During a recent visit to Andiamo Lodge in Mentone, Alabama, I spied a handsome fiddleleaf fig (Ficus lyrata) standing in a corner. I was thunderstruck! Like most of you, every time I’d tried to grow this quite expensive, tree-like houseplant, it responded with yellowing leaves decorated with black spots and dead, brown edges that fell to the floor and left it naked. So I asked Andiamo’s co-owner, Steve Carpenter, how he managed to keep his looking so healthy and clothed.
«I don’t do anything special,» he replied, «except pour some coffee on it every once in a while.»
Whoa. If true, this revelation could rock the internet! Therefore, I decided to test Steve’s prescription on my own fiddleleaf fig. It was six feet tall when I bought it and towers three feet tall today – considerably less stately than Steve’s.
I typically begin every morning with three cups of coffee to enable me to become dutifully unhinged at the multiple catastrophes that occurred overnight as carefully curated by the grim reapers on the TV news. Sometimes, however, I’ll drink only two, leaving me with a question that vexed me up until a few weeks ago: «Is it ethical to throw away a perfectly good cup of coffee?» Steve’s testimony provided the answer. «No, it is not. Give it to your suffering plants.»
Follow the Science
Digging deeper, I discovered there is logic to periodically treating my fig tree to an early cup of java. Liquid coffee contains important plant nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, and magnesium – not in the same quantities as commercial fertilizers, mind you, but still helpful when applied a bit at a time.
Thus, I began pouring coffee for my fig tree a couple of times a week. I made sure the liquid was room-temperature to avoid burning the roots. And because coffee is quite acidic, I diluted it half-and-half with tap water. My tap water is hard (alkaline – pH over 7), so the mixture’s pH should be about neutral.
The preliminary data looks promising. My fiddleleaf fig displays bright green foliage with no black spots or brown edges. It hasn’t dropped any leaves. I’ve started spreading the wealth to other houseplants like my «Neon» pothos and angelwing begonia. So far, so good.
Please don’t ask me which coffee is better – leaded vs unleaded, Jamaican Blue Mountain vs Hawaiian Royal Kona, Community vs Maxwell House. I haven’t researched it that far. Just make sure you use only black coffee, no milk or cream that will sour. Your family and houseplants will thank you.