Dear Hunter: A Fiddly Fig Problem

Words by
Georgina Reid
Illustration by
Ameli Tanchitsa
| February 25, 2016

The first of our new Dear Hunter series is a call for help from a poor soul in West Ryde. The subject: keeping a fiddle leaf fig alive and happy indoors….Oooh a tricky one! But, never fear, Aunty Hunter is here and she seems rather excited about answering the question, in her usual dry and twisted way. First, the letter:

Dear Aunty Hunter,

Please save my Figgy (yes I named my fiddle leaf fig Figgy!).

My husband bought Figgy as a surprise back in November 2015, and he’s been living with us in West Ryde NSW for a few months now.

The first trouble I had was caterpillars! They’re now under control.

The second trouble I had was getting inconsistent advice about when and how much I should water Figgy! At first I would water around 250ml whenever I saw its leaves being a bit droopy but somehow this water regime didn’t work – I was guessing all the time and stretching out the routine. Finally I’ve worked out a good routine, I water it on every Sunday and Thursday in the morning approximate 150ml – 200ml.

My Figgy is approximately 80cm – 1 meter tall and he is placed right by our balcony window where it’s warm and filtered sunlight comes through strongest in the morning for a good few hours then less strong sunlight for the rest of the day until the sunsets. Every few weeks I’d also give each of its leaves a good wipe down with diluted soapy water.

Recently as I watered it like any other normal time, I noticed two of its smaller leaves at the bottom of the plant yellowing and had a big brown patch. Soon after I checked these leaves, they also came off.

I’m really not sure what’s happening? I just want it to continue to grow healthily! Please help!

Figgy’s Mum, West Ryde.

Dear Figgys Mum,

Oh dear.

It’s clear what the problem is. Crystal clear. It’s the name, dear Figgy’s Mum, the name. No self respecting Ficus lyrata will ever grow tall and strong and healthy with a name like Figgy! Reginald, yes. Malcolm, decent. Even Lilian is ok. But Figgy?! Dear me.

Change his name, sweet lady, and his leaves will grow as big as a dinner plate and soon your living room will be a jungle. Fact (sort of).

If, perchance, you’re sentimentally attached to the name and are unwilling to change it, I can offer you the following advice, in the hope poor little Figgy will somehow outgrow his rather weak name.

Firstly, watering: Only water Reginald (I’m sorry dear, I’m old and stubborn and have decided to change his name, effective immediately) when the potting mix is dry. Stick your delicate little finger into the mix, if it’s wet don’t water. If it’s damp, wait another day and test again.

When the mix is dry, water Reggie. Give him a good old soak, so all the mix becomes wet. Do this with a hose on your balcony or in your shower, and leave him there until the excess water has drained away. Do this around once a week at the most, but let the potting mix be your guide…

Now to the leaves, dear sweet lady. You were concerned about them, yes? He’s most likely a little unhappy with your watering regime, so try out my suggestions above and see how it goes. Again, its most likely the name, but you never know…

Are you fertilizing him? Slow release stuff is good. Apply as often as it tells you on the packet. Liquid fertilizers like Seasol are also good – apply every few weeks or so.

And holidays, what about a holiday? Reggie needs to expand his horizons, get some fresh air, you know? Have you got a balcony? If so, set him free out there for a week or so every few months. Just make sure it’s sheltered and a bit shady, certainly not west facing and super hot, otherwise he’ll get sunburnt. He’ll do well with a change of scene.

But now to the big issue: Reginald is a tree. Trees like being outside.

I mean, Reggie is from the tropical rainforests of eastern Africa. He’s into humidity and space and strangling other trees. He’s a beast. An apartment in West Ryde is a hard sell for a guy like Reg.

Reginald is going to die. Everything does. When he’s going to die, I can’t say. It could be in one year, one month, or a decade. But he will cark it. It won’t be because you’re a terrible mother, clearly you’re a gem. But growing a big tree from an African rainforest in your living room in West Ryde is always going to be challenging, and fiddle leaf figs are tricky at the best of times.

Oh I know dear, Fiddle leaf figs are seductive buggers! They look great in the nursery, all big leaves and bright green shine, don’t they? Pinterest loves them and the interior stylist people regularly loose their marbles over them. But they’re not easy to keep alive and happy indoors. That’s that. It’s not you, dear sweet lady, its Reginald. He’s pining for his tropical African rainforest.

There you go, Reggies mum, I hope this note cheers you up. Ending on the subject of death always does it for me!

Please pass on my regards to your kind, plant-buying husband, and do give little Reggie a kiss for me.

Yours in plants,

Aunty Hunter

Ps. If you’re reading this and thinking ‘Gee wiz, I need Aunty Hunter’s advice! She’s so wise and positive about things’, all you have to do is send an email to the Planthunter Help Hotline ([email protected]) and we’ll pass it on to her. She’ll be delighted to hear from you. Maybe. She’s a strange old bird.


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