The Ficus lyrata, commonly known as the fiddle-leaf fig, can suffer from brown spots across its normally appealing foliage. I’ll explain why this happens and present solutions for dealing with each possible cause of brown spots on your fiddle leaf plant.
Why does my fiddle-leaf fig have brown spots? The fiddle-leaf fig can develop brown spots from fungal infections, bacterial infections, underwatering, sun scalding, and insect infestations. Treating diseases, amending your watering, and removing insects are recommended treatments.
In this guide to fiddle-leaf fig brown spots, I’ll go over the above causes of foliar browning in a lot more detail and present solutions. I’ll also share plenty of photos so you can easily identify what’s wrong with your Ficus lyrata!
5 Causes of Fiddle-Leaf Fig Brown Spots and Solutions
The Cause: Fungal Disease
The fungal disease that the fiddle-leaf fig is most susceptible to is root rot.
If you’re not familiar, root rot is a disease that’s caused by too much standing water unable to drain from the container. Root rot is often the result of drowning your plant’s roots.
Your Ficus lyrata’s roots are deprived of oxygen, so they die. It’s usually only a matter of time before the rest of the plant follows suit.
You can create conditions conducive for root rot if you don’t provide well-draining soil for your fiddle-leaf fig.
The chief reason that indoor gardeners will see root rot develop in their fiddle-leaf figs is due to overwatering.
Few indoor plants need water every single day, and that’s true of the fiddle-leaf fig as well.
How do you know your Ficus lyrata has root rot?
- The brown spots on the foliage are a giveaway, but that’s not the only sign to keep an eye out for.
- Your fig will wilt. Yellow spots can develop across the leaves in addition to the brown ones. Growth will stop quickly and for seemingly no reason.
- You can also smell root rot. When the roots turn black and die, they give off a terrible odor.
What to Do About It: Treat Root Rot and Cut Back on Watering
First thing’s first, you have to deal with the active case of root rot that’s plaguing your fiddle-leaf fig.
To do that, you must take the plant out of its pot.
The fiddle-leaf fig can grow 10 feet long indoors, so it’s not a small plant by any means. Have a family member or buddy help you remove it.
One person should firmly grip the pot while the second person holds onto the base of the plant. The Ficus lyrata has a thin trunk that can snap if you apply too much pressure, so be careful.
Now lay the plant down on a flat surface lined with a paper towel, newspaper, or even old dish towels.
Clear away some of the soil and you should be able to see your fiddle-leaf fig’s root system.
Healthy roots give off no odor, and they’re also white. Decaying roots will be brown or black; as mentioned, they’ll smell awful. They can also look wet and squishy.
Using clean pruning shears, cut away every brown or black root. That may require you to remove the entire root but do what you have to do.
In between snips, you should disinfect your pruning shears using bleach or 70-percent isopropyl alcohol. This prevents the fungal infection from spreading to healthy roots.
When you’re done cutting the dead roots, fill a new pot with dry, well-draining, organic soil.
The soil pH should be anywhere from 5.5 to 7.0. Add soil amendments like perlite, coco coir, or peat moss.
Then place your fiddle-leaf fig in the pot.
The sooner you catch root rot, the better the odds of your plant’s survival.
In the future, you need to scale back on how often you water your fig.
If you’re not sure on the watering requirements for the fiddle-leaf fig, water when your fiddle-leaf fig soil becomes mostly dry but not completely dry. The soil should never be soggy.
The Cause: Bacterial Infection
Wouldn’t it be nice if fungal diseases like root rot were all you had to worry about when growing a fiddle-leaf fig? Yet that’s not the case.
Bacterial infections can afflict this plant as well.
What can lead to a bacterial infection in your fig, you ask? All sorts of things.
Using pruning shears that you didn’t disinfect after cutting one plant can spread the infection to another plant. That’s why I always recommend cleaning your gardening tools when you’re finished using them.
When fiddle-leaf fig plants get sick with a bacterial infection, they can potentially spread the infection to other adjacent plants in your indoor garden. Your fiddle-leaf fig could have fallen ill through its next-door plant neighbor.
If the infection is on your hands, even if you don’t get sick, your Ficus lyrata could.
You’ll know your fiddle-leaf fig has a bacterial infection by looking at its foliar color. The fig’s large, trademark leaves will have noticeable brown spots.
Further, the shape of the leaves will be irregular compared to the other, healthy leaves on the plant. The infected leaves can even crack.
What to Do About It: Treat the Disease If Possible
What can you do when a bacterial infection has stricken your fiddle-leaf fig?
You’ll have to use a bactericide to kill the bacteria. Yes, this will mean exposing your plant to chemicals, but it might be the only way to save it.
When you purchase a bactericide, follow the usage instructions, and apply the stuff for however many days is required.
The bactericide will only treat the bacteria the plant has been exposed to, not whatever may be lingering in the soil.
If you keep your fiddle-leaf fig in contaminated soil, then it’s only a matter of time before the bacteria will infect it again.
Although you may be able to heat-treat the soil to sterilize it and kill any lingering bacteria, my recommendation is to replace the soil entirely. This way, you can be 100 percent confident that the soil is bacteria-free.
Finally, prune any brown spots or other abnormalities from your fiddle-leaf fig. This is yet another bacterial control measure.
Be sure to watch how often you’re watering your Ficus lyrata. Overwatering an indoor plant can invite both fungi and bacteria to your plant!
The Cause: Underwatering
Some indoor gardeners like to err on the side of caution, so they water their fiddle-leaf figs sparingly.
Others aren’t sure how much water the Ficus lyrata needs or how often, so they scale back, but accidentally.
Either way, both cases lead to an underwatered fiddle-leaf fig.
When a fig lacks hydration, its large leaves will begin manifesting brown spots. The spots will be prevalent along the leaf edges but can spread.
On top of that, the fiddle-leaf fig leaves will often begin curling.
If you’ve read some of my recent posts, then you may recall that indoor plants will curl their leaves to hold onto whatever scant hydration is left. This is a clear sign of underwatering.
Without remediation, the leaves of your fiddle-leaf fig can even fall off the plant.
Look at the soil of your plant too. It will feel very dry and hard. The soil will also recede from the edge of the pot, creating a noticeable gap.
What to Do About It: Water More Frequently, But Not Excessively
I discussed earlier how often to water the Ficus lyrata. Its soil should be allowed to become dry but not bone-dry. When moisture remains in the pot, it’s not time to water the plant yet.
I recommend the fingertip test for ascertaining when you should water the fiddle-leaf fig. It’s a much more reliable gauge than following a schedule.
After all, in warmer conditions, your fig will need more water. In the autumn and winter, or if you live in a consistently cooler climate, you won’t have to water your plant nearly as much.
Even if your fiddle-leaf fig is underwatered, you don’t want to water it excessively. Then you could accidentally create root rot in the plant.
The Cause: Sunburn or Sun Scalding
You’ve heard that the fiddle-leaf fig is from the tropical rainforests of western Africa. You assume that if it can handle those conditions, that direct sunlight shouldn’t be a big deal for this plant at all.
Indeed, the Ficus lyrata likes some direct sun, but constant exposure to direct sunlight is not ideal for this plant.
Its leaves may be large, but they can burn just like your skin can when you spend too long in the sun unprotected.
It can only take several hours for a sunburn to appear on the leaves of your fiddle-leaf fig. The leaves will develop white or yellow spots that look bleached.
These spots are lesions. As the lesions progress without treatment on your part, they will become shriveled and brown.
Additionally, your plant’s foliage will wilt. The leaf cupping or rolling that I described earlier can occur as well, especially if your Ficus lyrata has been overexposed to the sun.
What to Do About It: Treat Sunburn and Provide Adequate Lighting
I hope only a few of your fiddle-leaf fig’s leaves suffered a sunburn or sun scalding, as you’ll have to remove the affected leaves.
Just to remind you that you should always disinfect your pruning shears when you’re finished cutting.
Your fiddle-leaf fig is now down a few leaves. The obvious signs of sunburn or sun scalding are gone, but your plant may still be suffering.
You cannot keep the compromised indoor plant in the direct sun and heat. Move it to cooler, shaded conditions until the fig looks a little less wilted.
Then you can place it where it will receive optimal lighting.
What kind of lighting does a fiddle-leaf fig need? It’s a bit tricky to get its lighting requirements down pat, so if you’ve struggled, you’re far from the only indoor gardener who has.
The Ficus lyrata likes up to five hours of direct sunlight and then indirect sunlight for the rest of the day.
If you have an easterly-facing window, place the fig right in front of it. For westerly or southerly-facing windows, put the plant close to the window but not right beside it.
The Cause: Insect Infestation
The last cause of fiddle-leaf fig brown spots could be due to an insect infestation.
Aphids, whiteflies, mites, scale, and mealybugs all love the large leaves of the Ficus lyrata. If your plant is overwatered, then fungus gnats could join the party as well.
The bugs are hungry for plant sap, and with its huge leaves, the Ficus lyrata certainly has a lot for insects to feed on.
Brown spots can appear on your infected fiddle-leaf fig. If a leaf has been sucked completely dry, it will wilt and can even fall off!
You can’t let insects spread unfettered across your fig. The insects can easily hop or fly from plant to plant, infecting other parts of your indoor garden before you know it.
What’s worse is that many of the above critters are vectors for disease.
What to Do About It: Identify Insects and Treat/Remove Them
The good news is that a healthy fiddle-leaf fig is not likely to develop insect infestations.
If you follow the care facets that I’ve discussed throughout this guide, then yours can remain virtually bug-free.
For now though, you have an insect problem, so it’s time to do something about it.
Although you can treat most of these microscopic pests the same way, it’s still a good idea to know which insect might have invaded your Ficus lyrata.
Do you see white web-like material on the sizable underside of your fig’s leaves? Then spider mites have come to town.
Maybe you feel a sticky, clear residue? That’s honeydew that scale insects (some, not all) and aphids secrete.
Most of the time, these bugs are attracted to the warm, moist conditions that you create when you overwater your plant.
If you spot insects on your Ficus lyrata, take a cloth, dip it in water and dish soap, and wipe across the leaves.
Be sure to focus your efforts on the undersides of the leaves, as this is where unwanted insects congregate the most frequently.
Then dab the fig’s leaves dry so you don’t make conditions even moister!
Fiddle-Leaf Fig Discoloration FAQs
Do you still have some questions about the discolored foliage your fiddle-leaf fig is sporting? No problem! This handy FAQs section will quell your concerns.
I See Tiny Black Dots on My Fiddle-Leaf Fig – What Are They?
Perhaps your issue with the Ficus lyrata isn’t so much brown discoloration, but black spots across the foliage.
While this could be a sign of root rot, it’s likely another fungal disease that’s causing these black spots that’s known as fig rust.
Fig rust is attributed to the Cerotelium fici fungus, will affect the younger leaves of your fiddle-leaf fig first. The spots on the leaves begin as green or yellow, making them hard to detect.
The longer the spots stick around, the bigger and darker they become.
The only treatment for fig rust is a fungicide. The product should contain lime and copper sulfate for efficient removal of the fungus.
Can You Reverse Brown Spots on a Fiddle-Leaf Fig?
Identifying the causes of fiddle-leaf fig brown spots is great, as you can then treat your plant.
Even if your fig becomes healthy though, those browned leaves will never turn green again. I explained why in another recent post.
The plant abandons the browned leaf and redirects nutrients away from it.
With the dead or dying leaf sitting on the plant, all it’s doing is preventing your fig from growing since the plant needs energy to keep the dead leaves attached.
You can use pruning shears to cut the dead leaves away. Clean your pruning shears when you’re done!
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