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Too much exposure to bright direct sunlight can have an adverse effect on your houseplants. In fact, did you know that, just like humans, your fiddle leaf fig can suffer sunburn? 

This includes if you keep your ficus indoors all the time, as light through a window can also see your fiddle leaf fig getting too much sun. This is especially the case if your plants are young or unaccustomed to the glare of the sun, as many indoor plants are.

With so much surface area to penetrate, it’s no surprise that these plants’ stunning, shiny dark green leaves are at risk of potentially contracting sunburn. Fiddle leaf fig sunburn presents as dry, almost crispy light brown spots. And once they appear, the damage these spots cause to leaves is irreversible.

Fortunately, sunburn is not a death sentence for a fiddle leaf fig, so long as you treat the cause and prevent further harm. In this article, we’ll look at how to identify and avoid sunburn, as well as how to set your fiddle leaf on the road to recovery.

How to Save a Fiddle Leaf Fig From Sunburn

What are the signs of a fiddle leaf fig with sunburn?

While your intentions may be pure, putting your fiddle leaf fig too close to a sunny window can be too much heat and light for this plant to handle.

To diagnose if your Ficus lyrata has sunburn, look out for the following indicators:

  • Brown spots or patches. The most obvious sign of a fiddle leaf fig having sunburn is the appearance of light to dark brown spots or patches on the surface of your plant’s leaves.
  • White spots. If you notice white spots on a fiddle leaf fig, this is also an indicator of sun damage. Those spots will eventually turn brown, so these white patches appearing should be cause for concern.
  • Brown dusting or fading. Depending on the severity of the damage, sunburn can also present as a tan or brown dusting across a large leaf section that looks like discoloration.
  • Positioning of sunburn spots. Generally, sunburn spots appear only where the sun can reach, so it’s unlikely you’ll see them on the underside of leaves.
  • Texture of the damage. Sunburnt spots on leaves tend to take on a crispy, dry texture and can crack and furl over time.
  • Leaf drop. As it is nearly impossible for sunburnt leaves to recover, your fiddle leaf fig could drop leaves after a few days or weeks.
example of a fiddle leaf fig with sunburn
Example of fiddle leaf fig sunburn. Source: Reddit

Can a fiddle leaf fig get too much sun?

Fiddle leaf figs are native to the tropical regions of Africa, meaning they are accustomed to full sun. That being said, indoor fiddle leaf figs need to adjust to direct sunlight slowly or risk contracting sunburn. Once acclimated, they can thrive in direct sunlight for up to eight hours per day.

Considering how finicky and fussy fiddle leaf figs are, it’s hard to imagine them as hardy rainforest plants. Yet, these beauties are built for warm, humid weather, and they love being in the sun. The problem is that they need to acclimate to UV rays, or they will end up with sunburn.

In the wild and in established gardens, fiddle leaf figs seem to have no problem thriving no matter the weather. Domestically-grown fiddle leaf figs, on the other hand, often seem to want to wilt at the drop of a hat. This is purely a result of their environment and can easily be resolved for your plant to reach its full growth potential.

The idea that fiddle leaf figs can get too much sun is a myth. Yes, they can contract sunburn, but that is almost always due to too much too soon. In the following sections, we’ll go into more detail about preventing sunburn and acclimating fiddle leaf figs to outdoor living.

Related: What Are Your Fiddle Leaf Fig’s Light Needs?

Can fiddle leaf fig recover from sunburn?

A fiddle leaf fig can easily recover from sunburn, provided the damage is not too severe. You need to move your plant out of direct sunlight to give it a chance to heal. Affected leaves will not recover and may need to be removed. This will largely depend on how badly each leaf is burnt.

In some cases of fiddle leaf fig sunburn, the damage to your plant might be incredibly minor, causing only cosmetic or aesthetic distress. However, in more severe cases, entire leaves can be affected, impacting the look of your plant as well as its overall health.

large fiddle leaf fig next to smaller plant

This is because sunburnt leaves, specifically, cannot recover but will continue to waste your plant’s energy while they’re attached to the stem. Poor use of energy is detrimental to the overall health of your fiddle leaf fig and can develop into other ailments.

However, the plant itself will have no trouble surviving a minor bit of a burn. At worst, your fiddle leaf will look a little unkempt while you await new growth. If more than 30% of your plant’s leaves are burnt, you may need to take more drastic measures to aid it on its way to recovery so you’re not left with a fiddle leaf fig with no leaves.

In both cases, you must act quickly. The longer you allow your fiddle leaf to suffer from sunburn, the more likely you are to end up with long-term damage.

How do you save a burnt fiddle leaf?

To save a sunburnt fiddle leaf, start by moving the plant out of direct sunlight. Don’t take it to a drastically different spot. Instead, opt for a bright, humid area, else you risk sending it into shock. Next, prune away damaged leaves, mist the remaining leaves, and give your plant a dose of water.

When your fiddle leaf fig is undergoing a health issue of any kind, the best recourse for recovery is a gradual and steady approach. A fiddle leaf fig with sunburn is already stressed, and you don’t want to add to this by making sweeping changes to its environment.

Indeed, the first thing to do is remove it from the area where it is at risk. If you put it outside for a bit too long, that’s okay, but bring it back indoors and set it in a bright spot away from the direct glare of the sun. The key here is not to park it in the shade, as this will only distress it even more.

fiddle leaf fig not getting sunburn next to a window

Next, prune away leaves that have developed sunspots. Use clean, sharp, sterilized tools to prevent spreading diseases. It’s also advisable to wear gloves lest you come into contact with this plant’s sticky white sap as it can be poisonous (in fact, this sap is the reason why fiddle leaf figs are toxic to cats). In addition, never remove more than 30% of the total foliage when pruning or else this can also have health implications for your plant.

Finally, you want to optimize your recovering plant’s environment by adding moisture. If you have a humidifier, it’s a great idea to leave it running close to your plant. Mist its leaves to alleviate some dryness and give it some water to set it on its way to healing (but not too much).

How do you treat sunburned leaves on your fiddle leaf fig?

Unfortunately, sunburnt fiddle leaf fig leaves are scarred for life, and there is no way for them to recover. The way to treat sunburnt leaves is to remove them from your plant. However, if the sunburn spots are very minor and the cosmetic damage does not bother you, you can leave them as they are.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about fiddle leaf fig sunburn is the aesthetic degradation it causes. We love these plants because of their gorgeous leaves, and no one wants a tree full of splotchy, browning foliage.

That being said, no treatment can help sunburnt leaves to recover. They will remain scarred until you prune them away, or if you leave them until they get old and drop by themselves. While tiny, minor brown spots or even red spots on your fiddle leaf fig are not the end of the world, completely burnt leaves are unsightly and bad for the overall health of your plant.

If you don’t want to prune your fiddle leaf fig too voraciously all at once, to maintain as much of its shape as possible, consider cutting off burnt leaves in stages. Every few weeks, remove two of three leaves. This way, your plant won’t look too barren.

Should I cut off burnt fiddle leaf fig leaves?

Fiddle leaf fig leaves that are severely burnt can unnecessarily use up your plant’s resources. Therefore, it’s better to cut them off than let them die away by themselves. If your fiddle leaf is recovering from a distressing incident like a sunburn, you want to focus its energy on healing.

The big dark leaves of the Ficus lyrata require a lot of energy to grow and thrive. This is not surprising, considering their size and the rate and which they produce. Because of how much energy they use, it’s pointless to leave damaged leaves on the plant.

And while it may feel savage to cut away leaves that you waited painstakingly long to see flourish, in the long run, it’s the right choice for your plant. Not only do they no longer add cosmetic value to your plant, but they are actively working against it by continuing to consume nutrients. Fiddle leaf figs love moisture and detest dryness of any kind.

That being said, sometimes sunburn is very minor and only results in a sprinkling of brown spots on your fiddle leaf fig from the sun. This kind of scarring can be relatively harmless and is only somewhat unsightly. Ultimately the choice is yours, but if more than 40% of the leaf’s surface is ruined, I strongly recommend snipping them instead.

How much sun does a fiddle leaf fig need?

Fiddle leaf figs enjoy having at least six hours of direct light per day. In the wild and outdoors, they can thrive with up to 8 hours of sunlight per day. However, these plants do not do well with the afternoon sun, so where you position them in your home or garden is important.

Ultimately, fiddle leaf figs are tropical plants, and they love the sun. They will thrive in conditions with good and plentiful light. Mind you, if they’re living outdoors, they will first need to acclimate to the harsh rays of the sun.

fiddle leaf fig next to window

Indoors, it would be best to place your fiddle leaf fig close to a sunny window that is preferably east or south-facing. This way, it will benefit from the morning sun for the better part of the day without being subjected to the harsher rays of the afternoon’s light.

For an outdoor fiddle leaf fig, you may want to choose a spot where your plant has sunshine all day but is shaded in part from the afternoon sun by other trees, buildings, or boundary walls.

Do fiddle leaf figs like morning sun?

Fiddle leaf figs thrive when they receive morning and midday light, with short periods of direct sunlight. For this reason, it’s best to position your plant close to a sunny east or south-facing window. Outdoors, try to plant fiddle leaf figs away from direct mid-afternoon rays that can cause sunburn.

Before fiddle leaf figs can thrive in the bright rays of the sun, they need to acclimate, or else they are at risk of sunburn. While sunburn is rare for indoor plants, it can happen if they are exposed to strong, harsh, direct afternoon light, even through glass. On the other hand, the morning sun is a lot “cooler” and gentler.

These gorgeous plants are fussy, but they need access to quite a bit of sunlight to really thrive. Morning sun, in particular, is healthy for them, allowing them the energy they need to photosynthesize, and by default, allowing them to grow their big, striking leaves.

fiddle leaf fig next to window

Without sufficient sun, they cannot successfully carry out the necessary metabolic processes they need to grow.

If you notice that your fiddle leaf fig’s leaves are drooping or it’s looking dreary overall, it may be suffering from a deficit of sunlight. In this case, slowly move them ever closer to a sunny spot where they can start to receive the light they need. Don’t make drastic shifts in the amount of light they receive, as this can, in turn, cause them distress.

How do you acclimate a fiddle leaf to full sun?

To prevent sunburn, you need to acclimate your fiddle leaf to the sun slowly and gradually. Start by exposing it to short doses of the morning sun, 15 minutes per day, and then prolonging these periods over time. Eventually, it will be able to enjoy six hours or more of sun each day.

Most fiddle leaves purchased commercially are grown in greenhouses, and are therefore not accustomed to bright sunlight outdoors. While there is always a temptation to move our plants outside and give them some sunshine, this needs to be carefully managed to prevent the risk of sunburn.

The trick to successful acclimation is patience. It would be best if you let your fiddle leaf fig get used to the sun slowly, over several weeks, until you are sure that it can withstand the rays of the sun. Fiddle leaf figs should be kept away from harsh afternoon sunlight even when acclimated.

Acclimation to the sun is a crucial part of raising fiddle leaf figs. While they can grow indoors, they really thrive when they have access to light and can grow to their full potential.

Final thoughts on treating a fiddle leaf fig with sunburn

It’s easy to think that your ficus would love a bit of sun considering where it comes from originally. But, as we’ve seen, a period of adjustment and acclimation is needed before too much sun exposure, or else you may find yourself having to deal with a fiddle leaf fig with sunburn.

As mentioned earlier, it’s more than possible for a fiddle leaf fig recover from sunburn, although it’s often better to treat sunburned leaves by simply cutting them off. While that certainly isn’t fun to do as a houseplant lover, especially given that the ficus’ leaves are probably just why you bought it, it’s a case of short term pain, long term gain.

That is, if you cut off any burnt fiddle leaf fig leaves, your plant will be able to focus all its energy on those leaves that are unaffected. They, in turn, will be much more effective at photosynthesizing (except in minor sunburn cases where leaves aren’t affected a huge amount).

And more photosynthesis leads to a happier houseplant. So while you may not be overly eager at the thought of having to remove those leaves, in just a few months, you’ll have a lush plant once again that, hopefully, is now much more prepared for the sunlight in which it usually thrives.