Monday, July 14, 2014

Creating and Caring for your Knock-Off Fiddle Leaf Fig

A Real Fiddle Leaf Fig looking great via
To fully appreciate this post, you may need to start by reading here to understand why my "indoor tropical plant" is impersonating as a fiddle leaf fig tree.

Does the thought of caring for a living organism scare you?  Do you routinely kill even cacti plants?  Then this post should inspire you that yes, you too can achieve "fiddle leaf fig" ownership.  I have read that actual fig trees are not any more difficult to care for than my tropical plant variety, so this post should work for you whether you bought a real tree or made your own like I did.

How to Make Your Indoor Tropical Plant Look More Like a Fiddle Leaf Fig

1) Repotting is an essential step.  I think this goes without saying, but if you want your home to look like a design magazine photoshoot, you need to invest in a pot other than the plastic one your plant comes in.  My favorite place to find great pots on a budget is your local TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Home Goods.  If you are really pinching pennies look on the clearance section aisle first; tiny chips can be touched up with paint if necessary.  I wouldn't spend more than $25 for a medium sized ceramic pot, and it should be around $40 for a very large or ornate one.  Buying decorative pots at Lowes or other lawn and garden stores is usually highway robbery, and I have found they have a limited selection any way.  If you can find a lovely chinoserie pot like the ones below, then you get extra bonus points.

2) Recovery
Give your plant a few days to acclimate to its new environment before you begin undertaking any further drastic changes.  Repotting alone can be brutal to the plant depending on your skill level.  For me, I usually damage a few (sigh--a lot) of roots during this process, no matter how gentle I try to be.  You need to find a space in your home with good, preferably indirect lighting.  These plants do best with a large amount of filtered sunlight.  Near a window with a good amount of daytime light should work just fine.  Watering amount depends on the temperature of your home and the size of the plant.  My 3 foot plant has been thriving with a cup of water every 3-4 days.  Don't be afraid if you lose a few leaves over the first week or two.  My plant shed a few lower branches (they turned yellow and just fell off) as it adjusted to the new lighting and temperature of my home over the first few weeks. You may be tempted to panic at this point, but take a deep breath.  The plant is acclimating, and no need to go overboard on "treating" it as long as your new growth looks healthy.

3) Washing
Yes, you read that right.  You do need to wash the leaves of your plant periodically, one, to remove dust so your plant doesn't look disgusting and so it can actually capture the light coming in from your window, but more importantly, if you bought your plant from a place like Lowes or Home Depot or other big box stores, then it is probably infested with spider mites.  When I first read about this, I thought, "no, not my plant."  It couldn't possibly be infested.  Well I was wrong.
Spider Mites--They look harmless now, but why
let parasites live in your house when a little
leaf washing will kill them all?

How can you tell?  Look underneath the leaves.  There shouldn't be anything hanging out under there.  Spider mites start out looking like nondescript white dots on the underside of your leaves.  I thought it was fertilizer or some kind of spore when I first saw them.  My plant physiology teacher needs an apology -- I realize that this plant is not a fern, and it should not have spores.  If left alone, these spider mites will thrive and can even jump to other plants in your house.Terrible -- don't repeat my mistake and leave them alone because you think they are a normal part of your plant.  Just kill them right away.

Luckily it is easy to get rid of them.  Just mix a little soap and water (go easy on the soap) and then dip a paper towel in your mixture and wipe each leaf clean.  Tedious, but inexpensive and effective.  You will need to keep washing your plant periodically.  I do mine about once every 2 weeks, and maybe I should do it more often because I keep finding a few little mites hanging out.  Apparently they are resilient.

4) Rotating
You won't need to do this often, I promise. When you water your plant or wash your plant, then you should also take a moment to ask yourself, "is this plant lopsided?"  If you leave your plant sitting in the same place all the time, and its source of sunlight is coming from the side and not directly centered, then your plant will grow towards the sunlight.  This is easy to spot in the new growth at the top of the plant; it will begin resembling the leaning tower of Pisa.  If you rotate the plant 180 degrees, it should straighten right back up in a day or two at most.

5) Pruning
If you have a no-name tropical plant fiddle leaf fig impersonator from Home Depot, then you can help make it fool more people by pruning it to look like the real thing.  This also cuts down on the number of leaves you need to wash of spider mites, so it is a win-win.  Just check out the before and after shots:  I am almost fooled myself.

Before Pruning:
After Pruning:

So much better don't you think?  As the plant continues to grow upwards I may continue to trim from the bottom to encourage a more tree-like appearance.  I would love to read about your own plant stories so post links in the comment section if you are blogging about decorating with plants in your home!

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