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Fiddle leaf fig issues: brown spot, root-rot?, re-pot, hopes shot :(

Lydia Hecomovich
December 5, 2018

PLEASE HELP (ME HELP) THIS PLANT!!


I've had my fiddle leaf fig for ~6 months or so now. After reading many articles, posts, forums, etc. on FLF care, it seemed like overwatering was a very common issue so I did my best to avoid that at all costs and only water when the top soil was dry.


All seemed to be going well with the plant until recently when I noticed some brown spots on the edges of the leaves. I didn't want to to react too quickly so I gave it time as I had read this could also be due to under- or even erratic-watering. More leaves started to get brown spots on the edges and I finally decided I should investigate. I looked at the bottom of the pot and saw a bit of white residue (NO!) While the top of the pot had been BONE-DRY. I - once again - read articles frantically and decided it was best to see if root rot was the culprit and act quickly. I ran to the nearest Home Depot and got Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix as that was the best they had and I figured. I should act quickly. The roots all in all didn't actually look to be rotted, but none of the roots were white.. They were all fairly red/dark but firm (I wish I had taken pictures). There were also clumps of soil attached to the roots so I carefully took ALL of the soil off of the plant, rinsed the roots thoroughly and trimmed the darkest parts of the roots but not very intensively because they really did not appear to be rotted.


After repotting the plant in a slightly larger pot (all Home Depot had and I was worried about reusing the old pot if there was something else at play) I watered the plant and monitored the soil the next day. I had to leave for a business trip and the soil still seemed quite moist, so I put it in front of a window that got more light (I'm in NY and it's December, so that's not saying a ton, but it is also near a heating vent). Upon getting home tonight I honestly wanted to cry..


I've now moved it back to my bedroom (figured the move + repotting may have been too much stress on the plant) but would be so so appreciative of advice on what steps to take next - I'm worried to do anything else for fear of shocking the plant.

  • Should I trim all the leaves that have brown spots (from my research I saw mixed opinions on this)? Should I repot it again (I fear this could cause more issues)
  • Should I water it more even though the soil is dry (I've never seen the leaves this droopy, the top two are always at attention)
  • Should I just leave it alone?







Thank you in advance for any help you can provide (my plant thanks you too)

-L


Comments (8)
  • PRO
    tapla

    You didn't say how long you were away, or how wet the soil was when you returned. This is probably valuable info.

    • Should I trim all the leaves that have brown spots (from my research I saw mixed opinions on this)? Should I repot it again (I fear this could cause more issues) NO, do not remove shabby foliage. Every leaf is a food factory. Plants make their own food (sugar/carbohydrate) during the process of photosynthesis. 95-99% of that takes place in the leaves, and your tree needs all the food it can manage to make. Removing leaves will only increase the stress the tree currently suffers. Too, your tree has chemical messengers that will "inform" tree central whenever a part of the tree represents a liability in terms of the the return the tree gets for the energy allotted to its parts. Trees are shedding organisms that get rid of parts they are unable to support, or parts that offer no return on the trees energy investment.
    • Should I water it more even though the soil is dry (I've never seen the leaves this droopy, the top two are always at attention) Foliage wilts from too little water and from too much water in the soil. Too little water is self-explanatory; too much water causes reduces the amount of oxygen in the root zone. Root metabolic processes (which includes water uptake) are energy-driven processes. The energy is produced when the tree uses oxygen to burn (oxidize - burning as you think of it is rapid oxidation) the sugar/carbohydrates it has made. Not enough oxygen = insufficient water uptake = loss of turgidity (wilting). You need to check the soil deep in the pot with a "tell", and only water when the tell shows the soil is nearly dry deep in the pot. I'll post something about using a tell when I'm done with your bullet points.
    • Should I just leave it alone? Probably not. The soil you have chosen is notoriously water retentive to the point it's very likely you'll be constantly battling the soil for control of your plant's vitality. That means it's highly likely that a great deal of your plant's genetic potential will go unrealized. My suggestion would be to remove the plant from the pot, repot using a mix of the soil you have with at least 1 part of perlite to every part of soil, along with some ballast and a wick in the bottom of the pot. Used correctly, ballast can nearly eliminate the soil's ability to hold excess water. What I just described isn't ideal by any means, but it will be much better than allow Mother Nature to have her way - she ALWAYS sides with the hidden flaw.

    Compare image D to A, below. The shaded portion of the images represents saturated soil, and how pot shape, ballast (the over-turned pot is 1 form of ballast) and wicks (see image E) can influence water retention.

    I'll wait to see how much interest you have in exploring further what I offered before I go into detail. Your plants would benefit significantly from being in a soil that you can water to beyond the point of saturation w/o the need to be concerned that it will remain soggy so long it limits root function and/or wrecks root health, but time probably won't allow you the luxury of taking your time about acting to head off trouble.

    Al








    Lydia Hecomovich thanked tapla
  • Lydia Hecomovich

    Thank you so very much for the quick and thorough response. I repotted the plant on Sunday night (12/4) the plant was looking pretty much the same as before I had repotted it and looked as pictured when I returned home tonight.


    I will not cut off any leaves and take your advice and repot it with a better mix tomorrow. Could you help me with understanding the manner in which I set up. the ballast (E) and ballast (D)? I have perlite at home so that part shouldn't be a problem but want to make sure I get the other necessary items. Did you suggest the original pot because sizing up was a bad idea?

    When you say: "What I just described isn't ideal by any means, but it will be much better than allow Mother Nature to have her way - she ALWAYS sides with the hidden flaw." - is this because the plant is too far damaged by what has happened so far, or is there another step I can take that would be more ideal?


    Any other suggestions for the plant in the next 24 hours? unfortunately with my schedule I won't be able to take action until then. Thank you!

  • PRO
    tapla

    The best thing you could do at this point is put it in a soil that doesn't require you to worry about over-watering - something like this:



    The items on top of the medium are for size reference. The lead pellet is the diameter of a BB that fits in a BB gun, the seeds are black oil sunflower seeds, and of course, the pencil ......

    Since that's probably not in the cards (building a soil) , I'll give you a couple of reading assignment that will explain how ballast works, and a second piece that deals with excess water retention in general. That one explains how wicks work, which is something entirely different than ballast. Putting a ballast set-up into place can be as easy as over-turning a pot in the bottom of a larger pot, and putting something over the drain hole in the over-turned pot. There are some other things you can do to eliminate even more excess water.

    Messing with roots at this time of year ensures a slow/prolonged recovery unless you're growing under lights and warm temps, so with that in mind, the timing could have been better (think Father's Day). Potting up isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're using a soil like that pictured above, but when using a very water-retentive medium, it creates strong potential for issues related to over-watering, especially when it's done at this time of the year. Plants have natural rhythms, and working with those rhythms instead of against them makes life easier for you, and makes that good feeling you get from nurturing even stronger ...... once you realize you're doing things in a way that allows for the plant's strengths & weaknesses.

    Suggestion for now: Set your plant in the sink and tip it at a 45* angle for the night. Take note if any water exits the drain. See figure B and compare it to A to see what will happen if there is still an excessive amount of water in the pot. You could also push a wick up through the drain by folding an old shoelace or piece of heavy twine over the tip of a straight slot screwdriver and using it to push the wick up into the soil. Leave the wick dangle below the pot until no more water is dripping from the wick. Reading the info at the links I provided will fill in some of the blanks and help to keep you from throwing up your hands because of info overload.

    Al

    Lydia Hecomovich thanked tapla
  • Lydia Hecomovich

    Thank you once again for your help here. Totally understand I shouldn't have messed with the plant at this time of year, unfortunately my fear that there was root rot and that it was going to cause more issues if left unaddressed got the best of me :(

    I took your advice and left the plant tipped at 45 degrees over night. I actually didn't notice much water exiting the drain (the soil appears to be almost equally moist, though perhaps a bit less so on the side that was elevated).

    I read through the posts you shared (very informative!) and will keep all of that in mind moving forward. As you mentioned, a better soil mix would be the best option here, but given the timeframe may not be possible. Taking your next steps of advice:

    My suggestion would be to remove the plant from the pot, repot using a mix of the soil you have with at least 1 part of perlite to every part of soil, along with some ballast and a wick in the bottom of the pot.

    SOIL: I have perlite so I will add in more of that. Not sure if this is a bad idea, but I do have gravel I could mix in, and my neighbor has bark in her backyard that she said I could have some of to mix in if that's a good option for now? I'll plan to do a full repot at a better time of year and mix the soil myself with your advice in mind.


    BALLAST/WICK: In reading through your posts I understand there are several ways to set these up, but I have an extra terra cotta and plastic pot so I figure this might be easiest? You mentioned covering the drainage hole in this post, but I also noticed here you said another option would be to leave the hole open and put soil underneath so that it acts as a wick. Would you suggest one over another in my situation?


    POT: You mentioned using the original pot. Here is a photo of it next to the new pot. It is smaller and has one large drainage hole in the center as well as some on the sides. Just wanted to include this in case it informs your thoughts on what would be better in terms of setting up the ballast/wick. I have two options for pots to put inside as ballasts, but I'm not sure which would be the best option. The terra cotta pot looks like it may not take up enough room to help with limiting PWT, but the plastic one may be too large?






    Thank you once again for your help it has been so very helpful to have someone to speak with on this matter and get advice from.

  • Lydia Hecomovich

    And sorry - one last question (hopefully!) once I repot the plant into the better mixture and add the ballast, should I water the plant again or hold off given the amount of moisture already present in the soil? Thanks so much!

  • Dave

    im sure Al will respond shortly, but I wanted to say - don’t use gravel and don’t use your neighbors bark. I highly doubt it’s the correct type or size bark.

    Lydia Hecomovich thanked Dave
  • Lydia Hecomovich

    Thank you Dave! I went ahead and repotted the plant and did not use anything other than a good amount of perlite per Al's suggestion. I created a ballast using the tera cotta pot - after repotting I did not water as the the soil seemed quite moist but the next day it had dried out a good amount so I watered it and I can definitely notice the difference the perlite made - the soil is drying out much more quickly than it had in the previous mixture.


    The leaves are still quite droopy, and the bottom ones have yellowed - I am taking Al's advice and not pruning it, but I'm trying to be patient and just give it some time to adjust to the new conditions. Does anyone have any recommendations for how I can help support the plant? I assume I should wait to water it again for another week or so (but will monitor the soil) - should I keep it close to a window for light? For now I've been keeping it in the bathroom with the light on most of the day (I understand that is not the same as sunlight, but there's not much sun during the winter in NY so figured keeping it in a consistent place that is somewhat humid and warm might be best).


    Any further advice would be very much appreciated!

  • PRO
    tapla

    The contrast between "people time" and "plant time" can cause the grower some anxiety and frustration until the grower realizes there's a distinct difference and makes the adjustment by giving in to the idea that a plant has its own ideas about how long it should take to bounce back from adversity. Fortunately, the best form of resolution is usually no more complicated than procuring a few more plants so they can work as a team to satisfy your need to nurture.

    SOIL: I have perlite so I will add in more of that. Not sure if this is a bad idea, but I do have gravel I could mix in If you decide to include some gravel, use it in the bottom 6" of soil where it will displace the organic fraction of your medium that would normally be filled with water. This is a form of ballast. Don't use it as a layer, just mix it half and half with the bottom 6" of soil where the perched water table (excess water) resides. This in itself will reduce the amount of perched water your soil will hold by 1/2), and my neighbor has bark in her backyard that she said I could have some of to mix in if that's a good option for now? Depends ..... all bark is not created equal. Size and type of bark is very important.


    BALLAST/WICK: In reading through your posts I understand there are several ways to set these up, but I have an extra terra cotta and plastic pot so I figure this might be easiest? You mentioned covering the drainage hole in this post That reference was to the overturned pot you would be using as a form of ballast such that the rim of the pot would be down and the drain hole would face up. You don't want soil to drop through the drain hole in the ballast pot, so cover it. , but I also noticed here you said another option would be to leave the hole open and put soil underneath so that it acts as a wick. That is the pot-in-pot technique where the main pot is nested into another pot and rests on top of the soil in the lower pot. This soil acts as a wick. If the soil in the lower pot is deeper than the ht of the perched water table, ALL perched water should move from the upper pot into the lower pot. For this application, there should be nothing over the drain hole(s) in the upper pot - the one the plant is in. Would you suggest one over another in my situation? I would go for the pot as ballast + the gravel in the bottom 6" of soil as added ballast, and even a wick if you like (in the lower pot).









    I have two options for pots to put inside as ballasts, but I'm not sure which would be the best option. The terra cotta pot looks like it may not take up enough room to help with limiting PWT, but the plastic one may be too large? The plastic one is great - cover the drain hole in it. Ideally, there would be an inch or so of soil above the ballast pot. Fill in the sides with the 50/50 gravel soil mixture up to the top (former bottom) of the overturned pot - cover it with an inch of soil with no gravel - set the plant on the soil - fill in around the edges. As long as you're taking steps to eliminate perched water, it doesn't matter how large your pot is. You can put your plant in a 55 gallon drum if you like, w/o concern you'll be over-potting.


    ...... once I repot the plant into the better mixture and add the ballast, should I water the plant again or hold off given the amount of moisture already present in the soil? Plants do best when the soil is evenly damp/moist - never wet/soggy. Skip watering if your entire soil mass is moist. Keep in mind, with the steps you will have taken to eliminate perched water, over-watering shouldn't be a problem, as long as you're reasonable. You're making a soil serviceable that otherwise wouldn't be considered as such by a very large fraction of effectual growers, so it's best to try to minimize potential limitations. Use a 'tell'.


    If possible - site your plant away from heat sources, but in a warm spot with plenty of light. If possible, use a room humidifier and keep humidity in the 45-55% range. I keep my basement grow room at 55% by using a combination of home-made passive evaporative set-ups and 2 ultrasonic humidifiers. I have a R/O water system, so almost never have to clean the humidifiers. To eliminate potential for bacterial issues, I add an ounce of H202 (hydrogen peroxide) every time I refill the reservoirs.

    Al

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