Fiddle leaf figs are some of the most popular houseplants on the market today, thanks to their tall size, unique leaf shape and generally easy-going nature. Great for seasoned houseplant enthusiasts and new plant parents alike, fiddle leaf figs are pretty hardy plants, but sometimes problems can still arise.
Brown spots on fiddle leaf fig leaves are a relatively common occurrence. If you just purchased a new plant, these spots may not be cause for alarm as long as they don’t seem to be spreading. However, if your fig plant seems to be developing new leaf spots, you’ll want to act quickly.
There are several reasons why fiddle leaf fig trees may develop brown spotting on leaves. Happily, these problems are usually quite simple to diagnose and treat if you know the signs to look for. We’ve put together this guide to help you determine what’s causing brown spotting on your plant and what you can do about it. By following a few simple solutions, you’ll be able to treat your plant quickly and effectively, ensuring lots of lush, green leafy growth in the future.
How to Determine the Cause of Leaf Damage
In order to tell what is causing problems with your fiddle leaf fig, you’ll want to first take a good look at your plant. Inspect the affected leaves carefully, as well as the general shape of your plant and the soil too. Brown spots may all look the same at first, but with a careful eye, there are some key differences.
- What color are the brown spots? Are they very dark, almost black, or are they tan or even yellowish?
- How many spots are there? Do leaves display a single, large spot or a bunch of tiny dots?
- What leaves are affected? Are damaged leaves mostly towards the top of the plant, or the bottom? Does the problem seem limited to older leaves or are spots appearing on new growth too?
- Is spotting contained to leaf margins, or are spots appearing on the center of leaves?
- Does your plant appear wilted? What does the soil feel like?
- Do you see any obvious signs of insects?
- How many leaves are damaged?
- Is your plant experiencing leaf drop too?
Asking yourself these questions during your inspection will help you pinpoint the cause of your fiddle leaf fig problems so that you can decide on an effective solution.
Causes of Brown Spots on Fiddle Leaf Figs
While there are different causes of brown spots on fiddle leaf figs, below we’ve compiled the 5 most common reasons why your plant may be experiencing difficulty and how to fix it. Luckily, most causes of leaf spotting are quite easy to remedy and your plant should be back to its normal, vibrant self in no time.
The single most common cause of brown spots on fiddle leaf figs is overwatering. These plants require only moderate watering and don’t like soggy roots. Allowing your fiddle leaf fig to sit in waterlogged soil for an extended period of time is likely to cause leaf spotting and other issues.
Leaf damage in overwatered plants usually affects lower leaves first, as your plant sacrifices older leaves and tries to limit damage to new growth at the top of the plant. However, as overwatering continues, damage spreads to upper leaves too and presents as dark, almost black, spots. Spotting can appear anywhere on leaves, from margins to center, and there are usually lots of spots that spread. Over time, leaf drop can occur too.
If you catch overwatering early, it is usually a very easy fix. Simply remove affected leaves and dial back the amount of water you give your plant. At first, allow soil to dry out completely, and then water your plant approximately weekly, watering only when the top 1” of soil feels dry to the touch.
If, however, overwatering continues for a length of time or soil becomes severely saturated, your plant will begin to experience root rot, which is a severe symptom of overwatering and is caused by a fungal infection. To determine if root rot has developed, you’ll need to inspect your plant’s roots. Affected roots will break easily and may feel mushy or slimy to the touch.
Unlike overwatering, root rot treatment requires more significant intervention to salvage your plant. To treat your fig, first remove your plant from its pot and carefully snip away any soft and damaged roots. Next, rinse off your root ball and repot your plant in a rich, well-draining potting mix. Make sure you’re only potting your plant in a container that has good drainage holes too. Avoid using too large of a planter, as oversized pots can keep soil too moist and create waterlogged conditions.
Beyond root rot, edema, which is also caused by overwatering, can present as tiny, reddish-brown pinprick spotting on new plant leaves. These spots occur when plant cells burst due too much moisture or inconsistent watering. Edema is easily fixable by adjusting your watering schedule.
To prevent issues like root rot or edema in the future, avoid overwatering and allow your plant’s soil to dry out some in between waterings. If you’re unsure about your watering schedule, you can purchase a moisture meter to help you decide when you need to water. It’s also important to provide your plant with adequate sunlight, which will help your fig to more efficiently use water during the photosynthesis process.
Just as too much water can spell trouble for your fiddle leaf fig, underwatering can be problematic too; however, it is usually easier to fix.
Brown spots that are caused by underwatering are usually lighter in color, ranging from tan to light brown, and they most frequently appear towards leaf edges, spreading inwards as the problem progresses. Other signs of underwatering include crispy leaves and leaves that curl or droop. If you inspect your soil, you may see signs of shrinkage, or the soil pulling away from the pot’s edge, which can cause water to pour right through your soil avoiding roots altogether.
If you suspect underwatering might the cause of your fig’s problems, consider your watering schedule. Did you forget to water your plant, has there been a recent spell of hot weather or are humidity levels low? Any of these reasons can explain brown spotting on your fig plant.
The first step to treating underwatering is, of course, adjusting your watering schedule. Fiddle leaf figs need regular watering, approximately once a week. Additionally, while household humidity levels are usually okay for these plants, they do prefer 60% or higher humidity for better growth. To increase humidity levels, try placing your fig on a pebble tray or adding a humidifier to your set up and definitely move your plant away from any heating unit if it’s near one.
While it is not always necessary, if your soil appears to be experiencing shrinkage, it is a good idea to repot your plant too. This will ensure your soil properly drains and holds water correctly.
Sun damage is usually pretty easy to spot as it is confined to areas of your fig that experience the most sunlight exposure, such as outer and upper leaves. If spotting occurs on sheltered, lower leaves, sun damage is not likely the cause.
Plant leaves that experience sunburn will appear blanched in color or develop yellowing or brown spots that turn crispy. Spots may have yellow edges too and damage will occur all over leaves, not just on margins.
If your plant is exposed to direct sunlight or if you recently relocated your plant to a sunny area, try reducing the amount of light your fig receives. Often, bright, indirect light is the best sort of lighting for fiddle leaf figs and any adjustment to light levels should be done gradually to avoid shocking your plant.
Bacterial infections are another common cause of brown spots on fiddle leaf fig leaves. Unfortunately, these infections can be difficult to treat and often occur on plants purchased from big box stores.
If you believe your fig plant may be suffering from overwatering, but leaf spots don’t respond to treatment, bacterial infection should be suspected.
Spots caused by bacteria are usually lighter in color than those resulting from overwatering, and spots can appear on any plant leaves, including older and, especially, younger leaves. Leaves may also exhibit signs of stunted growth and yellowing and leaf drop may occur too.
Bacterial infections are easier to treat if you catch them early. Try increasing the amount of light your plant is exposed to and allow soil to dry out between waterings. It can help to remove affected leaves, repot your plant and give it a bit of diluted, organic liquid fertilizer to boost nutrient levels.
If weather permits, consider moving your fig outside into a shady area. The increase in sunlight and air circulation can help your plant recover. Just be sure to keep your fig out of direct sunlight or temperature extremes below 50 or above 95 degrees while it is recovering.
While these solutions can help your fig overcome bacterial infections, if over 50% of your plant’s leaves are damaged, you may want to compost your plant and start over with a new fig start. If you just bought your fig plant, some nurseries will be happy to replace it with a new one if you ask.
Insect infestation is yet another potential cause of leaf spots on fiddle leaf figs; however, it is less common because fiddle leaf figs have some natural pest resistance.
To determine if insects are to blame for your plant’s spots, closely inspect leaves for any signs of pests, webbing or eggs. Pests frequently target new growth and can cause tiny dark or light spots on leaves and holes in leaf surfaces. Be sure to check the underside of plant leaves and along plant stems too because some pests, like scale and mealybugs, can be quite good at hiding.
Once you’ve determined your plant has pests, you’ll want to treat your fig with either a neem oil spray or an organic insecticidal soap spray. If you want, you can make your own homemade spray, by mixing a few drops of Dawn or Castile dish soap and a couple of tablespoons of neem oil in a gallon of water.
Sprays should be applied every 7 to 10 days until all signs of infestation are gone and then spray one more time just in case any new pests hatch from eggs. To avoid damaging plant leaves, only treat your plant in evening after the sun has set as sprays can sometimes cause leaf burn when exposed to direct sunlight.
Keeping Your Fiddle Leaf Fig Healthy
While there are ways to treat brown spots on your fiddle leaf fig when they occur, the best solution for keeping healthy plants is to ensure you provide them with the correct growing conditions so they don’t develop problems to begin with.
Fiddle fig leaf figs are relatively easy to care for; however, they don’t like sudden changes, so be sure to make any alternations to their growing conditions slowly to give your plants time to adjust.
For healthier plants, provide your figs with a consistent watering schedule, watering approximately every 7 to 10 days during the growing season. Soil should be allowed to dry out slightly in between waterings, so try inserting your finger into your plant’s soil. If the soil feels dry up to your second knuckle, it’s time to water.
Beyond watering, fiddle leaf figs prefer bright, indirect sunlight and an occasional application of fertilizer. Ideally, you’ll want to fertilize your plant once a month with a balanced or high-nitrogen liquid organic fertilizer to improve growth.
Finally, while fiddle leaf figs can adapt to normal household humidity levels, they should not be placed next to heating units as this can cause dry conditions. Because figs come from tropical areas, they can benefit from a little extra humidity too so, if you can, consider placing your plant on a pebble tray or near a humidifier for healthier leaves.
Keep in mind that, while brown spots can spell signs of trouble, brown spots can also be natural signs of aging on mature leaves. In fact, it’s normal if your fig drops leaves or has a few spots on its leaves towards the bottom of the plant; rapid leaf loss or damage to new leaves is not normal though. For general maintenance, remove any leaves that have 50% or more damage to keep your plant looking its best.
While brown spots on your fiddle leaf fig are unsightly, if they occur there’s no reason to despair. If you keep figs for any length of time, you are likely to experience the occasional leaf spot or spots. Leaf spotting is a common issue in these plants, but it is one that is usually quite easy to fix and even easier to prevent.
Understanding the growing conditions your fiddle leaf fig needs is an essential part of leaf spot prevention. If you provide consistent watering, bright and indirect light, good air flow, humidity and the occasional application of fertilizer, you’re unlikely to experience brown spots on your plant. But, if they do occur, taking a careful look at your fig is usually all it takes to identify the cause of your plant’s distress.
With the help of this guide and your own careful observation, treating your fiddle leaf fig is usually very simple. Once you’ve treated your fig or adjusted growing conditions, these resilient plants are quick to recover, producing more of the big, bold, vibrantly-green leaves we love to enliven your space.