Fiddle leaf fig plants (Ficus lyrata) are coveted houseplants because of their full foliage and their violin (fiddle)-shaped leaves. However, unlike many houseplants, they are a bit more tricky to care for.
For starters, these finicky plants don’t like a sudden change in their environment. They are very particular about their humidity, sunlight, and watering needs. And overfeeding them can also create problems.
More often than not, most of these problems present themselves in the form of brown or yellow leaves. But things get complicated because there are different causes but the same symptom.
So the question is, how can we identify different causes of brown leaves in a fiddle leaf plant and address them accordingly?
That is precisely what I’ll be discussing in this article today. I’ll go over the major causes of brown and yellow leaves in a fiddle-leaf fig plant and how to address them in a few simple steps.
Major Causes of Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree Leaves Turning Brown
Underwatering is one of the major causes of your fiddle leaf fig’s leaves turning brown. Underwatering leads to dry conditions for the plant, and it expresses that through brown and crispy spots on the leaves. This usually begins from the leaf’s edges and moves inside. If the dry conditions continue, the leaves will also droop.
But the question is, when and how much to water?
The rule of thumb is to water your fiddle leaf fig whenever the top two inches of your soil are dry. If the soil is totally dry, your plant is already underwatered. The timing can vary depending on the environmental conditions of your plant. However, typically it takes the soil a week to dry out. Keep an eye on the soil instead of following a “fixed” watering schedule to create the best suitable schedule for your fiddle leaf fig plant.
The second big culprit for issues in many plants will always be overwatering, and fiddle leaf fig is no exception.
Overwatering can lead to brown spots on the leaves of a fiddle leaf plant. It can also cause some serious issues like root rot if not handled promptly. The brown spots from overwatering usually start in the middle of the leaf, close to the edge, or near the stem. However, these brown spots are different from the ones caused by underwatering.
They have a dark (almost black) and murky appearance. Here again, the key is to water your plant when the top two inches of the soil are dry. If your plant is already overwatered, wait at least a week for the soil to dry out completely before watering again. The brown spots will most likely stop spreading afterward. It is also essential for your pot to have enough drainage holes for the excess water.
Lastly, if the plant has already set root rot, you’ll need to address it differently. This brings me to the next cause.
3. Root Rot
Since root rot is a consequence of overwatering, the brown spots caused by it are the same as overwatering. Root rot is a serious problem and an indication that you’ve been overwatering your fiddle leaf fig plant for far too long. However, you can’t just tell if your plant has root rot by looking at the leaves.
If your plant is not recovering even after you have let the soil dry out completely, and if the brown/black leaves are still spreading, it is time to take the plant out of the pot. This is the only way to determine whether your plant has root rot. The rotten roots will be slimy, soft, and dark. Conversely, healthy roots will be firm and woody.
Once you have spotted root rot, clean away as much soil as possible and cut off any diseased roots with clean cutters. Prepare a new potting mix that is well-draining, and repot your plant in it. Ensure the pot has drainage holes to let the excess water flow out.
4. Lack of Humidity
When it comes to the fiddle leaf fig plant, insufficient watering is not the only thing that can dry it out and cause brown leaves.
For a tropical plant that requires 60% humidity, a lack of it can create similar conditions as underwatering. Some people will tell you this plant can adjust to lower humidity levels, but why take a chance?
If you’ve been recommended misting as a solution to maintain humidity levels, I’d tell you to reconsider. The effects of misting only last for a few minutes and the leaves that are constantly wet from misting are at a greater risk of bacterial diseases. The best way to create the appropriate humidity levels, in my experience, is to use a humidifier.
Lastly, even if you’re maintaining appropriate humidity, your fiddle leaf fig plant may still dry out if it is close to direct heat sources or cold air draughts. Place the plant away from air conditioners, heat sources, or open doors/windows that pass cold or hot air currents.
5. Insufficient Light
Fiddle leaf fig prefers bright and indirect light as a houseplant. If your fiddle leaf fig plant is constantly in the shade or away from windows or sources of indirect sunlight, it can start showing brown spots on the leaves.
Insufficient light will also give way to other problems like overwatering, but how?
Even when you’re watering your plant as per schedule, it can face overwatering issues because the sunlight is not enough to dry out the soil on time. Inadequate sunlight will also obstruct leaves and stems from using more water, as they will experience a hindrance in photosynthesis.
Another sign of lack of sunlight is the leaves growing in an irregular and straggly pattern as they search for more light.
On the other hand, if your fiddle leaf fig plant is exposed to direct sunlight, it will experience sunburn. Signs of sunburnt leaves are crispy white, yellow, or light brown spots on the leaves. Sunburnt leaves will also have a yellow ring around the browning edge.
Some people will tell you that the fiddle leaf fig is a full-sun plant, but this information is incomplete. If you have just got your plant, placing it in direct sunlight without letting it adapt first can cause scorched leaves. To acclimatize the plant to direct sun, start by putting it out in the sun during the first couple of morning hours.
Even when a fiddle leaf fig plant can handle direct sun, it can still turn brown leaves in extreme heat. For example, heatwave-like conditions can cause sunburn too. To determine that it is indeed sunburn, look at the leaves under the brown leaves. If they are not brown, it means that the plant is experiencing sunburn. The upper leaf keeps the leaf underneath from being exposed to direct sunlight.
7. Excessive Fertilizer
If you’ve given your fiddle leaf fig plant more fertilizer than necessary, it may experience brown leaves. This is too much of a good thing, as the excessive fertilizer tends to build up soils in the pot and leech the moisture away from the plant. This usually happens in houseplants because excess fertilizer is dispersed more easily in outdoor soil.
The white crust on the soil or pot is the telltale sign of leaves browning due to excess fertilizer. To fix this, you must water the plant several times in one go to allow the excess fertilizer to drain out the drainage hole. Once the fertilizer is flushed away, wait for the top two inches of the soil to dry before watering again.
8. Diseases and Pests
Your fiddle leaf fig plant might also experience brown leaves because of common pests or diseases. Here are some common culprits.
Mildew is a fungus transmitted through spores in the air. When these spores land on your fiddle leaf fig leaves, they cause brown patches. The key to preventing mildew from developing on your plant is keeping it healthy and fulfilling its nutritional requirements.
Aphids are a common pest that infests many plants. Even though outdoor fiddle leaf fig plants are more likely to be infested with aphids, open windows can also result in indoor plants getting them.
These pests suck the nutritious sap essential for the plant’s growth. These pests breed in huge numbers too. Poor growth accompanied by brown leaves on a particular stem indicates an aphid infestation. The best way to eliminate these annoying and invasive pests is to spray dish soap water on the infested part.
Have you been noticing tiny brown dots on your fiddle leaf fig leaves? Upon a closer look with your cell phone camera or magnifying glass, you’ll realize they’re insects called spider mites. To get rid of spider mites, use a water jet to make them lose their grip on the leaves, and finish up by rubbing neem oil to kill the eggs.
Neither a disease nor a pest, pet urine can instantly turn healthy green leaves of a fiddle leaf fig plant brown. Make sure to place the pot in a place that doesn’t encourage your beloved pup to mark it frequently.
Fiddle Leaf Fig Leaves Turning Yellow AND Brown
If the bottom leaves of fiddle leaf fig turn brown or yellow, it is not usually a cause of concern. However, the key thing to note is whether it is spreading or limited to a couple of leaves. As a part of a normal growth cycle, the lower leaves, which are also mature leaves, tend to turn yellow and drop off naturally.
However, if the yellow leaves are spreading or occurring more frequently, your plant may be experiencing more frequent watering than it needs. In contrast with overwatering, frequent but light watering can also be dangerous for a fiddle leaf fig plant.
Another reason for yellowing leaves can be a lack of light. Ensure to follow the sunlight instructions I discussed earlier for a healthy fiddle leaf fig plant.
Should You Remove Brown and Yellow Leaves in a Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant?
You may be surprised to learn that brown or yellow leaves can still produce energy for your plant. A brown leaf only needs to be removed entirely if it is more than halfway damaged. That’s because its green part can still be productive for the plant. It is better not to remove these leaves and let them be useful. If it is an issue of aesthetics, you can simply cut off the brown/yellow part.
The critical question to ask yourself after you’ve diagnosed and addressed the cause of brown leaves is whether they are still spreading. If they are not, you’ve correctly solved the issue, and the plant is safe now.
New and old gardeners may panic when they see a few brown leaves on their fiddle leaf fig plants, especially when they’ve been looking after it to the best of their capabilities. Firstly, you should know that a few browning leaves accompanied by leaf drop is natural.
Only when you notice the brown spreading should you worry. And even then, this article will suffice to inform you what the root cause could be and how to address it most efficiently. Stay tuned with ThePlantBible for more helpful content on all things gardening.