There’s no question, root rot can be frustrating. It’s a quite common ailment, but it can still be serious, especially with fiddle leaf figs.
What is a Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree?
A fiddle leaf fig or Ficus lyrata is a tree with giant green leaves shaped like a fiddle. They can grow up to 10 to 15 feet indoors, making them one of the larger indoor house plants. Outdoors, they can grow up to 50 feet! 🍃 🍃🍃
Photo by Stephen
What is Fiddle Leaf Fig Root Rot?
Root rot is a problem that’s pretty common when it comes to indoor plants. With a fiddle leaf fig plant, the issue can become serious if not addressed quickly.
Root rot on a fiddle leaf fig is characterized by rotted and decomposing roots. This is because plants are dependent on their root system to get enough water and nutrients throughout the plant’s body.
Root rot occurs when the soil stays consistently wet, which allows bacteria in the soil to grow exponentially. The bacteria then deplete all the oxygen in the soil, starving the roots (they need oxygen for respiration so they can turn sugar into energy) which then begin to get decomposed by fungi. If the rotted roots hang around, the fungi can spread to roots that haven't died yet.
It can be challenging to determine whether or not an indoor plant is suffering from root rot by just looking at the leaves. The soil can be overwatered even if it appears dry on the surface. You need to look at the roots to truly know.
However, there are a few outwardly visible signs that can raise suspicions of root rot. These include:
Browned and Wilting Leaves
As mentioned, fiddle leaf fig plants use their roots to absorb water and to direct nutrients to the rest of the indoor plant’s body. When root rot takes place, the root system doesn’t work properly, and the overall health of the plant is compromised.
This presents itself as a brown leaf spot at first, and can turn whole leaves brown with time. You might see spots on the leaves anywhere, both in the corners or in the middle of the leaves. Wilted or dropping leaves is a more common issue in Fiddle Leaf Fig plants when root rot occurs.
Foul Smell Near the Plant
Rot can sometimes cause a smell, whether it’s a plant rotting or anything else. If you notice a damp and unpleasant smell around the plant, especially on the surface, it is a clear indication of root rot.
Dripping and Soaked Soil
If you haven’t watered your plant in a while and it’s still overly moist, the chances that your roots may be rotting are very high. In this case, you can take out the plant from the pot. If the soil is dripping, your roots are probably rotted and need to be trimmed.
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Mushy Brown or Black Roots
Root rot causes the roots to decompose, making them appear mushy, with a brown or black color. In their healthy form, roots appear dry and crisp, and are white in color.
Algae Around the Soil
When soil is overwatered, it creates an ideal environment for algae and mold to grow and thrive. If you notice mold surrounding the stem of your fiddle leaf fig, it may be a sign of root rot inside.
What Causes Root Rot?
Root rot is caused when the roots are watered too frequently for a long period of time. When the soil isn’t given a chance to dry out in between fiddle leaf fig watering sessions, it can become oversaturated.
The most commonly seen reasons behind root rot are overwatering your plant and using a pot without drainage. Using the wrong type or quality of soil for your fiddle leaf fig can also result in root rot.
Treating Root Rot in Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
At the first sign of distress in your plant, you need to take action. To treat root rot in fiddle leaf fig plants, follow the steps below.
Remove Plant from Pot
Once you notice there is something wrong with the plant, but can’t figure out what it is, remove it from the pot. Inspect the roots. Do they appear brown or black? Is there a lot of water accumulated near the base of the plant? Are the roots dripping water when you remove them from the pot? If so, your plant may be suffering from root rot.
Photo by Beastlyblake25
Rinse the Roots
To fix this issue, you need to rinse all the roots as a first step. Wash thoroughly and make sure they are clean and free of soil as much as possible. You need to remove any roots that appear brown, and leave behind crisp white roots.
Trim and Discard Damaged Sections
Remove all the parts of the plant, root, and stem that are showing signs of damage such as discoloration or a mushy feeling and start fiddle leaf pruning. Use sharp scissors or a set of pruning shears to make sure you make a clean cut. Don’t forget to disinfect the cutting tools before use. This will prevent any infection in the cuts. Make sure not to cut off any more than 30% of the plant at this time, otherwise the damage will be too severe for the plant to recover from.
Repot Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
When repotting your fiddle leaf fig plant, choose a pot with a properly designed drainage system. Choose a fresh potting mix, with fast draining soil to prevent over-saturation of the potting soil from occurring again.
To improve drainage in the soil, you can use gravel or a foam block at the bottom. When choosing the pot, make sure it isn’t too big for the plant. Large containers use the extra space to retain water, and cause the soil to become oversaturated and take too long to dry out.
Ideally, your container should be just 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter than the previous pot. For extra prevention, you can dip the clean roots into a fungicide solution to kill off any remaining fungus hiding in the plant’s roots, as well as lower the chances of a fungus taking over again.
Let the Plant Recover
To promote and support recovery from root rot, let the plant get as much sun as possible so it can soak up the energy it needs to grow new roots. This is also one of the steps to do on how to propagate a fiddle leaf fig. 🌱
Water the plant once, and then don’t water it again until the plant’s soil has dried out. This may take anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks, so don’t worry. It’s better to underwater than overwater!
How to Prevent Root Rot
To ensure you don’t get root rot in your fiddle leaf fig plant in the future, make sure it gets enough light. Fiddle leaf figs should typically be 1-3 feet from a south-facing window. You can do everything right––from drainage to maintenance––but if your plant isn’t getting enough light, it may fall prey to root rot.
Water only once the soil has had a chance to dry out. To check this, you can use a meter to gauge the water saturation in the soil. If the moisture reading on the meter is 4 or lower, water the plant; otherwise, wait.
Another good rule of thumb is to insert your finger 2 inches into the potting soil’s surface and check if it’s dry or not. It’s best to follow a watering schedule that's in tune with your plant type, pot size, soil type, sunlight intensity, and season.
Your watering schedule is key to preventing root rot, which is why our plant care app gives you accurate watering recommendations that are customized for your individual plant's needs.
Drainage is a crucial factor if you want to prevent root rot. Choose a pot with proper drainage. If you can’t find a drainage pot that is pretty enough to be decorative, use a basic plastic pot with a hole and place it inside the fancy pot. Do not compromise on drainage!
Remember, fast action is required if you suspect your fiddle leaf fig of root rot to save the plant and help it thrive. Once the plant is healthy, careful maintenance will keep it that way! 🌿