Growing a fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) can be one of the most rewarding achievements in indoor gardening.
With its large, lyre-shaped leaves and the potential to reach impressive heights, this houseplant is a staple in many homes – and many Instagram feeds.
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f you want a full tutorial on growing and caring for this plant, read our guide. In this article, we’re going to focus on pruning these photogenic houseplants.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Tips for Pruning Fiddle-Leaf Fig Trees
Fiddle-leaf figs can be finicky, and you might hesitate to trim them at all. What if it stresses them out? How do you prune them properly? We’ll cover all of this and more.
Let’s get started!
Why Should You Trim Your Fiddle-Leaf Fig?
As with many types of trees – and fiddle-leaf figs are technically trees! – trimming and pruning can help F. lyrata plants to stay healthy.
By removing dead or diseased leaves and branches, or trimming to promote better airflow between the foliage, you can keep this notoriously finicky houseplant happy.
Or, at least it won’t be angry with you, your house, the entire world… Fiddle-leaf figs may have a quaint name, but I’d say they’re among the most opinionated plants around.
Pruning can also help you to keep your fig from outgrowing your home. F. lyrata can grow up to 12 feet tall under ideal indoor growing conditions. And in its native range – the lowland rainforests of western Africa – F. lyrata can grow up to 50 feet tall!
It won’t do this in your home, but it can grow up to two feet a year until it reaches its mature height. If you don’t want your ficus to overshadow, well, everything, pruning is a must.
You can also grow a dwarf variety if you don’t want to care for a giant tree inside your house. But there’s nothing quite as awe-inspiring as a tall, healthy F. lyrata contributing to the decor in a stylish home.
As long as it’s not pushing against your ceiling, that is.
Another thing to consider is shape. Fiddle-leaf figs are often sold as smallish, bushy or columnar houseplants with a single central stem, but many gardeners love cultivating theirs to create a tree-like shape.
We’ll dig into all that in a moment. First, let’s dive into the when and how of pruning your beloved F. lyrata.
When to Trim Your Tree
You can remove a diseased or dead leaf at any time. Trimming away these harbingers of sickness or infestation is better done sooner than later, in fact.
If you spot a leaf that looks yellow, brown, or diseased in some other way, trim it off with a clean, sharp pair of pruners.
But when it comes to pruning the actual branches, wait until growth resumes in the spring and summer. Even though you’re growing your F. lyrata indoors, it may go dormant or semi-dormant in the winter when there’s less light.
Pruning branches when the plant is enjoying its winter rest can stress it out, or even send it into shock. This can lead to sickness – or even the death of your cherished houseplant.
Since it’s not growing actively during dormancy, the cuts won’t heal as quickly as they would in the spring or summer, with the return of that bright, filtered light it loves so much.
These plants require at least six hours of bright daylight through a window, preferably one that faces south or east.
So, try not to get pruner-happy until springtime, and then you can give your plant a fresh trim for summer!
How to Prune
Before you get started, it’s a good idea to lay a few sheets of newspaper on the ground around your plant to protect the floors from fallen debris and the milky latex sap that will inevitably ooze out.
Make sure to keep the toxic latex away from your skin, and out of reach of children and animals. Wearing gloves and long sleeves is recommended.
It’s also important to use a sharp, clean pair of pruners. If you aren’t sure if you cleaned them after the last time you used them, go ahead and clean them with soap and hot water. Dry them thoroughly before use.
If you’re pruning to shorten an overly tall plant you’ll be working with the central trunk or stem. Depending on the shape of your plant, this may be the only branch the tree has.
To make a cut, locate the area of the branch you want to trim. Then, lean in close and study the trunk. You’re looking for an internodal space, or a spot on the trunk that’s between two nodes.
Nodes are slightly raised rings in the bark of an F. lyrata tree that develop into leaves or branches.
Make a diagonal cut right in between the two nodes, and wipe the sap away with a damp rag. Within a few weeks, expect to see new lateral branches growing from the node just below your cut.
Sometimes, you’ll need to cut lateral branches.
F. lyrata is known for straining toward the light. You should be sure to rotate the planter every few days if you want to avoid having a lopsided plant, but alas, sometimes life happens and we forget to rotate our plants, and they end up leaning heavily to one side.
Or maybe you need to trim lateral branches off because the foliage is overcrowded.
By removing a branch or two, you can promote better airflow between those gorgeous, enormous leaves, which can help you to avoid issues with pests and disease.
Just take care not to prune more than 10 percent of the fiddle-leaf fig at any given time.
To prune lateral branches, make a cut just above the branch collar.
If you cut too close to the trunk, you risk wounding the tissue in the branch collar, and a wounded collar can allow disease pathogens to get into the trunk.
Cut too far away and the leftover branch may rot, potentially causing the branch collar to decay as well, which can also pave the way for infection.
If you simply need to prune a few dead or diseased leaves off of your plant here and there, just snip them off at the base with your pruners.
Shaping Your Fiddle-Leaf Fig
Earlier, I mentioned that F. lyrata tends to grow in a columnar or bushy shape when kept as a houseplant, and that many growers like to encourage a classic tree shape, complete with a clearly defined canopy and trunk.
F. lyrata does this on its own in the wild, dropping its lower leaves and developing into its natural form as a banyan tree.
Like the famous “regular” banyan, F. benghalensis, wild F. lyrata begins its life as an epiphyte. A seed lands in the canopy of another tree, germinates, and grows toward the earth, sometimes strangling its host plant in the process.
Obviously, your houseplant won’t do this, but the tree shape is aesthetically pleasing. How can you turn a bushy F. lyrata into a tall, graceful specimen?
First off, if you’ve just purchased a coveted fiddle-leaf, don’t rush to start pruning it into a tree shape.
Let it grow to two-thirds of the desired height, whatever that means to you within the confines of your space. This allows the trunk to grow thick and strong.
If you want it to grow tall, keep in mind that it’s best to top the tree out at least eight to 10 inches away from the ceiling.
This not only looks better, but it also keeps the top leaves from bending and getting crushed against your ceiling.
So, for example, say you live in a home with nine-foot ceilings and want to top your tree out at about seven or eight feet. Based on these measurements, you won’t want to start pruning for lateral growth until the trunk is at least five feet tall.
To prune your fiddle-leaf fig to create a tree form with branching lateral growth, wait until spring or summer – when the plant is actively growing – and make a cut at least six inches down from the tip of the tree.
You can save this cutting and propagate it! Make sure to cut in an internodal space.
Resist trimming off the leaves below the cut. You want them to stay so that the plant can photosynthesize to produce energy so that it can grow those lateral branches.
Your F. lyrata will begin to branch from the cut within a few weeks. Sometimes you’ll get one branch, but it’s not uncommon for this tree to sprout two or three new lateral branches.
Once the new branches develop leaves, you can prune away one or two leaves from the base area of the tree.
As the canopy matures, the leaves and new branches will deepen in color. When you notice this, feel free to prune another leaf or two off of the lower portion of the trunk.
Over time, as the canopy continues to develop, you can keep pruning leaves off the trunk portion of the tree. Eventually, you’ll develop a nice, clean trunk supporting a Y-shaped canopy.
Note: some advanced gardeners like to use a procedure known as “notching” to produce lateral branches. With this method, the gardener makes a careful incision right between two nodes. The idea is that this cut will prompt the tree to grow lateral branches without sacrificing height.
Sometimes notching works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
F. lyrata grows quickly and we know that pruning for lateral branch growth provides consistent results, which is why it’s our recommended method for creating that lovely canopy.
After pruning, make sure you keep giving your plant stellar care – appropriate water, fertilizer, and light – which will help it to heal more quickly from its wounds.
It can be slightly terrifying to cut into your fussy fiddle-leaf fig, but the results are worth it.
As long as you wait until the right time of the year, use a clean pair of pruners, and give your plant the care it needs all year long, both you and your plant will be alright.
Have you ever tried pruning your fiddle-leaf fig? Share your stories and questions in the comments below! We love to hear from you.
And for more information about growing houseplants, check out these guides next: