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The fiddle leaf fig tree, also known as Ficus lyrata, has been a favorite houseplant across many homes and states. It’s easy to take care of and has stunningly large leaves when it’s happy. But do they like being root bound?
Fiddle leaf figs do not strive when they’re root bound. Once they’ve displaced all their soil, they need more room to continue growing. Root-bound fiddle leaf figs also need more frequent watering. A simple solution — give your fiddle leaf fig a new pot and some fresh soil.
By replacing the soil and increasing the size of the pot, you’re creating an environment where it can strive yet again.
But what type of soil mix should you use, and in what ratio? And how do you know when exactly it’s root-bound?
And what about fertilizer type and usage frequency?
Fiddle leaf figs like settling into their pots. They also tend to grow roots at a rapid pace.
These factors make the fiddle leaf fig a plant that can quickly become root-bound but does not mean it thrives in such environments. So, no fiddle leaf figs do not like to be root bound.
Once you notice your fiddle leaf fig tree’s roots are growing out of the drainage holes, it’s time to consider a new pot and soil because this tree has become root-bound.
If the roots are growing out of the pot’s drainage holes, it can block water inside the pot resulting in root rot. Alternatively, it will allow the water to flow through before it’s had enough time to absorb it — resulting in you having to give it water more frequently.
Ideally, you want to re-pot your fiddle leaf fig every 2 to 3 years. Leaving the tree in its same old pot will only slow down its growth, alongside other problems.
There are a few tell-tale signs when your fiddle leaf fig has become root-bound.
Your fiddle leaf fig is root-bound if you notice these common signs:
- The soil dries out too fast
- Brown tips on the leaves
- The pot feels light and tends to tip over
- The roots of the plant are coming out of the drainage holes
- The pot starts to crack
- It’s easy to lift out of its pot
- It has spiraling roots at the bottom of the pot
- It hasn’t produced new leaves over the growing season
- The leaves are limp
While many different factors could result in these signs, most commonly, you’ll find it is a problem of the fiddle leaf fig being root-bound.
When it’s root-bound, you want to step in and take measures to change its living condition by re-potting it in new soil and giving it a larger pot.
While you have some wiggle room, you don’t want to leave it in this state for too long — otherwise, you run the risk of allowing the plant to wilt.
Also, don’t feel bad if you take good care of your fiddle leaf fig and it’s become root-bound — it’s a very natural state for the plant to be in, and you can very simply help it out by giving it a larger pot.
So now that you know how to identify a root-bound fiddle leaf fig, you can take steps to report it.
Here’s how you can go about re-potting your fiddle leaf fig:
Find a pot 2 to 3 inches larger. Generally, you want a pot that is one size larger than the pot it’s currently in.
Giving it too large a pot too fast can cause it to enter a state of shock or retain too much water resulting in root rot.
It could also cause the plant to use all its energy to grow new roots rather than for new foliage. The plant will first stabilize itself and establish a suitable water pathway in the soil to increase absorption.
Something else you want in your new pot is adequate drainage holes to let the excess water drain away.
Without proper drainage holes, the soil will become waterlogged, causing the roots to sit in too much water for it to transpire, resulting in root rot.
Now that you’ve selected a new and larger pot, you can prepare your soil mix.
Plants require multiple nutrients to survive, so giving it only one type of soil won’t work.
You ideally want to create a unique mix that targets catering to all its nutritional needs while retaining moisture but not becoming waterlogged.
Removing your fiddle lead fig is the most hands-on you’ll be in the re-potting process.
You want to start by gently squeezing the plastic container your plant is in to loosen the soil and the roots.
Holding one hand at the base of the plant and the other on the pot, gently pull the pot away, exposing the roots of the fiddle leaf fig.
You want to proceed if you see:
- Lots of spiraling roots
- Roots that have shaped like the pot it was in
- Only root
- Many roots growing from the pot’s drainage holes
If it does not look like this, place the fiddle leaf fig back into the pot and give it a few months to become a bit more root bound before attempting to re-pot it.
Unnecessarily re-potting the plant may cause stunted growth due to constant readjustment.
Once you’ve removed the plant and confirmed that it is root bound, gently “untangle” to root-ball to remove as much soil as possible.
It’s alright if small parts of some of the roots break off but try to minimize that number. You can also place the plant under running water to get rid of most soil.
Once clean, you want to remove any damaged or rotten roots by taking a pair of small scissors and cutting those off.
Doing this will prevent disease and root rot from occurring in the new pot.
It will also stimulate the plant to replace the lost roots with new and healthy ones.
After you’ve removed as much soil and dead/rotten roots as you can from the fiddle leaf fig’s root system, it’s time to plant it into the new pot.
Fill up the new pot ⅓ of the way with your soil mix. Then, carefully place the fiddle leaf fig into the pot and make sure the base of the fiddle leaf fig is just below the rim of the pot.
Use one hand to hold the plant in place and use your other to fill up the remaining space in the pot with the soil mix.
You can also recruit someone to hold the plant upright while you fill the rest of the pot with soil.
Once the pot is almost full, gently compress the soil using the palm of your hand to ensure that the plant is stable in its new pot.
Don’t compact the ground too much, just enough to provide stability and prevent the top layer of soil from blowing away.
Now that you’ve made it through the most challenging part of re-potting the plant, it’s time to reward your fiddle leaf fig and yourself with some water.
The water will help the soil naturally compact a bit more and help it recover from the stress of being re-potted.
So, I mentioned that you have to mix your soil in the steps above, but what exactly are you mixing together?
Well, you want a soil mix that will retain moisture but not become waterlogged.
Fiddle leaf fig trees do not like to sit in water, so having well-draining soil is just as crucial as having drainage holes in your pot.
The soil should have tiny air pockets, even after you’ve thoroughly watered the fiddle leaf fig.
You also want to ensure that you have nutrient-rich soil to support the plant for the years leading up to being re-potted again.
Here’s the perfect ratio of soil mix:
- 2 parts potting soil
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part peat moss
Alternatively, you can also use 2 parts cactus mix to 1 part compost.
After mixing these, you want to add a little bit of water before potting the plant; that way, you won’t lose all the soil through the drainage holes when watering the plant for the first time.
If you want to be super sure the soil mix is perfect for your plant, you can buy pH indicators — you ideally want the pH of the soil to be between 5.5 to 7 (so slightly acidic).
You want to re-pot your fiddle leaf fig once you notice signs of it becoming root bound, generally once every 2 to 3 years.
Re-potting your plant will replenish its nutrient-seeped environment to become nutrient-rich and improve its growth.
You should definitely re-pot your fiddle leaf fig if it is root-bound.
You also want to re-pot them in warmer months when the shock of being transplanted won’t be as bad as it would be in colder months when it’s more dormant.
A great way to maintain the soil’s nutrient value is to fertilize!
Plants with lots of foliage, like fiddle leaf fig trees, will reward you with larger leaves when you regularly fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer.
Most garden-variety fertilizers for foliage plants consist of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K). These come in varying ratios but are generally 3:1:2 or 3:1:3.
Each element enables the plant to grow in the following areas:
- Nitrogen – Responsible for the shoot growth of the plant or non-flowering growth.
- Phosphorus – Responsible for flowering, setting seeds, and forming roots.
- Potassium – Responsible for proper cell function and regulation.
You generally want more N and K in relation to P because P is mainly for properties that ficus does not possess (flowering or setting seed).
It’s also smart to fertilize the fiddle leaf fig when you re-pot it. But what type of fertilizer options do you have available?
Adding slow-release fertilizer is a perfect option when you’re re-potting your plant.
Simply mix in the amount on the label instructions into your soil mix and forget about fertilizing the plant for the next 3-4 months (perfect if you’re re-potting during springtime!).
Slow-release fertilizers work by releasing small amounts of fertilizer each time you water your plant.
You could also take the quick-release approach by using a water-soluble quick-release fertilizer.
These fertilizers work by either buying an already liquid fertilizer or mixing a powder into water and then water your fiddle leaf fig as you usually would.
To optimize the fertilizer’s efficacy, you want to saturate the soil thoroughly.
It means that less of the fertilizer will go to waste and that you also won’t damage the roots by burning them with the fertilizer.
To summarize: Don’t let your fiddle leaf fig tree become too root bound. It can slow down its growth and increase the chance of other problems.
Ideally, you want to re-pot your fiddle leaf fig every 2 to 3 years to ensure the plant doesn’t become too root-bound and remain otherwise healthy.
Use well-draining soil and a pot that’s 2 to 3 inches larger than the current pot it’s in and fertilize using an NPK ratio of 3:1:2 about once every month if you’re using quick-release fertilizer.