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Fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) plants are native to lowland tropical forests in western Africa. They thrive in a warm, humid environment with frequent rainfalls. When grown inside the home as a houseplant, your fiddle leaf fig tree does best when in similar conditions. 

However, this plant can be finicky and an over- or underwatered fiddle leaf fig will soon show its displeasure.  Fortunately, if the underlying cause is corrected promptly, you can certainly revive a dried out fiddle leaf fig quickly. 

Watch for these signs your fiddle leaf fig plant is underwatered and learn how to fix it.

woman watering her underwatered fiddle leaf fig

Signs of an underwatered fiddle leaf fig

There are several signs of an underwatered fiddle leaf fig that will soon show you that there’s a problem. Unfortunately, when it comes to fiddle leaf fig problems, they often show the same symptoms for different issues.

As such, you may have to use a process of elimination if you notice any of these to find the exact culprit. This is usually pretty straightforward to do, as you can simply review your own houseplant maintenance schedule to figure out where the problem could lie.

And don’t forget to check: How Often Should You Water a Fiddle Leaf Fig?

1. Wilting or drooping leaves

In the early stages, a fiddle leaf fig plant that is underwatered will show its displeasure with wilting or drooping leaves. When fiddle leaf fig leaves are drooping or wilting, this is a sign that the cells in the leaves do not have enough moisture to maintain the water pressure (turgor) inside the plant tissues.

Wilting and drooping leaves can also occur if your fiddle leaf fig’s temperature needs aren’t being met, especially if it’s been exposed to extreme temperatures and loses more moisture through transpiration than the roots can transport to the plant. Sometimes, drooping and wilting leaves result from poor drainage or overwatering your fiddle leaf fig.

To determine if underwatering is the cause of wilting and drooping leaves, you will need to watch for other signs, like excessively dry soil, too.

2. Stunted new growth

Stunted growth, especially small or poorly developed new leaves, can also be a sign you are under watering your fiddle leaf fig. You may also notice this if your fiddle leaf fig is not growing new leaves at all. This is because your plant’s roots cannot absorb and transport the moisture and nutrients it needs to thrive without adequate water.

You may also notice that your fiddle leaf fig plant’s growth slows or stops. While this is natural during the fall and winter, slowed or halted growth in the spring and summer indicates that your fiddle leaf fig plant needs attention.

Related: How Fast Do Fiddle Leaf Figs Grow?

stunted growth on an under watered fiddle leaf fig

3. Brown leaves

Underwatered fiddle leaf figs typically develop brown margins on the leaves. This differs from large, dark brown areas on the leaves caused by overwatering. In underwatering, the outer edges of the leaves begin to turn a light brown. If the condition is not addressed, the brown areas enlarge, and the leaves become dry and crispy.

You may also be interested in: How to Treat a Fiddle Leaf Fig With Brown Spots

4. Curled leaves

Brown edges on the leaves of your fiddle leaf fig plant from under-watering gradually begin to curl inward. Again, the brown sections are crisp and brittle. This may affect the leaves on the entire plant if your watering routine is not corrected.

Brown, curly leaves on a fiddle leaf fig are the hallmark sign of under-watering this plant.

small fiddle leaf fig in black pot

5. Leaf drop

Brown, curled leaves eventually die and fall from the plant, causing leaf drop in your fiddle leaf fig plant. This happens to leaves anywhere on the plant, instead of dropping the lower, older leaves on the plant that occurs with overwatering.

Brown leaves from underwatering affect the leaves on all parts of the plant. Leaf drop can occur with or without the leaves turning brown and curling.

6. Dry compacted soil

Excessively dry soil becomes compacted and pulls away from the sides of the pot. This can sometimes be deceptive, as when you water the plant, water will run freely through the bottom of the pot. You may think this means your plant has all the water it needs, but in reality, the water has run between the edge of the soil and the rim of the pot.

Water cannot saturate the soil as it needs to when the soil is compacted. Compacted is often the result of under watering, but the type of potting mix you use can contribute to soil compaction, too.

Use lightweight soil that drains well for your fiddle leaf fig tree to help combat soil compaction. In terms of the best soil for your fiddle leaf fig, a potting soil mixture of one part potting soil, one part perlite, and one part peat moss makes a good potting soil mix that drains well.

hand holding soil

How do I know if my fiddle leaf fig needs water?

You can tell if your fiddle leaf fig needs water by either using a moisture meter or through the finger test, which allows you to check if the top two to three inches of soil are dry. If so, this is when you should water your fiddle leaf fig.

Fiddle leaf fig trees need soil that drains well and remains moist at the root level, but they will suffer if the soil stays soggy. It is essential to water your fiddle leaf fig plant thoroughly to saturate the soil and then let it dry until the top 2 to 3 inches of soil feels dry to the touch.

The soil at the root level should not dry out completely as the roots need moisture to survive. If you are unsure if the soil is too dry at the root level, a moisture meter can be helpful. You can buy one for a few dollars at plant centers or hardware stores.

To use a moisture meter, insert the probe to the root level of your fiddle leaf fig plant and read the dial to determine if the soil is moist or dry. Remember, the top 2 to 3 inches of soil should be dry, but the soil at the root level should be slightly moist when you water your fiddle leaf fig plant.

How do you fix an underwatered fiddle leaf fig?

Developing a good watering routine by checking the moisture level in the soil and watering your plant when the soil feels dry 2 to 3 inches below the surface will often save an underwatered fiddle leaf fig tree. You should also check the quality of the potting mix and that the pot isn’t too small.

That is, soil that is too loose and sandy and lacks organic matter may drain too quickly and fail to hold enough water for your fiddle leaf fig plant’s needs. Likewise, a small plant pot may not have enough soil to serve your plant’s needs and may dry out too quickly.

someone repotting an underwatered fiddle leaf fig

Replace the soil in your plant and repot your fiddle leaf fig in a larger pot if you think the soil type and pot size contribute to underwatering your fiddle leaf fig plant.

Avoid all-purpose potting soil for your fiddle leaf fig as it is often too dense and may cause poor drainage or may compact easily and contribute to issues with dry soil. A mixture of one part of all-purpose potting soil, one part peat moss, and one part perlite makes a suitable potting mix for your fiddle leaf fig.

How do you correct dry, compacted soil?

If your fiddle leaf fig plant’s soil is pulling away from the side of the pot and feels crusty on the top, it is dry and compacted. Water cannot penetrate the soil to reach the plant’s roots in this state. When watered, the water will simply run down the crevice between the soil and the side of the plant pot.

  1. Move your fiddle leaf fig plant to the sink and fill a basin or bucket with tepid water deep enough to cover the pot. If the sink is not practical, you can take your plant outside and use a rain barrel or other large basin.
  2. Submerge the entire pot in the water to cover the rim of the plant. You will see bubbles emerging from the water. Bubbles are released from the air pockets in the soil as water infiltrates the soil and begins to saturate the soil.
  3. Allow the plant to soak until bubbles stop floating to the top of the water. This may take 20 minutes or more, depending on the size of the pot and how dry the soil is.
  4. Remove the pot from the water when bubbling has stopped.
  5. Allow it to drain thoroughly and empty the saucer or catch basin of excess water.
  6. Place your fiddle leaf fig plant in its usual location and let the soil dry until it feels dry to the touch 2 to 3 inches below the surface before watering it again.
  7. Resume and maintain a good watering routine. Remember that while the top 2 to 3 inches of the soil should be allowed to dry out, the soil at the root level should remain slightly moist.

Can you revive a dried-out fiddle leaf fig?

How well your fiddle leaf fig plant responds to corrective measures depends on the severity of the problem. If you address and correct issues with dry soil or under watering at the first signs of stress, such as a few droopy or wilting leaves, recovery is often quick and leaves no lasting damage to the plant.

In more advanced stages, recovery will be slower, but you will see renewed health and vigor in time. If the underwatering issues have progressed to the point of brown curled leaves that cover the entire plant, or your plant has dropped most of its leaves, recovery is less likely.

Your fiddle leaf fig plant cannot survive without adequate healthy leaves to photosynthesize energy from the sun. Remove all dead or severely damaged leaves as they only stress the plant as it tries to remover.

Should you remove dried leaves on a fiddle leaf fig?

Wilted or droopy leaves generally revive quickly when you correct issues with underwatering. However, leaves that have turned brown or curled are beyond saving. These leaves no longer contain the chlorophyll needed to perform photosynthesis and so these dried leaves should be removed, as they will not revive or turn green again.

Remove dead or brown curly leaves from your fiddle leaf fig plant by cutting them close to the stem. You can usually remove them by hand with a gentle tug to pull them from the stem or branch, rather than actually pruning your fiddle leaf fig which is generally needed only when you are removing parts of the plant that have more life.

Final thoughts on dealing with an underwatered fiddle leaf fig

Fiddle leaf fig plants need well-drained soil that dries slightly between waterings. However, the soil should never dry out completely. The best way to ensure your fiddle leaf fig has the water it needs is to check the soil frequently and water it when the top 2 to 3 inches feels dry to the touch. 

How often it needs to be watered depends on the season (plants need more water in the spring and summer when they are actively growing), the size of the plant, and the size of the plant pot. Trying to adhere to a strict watering schedule of once a week can leave your fiddle leaf fig plant starved for water. It is best to check the soil moisture every few days and water the plant only when needed.