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Fiddle Leaf Fig: Leaf Shine, Pruning, and Encouraging Growth

Question:

I have seen your responses on Fiddle Leaf Figs in distress and have a couple of questions for maximizing my plant’s health and beauty.

I purchased the tree late last summer from a local urban garden center here in MA.  The tree is in good overall shape, about 5 feet tall and it has started to produce some new growth on the taller side of its Y shaped trunk now that the days are longer.  When purchased, the leaves were mostly good shape with a few browned edges and spots here and there and one leaf in particular has some pale yellowish blotches (assumedly sun damage) that have all remained consistent since I’ve purchased the plant almost 8 months ago.

The plant is potted in a 10 inch pot and the owner of the garden center indicated it may need repotting soon, but it seems happy and healthy in a sunny corner of my living room where it gets plenty of southern light filtered through blinds turned up to avoid direct rays.

So, to my questions:

  1. Shine: I regularly wipe the leaves of my plant to remove the dust build up (about once a month or so) but they don’t achieve that “showroom shine” that I see in other plants of this species, either in person or on all the home design blogs that love these figs. I’ve read that some people apply various cooking oils to the leaves (coconut seemed popular) but I wanted a professional opinion on this before I tried it. What are your tips for restoring shine?
  1. Pruning: There are two larger leaves at the base of the plant, about 16 inches above the base of the trunk, that have some dead spots on the edges of the leaves. While they are not “ugly” i’m wondering if there is any standard thoughts in terms of pruning lower leaves of these plants to achieve more of a tree-like appearance vs. letting the plant drop leaves naturally. Similarly the aforementioned spotty leaf is higher on the plant and helps define it’s shape.  I’d hate to prune this leaf but should I based on the damage or is it simply cosmetic?  Finally there are smaller branches within the plant where the inner leaves are crowded against the plant’s trunk.  Should these be addressed in any way?
  1. Encouraging Growth: I’m glad to see the new growth but want to ensure I’m doing everything I can to encourage this tree to grow taller and produce large leaves. I have plenty of height to accommodate a tall plant and love the idea of a small tree sharing my living space.  I’m not sure what to expect in terms of growth rate or if I can impact it at all.

Answer:

Thanks for including the clear photos. That is always helpful. It is apparent that your Ficus lyrata is healthy and well cared for. That means that you should not make any major changes in its care. The light seems to be close to ideal and apparently your watering routine is on target.

  1. Leaf shine is only about appearance, not plant health. I don’t recommend any food substances because the oils tend to attract pests and can become rancid. Any oil-based leaf shine, even commercial products, tend to be a bit sticky and attract and retain dust. The least expensive shine is to mix unscented mineral oil with water. Experiment with dilution rate to get the right balance of shininess and oiliness. The product that I like and use is called Brand X and is available only at http://buybrandx.com/bx/index.htm. It is silicon based and dries to a hard, shiny finish.
  1. Pruning is solely a cosmetic issue and therefor a matter of personal taste, much like a haircut. As your Lyrata ages, it will naturally lose some of its older, lower leaves as new foliage is always added at the ends of each stem. That is why older Lyratas develop a tree-like appearance. Eventually, the existing stems will become very long and the lower stems will become bare. Thus, at some point you will need to prune some or all of the stems back. New growth will then appear on any pruned stem just below the pruning cut, and resume new growth upward from there. For any stem that has reached what you feel is the optimum length, you can simply pinch out new leaf growth on that stem as it emerges.

Lower leaves will discolor gradually and naturally. You can prune them off at any time or wait for them to fully discolor and drop off on their own. That is personal choice. Likewise, the interior leaves that look crowded to you can be left or removed as you see fit.

I see no significant leaf spots that warrant any special attention or suggest any problem. If they bother you, remove them. Otherwise, leave them alone.

3.Light is the prime determinant of plant growth, not pot size or fertilizer. Your light is very good and the pot is plenty large enough for a long time and maybe forever. Lyratas tend to grow in spurts, pushing out several new leaves at the ends of each stem and then going several months or more without producing any new leaves. There is nothing you can do to hasten this.

Bigger is not always better. The plant needs to fit the space, not overwhelm it. As yours grows taller, gravity will start to take hold and bend some of the stems more to the horizontal under the weight of the heavy leaves. Also, keep in mind that as the stems grow longer, older leaves in the interior will drop off so the plant will become more sparse looking. You will have to make some pruning decisions along the way so that it achieves and maintains the look that you want to achieve. You may want to take a photo of your Lyrata every 6 months to a year so you can see how it’s growth is progressing. The photos will help you in the future with your pruning decisions.