The majority of houseplant diseases are caused by environmental or cultural issues. When we try to grow the “wrong plant in the wrong place,” or when we constantly overwater or underwater, we get into trouble.
When problems arise, we can usually solve them by changing the location of a plant or our watering habits.
Fiddle leaf figs (Ficus lyrata) are distinguished by their large, dark green leaves. Even indoors, these plants can grow into very large trees. They are native to West African tropical rain forests, where they thrive under the canopy of taller trees.
They require bright indirect light, a moderately moist, well-draining soil, and warm temperatures in our homes. Problems can arise if these conditions are not met.
One of the most common problems of fiddle leaf figs is brown spots on the leaves. These spots can be caused by 5 different things:
- Root rot
- Bacterial leaf infections
- Dryness (from underwatering, sunburn, or dry air)
- Insect damage
Knowing the symptoms of these issues can assist the houseplant hobbyist in avoiding them and keeping our indoor gardens healthy and thriving. Most are easily fixed by changing how we care for our fiddle leaf figs.
The most common cause of brown spots on fiddle leaf fig leaves is root rot. Root rot occurs when your plant’s soil becomes too wet for an extended period of time. Fungal diseases that attack the roots thrive in excessively wet conditions, and we first notice symptoms on the older and lower leaves before we realize there is a problem with the roots.
The root rot spots are very dark brown or almost black. These spots appear along the edges of the leaves or at the base of the leaves. Spots appear all over the plant as the disease progresses, and leaves may fall off.
What exactly causes root rot? Overwatering is the leading cause of root rot. Fiddle leaf figs should be planted in a pot with holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain away.
Examine the soil if you suspect root rot. If your ficus is very wet and has been for a long time, it most likely has root rot.
The good news is that your plant can be saved. First, empty any standing water from the saucer beneath the pot. Allow your plant to dry out before determining whether it truly requires water. Check the soil with your fingers or a wooden chopstick.
A severe case of root rot may necessitate the repotting of your ficus. Remove the plant from the pot and scoop out any excess soil. Examine your plant’s roots and remove any that are black, brown, or mushy. Healthy roots are white and firm.
Repot in fresh, sterile potting mix. If you are reusing the pot, clean and disinfect it.
If your fiddle leaf fig is in very heavy soil or the pot doesn’t have drainage holes, you will definitely need to repot it.
Bacterial Leaf Spot
Leaf spots caused by bacterial infection are a lighter brown than root rot spots. The spots are typically dry and cracked, with a yellow halo. These spots can appear all over the plant. Bacterial leaf spot is also indicated by small, misshapen, yellow new leaves.
Bacterial infections are easily spread by splashing water on foliage and allowing the pathogen to take hold. The disease could have been in the soil or on the leaves when you brought the plant home. Before making a purchase, carefully inspect all plants.
Bacterial infections can be difficult to treat. To prevent the disease from spreading, remove all infected leaves. You should repot your ficus in sterile potting soil. If you intend to reuse the pot, clean and disinfect it as well.
Bactericides should be used only as a last resort. Read and carefully follow the label instructions.
A ficus can become infected to the point where it cannot be saved. It’s best to start over with a new plant in that case.
If you notice small brown or red spots that resemble freckles all over your fiddle leaf fig, particularly on young, new leaves, you most likely have edema. Edema occurs when plant cells burst as a result of taking in too much water too quickly.
This is a very common condition in fiddle leaf figs. The spots will fade as the young leaves grow.
Edema can be avoided by following a watering schedule that is appropriate for your plant’s needs. When watering, make sure the plant truly requires water, then water just enough to support healthy new growth without causing root rot. Allow the soil to dry before watering again, but do not let it completely dry out.
Even seasoned houseplant owners may struggle with this, as a plant’s requirements change as it grows.
A dry fiddle leaf fig is at the other end of the spectrum. A dry plant will have light brown, crispy-looking spots and splotches. These spots begin on the edges of the leaves and progress inward. The leaves may curl and wilt, and their color may have a bluish cast. The soil has shrunk away from the pot’s sides.
Underwatering or infrequent watering, as well as sunburn, can cause dryness. Another possibility is that hot air from a heating vent is blowing on your ficus.
Remove the worst of the crispy leaves; they will not return to green. Water your plant if the soil is too dry. This may seem obvious, but some soils are so dry that they resist water. Soak your plant in a bucket of water (or in the sink or bathtub) for several hours. Allow any excess water to drain before re-planting your plant.
Look at that empty space. Remember that fiddle leaf figs prefer bright indirect light over direct sunlight. Leaves can be scorched if the window is too bright.
If your ficus doesn’t improve after taking these steps, it could be that it’s time to repot it. As roots grow, they compact the soil until the soil is no longer able to hold water.
Insect Damage on Fiddle Leaf Figs
Insect infestations are uncommon in fiddle leaf figs. The usual suspects, spider mites, mealybugs, aphids, and scale, may occasionally appear. All of these insects suck plant cell juices, resulting in small, pale spots that turn brown over time. Inspect your plants on a regular basis for insect damage.
Spider mites are very tiny and are hard to see with the naked eye. If you shake a leaf over a white sheet of paper, look for tiny moving dots. These are spider mites. They also make fine webbing in the crotches of leaf nodes. Spider mites populations are very common when the air is dry.
Mealybugs are white and fluffy-looking. They live in colonies and are most often found on the underside of leaves and in the crevices of leaf nodes. A large infestation looks a cottony mass.
Aphids are small and also live in colonies. They can be lots of different colors depending on the species: green, orange, yellow, black, or red. You’ll most often find them on the stems of plants, or on the underside of the leaves.
Adult scale insects do not move. They live under a hard shell that can be different colors depending on the species, and some of them look like small brown dots. They are more of a problem on Ficus benjamina, but can be on Ficus lyrata, too. You know it’s scale if you can scrape the bump off with your finger nail.