Keeping a fiddle leaf fig (alive).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

If you remember, in early September I bought a fiddle leaf fig tree. Me, the girl who has historically managed to kill just about anything green. (With the exception of an airplane plant, which lived but grew barely an inch in 5 years.)

I've come to understand something about myself: I love greenery in my home and yard, but I strongly dislike futzing with plants. Weeding, pruning, and considerable upkeep just don't suit me.

Our last house was north-south facing, and therefore got little direct sunlight, so most plants petered out after a short period. Never mind the 8 month long winters. And so, even the hardiest plants didn't stick around for long.

After we moved, I was craving hominess. I wanted color. I wanted my house to feel like a home; an extension and representation of who we are. I wanted to stop holding back when it came to my dwelling. So I set aside my apprehension and started planting.

Every trip to IKEA involved a new succulent or small houseplant. One fateful day I made the leap to bigger plants and picked up the fiddle leaf fig who would come to be affectionately known as "Marvin". (Kiddo has a knack for naming all living things.) It was beautiful and unique and I was so excited to have a punch of green in the corner of our dining room.

Until I did a little research. I had inadvertently purchased a trendy and oh-so particular plant.

I steeled myself for the inevitable shedding of leaves and drooping stem.

Only, it didn't come. In fact, I am almost two months in to caring for this plant, and it is thriving. Two weeks ago I noticed the first emerging leaf, which has since grown over 16 inches. A couple days ago, two more made an appearance.

So what's the secret? How have I not killed it? It's a plant native to tropical rainforests, and I live in the Pacific Northwest. It's been chilly, rainy and the sun makes few appearances. I'm certainly no expert in the area of tropical plants, but as a reformed black thumb I have a few insights into what works. In fact, my plethora of small to medium size succulents have received similar care and are growing like gangbusters.

  • First and foremost: use good potting soil. I chose Nature's Care by Miracle-Gro. This particular soil is organic, meant for container plants, and helps prevent over- and under-watering. Is it possible my fig could have thrived with plain old potting soil? Perhaps. But I take help where I can get it.
  • Get the right size pot. I mentioned the fiasco I went through after first buying the plant, which required a return visit to the store to buy a pricey ceramic pot, a dolly, and a water tray. In the end I'm glad I didn't try to jam it into the small original pot. I realize that, for at least the first couple years, I'll have to upgrade to progressively larger pots. I suppose that's just the nature of the beast.
  • Be "consciously neglectful". I have only watered the plant twice since I've had it; approximately once a month. I don't move it around a lot or fuss over it. I make sure it isn't directly over a vent when the heat or air conditioning are on, and ensure it gets plenty of indirect sunlight. Some articles I've read said they don't like to be rotated, but that hasn't been true for me. 
  • Watering: if the soil feels dry (I insert a finger an inch into the potting soil to check), I take note and wait a couple more days. With the help of one of the boys (it's awkward and heavy), I take it onto the back patio and water it thoroughly with a plain old garden hose until it begins to drain underneath. Then I leave it outside for a bit so it's not dripping when we bring it back into the house. 
  • Fertilizing: on the days I watered (two, so far), I mix up some all-purpose plant food (1/2 tsp of food dissolved in one gallon of tap water) and fertilize all my houseplants. Whatever is left, usually about a quart, goes in the fiddle leaf fig.
  • Dust the leaves. I'm going to admit, I was super resistant to this at first. It felt high-maintenance, and well, you know how I feel about that. But the truth is, I'm pretty fond of this plant. I'm also trying to amend my ways. So twice now, I've wiped down the leaves with a damp microfiber cloth. It takes about 5-10 minutes and I think of it like dusting any surface in my home. 

There you have it. Despite all the fear-mongering about fiddle leaf figs, mine has proven itself to be pretty hardy. No diva-like behavior here. (Though winter is approaching.)

I'm pleased as punch to have it in my house. Marvin is fun, pretty, and makes me happy. If someone asked my opinion on owning a fiddle leaf fig tree, I'd say go for it.

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