Fertilizer and the general idea of adding nutrients to soil to improve plant growth has been around for thousands of years. But providing probiotics for plants—at least on purpose—is a bit of a newer concept.
Probiotics are microorganisms like bacteria and protozoa that are actually beneficial for the host organism. You’ve probably heard of probiotics in the context of improving health for humans; they’re found in cultured food products like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc. You can also take them as supplements.
Probiotics can benefit plants as well (including houseplants like your fiddle leaf fig!) as they are known to improve soil fertility. This can be extremely beneficial in food agriculture because it may yield an improved crop with fewer synthetic fertilizers—good news for the environment and sustainable farming!
Probiotics can help your fiddle leaf fig grow bigger, healthier leaves, stronger root systems, and nice, sturdy stems more quickly.
What Are Probiotics for Plants?
These beneficial microorganisms are called endophytes, which is a fungus or bacterium that lives inside a plant for at least part of the plant’s life cycle without actually harming the plant. These little guys might actually benefit the plant!
Endophytes can play all kinds of roles in these symbiotic relationships with their hosts, but some of these microbes that live in plant tissues help convert major nutrients like nitrogen into a form that plants can readily use. Adding them to the soil can also help plants use other essential vitamins and minerals that are present in the soil.
Certain microbes and probiotics can benefit plants by improving their nutrient uptake, which in turn enables improved physical processes such as respiration, photosynthesis, etc. This helps enhance all aspects of your fiddle leaf fig’s health!
Is Probiotic Fertilizer or Soil Conditioner?
Most plant probiotic supplements are considered a type of soil conditioner because rather than adding nutrients to the soil, most are improving the condition of the soil so that existing nutrients can be utilized by your fiddle leaf fig.
However, in many cases, plant probiotics can also contain nutrients and therefore play the role of fertilizer AND soil conditioner. This is often the case with compost or worm casting-based probiotics.
Sometimes fertilizers can also contain probiotics as a natural side effect of their ingredients.
In nature, nutrients and probiotics occur in the soil together. So, in fertilizers or probiotic supplements with all-natural ingredients, you’ll find both as well!
What Ingredients Are in Plant Probiotics?
The ingredients in plant probiotics can vary greatly, but all contain some kind of cultured bacteria, either by treating those microbes as a separate ingredient or by utilizing ingredients that contain the right bacteria.
There are also plenty of recipes out there for DIY plant probiotics using ingredients like cultured molasses, compost, worm castings, kelp, etc. Compost is also a rich source of probiotics because the organic material has broken down thanks to different kinds of bacteria that hang out in the different components of that material.
How Do Probiotics Improve Soil Fertility?
Probiotics improve soil fertility in several ways, primarily by breaking down organic material in the soil in forms that your fiddle leaf fig’s roots can absorb more readily. This improves the general bioavailability of nutrients in the soil, so any plants growing in it can use those nutrients.
Some of these probiotics can also live in your fiddle’s roots and other tissues, helping your fiddle leaf fig in many ways, including nutrient uptake.
Beneficial Bacteria and Microbes
Beneficial organisms are bacteria and microbes that have symbiotic relationships with different parts of the plant such as the roots and circulatory system. These helpful organisms can include rhizobia, diazotrophic bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, actinomycetes, etc. Your fiddle leaf fig provides ideal living conditions for these organisms, and in turn, they benefit your plant in a variety of ways.
When you include probiotic supplements in your fiddle leaf fig’s care routine, you may find that your plant is healthier with less fertilizer because it’s able to utilize nutrients more efficiently and generally function better overall.
Certain types of microbes can also help your fiddle grow more quickly simply by aiding in physical functions such as the transport of nutrients, sugar, and water, and also improve immunity to pathogens and other environmental threats.
Another helpful benefit of probiotics is that these microbes evolve very quickly—much quicker than your fiddle! This allows them to adapt to threats faster than your fiddle ever could, which protects your fiddle from environmental threats as they emerge over time.
Different microbes have different functions in the plant, and most DIY and commercial supplements will contain several different bacteria strains. Many of these produce hormones that can facilitate a plant’s growth. Some types of microbes enter the roots, while others take up residence in different areas of your fiddle to aid with processes that occur in that part of the plant.
There are tons of different types of probiotics, and they all help your fiddle in different ways. That’s why ensuring that your soil has plenty of beneficial microbes is so beneficial for your plant. This is an important part of maintaining soil that’s as healthy and fertile as what you’d find in a fiddle leaf fig’s natural environment!
Probiotics for Plants: What Result to Expect
So, what kind of results can you expect when you start using probiotics on your fiddle leaf fig?
Here’s what you might notice about your fiddle when all those helpful little microbes get to work.
After using probiotics for a while in your fiddle’s soil, you might notice that your fiddle grows new leaves more often, and that those new leaves grow larger, are shinier, and are a much deeper green color. You may also notice less edema on those baby leaves and less susceptibility to insects overall!
This is because certain probiotics help your fiddle absorb the proper nutrients and water necessary for leaf growth as well as moving those nutrients and water around the plant. This can also help with chlorophyll production, which gives your fiddle’s leaves that beautiful green color. This, in turn, helps your fiddle convert sunlight into energy, which benefits the plant as a whole—from roots to leaves!
With your little probiotic buddies on your side, your fiddle leaf fig will have access to all the nutrients it needs to grow taller, faster, and produce more leaves year-round (or as long as you’re using fertilizer or a probiotic supplement that also provides the necessary nutrients).
Improved chlorophyll production and photosynthesis will also give your plant an energy boost that can lead to a growth spurt!
These organisms can also stimulate your fiddle’s endocrine system and produce growth hormones of their own that can help your fiddle grow.
In flowering and fruiting plants, probiotics have been shown to increase yield, which has exciting implications for agriculture and food production. It can also mean good things for your fiddle if you’re going for fruit or flowers!
Fiddle leaf figs don’t typically flower indoors, but adding probiotics to the soil can help your outdoor fiddle to flower and even produce fruit. If your indoor fiddle has the right conditions for flowering, probiotics can help as well. Producing flowers and fruit requires a lot of nutrients, water, and plenty of light (as well as the ability to convert that sunlight into energy).
Probiotics can improve just about any aspect of your fiddle leaf fig’s health just as a probiotic-rich diet or supplement can help yours!
When to Use Plant Probiotics
Unlike fertilizer, healthy probiotics won’t cause chemical burns to your fiddle’s roots if you apply them during the dormant season. (A fertilizer that contains probiotics might be a different story, though. Make sure to read the label to dilute it correctly and prevent overfertilization!)
You can use probiotics at any time, but it makes the most sense to apply regularly during the spring and summer when your fiddle leaf fig is most likely to be actively growing and have a greater need for the benefits the microbes provide.
Houseplant probiotics typically come in spray form or as liquid additives to use when you water your plant.
During the growing season, spray your fiddle a few times per month or use a diluted probiotic when you water, or even with other watering.
Some probiotics come as granules that you mix into the top layer of soil once or twice a month. It’s best to read the label of your product or the instructions.
Frequency of use for DIY probiotics can vary. Most recipes wil come with recommendations for how often you should apply them to the soil (or to the leaves, in the case of foliar sprays). Typically, fertilizer-probiotic combos can stand on their own as a two-in-one additive and will need to be applied less often. Supplements that contain probiotics but not nutrients will need to be used in conjunction with a separate fertilizer, and application schedules may vary.
As always when using a new product or technique to care for your fiddle leaf fig, watch your plant closely for any signs of adverse effects. If your plant reacts poorly, flush the soil or even repot if necessary, making sure to rinse the roots to remove as much of a harmful substance as possible.
How to Use Probiotics for Plants
Probiotics can provide a lot of benefits when used alone, but they work best when used in conjunction with a high-quality fertilizer. This could mean using two separate products or by using a product or DIY recipe that contains both.
Most probiotics will need to be mixed into the soil, but some are also foliar sprays. Read the label on your product or the instructions on your DIY recipe to make sure you’re applying the probiotic properly.
What Are the Best Probiotics for Plants and Soil?
Different supplements and recipes will contain different types of probiotics. And there are so many beneficial bacterial strains, fungi, etc., out there that help your fiddle leaf fig in different ways that it’s impossible to include them all in a single supplement. It’s difficult to choose the best product or recipe!
That being said, we love Houseplant Probiotic by the Houseplant Resource Center because it’s easy to use and contains a multitude of helpful bacteria, fungi, and protozoa to improve the fertility of your fiddle leaf fig’s soil.
We’ve seen excellent results from this blend (and so have our customers!).
Simply mix a few tablespoons of these little granules into the top layer of your fiddle’s soil every month, and watch your fiddle grow taller and produce more glossy, deep-green leaves that grow up to be even larger and more beautiful!
The Houseplant Probiotic contains beneficial microbes born from our own special process of breaking down dairy manure and straw for an effective, all-natural probiotic supplement as opposed to a synthetic fertilizer or supplement. This also contains plenty of helpful nutrients, and can be used in addition to the Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant Food.
Probiotics are an easy-to-overlook element of fiddle leaf fig care. But including even an occasional probiotic supplement in your care regimen can make all your hard work to water, feed, and light your fiddle properly pay off!
Probiotics are naturally present in a fiddle’s natural habitat, and we all know that the trick to helping any potted plant thrive is to recreate its preferred environment as closely as possible.
Try adding a simple probiotic supplement to your fiddle’s soil to grow a taller, healthier, more robust tree!
For additional fiddle leaf fig support and help, be sure to check out these resources.