If you’re after that coveted tree-like shape for your Fiddle Leaf Fig, sooner or later you’re going to want to learn how to help it branch!
It’s in a plant’s nature for them to default to upward growth; where they can compete with other plants for more sunlight. So sometimes it takes a little human help to encourage them to branch outwards.
If you’ve had experience with any type of hedge or vine-like plant, you’ll know that pruning is necessary to get lush and bushy growth. The same applies to your Fiddle Leaf Fig! When a stem, branch or trunk gets pruned back, it is most likely to grow multiple stems in its place.
So here’s three methods you can use to encourage your Fiddle Leaf Fig to branch.
Pruning your Fiddle Leaf Fig
Pruning is hands-down the easiest and most reliable way to get your Fiddle Leaf Fig to branch! It involves cutting off the stem of your Fiddle Leaf Fig at the height you’d like branches to grow from. Keep in mind that the cut section isn’t wasted – you can always propagate your Fiddle Leaf Fig and get a whole new plant from it!
Pruning works by activating dormant buds below the cut. This happens because the growth hormone (auxin) can no longer travel up the stem, and it’s redirected to the buds that are generally closest to where the cut was made.
Generally when you’re looking for your plant to branch, you’d typically like at least a couple (if not more) branches. For the best chance of getting multiple branches when you prune, try to prune above a cluster of leaves. Or, a group of leaves that are close together.
Dormant buds live where leaves meet the stem. So for the best chance of activating multiple dormant buds, you’ll want to target a section on your FLF that has buds close together. They’re sometimes very small and hard to spot, so don’t worry if you can’t spot them. They’ll be there!
Another thing to look out for is how close together the ‘nodes’ are. Buds can also grow from these areas. Nodes look like little rings around the stem, and are often where the crispy brown leaf casings on your Fiddle Leaf Fig sit.
You can expect to see buds start to increase in size within a week or two. However it can take longer, and will take even more time for the new leaves to bloom, depending on environmental conditions.
Pruning is best done when the plant is taller than the height you’d like it to branch at, as you’ll be removing a section of stem. For example, if your FLF is 5 feet tall, but you’d like branches at around 3 feet high, you’ll need to prune your plant back to 3 feet tall.
If you don’t want to cut off the height of your plant, see the section on notching.
Tips for Pruning:
- Use a clean & sharp pair of cutters
- Cut the stem on an angle
- Wipe off any sap with a clean paper towel
- Prune just above a leaf – dormant buds (nodes) sit at the point where a leaf meets the stem. You may be able to see a small brown (or sometimes green) bump at this point.
Notching Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
Notching is a method of encouraging a Fiddle Leaf Fig to branch that doesn’t involve removing any height off the plant. Instead, small cuts or ‘notches’ are made up and down the stem or trunk to encourage new growth to form further down the plant.
There’s two different styles of notching. The first makes a diagonal cut around a third of the depth into the FLF trunk, just above a leaf or node. The second is similar, but two cuts are made and a section, or small ‘chunk’ of the trunk is removed. The two cuts should be made within 1-2mm of each other, to remove a slither of the trunk.
Notching can be tricky to get right without cutting too deep into the plant, or accidentally decapitating it altogether! It’s definitely a more experienced method that can give mixed results. I also recommend doing multiple notches if you want to give it a go. Not all of them are guaranteed to work. So you may want to do maybe six notches if you’re aiming for two or three branches.
Notching is done best on a more mature, or woody stem. If your FLF stem is still green, it might be best to wait until it matures before trying to notch.
Tips for Notching:
- A sharp craft knife may give you more control over the notch than a pair of cutters
- Make the notch directly above a leaf or node
- Make the notch on a diagonal, cutting around a third into the depth of the stem.
Pinching Your Fiddle Leaf Fig
Pinching is similar to pruning, except you won’t need to use a pair of cutters. Instead of removing a section of stem, pinching refers to plucking the top bud off the plant, also known as the growing tip.
This is a great method if your plant has reached the height you’d like it to start branching at. For example, if your FLF is currently two feet tall, but you envision it branching out at a height of three feet, wait until your plant grows to three feet. Then you can pinch the top.
You’ll notice your Fiddle Leaf Fig has a brown-cased bud at the top. This is where new leaves grow and it’s totally normal. When new leaves form and mature, the brown casings pull back and dry out.
This is natural and they don’t need to be removed, but they may fall off when they’re ready.
To pinch your Fiddle Leaf Fig, use your thumb and pointer finger to break off the top growing tip. If it’s too hard to break off with fingers, you can also use a pair of cutters.
Why Can’t I get my Fiddle Leaf Fig to Branch?
The above methods have a great success rate of growing branches. However there are some factors that can hinder branching, so it’s best to make sure you address these things for the best chance of branching.
The Health of your Fiddle Leaf Fig
The current health of your Fiddle Leaf Fig affects everything. If your plant is not currently growing, or possibly just trying to survive, it may not have the energy to grow – even if you try to encourage it with pruning, notching or pinching.
Your plant’s health can also be affected by watering issues or pests. Read my post on growing a Fiddle Leaf Fig for more general care information.
The Time of Year
It’s best to do any pruning, notching or pinching in the growing season, aka Spring and Summer. If it’s winter or a cooler climate, your Fiddle is probably not actively growing.
To push out new growth, plants need to have enough energy stored. And plants make & store energy through sunlight.
A plant lacking in light isn’t as likely to branch well. Or, you may only see one new branch (instead of two or three), making your plant lopsided and not at all what you envisioned. To counteract this, place your plant outside to give it the best chance of storing energy and creating new growth.
If you can, put your Fiddle outside for a month before attempting any branching methods. Fresh air and air circulation around the plant can also assist in growing branches. Putting your Fiddle outside does come with some challenges of direct sun which can cause sunburn, or extreme temperatures.
If you’re not confident doing this or if your climate doesn’t allow, you may want to invest in a grow light. Grow lights can help your plant produce energy and even get them growing throughout winter. Read this guide to LED grow lights for more info.
Lack of Nutrients
A Fiddle Leaf Fig struggling to find nutrients may not respond as well to pinching, notching or pruning. While some Fiddles can do reasonably well without any added help, pot plant soil can slowly be depleted of nutrients over time.
If you’re planning on creating the tree of your dreams, you’ll want to give your Fiddle Leaf Fig the best possible chance with a quality fertilizer. There’s a lot to learn about fertilizers, but if you’re looking for a recommendation, this fertilizer contains all the nutrients your FLF needs.
That’s a lot of information about encouraging your Fiddle Leaf Fig to branch! Let me know if you have any questions by dropping me a comment – I’d be happy to answer them!