My Most Difficult Relationship

The fiddle-leaf fig, while beautiful and Instagram-worthy, is a big grump of a plant. Ours is a relationship that keeps me guessing.

I rarely have relationship problems anymore. My work colleagues and I seem to get on well, my home life could not be better. But there is one particularly problematic fellow in my world. He is grumpy, he is temperamental, and if I don’t treat him in a way he feels is appropriate, he threatens suicide.

The Grump Plant

I am talking about my fiddle-leaf fig, the most difficult plant to ever cross my path. I come from a long lineage of plant people. My grandfather was a leading conservationist, my grandmother had an extraordinary garden, my mom is an avid gardener. Until recently I have enjoyed an excellent relationship with the plant kingdom. They loved me as I loved them. Then I adopted the grump.

Let’s be friends.

The fiddle-leaf fig is so ubiquitous in digital land that we call it the blogger plant. No cheerful interior on an Instagram feed is complete without the de rigueur fiddle leaf. They do look amazing. The garden store warned me about the careful watering schedule, not to move it around too much but that otherwise, it was just a normal plant. Ha! An excellent sales pitch.

Doing Everything Right, But Still He Withers

The fiddle leaf started to drop leaves after a couple of months. I carefully recalibrated the bi-monthly watering plan and made sure there was no standing water in the catch saucer. I cleaned his leaves. Then I tried giving him some plant food. Still, he signaled his dissatisfaction with my care by dropping more leaves.  I called in a horticulturalist who told me they are just very difficult plants and that I seemed to be doing the right things. He continued to wither.

A Eureka Moment

Then I made a discovery. At one of my afternoon meetings, I noticed a number of large healthy-looking fiddle leafs. They were in the center of the room, far away from the windows. My home windows face east and receive some direct sun for a couple of hours in the morning. Mr. Grump was next to one of these windows. At this point, I was about ready to give up on him. He was down to just a few leaves and was well on his way to his end. 

I moved him away from the windows, back about 20 feet into the room. It was a bit gloomy there, not really a place for a growing plant, but what the heck, I gave it a try. You can guess what happened next. He has tripled his quantity of leaves and seems to be delighted with his current care routine.

Look at my new leaves!

For all of you with one of these plants, this is what you need to know. Water robustly twice a month. Empty the saucer the next day so the roots don’t become waterlogged. Move the plant away from the window, even if it is north facing. These guys don’t like anything that is even close to bright light. Clean the dust off the leaves every month or so. 

My relationship is still tentative. I feel that at any moment he may decide that I am mistreating him. He is a very sensitive fellow. 


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David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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