but I’ve found more success using nodes as the guide.
Step 3: Make Your Cut
The actual notching process itself doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Simply put on your gloves and use the sharp, clean edge of your pruners or knife to make a slightly downward score, an eighth or a quarter of an inch deep into the trunk.
This will penetrate the xylem sapwood layer. Once your blade is embedded into the tissue, rotate it around the stem at least one-third of the circumference.
Immediately, a white sticky sap may surprise you, but don’t worry, your plant will be okay. Use your rag to gently wipe up the sap since it can be harmful to pets and children. This sap can irritate your skin as well, so here’s where the gloves come in handy.
Step 4: Aftercare
Continue your diligent care regimen, watering methodically, wiggling the trunk every couple days, checking for pests, monitoring light and humidity, fertilize regularly with Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant Food, and wait.
Remember, if this is your first notching and it works, a small branch will sprout out at the notching site. That branch may grow and grow, eventually turning your plant into what looks like a Y-shaped tree.
Why didn’t it work?
If after two months your notched fiddle leaf fig tree has not branched, don’t worry.
Experienced fiddle leaf fig caregivers roughly report about a 50% success rate with this method, so you can try again in a few weeks later or in a slightly different place between two nearby nodes.
If you’re curious, possible reasons for a non-response could include the use of a dull knife. It was just a mistake that produces a scar tissue instead of promoting an offshoot. Another reason might be not cutting deeply enough or simply chance. Again, it’s common for this method to render no dramatic branches on your first go.
Transforming a fiddle leaf fig plant into a tree-shape statement piece takes time and patience. One thing you can do while you wait is take before, during, and after pictures to look back on later.
Be sure to share your pictures inside our Facebook Fiddle Leaf Fig Community.
Grab the Essentials for Your Fiddle Leaf Fig:
- Premium Fiddle Leaf Fig Potting Soil
- Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant Food
- Root Rot Treatment
- Houseplant Leaf Armor to protect against insects, bacteria, and fungus (As an added bonus, it also cleans and adds shine to your plant’s leaves!)
- Moisture meter to always know when your plant is thirsty.
To learn more:
- To learn more, sign up for our free Fiddle Leaf Fig Care 101 Webinar or enroll in our free Fiddle Leaf Fig Course for advanced fiddle leaf fig care.
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- Read 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.