Native to Western Africa, the fiddle-leaf fig tree has become a popular houseplant. They have large, glossy green leaves that are heavily veined. Growing up to 10 feet tall in their pots, they make a glorious focal point.
Often said to be tricky to look after, these plants are notorious for their leaves turning yellow. Luckily, this article will guide you through why your fiddle-leaf fig tree has yellow leaves, and how you can rectify this and keep your plant green and healthy.
Why Do Fiddle-Leaf Fig Tree Leaves Turn Yellow?
Chlorosis is the technical term for the yellowing of leaves caused by a lack of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a pigment found in all photosynthetic plants and is responsible for giving leaves and foliage their green colour.
Yellow leaves can be one of the first visual symptoms that your fiddle-leaf fig tree is unhappy with its current growing conditions. There are several factors that can cause this, the most common of which are watering issues and nutritional deficiencies.
Causes of Fiddle-Leaf Fig Tree Leaves Turning Yellow
Chlorosis in fiddle leaf figs can be a result of water issues, nutrient deficiencies, lack of sunlight, temperature or humidity irregularities, and transplant shock.
Some of these causes are not always easy to pinpoint and so it’s important to understand some of the other distinct, visual symptoms that can occur alongside yellow leaves.
In the information below you will find details of each of the major causes of chlorosis in fiddle-leaf fig trees, plus other symptoms to look out for, and what can be done to restore your plant’s healthy, green foliage.
The most common cause of yellow leaves in fiddle-leaf fig trees is overwatering. This occurs when waterlogged soil prevents oxygen from reaching the plant’s roots. This results in the roots no longer being able to absorb water and nutrients, which then interrupts and prevents the production of chlorophyll, causing leaves to turn yellow.
Other symptoms of overwatering include droopy leaves that fall off and soil that remains wet for days. Damp, anoxic soil is an ideal environment for fungal diseases to develop and thus, prolonged waterlogging can cause root rot, accelerating the rate of chlorosis.
To save an overwatered fiddle-leaf fig tree stop watering it immediately and check for root rot. Do this by removing the plant from its pot and brushing off as much of the excess soil as possible.
You then need to inspect the roots carefully for any signs of disease. Those that appear brown or black and mushy when touched need to be removed using sanitized scissors. Remember to re-sanitize after each cut to avoid further infection.
Thereafter, replant in a new pot with fresh soil and reevaluate your watering schedule.
Fiddle-leaf fig trees only need to be watered when the top layer of soil is completely dry. I recommend prodding a finger 2 inches into the soil to check the moisture levels. If the soil is dry it’s time to water, if not, come back in a couple of days to re-test.
When watering, I find it best to place your plant over a sink. That way all of the excess water can drain away rather than pool in the catch-tray.
To prevent overwatering, you can mix sand or grit into porous soil to help it drain more effectively and prevent it from retaining too much moisture.
Fiddle-leaf fig trees, like all plants, require water for photosynthesis. With inadequate watering, it’s likely your plant can develop chlorosis.
Symptoms of underwatering are similar to overwatering as they both show yellow foliage, often accompanied by the curling of leaves too. However, underwatering can be distinguished by the leaves feeling brittle and the soil being dry to the touch.
Prolonged underwatering can lead to brown spots developing on the already yellow leaves where the cells and tissues have died. Drooping is caused as the cells shrivel due to dehydration.
If you notice your plant showing symptoms of underwatering, you should water it immediately. Thereafter, test soil moisture more regularly (every 3 to 5 days) and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
Nutrient deficiencies are another major cause of chlorosis in fiddle-leaf fig trees. Symptoms vary slightly depending on what nutrient your plant is lacking.
An iron deficiency presents as interveinal chlorosis. This is where the leaves become yellow, but their veins remain green. Iron is required for chlorophyll synthesis and photosynthesis.
If your plant has pale green upper leaves and yellow and shrivelled lower leaves, then it’s likely deficient in nitrogen. Nitrogen supports plant growth and without it the leaves will become yellow, starting with the oldest ones first.
Manganese is important for plant growth and development, and a deficiency can be identified through interveinal chlorosis which progresses into brown patches or holes in between the veins. Other symptoms include contorted and reduced growth.
Testing the soil is the first step in identifying a nutrient deficiency because soil pH directly affects nutrient uptake.
Fiddle-leaf fig trees grow best in slightly acidic soil above a pH of 6.0. A pH too high or too low can inhibit nutrient absorption and lead to a deficiency.
Overly acidic soil can lead to deficiencies in magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium because they become less available to the plant under a low pH. Additionally, plants in acidic soil are exposed to toxic levels of aluminium and manganese.
To increase soil pH you can mix agricultural lime into the soil.
Overly alkaline soil makes it harder for your plant to absorb essential nutrients. This can result in malnourished plants that present with yellow leaves. You can decrease the soil pH by adding mulch, compost, or sulfur-based fertilizers into the soil.
Insufficient Sunlight Exposure
Plants require sunlight to make chlorophyll and carry out photosynthesis. In the absence of sunlight, chlorophyll becomes degraded, causing the leaves to turn yellow and eventually drop off.
Fiddle leaf figs need between 5 and 8 hours of light every day so an ideal location is in front of a warm and sunny window with a sheer curtain to ensure they receive bright but indirect sunlight.
Turn the plant every few days so the leaves receive an even amount of light.
Fiddle-leaf trees are especially sensitive to changes in environmental conditions. The development of yellow leaves, stunted growth, and wilting are all symptoms of stress, specifically from fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
All ficus varieties prefer warm temperatures, ideally greater than 55 oF. Anything drastically outside of this can cause cold damage or heat stress, leading to chlorosis.
In terms of humidity, these plants favour between 40% and 70%. Low humidity causes the leaves to dry out due to a lack of moisture. Dry leaves will turn yellow with crispy brown tips.
Environmental shock may occur if you’ve changed the location of your plant or the climate inside your house has shifted drastically.
The only way to fix this is by trying to keep the environmental conditions as consistent as possible throughout the year. Alternatively, check that your plant is located somewhere with appropriate temperature and humidity levels.
Transplant shock may occur shortly after repotting. This can cause leaves to yellow and droop and indicates that the roots have not become properly anchored so cannot absorb enough water or nutrients it needs to thrive.
It may take weeks or months for your fiddle leaf to become accustomed to its new environment. To help your plant become established and reduce the likelihood of transplant shock you should water it regularly to maintain the soil moisture and prune old and damaged leaves and branches.
FAQ Why Is My Fiddle Leaf Yellowing
Will the yellow leaves on my fiddle-leaf fig tree turn green again?
Once leaves have begun to turn yellow, it’s highly unlikely they will turn green again. Prevention is the best method when it comes to chlorosis.
You may choose to prune off yellow leaves or wait for them to drop off naturally.
Is the fiddle-leaf fig tree toxic?
The fiddle-leaf fig tree leaves contain highly toxic calcium oxalate crystals. Ingesting the sap is not fatal but can induce vomiting, drooling, and oral and skin irritation in all pets and young children.
Montana State University – Transplant Shock
NC University – Ficus lyrata
RHS – chlorosis
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.