Fig Tree Pruning – How To Trim A Fig Tree
Figs are an ancient and easy fruit tree to grow in the home garden. Mentions of figs being grown at home go back literally millennia. But, when it comes to fig tree pruning, many home gardeners are at a loss as to how to properly trim a fig tree. With a little knowledge, this “ancient” mystery is as easy to do as growing a fig tree. Keep reading to learn more about how to prune fig trees.
Pruning Fig Trees After Transplanting
There are many situations where you might want to prune a fig tree. The first time you should be doing fig bush pruning is when you first transplant your young fig tree.
When a fig tree is first planted, you should trim a fig tree back by about half. This will allow the tree to focus on developing its roots and becoming well established. It will also help the fig
tree grow side branches for a bushier tree.
In the next winter after transplanting, it is best to start pruning fig trees for “fruiting wood.” This is wood that you will be pruning to help keep the fruit healthy and easy to reach. Select four to six branches to be your fruiting wood and prune away the rest.
How to Prune Fig Trees After They are Established
After a fig tree is established, the best time when to prune a fig tree will be in the dormant (winter) season when the tree is not growing.
Begin your fig tree pruning by removing any branches that are not growing out from your selected fruiting wood, as well as any dead or diseased wood. If there are suckers growing from the base of the tree, these should be removed as well.
The next step in how to trim a fig tree is to remove any secondary branches (branches that are growing off the main branches) that are growing at less than a 45-degree angle from the main branches. This step in pruning fig trees will remove any branches that may eventually grow too close to the main trunk and will not produce the best fruit.
The last step in how to prune fig trees is to cut back the main branches by one-third to one-quarter. This step in fig tree pruning helps the tree put more energy towards the fruit that will be produced next year, which makes for larger and sweeter fruit.
Pruning fig trees the right way can help you to improve your fig crop. Now that you know how to prune fig trees, you can help your fig tree produce better and tastier figs.
How to prune a fig tree
Figs are great plants to grow – plant them in a sunny, sheltered spot and they’ll reward you with a lush, leafy canopy and tasty figs. They’re also extremely vigorous, so require regular annual pruning to keep them in check.
Figs and other plants prone to bleeding, like acers and laburnum, should be pruned in winter to stop sap bleeding from the wounds. Pruning a fig tree at the wrong time, during spring for example, can cause them to bleed profusely. This loss of sap can weaken the plant and in extreme cases may cause death.
Keep your fig tree productive by following our simple steps to giving it a winter prune, below.
Create an open framework
When pruning a fig tree, aim to give the fig an open framework and control its size. Cut several of the oldest, woodiest stems down to the base.
Cut disrupting stems
With fan-trained figs, prune out any stems that disrupt the framework of straight stems radiating out from a short trunk.
Prune thick stems
Cut thick stems (3cm or more across) with a pruning saw, which cuts on the pull stroke.
Past years have produced bumper crops of figs for home gardeners. There were enough for birds, yellow jackets, kids and adults to share without dispute. Along with blueberries and raspberries, figs are almost carefree. The biggest problem that a fig bush presents a gardener is when it grows too big for its site.
Of course, some gardeners say a tall fig is best: “The birds get the high ones and I eat the low ones!” But birds are indiscriminate in their feeding. They like to eat both the high and the low fruit. So gardeners sometimes resort to hanging nets over their fig bush. But a net is difficult to manage if the plant is taller than seven feet.
If your fig is too big, pruning is the answer. As with most outdoor plants, winter is a great time to accomplish this task. A few tips will help you make the most of this job.
VERTICAL IS OUT – HORIZONTAL IS IN A fig is a vigorous plant. The Brown Turkey and Celeste varieties that are common in the South grow to a mature height of fifteen feet with an equal diameter. If a fig has not reached what it considers its full height, it sends up vertical shoots from the upper limbs. When the shoots have surmounted the surrounding foliage, they send out horizontal limbs. It is at the ends of these horizontal limbs that fruit will be borne.
Determine first how tall your fig should grow. Then remove the vertical shoots that defy that height restriction. It is better to remove the shoots completely. Make your cut all the way back where the shoot originates. If you simply shorten the shoot, it will rapidly sprout a new growing tip this spring and head for the sky once more. If you can’t remove a vertical shoot completely, cut it back to where a horizontal limb grows from it. In this way, energy will be directed to the horizontal limb, not to growing tall sprouts.
Horizontal limbs can be shortened as needed. But once again, make your pruning cut either where the limb originates or where a side limb is growing. It bears repeating once again: the figs you will enjoy in the fall will grow on the ends of horizontal branches.
ONCE AGAIN IN JUNE Even though you remove lots of limbs and shoots in winter, your fig will have no trouble sprouting plenty of leaves in April to nourish those sweet brown delicacies. Inevitably, vertical shoots will arise. A light pruning can be done in mid-June to take out juvenile vertical sprouts. If this is not done, the plant will devote a high proportion of its resources to increasing its size – not to making the figs you enjoy.
Fig fertilizer needs depend on whether your plant is young or well-established. Young ones should be fertilized in March, May and July. Use one-third pound of 10-10-10 per foot of plant height each time. Older bushes can be fed just once a year, using a pound of 10-10-10 per foot of height in March. One way to judge if your older fig plants need fertilizer is to note the length of the sprouts that grew last year. A mature plant should develop only one foot of new growth each year.
Home Garden Figs
Tags For This Article: fig, large, overgrown, prune, pruning
I gave a neighbor a fresh fig from my tree the other day.
“Wow,” she said, “these are better than fig preserves!”
The flavor of fresh figs is like nothing else you ever put in your mouth, and there is no finer fruit to be had in Alabama. But it’s something only gardeners can truly relish.
Don’t settle for preserves (or those leathery dried up things from California) when you can have the real thing right from your garden.
Here’s what you need to know to get the most from Alabama figs:
Is a fig a fruit or a vegetable?
Both in the kitchen. Neither in the garden.
Just because a fig is sweet doesn’t mean you should add more sugar to it. In fact, figs are a great complement to savory dishes. Start, for example, with the fig pizza – maybe an olive oil and garlic base, with roasted eggplants and peppers, and just before it’s done, add slices of figs and fresh basil. Man.
But while you’re eating your savory, sweet fig, contemplate this: Alabama figs are actually neither fruits nor vegetables. In truth, a fig is nothing more than a flower, or rather a glob of tiny flowers, all stuck together and covered with a fleshy jacket. Turn one inside out, and look at it with a magnifying glass. You’ll see what I mean.
I know there are those of you (like my mother) who think it’s weird to eat flowers. So you need to stop eating figs right now. Put that fig down. Right away. It’s nothing but a sissy flower. (But boy, those sissy flowers taste good.)
How big will my fig tree grow?
Some people want to have a fig tree.
Some people want to have figs.
And the best way to have figs is to have no tree at all.
Why yes, you can grow a fig big enough to climb in. But just between the two of us, we’re too old and too fat to go climbing in a fig tree. And even if we could, we still wouldn’t be able to reach a fraction of the figs.
Some folks say, oh, well, I’m just going to let the birds have the figs in the top part of the tree, and I’ll pick the figs on the bottom. The trouble is, 90 percent of the figs will be where the most sunlight is, where only the birds can get to them in the top part of the tree. You’ll have to fight the possums for the remaining 10 percent on the bottom.
That’s why everywhere figs are treasured, fig are not allowed to grow into trees. Each year they’re pruned heavily into strongly horizontal shrubs. In Japan, the highest quality figs are produced on shrubs trained so that all the branches are about knee-high!
That’s probably not such a great idea for home production. But it is wise, each February, to prune out all the upright growth taller than your shoulders, leaving only horizontal branches at shoulder height or below. When trunks get too massive, they should be removed entirely.
Don’t worry: Figs produce on new growth, so you won’t lose much production, and you’ll more than make up for it because you’ll actually be able to harvest more.
Another lighter pruning of new growth in summer, after the big fig season is over, will help you to maintain a more easily harvested bush.
Why do figs like to overhear people talking through the window?
Your grandmother may have told you: Plant figs close to a window, because they’re happiest when they hear people talking.
This doesn’t work as well as it used to, since all the figs would ever hear is people shouting on Fox News.
But if you sieve through that old advice, you’ll find a very useful clue to having a happy, productive fig. In the olden days, houses were raised off the ground on piers. This meant the ground underneath the house was shady, cool, neither too moist nor too wet, and (perhaps most important) was nearly free of nematodes, which are microscopic predators that wreak havoc on fig roots.
Of course, most modern houses are built on slabs, so there’s no way a fig could get its roots under the house. And besides, planting a fig too close to the house can be a nuisance.
But you don’t need a house to make a fig’s roots happy. In fact, all you need to do is mulch with a thick cover of leaves or straw as far around the fig as possible – at least several feet in either direction.
It’s the most important step to making your tree healthier and more productive.
How do I know when to pick figs?
Unlike tomatoes, persimmons, peaches and bananas, which develop flavor long after they are harvested, figs are never any sweeter or better tasting than they are the moment they are picked. If you pick an unripe fig, it will always taste like an unripe fig.
I wait for my figs to lose all their green color, turning mostly brown or purplish (depending on variety) with a few small cracks in the skin.
There’s a very fine line between as ripe as possible and impossible to eat. So pick at least once a day and don’t let them ripen too long.
Why don’t grocery stores carry fresh Alabama figs?
Unlike figs from drier climates, which are a little leathery and often grainy, Alabama figs are unusually moist and soft. This means you can eat ‘em without your dentures. But it also means they don’t store well at all. Fresh Alabama figs are fully enjoyed only by the family that grows them, and the very best figs are inevitably consumed by the person who picks them.
How do I keep giant ground sloths from eating my figs?
A wide variety of creatures – birds, raccoons, squirrels, sloths – recognize the rich delights of eating figs. So you’ve got a little competition. No big deal. Follow the instructions outlined above in Question 2 to make sure most or your figs are produced at eye level or below, where it’s easy for you to pick them. This is particularly effective at discouraging the depredations of giant ground sloths, which evolved to gather fruits produced 12 feet or higher off the ground.
Birds may still pose a slight problem. Netting is overkill and a nuisance. But most birds seem to hunt figs by sight, and they don’t start picking off figs until well after daybreak. Gathering figs early in the morning is a good way to get to most of the figs before the birds do. I do nothing more than prune low and pick early, and lose only 5 to 10 percent of my figs to the birds.
Raccoons and possums hunt at night. It would be wise, therefore, to make sure you pick your figs in the evening if you believe these are competing with you for figs.
For those who can’t bear the thought of sharing any figs with birds, you can try traditional remedies such as attaching noisy, shiny pie pans (BEFORE the figs ripen). Or try this trick from gardener Tom: Find yourself some genuine Alabama-made Buccaneer rope, a half-inch thick, braided with a red strand and left outside until it gets a little dingy. Looks enough like a chicken snake to kill a bird’s appetite.
How do figs make baby figs?
There is no more sordid story in the annals of reproduction. Suffice it to say that here in Alabama, we wouldn’t have a fig that has such lowdown dirty sex. That’s why you don’t pick seeds from your teeth when you eat Alabama figs, and it’s why there’s no such thing as baby figs in our fair and morally upstanding state.
But some of our more prurient readers will insist on knowing how it is so many of us get to have figs even though Alabama figs can’t have each other. That’s a delicious discussion we have in the plant sex therapy session during the Mobile Botanical Garden’s Introduction to Gulf Coast Gardening. Check out the garden’s website, at www.mobilebotanicalgardens.org, for more information.
Why don’t I give a fig?
Because you’re never had one fresh from the tree. Try one. It will greatly improve your sorry disposition.
Bill Finch is chief science and horticultural adviser for Mobile Botanical Gardens, where he teaches his popular Gulf Coast Gardening classes. Email questions to [email protected] Speak to him directly on the Gulf Coast Sunday Morning radio show, from 9 until 11 on 106.5 FM. Watch him cutting up with weatherman John Nodar on the Plain Gardening segment on News 5 at Noon, every Friday on WKRG.
How to Prune A Fig Tree
Pruning a Brown Turkey Fig
This pruning guide was written specifically for Brown Turkey fig trees but it will also apply to most of the other members of the family Ficus carica grown in the UK.
To maximise crop size free standing and pot grown figs are best grown as bushes and their early pruning is therefore along the same lines as that of a young apple tree. They grow faster than apples however so the pruning stages can be compressed into a shorter time period.
Your objective here is to create an open, goblet-shaped head. This basic framework lets air and light into the fruiting areas of the tree helping keep them healthy.
There are three main “prunings” your fig will need – in March, May and June – and it will not fruit well without. So we suggest you diarise them each year.
- February: (but delay until March in the North) cut out rubbing, crossing and damaged branches as well as any that get in the way of your “goblet” head. You can also cut long, fruitlet-less branches back very hard (to about 2-3”). Not too many though; you do not want to kill the poor tree. It is a good idea to deal with suckers at the same time. Try to tear them off the root from which they have grown rather than cut them.
- Late May: there should be a fair bit of new growth on the tree now. If not, wait a couple of weeks. Prune all these new branches back to 5 or 6 leaves.
- End June: You can deal with any laggards the same way at the end of June. No more pruning this year, please….
The fourth of the three prunings is not a pruning, but in:
- Early September: pick off the larger unripe figs – they will never be edible now. Take care to leave as many of the little fruitlets (they should be about the size of a decent garden pea) as possible.
Renovating an old fig tree
Without the regular pruning outlined above, figs have a tendency to produce long relatively leafless and fruitless branches. The fruit only ripens on last year’s wood, so what fruit you get will be at the end of long bare stems.
- In February in the South and March in the North prune out about 25% of the worst/barest/oldest branches down to 2-3″ from the main trunk.
- This will cause new growth during the summer. If the tree is overcrowded and you do not want so much new wood, then prune some of the branches right back to the trunk.
- In about July, with the framework of the tree in mind, keep the best new growth and cut out the rest, flush with the trunk.
Tags: pruning Fig ficus
Since the light started to slant and summer slumber, I have been able to pick fat, juicy figs almost every day. But now the leaves are beginning to turn a buttery yellow, I must put my thoughts towards pulling off the remaining figs so I get the same again next year.
At this time, most fig trees will have two types of fruit: the tiny, pea-sized embryonic figs that sit in the leaf axis, and larger, harder green fruit. In the balmy Mediterranean, you get two picking seasons – early summer and late – but with our damp, slow summers, only the embryonic ones tend to ripen. The larger ones will never do anything other than stay rock hard and sup up some of the plant’s energy. So, if you have any hard large figs (a couple of centimetres in diameter) still left on the plant, pick them off now, but leave the embryonic ones undamaged.
You’ll notice that nearly all figs are on young growth. If you leave your tree unpruned and it’s growing in soil, you’ll soon find all your figs are out of reach, so you need to prune the tree to keep it at a manageable size. This must be done by February; any later, and the sap will start to rise and it will be a messy job.
Remove branches that spoil the shape, are crossing or damaged, and remove suckers from the base. If it has long, bare branches that won’t produce any fruit, cut back hard to 5cm stubs, to stimulate new growth from the base of the branch. Then, come next June, pinch out new growth to five or six leaves, to stimulate the following year’s fruit. If that sounds complicated, know this: you can cut a fig tree in half and it will resprout vigorously in no time at all. They have a great will to live.
If you find you have no figs, not even hard ones, then your fig is either too young or too happy. Figs take several years to mature into fruiting; mine is five and just getting into the swing of things. A too-happy fig is one that’s allowed to run free. A fig in the ground without root restriction will grow handsome and oh-so-tall, but often won’t give much back in the way of ripe fruit.
This is why it’s essential to restrict your fig’s roots: the plant needs to feel squeezed by life a little. If you are planting in the ground, add lots of grit to the plant hole and use slate, terracotta tiles or a large plastic pot with the bottom sawn off to create a tight root run.
Figs ripen best on a south or south-west position, and the base of the wall often offers a perfectly tight position due to foundations. Otherwise, you can grow a fig in a large pot. It must be at least 45cm in diameter and you’ll need to feed and water it all summer long if you wish to get fruit. It might also be necessary to move your fig somewhere sheltered in the winter, or cover it with fleece, because pot-grown specimens don’t fare so well in very cold frosts that often nip the growing tips of shoots.