When we’re taking care of fiddle leaf figs, we often think about providing enough light and giving them the right amount of water, but it’s easy to forget about the nutrients our fiddles need.
On top of that, soil fertility is a related but separate issue that can make all the difference in whether our fiddles are able to absorb the nutrients they need from the soil. After all, it doesn’t matter if your fiddle’s potting mix is nutrient dense if your fiddle can’t absorb any of those nutrients!
So many factors can affect soil fertility, from pH levels to the microbiome in the potting mix. But don’t worry, improving your soil’s nutrient uptake isn’t difficult. It just takes a little bit of care and a few well-chosen ingredients.
In this article, we’ll talk about how to improve nutrient uptake in fiddle leaf figs so they can grow into tall, beautiful trees with lots of gorgeous leaves!
What Nutrients Do Fiddle Leaf Figs Need?
So what nutrients do fiddle leaf figs need, anyway?
All plants need sufficient amounts of certain nutrients, though some varieties may need more of some nutrients than others since different vitamins and minerals are typically responsible for different activities, such as flowering, coloring, or leaf production (which not all plants need to do).
Some nutrients (referred to as macronutrients) are necessary in larger amounts, while other nutrients (called micronutrients) are needed in much smaller amounts.
Here are the basic nutrients you need to know about.
The three main nutrients that plants need in significant amounts are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These are the big three you’ll want to pay attention to when you’re shopping for fertilizer for your fiddle leaf fig.
Most liquid and slow-release fertilizers will contain quite a bit of these, and you can tell the exact amounts from the three-number N-P-K ratio on the label. Each number tells you the percentage of each nutrient in that fertilizer. For example, a fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 1-1-1 will contain 1% nitrogen, 1% phosphorus, and 1% potassium. This will help tell you whether a fertilizer is appropriate for your plant or not.
Many fertilizers are fairly balanced, but some will have more of some nutrients than others, which makes them more specialized for certain types of plants depending on that plant’s particular requirements for the types of tissue it produces and cellular activities it must carry out.
Fiddle leaf figs, in particular, tend to do best with fertilizers that contain an N-P-K ratio of 3-1-2 (3% nitrogen, 1% phosphorus, 2% potassium).
Plants also need smaller, varying amounts of other minerals such as copper, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, boron, etc. Fertilizers will contain trace amounts of these, but the amounts might not be listed on the labels.
That doesn’t mean these are any less important, though. Your fiddle can still develop health problems like stunted growth or yellowing leaves if it’s not getting enough of these minerals. But as long as you’re providing the right macronutrients, your fertilizer should have these micronutrients covered.
If they’re listed on the label, great. It also doesn’t hurt to check out a few reviews online or even pop into some plant forums on Facebook or Reddit to see if other fiddle leaf fig owners have had a good experience with the fertilizer you’re considering. Our Fiddle Leaf Fig Resource Facebook Group is a great place for this!
How Do Fiddle Leaf Figs Absorb Nutrients?
Plants—fiddle leaf figs included—absorb nutrients mainly through the roots, with the leaves playing a minor role.
Your fiddle has a complex root system with lots of branching roots and tiny little “root hairs,” which are superfine roots that are very absorbent. Roots are made up of different layers of tissue, and the outermost layer is semi-permeable, which allows water to pass through. This allows your fiddle to “drink” water, which also comes with nutrients.
Once the water is absorbed, the pressure in the roots builds, and a substance called xylem (a component of sap) carries the water and minerals, upward to the trunk, stems, and leaves of the plant through the plant’s vascular system where they’re utilized in different processes.
Signs of Nutrient Deficiency in Fiddle Leaf Figs
If fiddle leaf figs don’t get the nutrients they need in the right amounts, they’ll develop health problems. It can sometimes be tricky to determine the cause of some of these issues, but you can use the process of elimination and look for signs that occur together to pinpoint the cause and decide whether you need to work on soil fertility or nutrient content.
Here are some of the main signs that your fiddle leaf fig is suffering from a nutrient deficiency:
If your fiddle hasn’t produced a new leaf in months and doesn’t seem to be growing any taller, it might be lacking the nutrients necessary for leaf and stem formation.
However, it’s also possible that your plant is just experiencing a dormant period, especially if you notice this happening during the winter. Indoor plants can slow down during the winter, or grow in fits and starts throughout the year.
Your fiddle can also stop growing if it’s root-wrapped. If you notice the roots growing around the inside of the pot or popping out of the top of the soil or the drainage hole, it might be time for a pot upgrade so those roots can stretch out!
Insufficient light can also cause a fiddle to stop growing. After all, it takes energy to grow, and light is energy!
But if it’s been more than 4 months or so with no new growth, you’re not seeing any growth during the spring and summer, and your roots seem to have plenty of room, your fiddle might be lacking some essential nutrients. This is likely the case especially if you notice any of these other signs:
A deficiency in nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, iron, or sulfur can result in yellowing leaves, though lack of these nutrients can produce different yellowing patterns on your fiddle. For example, if your plant is lacking nitrogen, the older, lower leaves may yellow fairly evenly. With magnesium deficiency, you can expect to see yellow patches on the older leaves first.
Side note: Overwatering, underwatering, and insufficient light can also cause your fiddle’s leaves to turn yellow, so be sure to check your plant’s soil conditions and light setup as well to determine the true cause of the discoloring leaves.
Dying leaves and stems
In extreme cases, your fiddle’s leaves can start to die off. Of course, there are many causes for this, so be sure to check for other potential causes as well before you start fertilizing. Check the moisture level of your fiddle’s soil, the light conditions, the temperature and humidity (watch out for heaters, drafts, and vents, which can wreak havoc on your fiddle’s leaves), and whether your fiddle might have been invaded by insects.
It can be frustrating to play this process-of-elimination game to determine whether your fiddle has a nutrient deficiency, but you’ll quickly get used to checking out these different factors when your plant has a problem. Think of it like detective work!
How to Improve Nutrient Uptake in Fiddle Leaf Figs
Nutrient uptake is important to consider, because all the nutrients in the world won’t do you any good if your fiddle can’t absorb them!
Here are a few ways to help your fiddle leaf fig absorb the nutrients present in its potting soil.
Improve Soil Conditions
It’s important to keep your fiddle’s soil well aerated. This means that your soil is loose and chunky rather than hard or compacted. Air pockets in the soil give the roots room to breathe and grow and absorb nutrients properly.
Make sure to repot your fiddle leaf fig annually to change out the soil. After a while, soil starts to harden and compact, so it helps to switch it out for fresh, well-aerated soil every once in a while. If your soil starts to compact before your fiddle is due for a repotting, you can use a chopstick or other slender stick to poke holes in the soil and break things up. Just don’t get too crazy and damage your roots!
Adjust Soil pH Levels
Soil pH is one of those elements of plant care that’s super easy to overlook. But if you’ve been fertilizing and otherwise taking excellent care of your plant only to continue having issues, it’s possible that your soil pH levels are off.
pH levels can affect the form of nutrients in the soil, so nutrients in a soil that’s too basic or too acidic may not be in a form your fiddle can absorb.
The pH scale runs from 1-14, with 7 being neutral; any substance with a pH level below 7 is considered acidic, while materials with a score higher than 7 are considered basic. Soils can typically have a pH level between 3 and 10.
Fiddle leaf figs do best with a soil pH between 6 and 7, which is relatively neutral. You can measure your soil’s pH level with a pH meter. (We like this 3-in-1 meter that also measures moisture and light levels.) If the soil has a pH of below 6 or above 7, your fiddle will suffer.
There are technically tricks to adjust the pH level of the soil, like adding lime to make soil more basic, or sulfur to make it more acidic, but these techniques are more commonly used in large-scale agriculture. If your soil’s pH is off, you’re better off simply repotting your fiddle into a more appropriate soil.
We highly recommend our Premium Fiddle Leaf Fig Soil because it has the perfect pH level for fiddle leaf figs, as well as the ideal balance of moisture retention, drainage, and nutrient content.
Nutrient and Probiotic Supplements
Probiotics in the soil can make a huge difference in nutrient uptake.
Beneficial microbes are microorganisms like bacteria and fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with your plant. Many of these microbes live in the soil, but some can even take up residence inside your fiddle’s actual tissues and benefit your plant from the inside out.
One of the many roles of these organisms is converting nutrients into a form your fiddle leaf fig can easily use. They can also aid in a variety of cellular processes and immune function. These organisms evolve far more quickly than your fiddle leaf fig can, which means they can help protect your fiddle against evolving threats such as harmful pathogens and insects.
Probiotics for Plants
There are plenty of ways to add probiotics to your plant’s soil to provide nutrient uptake. A quick Google search will yield plenty of DIY recipes that utilize ingredients like compost, cultured molasses, kelp, worm castings, etc.
You can also purchase probiotic supplements online or at most garden centers. These supplements usually come in liquid, granule, or spray form and may utilize isolated microbes, compost, worm castings, etc. These supplements vary greatly, so a little research goes a long way to determine the best supplement for your plant.
Effects of Sunlight on Plant Nutrient Absorption
Like every cellular process necessary to keep a plant alive, nutrient absorption takes energy.
Plants convert sunlight to energy through photosynthesis, so it’s important to provide your fiddle leaf fig with plenty of light so it can have the energy it needs to get water and nutrients from its soil.
Fiddles do best with at least 9 hours of bright, indirect sunlight per day. An east-facing window is the perfect spot for your fiddle, but a few feet away from a south- or west-facing window can also work, as long as the sun’s rays never fall directly on the leaves. If you aren’t able to provide enough natural sunlight, you can use a grow light. We love these full-spectrum bulbs that you can just screw into regular light fixtures!
Improve Soil With Plant Probiotic Supplements
Luckily, it’s very easy to give your fiddle leaf fig all the probiotics it needs to absorb necessary nutrients from the soil. Just like you can take a probiotic supplement, so can your fiddle!
Just mix a few tablespoons of your probiotic supplement granules into the top layer of your fiddle’s soil every month to keep the microbiome of your soil healthy and robust for better growth, healthier leaves, stronger roots, and an improved immune system.
Our houseplant probiotic supplement utilizes specially cultured, all-natural-ingredients dairy manure and straw to produce a wide variety of beneficial microbes to help your fiddle leaf fig and other houseplants without harming the environment.
Benefits of a Regular Probiotic Schedule for Plants
Adding probiotics to your plant’s soil can amplify the effects you expect to see from fertilizing regularly, because your plant will actually be absorbing those nutrients!
With a regular schedule of probiotics and fertilizer, you can expect your fiddle leaf fig to grow faster because it will have the necessary nutrients for photosynthesis and cell formation, as well as respiration and the transport of energy, nutrients, and water around the plant.
You’ll also see higher leaf production, and those leaves will likely grow to be larger, shinier, and a deeper green color because chlorophyll production will also increase!
While this may be less obvious, your plant’s immune system will also benefit from probiotics, which allows it to fight off fungal or bacterial infections. It may also be less susceptible to severe damage from insect infestations.
And while indoor fiddle leaf figs don’t typically produce flowers or fruit, probiotics and nutrients can increase your chances of seeing fruit if that’s your goal!
Improving Nutrient Uptake Isn’t As Hard As it Sounds!
This might sound like a lot, but improving your fiddle leaf fig’s nutrient uptake is quite simple.
It’s simply a matter of keeping your soil well conditioned, which means adding nutrients in the form of fertilizer and probiotics with a supplement, and keeping things well aerated.
When you think about how this will look in your care routine, all you need to do is add some Fiddle Leaf Fig Food to your water on watering days, mix in a bit of Houseplant Probiotic Supplement every month, and use a chopstick to aerate your soil every few months. (But starting with a chunky, well-aerated soil helps a lot here!)
If you run into problems, you can check the pH of the soil with the same meter you use to determine when your fiddle is ready for a drink.
See? Simple! This is very doable, and also essential if you want the healthiest, most beautiful fiddle leaf fig possible!