Fiddle leaf figs (Ficus lyrata) are one of the most popular species of figs, but there’s a bit of a drawback to them, namely that they can be a bit finicky indoors.
Once you get the hang of this plant’s temperament, they’re not that difficult to care for.
Yet one of the most feared diseases in plant care can affect fiddle leaf figs, especially those grown in pots. This disease is root rot and can easily kill your plant if not addressed quickly.
What Is Fiddle Leaf Fig Root Rot, And How To Control It
Root rot is a disease that can be caused by several strains of both bacteria and fungus.
This disease destroys the roots of infected plants, killing them, but thankfully, you can cure the plant if it’s caught soon enough.
Causes Of Root Rot
The single most common cause of root rot is overwatering. When you overwater a plant, it can encourage mold growth in the soil which then attacks the root system.
Placing a plant in a pot or used soil can also increase the risk. Another common cause is using cheap potting soil.
You should only buy potting mixes from reputable brands (Miracle-Gro is one of the best for those on a budget).
The reason many brands are cheap is that they skip the sterilization step.
This means there could be contaminants such as pests’ eggs, fungal spores, or harmful bacteria already present in the soil when you purchase it.
This can easily equate to a risk of root rot or incurable viral infections such as the mosaic virus.
Symptoms Of Root Rot
Oddly enough, the signs of root rot resemble underwatering, which often leads unsuspecting plant owners to overwater the plant even more.
In reality, the damaged roots cannot gather water and nutrients from the soil, causing the plant to starve slowly.
One of the first signs you might notice is the presence of dry, brown patches forming on the leaves.
It’s more common for this patch to begin at the base or margins of a leaf and work its way inwards, but some strains of root rot will result in brown spotting on the leaf’s interior surface that works its way outwards.
You may also notice various signs of underwatering despite the soil being moist or even soggy.
Finally, if you notice cottony fungal growth on the soil surface or a musty or rotten smell coming from the soil, your plant likely has root rot.
Because the visible symptoms resemble underwatering, malnourishment, and other common care issues, review how you’ve been caring for the plant and eliminate other possibilities.
You can do this by comparing the symptoms and your care methods to the potential problems that might be causing those symptoms.
If you’re unsure or suspect it’s root rot, you’ll need to take steps immediately.
Uprooting A Fiddle Leaf Fig
Fiddle leaf figs (like most plants) don’t particularly enjoy being dug up, and it’s usually best to only do so when changing the soil or upgrading the pot size.
However, root rot is serious, so your plant will thank you for this drastic step later.
For outdoor specimens, you’ll need to dig around the base of the plant carefully. A good rule of thumb is to choose a radius equal to the required spacing for your fig.
Alternatively, some people will guess the radius based on how far the foliage spread reaches.
Either way, dig straight down until you’ve gone around the plant, then gently use your shovel or fork to lever the plant out of the ground.
Potted plants are far easier, and you can simply tip the plant over onto its side (having a tarp or blanket under the plant will make cleanup easier).
Give the bottom of the pot a good whack or two to knock the soil loose, and gently slide the plant from its pot.
Diagnosing Root Rot
Once the plant is out of its pot, gently remove the excess soil by hand or with water and take a good look at the roots.
Healthy roots are whitish or light brown, but any time you see dark brown to black roots on a plant, this is a sign of rot.
Root rot will make these blackened roots mushy to the touch and may have a foul odor.
When you see these signs, there’s no doubt your fig has root rot, and you’ll need to perform a little surgery to cure it.
While it’s possible to salvage the container and soil through sterilization, we strongly recommend you discard both.
This can be more difficult for garden soil, which must be thoroughly treated before planting anything in that space again.
Treating The Root Rot
To treat root rot, you’re going to need a few simple tools:
- A bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) OR 1 part 3% percent hydrogen peroxide to two parts water
- Rubbing or isopropyl alcohol (to sterilize)
- Sharp, sterile scissors or shears
Gently work your way through the entire root system, removing every visibly infected root.
Be sure to sterilize your shears between each cut and dispose of the infected roots safely (also, wash your hands thoroughly with a good antibacterial soap afterward so you won’t accidentally contaminate your other plants).
A plant will generally recover if only ⅓ of its roots are lost, but it can still recover with ⅔ of its roots removed if you give them plenty of TLC afterward.
You will also want to remove the damaged leaves, so the plant will need to distribute resources to fewer parts, although you only want to remove up to 30% percent of the foliage.
Once you’ve removed the infected parts, dip the roots in the bleach solution for 20 minutes or spray them thoroughly with a peroxide solution – DO NOT do both!
If you treat with the bleach solution, allow the plant to air dry for 2 to 3 days before repotting.
If you use the peroxide solution, you can repot immediately, and it will actually benefit the plant and soil, although this method may not be as effective against some strains of root rot as bleach.
Replanting And Aftercare
Using a brand new container and fresh potting soil (or picking a different spot outside), you can repot your fiddle leaf fig the same way you would when doing a normal repot or transplant.
Be sure to add an aggregate such as perlite or vermiculite to ensure the soil is well-draining.
Also, remember to be extra gentle with the roots, which will be quite fragile for a little while.
Avoid adding any fertilizer for a month and practice proper watering techniques.
As long as the plant gets the right amount of sun and other essentials, it will begin to bounce back after a few weeks with new growth.
Preventing Root Rot In Fiddle Leaf Figs
We won’t get into the details of the soak-and-dry method here, but this is the best possible method for watering both indoor and outdoor plants.
NEVER water a plant using a calendar, as this is the leading cause of water-related plant problems.
For fiddle leaf figs, the time to water is when the top 1″ to 2” inches of soil has dried out.
Between proper watering and using only quality (or homemade) potting mixes, you should have minimal risk of developing root rot in the future.
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