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Fiddle leaf fig brown spots - Am I over or underwatering?

December 11, 2018
last modified: December 11, 2018

My 7 feet tall fiddle leaf is not doing so well. I got him about two months ago, at first he did very well, but the past month, not very much so. I lose on average about 5-6 leaves a week, today alone I lost 5. I used to water him every week (as much water as needed until water start coming out at the bottom). I saw brown spots and worried I watered him too much so I cut off water to only once every other week and only about 3-4 cups of water each time. The top two inches are dry but using the moisture meter, I get about a 6 or 7 at the middle to bottom. I took the plant off the pot and everything seems OK (no standing wet spot) I get brown spots from the edges in but also it looks like from inside spreading out. My plant lives inside and has plenty of indirect sun light.

The top leaves are still green and healthy, the bottom ones are the ones falling.

Any advice is greatly appreciated.

This is when I first noticed the brown spots

Comments (9)

  • ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

    in tree time;... 2 months is nbd .... and its entirely possible.. the insult happened way back then.. if not before you got it ....

    insert finger.. and water it.. when it needs water ... you dont show the pot.. but it is a 7 foot plant .... once fully watered.. i find it hard to believe.. it would need much more water.. for a longish time .... maybe once a month??? ... insert finger and find out ... [i see you are using a meter ... might be better than a finger.. lol ... but you are kinda refusing to believe what it is telling you ...] ...

    this damage does not look like lack of water ....

    where did it come from.. a greenhouse.. bigbox??? .... im wondering about all the stresses related to moving it ... not only to your house.. but to a store.. etc ... everything that might have happened since it left the growers ....

    also ... many plants do shed some leaves in fall/winter ... just part of the cycle of life ... they dont hold leaves forever .... its usually the older leaves ... and you should be able to ID those ... interior.. lower.. etc .. i cant tell from your pix ... also look for a pattern .... maybe it fell over in a wind storm ... and its all on one side ... etc ....

    where are you ... how is your house different from how it was grown ... in my MI ... forced air furnace wreaks all kind of humidity issues on moving in new plants .. most adjust.. but it takes months ....

    anyway.. its stressed ... not hungry.. i would stay away from fert ...

    and once i figured out.. it is watered... i would probably ignore it for 6 months or so, except for proper watering .... i would warn you not to love it to death .... let it adjust to its new home .... i have killed more things with too much love.. as compared to benign neglect ....

    finally ...the future is all in the growth tips.. buds.. etc ... as long as those look good ... you should be all set .... so focus on those ... a few random leaves ... just arent that big a deal.. in the overall scheme ...


    ps: in a large pot ... its not a big deal.. if the first inch or two dry ... that isnt where the roots are ... but in trying to keep that moist... you may drown the roots deeper down.. where the media doesnt dry .... have faith in your meter ... its a tree.. water it like a tree .. a deep drink then near drying .... do not treat it like many houseplants which are water hogs ....

  • greenhome192
    Thanks! I really appreciate your advice. It's my first big plant, so I'm sad it's not doing well. It's confusing when I'm not sure it needs water or not having enough water. I just got another water monitor just in case the reading is not accurate. We just got some cold weather here so maybe it's shedding leaves for the winter. Most of the leaves are the lower ones, although I notice one of the thinner branch is starting to dry out. I moved the plant to the shower, perhaps the humidity can help some. But now I can't help but looking at it everyday lol.
  • PRO
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  • illsstep

    You've got a 7 foot tall tree in your shower?? How much light is it getting? Most bathrooms don't exactly have large windows..

  • greenhome192

    I think it's over loving, followed by over watering then under watering.

    The shower has 3 windows covering 2 walls, I moved the plant to the balcony so it's getting a little more light.

    I just repotted the plant, not sure if this will help or help kill the plant, we will see.

  • Lantana zone 5b/6a

    What region of the world and which hardniess zone are you in? In most of North America plants cannot survive in the current outdoor temperatures. If you live in a place where the temperature dips below 50 you should bring that plant inside ASAP.

  • PRO

    Your plant would do better if you watered according to the plant's needs instead of according to the calendar. Use a wooden tell, stuck deep into the pot to "tell" you when it's time to water. I'll leave something I wrote about using a 'tell' at the end of the post. In addition to over-watering, the reduction in light between the nursery/greenhouse where your plant was cultivated and where it's currently sited can cause leaf loss, though it's unlikely the leaves being shed would look like those in your images. Also, a high level of dissolved solids in the soil solution (salts from tap water and fertilizers, can produce symptoms as illustrated either actively or passively. Plants grown under heavy photo load (bright light) and good soil moisture levels can be fertilized at luxury rates without issues. The same plants that thrive with high light and high fertility can present as being over-fertilized just by moving them to a spot with lower light levels, so you should plan to flush your soil in the very near future if you haven't been doing that when you water. If you need help with that - just ask.

    Using a 'tell'

    Over-watering saps vitality and is one of the most
    common plant assassins, so learning to avoid it is worth the small
    effort. Plants make and store their own energy source –
    photosynthate - (sugar/glucose). Functioning roots need energy to
    drive their metabolic processes, and in order to get it, they use
    oxygen to burn (oxidize) their food. From this, we can see that
    terrestrial plants need air (oxygen) in the soil to drive root
    function. Many off-the-shelf soils hold too much water and not enough
    air to support good root health, which is a prerequisite to a healthy
    plant. Watering in small sips leads to a build-up of dissolved solids
    (salts) in the soil, which limits a plant's ability to absorb water –
    so watering in sips simply moves us to the other horn of a dilemma.
    It creates another problem that requires resolution. Better, would be
    to simply adopt a soil that drains well enough to allow watering to
    beyond the saturation point, so we're flushing the soil of
    accumulating dissolved solids whenever we water; this, w/o the plant
    being forced to pay a tax in the form of reduced vitality, due to
    prolong periods of soil saturation. Sometimes, though, that's not a
    course we can immediately steer, which makes controlling how often we
    water a very important factor.

    In many cases, we can judge whether or not a
    planting needs watering by hefting the pot. This is especially true
    if the pot is made from light material, like plastic, but doesn't
    work (as) well when the pot is made from heavier material, like clay,
    or when the size/weight of the pot precludes grabbing it with one
    hand to judge its weight and gauge the need for water.

    Fingers stuck an inch or two into the soil work ok
    for shallow pots, but not for deep pots. Deep pots might have 3 or
    more inches of soil that feels totally dry, while the lower several
    inches of the soil is 100% saturated. Obviously, the lack of oxygen
    in the root zone situation can wreak havoc with root health and
    cause the loss of a very notable measure of your plant's potential.
    Inexpensive watering meters don't even measure moisture levels, they
    measure electrical conductivity. Clean the tip and insert it into a
    cup of distilled water and witness the fact it reads 'DRY'.

    One of the most reliable methods of checking a
    planting's need for water is using a 'tell'. You can use a bamboo
    skewer in a pinch, but a wooden dowel rod of about 5/16” (75-85mm)
    would work better. They usually come 48” (120cm) long and can
    usually be cut in half and serve as a pair. Sharpen all 4 ends in a
    pencil sharpener and slightly blunt the tip so it's about the
    diameter of the head on a straight pin. Push the wooden tell deep
    into the soil. Don't worry, it won't harm the root system. If the
    plant is quite root-bound, you might need to try several places until
    you find one where you can push it all the way to the pot's bottom.
    Leave it a few seconds, then withdraw it and inspect the tip for
    moisture. For most plantings, withhold water until the tell comes out
    dry or nearly so. If you see signs of wilting, adjust the interval
    between waterings so drought stress isn't a recurring issue.


  • REE Nova

    I am a noob to know when my fiddle fig needs water and since i am also a frequent traveler I stuck shoelace in the pot that comes out from the root, immersed with a small pot of water. If the pot is drying up it means my fiddlefig is drinking well so I will add water in both the water pot and the pot itself. So far so good! There's even tender roots creeping up to the shoelace!

  • PRO

    Ree - Unless you're watering with water that is deionized or largely deionized (distilled water, water that's passed through a reverse osmosis filtering system, condensate from a dehumidifier, rain, or snow melt) the long term practice of watering as you described is probably not going to end well. Here's why - tap water contains dissolved solids/salts - just like fertilizer solutions. When you water with a wick, the wick provides water that contains dissolved solids that are left behind when water evaporates. As the concentration of these dissolved solids increases in the soil solution (water in the soil), 2 things happen. The plant's ability to take up water (and therefore nutrients) becomes increasingly limited; and, the ratio of nutrients to each other becomes increasingly skewed such that nutrients available in excess limit the ability of the plant to take up one or more of the essential nutrients. VERY common in houseplant plantings is the effect of high levels of P(hosphorus) in the soil blocking uptake of Fe (iron). These deficiencies are called antagonistic deficiencies, and the number of different antagonisms is quite significant.

    If you only water this way while away and water from the top down the rest of the time, flushing the soil of accumulating salts as you water, there should be no issue with dissolved solids/salts accumulating in the soil; but, if you habitually water using a wick or water only in small sips to avoid over-watering, it will take a toll on your plants vitality, cause a shabby appearance, and rob your plant of a notable amount of potential, unless you also include in your care regimen a regular flushing of your plants' soil to ensure the level of dissolved solids in the soil solution is on the low side of what the plant can tolerate.


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