Have you ever wanted to start a new plant from your fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) but didn’t know the best way to do it?
Don’t worry—reproducing fiddle leaf figs might seem hard at first, but I’ll show you all the steps you need to take to successfully root your own fiddle leaf figs in this article.
I’ll show you the best ways to grow and spread fiddle leaf figs that I’ve learned while working in university greenhouses.
I’ll also explain why every time you try to root a single leaf, you end up with “zombie leaves.”
Ready? Let’s start dividing and multiplying those fiddle leaves!
Before we start, if you’re looking for your first fiddle leaf fig to propagate or to add to a planter with your newly rooted fiddle leaf cuttings (I like FLFs planted in groups of three), here are a few reasonably priced options:
Fiddle leaf fig propagation: Cutting in soil
Plant propagation soil mix
Before we talk about how to grow plants, let’s talk about the soil mixtures that are used.
You can buy propagation mix already made, or you can make your own. If you want to make your own propagation soil mix, here are some ideas:
1/2 perlite and 1/2 peat moss
1/2 perlite and 1/2 vermiculite
1/2 sharp sand* and 1/2 vermiculite
equal parts perlite, sharp sand* and either vermiculite or peat moss
You should never use beach sand because it has salt in it.
If you’ve never heard of vermiculite, it’s a mica-clay that looks like metal and expands like an accordion when it gets very hot.
It can store a lot of water in its thicker layers, but it is still light. It also has a high CEC, which stands for “cation exchange capacity.” This means that it can store cations and make them available to the plant, which makes it a great soil supplement.
No matter what you choose, make sure it is:
Since the cuttings don’t have roots yet and don’t want to rot, they need to be heavy enough to hold water and keep them alive but light enough not to hold as much water as regular planting mix.
Since I always have perlite and peat moss on hand, I usually use a mixture of half perlite and half peat moss.
I also like a mix of half perlite and half vermiculite, which is what we use in the greenhouses at U.C. Davis.
You can use any plastic container you have on hand to mix your propagation soil. (I’ve used the same old green plastic trash can for years.)
Measure out your soil amendments (I use my trusty nursery scoop for 2-3 scoops of perlite and 2-3 scoops of peat moss, depending on how much I need).
Mix them together well.
Fill the container or containers with soil that will keep your cuttings in place.
Usually, the container doesn’t need to be very deep, but since fiddle leaf fig cuttings are bigger and woodier than, say, African violet cuttings, you may want to use a larger pot than you would normally use for propagation to support your larger cutting.
Your container can be almost anything, as long as it has enough drainage. If you don’t have a nursery pot, a bigger plastic yogurt or soup takeout container with holes put in the bottom will work nicely for a fiddle leaf fig cutting.
Taking the fiddle leaf fig cutting
Take a pair of pruners, clippers, or scissors that are clean and sharp. I like to use a bypass pruner like this one.
To stop diseases from spreading from one plant to another, brush rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and rub it over the blades.
Making the cut – angle or straight?
It’s bad because it makes it more likely that bacteria or fungi will get into the cut and cause illness.
Because of this, commercial farmers don’t like this cut because disease could spread to a large part of their crop if it takes root.
It helps because a cut at an angle is more likely to grow roots than a straight cut because it has more surface area to soak up water and rooting hormone.
Since home gardeners are unlikely to get sick, I suggest cutting at an angle.
Where and how much to cut from your fiddle leaf fig?
Take three nodes from a growing point, and if possible, cut a bit below the third node.
- You don’t have to have three nodes, but having three instead of just one gives you a better chance of being successful.
You could also cut a longer piece into two or more pieces. It doesn’t have to have a growing point at the end, but it does have to have nodes.
- What does a node mean? Excellent question! A node is the location of a leaf or branch along a stem. This is where the new buds are. The space between the two nodes is called an internode.
The white and milky sap will fall off. Any plant in the fig family makes a milky, white latex sap (Moraceae). Just don’t eat it or get it in your eyes because it might be painful.
A hormone should be put on the cutting to help it grow roots. Rooting hormone encourages roots to grow and speeds up the process of cutting rooting, so you get bigger, more developed plants faster.
It helps plants with woody parts the most, like fiddle-leaf figs.
Ficus lyrata roots quickly, but in general, woody plants are much harder to root than soft, non-woody plants like herbs.
Fill your container with the propagation mix, and make sure the soil is very wet before you put the cutting in it.
This helps to keep the soil stable and keeps the rooting hormone from washing away right away, which could happen if you put the cutting in the soil and then watered it.
You can “pre-drill” your cutting holes with a pencil or chopstick. When you insert the cutting, it helps to avoid tissue injury and the loss of rooting hormone.
Take off the lowest leaves instead of stripping them so you don’t hurt the surface tissue (cambium) and let disease in.
If you leave the leaves in the soil, they will rot, which makes it more likely that the whole cutting will rot.
Cuttings should be put deep enough in the pot so they don’t fall over. About a third of the way up should be enough.
“Tuck” the earth around the cutting to help it stay in place. I used a big piece of wood, but because the ground was wet and hard, it didn’t need a stake.
Caring for your fiddle leaf fig cuttings
What NOT to do with your cutting
So, when I cut off my huge piece, I was determined to save all of its beautiful leaves. In factories, it’s common to cut leaves in half to stop water from escaping, but I wanted to avoid doing that.
I might have been able to, but I also didn’t cover my cut with clear plastic or spray it often enough. (What did I even think?) Two weeks later, I was in trouble because the ficus wasn’t happy with me. The stem and leaves were shrivelled and drooping.
I was about to lose my right to call myself a plant parent when I cut a few leaves in half, sprayed them with water, and put plastic over them. I’m happy to say that I was able to fix it, and it’s doing great now. It has roots and two new leaves that grew in five weeks. Phew!
Fiddle leaf fig cutting best practices
Put a clear plastic bag over the top of the cuttings and water them often to keep the Ficus lyrata leaves moist. If the plastic seems to retain too much water, use sticks to keep it off the leaves.
Cuttings don’t have roots, so the water they lose through their leaves (via transpiration) is hard to replace because they can’t take in water at this time.
Don’t let the soil get too wet. Again, the cuttings may die if left soaking wet because they don’t have roots that can soak up water.
Put your clippings where they can get direct, bright light.
If your cuttings still aren’t getting enough water, cut the leaves in half lengthwise to reduce water loss through evaporation. This is a common way for businesses to spread their products.
Fiddle leaf fig propagation: Leaf or cutting in water
Immersing a cutting or a single leaf in water is another way that fiddle leaf figs are often spread.
Many people have had great luck with this method, and it’s fun to watch the roots grow instead of waiting for the plant to grow or pulling on the cutting. Also, they look good in the glass jar.
I’ll admit that it’s not my favourite way to grow fiddle leaf figs or any other house plant.
When I do something, I want to make sure that the odds are in my favor. So, when I’m trying to figure out the best way to spread a plant, I look at the methods that professional growers use, and none of them involve water.
Think about it, and it makes sense. Since Ficus lyrata is not an aquatic plant, growing it in water is not a good way for it to grow. Most people who try to grow it in water are successful. This shows that it can grow well in water.
Use a cutting with about three nodes instead of a single leaf, as shown above. (See below for more on why it’s not a good idea to use single leaves.)
Put the cutting in fresh water in a place with indirect light. Change the water every few days to keep the amount of oxygen stable.
This is where my plan falls apart. I often forget. The water in the glass looks the same as the water in a dry plant pot that feels as light as a feather.
Because plants need oxygen, they do better in soil than in water. Oxygen is in water, but it evaporates off the surface when the water is still. (This is why aquariums need bubblers to keep the oxygen levels in the water steady.)
Wait until the roots grow. It took my leaf over 6 weeks to get roots. (The results will be shown in the next part.)
Avoid single leaf “blind cuttings” a.k.a. “zombie leaves”
If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen pictures of fiddle leaf roots growing in a glass of water. They are very pretty, but they almost never grow anything above the roots (meaning no branches or leaves).
I had heard of “zombie leaves” before, but only in reference to Hoya kerrii, the Hoya or Wax Flower plant with the cute heart-shaped leaves. Around Valentine’s Day, they are often sold in small pots with a single heart-shaped leaf.
The problem is that neither the hoya nor the fiddle leaf will ever grow into a plant.
This is because neither the leaf nor the petiole (the part that looks like a stem and connects a leaf to a stem or branch) has any buds (nodes) that could grow into new stems, branches, or leaves.
This is called a “blind cut.” Your leaf may exist for years without ever growing or altering, making it a kind of horticultural living dead; thus the title “zombie leaf.”
If it ever grows a stem, it will be because a small piece of a bud was broken off when a leaf was picked, which caused the plant to grow a new bud. It could take a long time, and it’s probably not going to happen.
So, even though I had doubts about using a single leaf (in water or soil), I tried it.
I cut a huge piece off the top of my fiddle leaf that I didn’t want to cut into smaller pieces. To do this, I took a leaf from the bottom of the plant and put it in a glass. About once a week, I changed the water to keep the oxygen level stable.
Watch the video below to see how I grew my own fiddle leaf fig from a cutting in soil and a leaf in water.
Fiddle leaf fig propagation: air layering
Air layering is another way that home gardeners might try to spread fiddle leaf figs. Air layering is more difficult than the other procedures and requires more precision and expertise.
Air layering is the process of making incisions around the outer tissue of a branch rather than removing it totally. To avoid moisture loss, the incisions are sprinkled with rooting hormone and stuffed with damp peat moss before being covered in plastic and fastened.
It is then allowed to grow for a few weeks until enough roots have formed to allow the branch to be separated from the mother plant and transplanted in its own container while remaining stable and erect.
The main goal of air layering is to make a large cutting that can be replanted later. Without roots, it is hard to keep a big cutting standing straight and the extra leaves moist. Instead, it grows roots from the mother plant until it has enough roots to stand on its own and grow.
Notching, like air layering, is a method used on fiddle leaf figs to promote branching without trimming plant material.
Use it if you don’t want to cut down the height of your fiddle leaf, but know it will be harder to get the results you want.
Fiddle leaf fig post-propagation transplanting & re-potting
Once your fiddle leaf figs have grown roots, it’s time to move them to a bigger pot. It’s tempting to leave them alone forever (we’re all busy), but if they grow too pot-bound in a tiny propagation container, they may not branch as well. So it’s best to get them settled as soon as possible in their new home.
Just add more peat to your propagation mix to make it hold more water. If not, start over with fresh soil.
Get a container of about the right size (around 1 gallon works). Don’t make it too big, because that makes it more likely to get too much water.
If you start with a bigger container, like I did (see video), be extra careful to hold back on the water. (Find out how to pick the right size and shape of pot for your plant.) But since fiddle leaf figs can grow roots in water, this may not be as important as it is with other plants.
Fill the bottom with dirt and, if desired, mesh or a broken piece of pottery to prevent roots from clogging the drainage. Don’t put gravel on the bottom. (I’m overdue for a post explaining why this is harmful rather than beneficial to drainage.)
Then, keep the cut straight and in the middle of the pot. Fill the pot with dirt, being careful not to hurt the roots that are growing.
Usually, you would plant the crown a little bit above the soil level to prevent crown rot, but since this is a cutting with few roots, I put the stem a little bit lower.
In the same way as before, keep the soil moist but not soggy. Spraying the leaves is another good idea. The roots are still growing, so they should be treated like they are.