Not many people have a fig tree in their backyard but if you live in a warmer climate, you should consider growing this unique tree. With any tree comes some maintenance and that includes pruning. Find out when to prune your fig tree and just how to go about it.
Fig trees are native to warmer climates, such as Turkey and northern India, but are now common in southern parts of the United States. After you purchase a fig tree, you will need to decide when you will prune it.
When to prune fig trees: While some people prune their tree immediately after transplanting it, others prefer to wait until the first winter when it becomes dormant. Whatever you decide, that first pruning experience will be unique. You actually want to cut back almost half the tree. This will create stronger roots and force the tree to grow horizontally instead of vertically. In the second year of pruning, focus on the main fruiting branches. There should be four to six branches where most of the nutrients are focused. Once you have set up your fig tree, it’s time for annual maintenance. Every winter, when it is dormant, prune back dead or decaying wood. Pinch off new growth and cut back any branches that may impede the growth of the figs.
Fig trees can take a bit of work but once you get in the rhythm it will be fairly easy.
When to Prune Fig Trees
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the timing of pruning your fig tree, but if you plan correctly, they can both line up.
While there are many varieties of fig trees, including Red Leaf, Indian Banyan, and Creeping Fig, they all enter a period of dormancy in the winter. Therefore, you can treat most fig trees in a similar manner.
Pruning after transplanting
While your fig tree will eventually grow to a decent height, it will most likely start in a pot. In just a year or two, your fig tree will need more space, which is when you should transplant it to your yard.
A lot of gardeners prefer to prune their fig trees at this stage. It allows you to shape the tree and start it off right.
If you choose to go this route, you will want to be cautious and show a bit of restraint. If you prune too much from your fig tree, it will shock the plant and the consequences could potentially be dire.
Pruning during dormancy
The most common time to prune a fig tree is when it is dormant, during winter. This is the period recommended for most trees as it allows you to see what state the branches are in, without a bunch of foliage blocking your view.
Those that want the best of these two times will do well to transplant their fig tree in late winter or early spring.
How to Prune Fig Trees
Year 1: Cut back half the tree
You might be a bit wary about cutting back so much of your fig tree, but if done correctly, it will make for a much sturdier tree.
While only appropriate for the first year of pruning, you want to cut your fig tree back by almost half. This forces the roots to become stronger, which will result in a very healthy, sturdy tree as it ages.
Pruning half your tree will also result in stronger horizontal trees. Your fig tree will have a gorgeous, bushy look to it.
Year 2: Choose fruit branches
The second year of pruning should be all about setting your tree up for a high fruit yield. Thin branches won’t support fruit and too many branches mean nutrients are too thinly spread.
Look at your fig tree and decide which are the strongest branches. You want to choose between four and six sturdy branches.
Fruit-bearing branches need plenty of space so that the figs have enough room to grow properly. Once you decide on your branches, clear the remaining smaller shoots and branches away.
Year 3: Regular Maintenance
Now that your fig tree has an established design, it’s time for yearly maintenance. Always perform this in the winter so you can see all the branches.
Look for any dead or diseased branches and get rid of them. Signs of the disease include whitebark, abnormal spotting, or cracked bark.
New branches will keep growing each year but if they are not part of the original fruiting branches, you should remove them.
Also look for secondary branches that are growing at odd angles, especially between the paths of your fruiting branches. These will crowd your figs so you want to remove them.
Overall, you want to cut about a third of your fig tree back every year. Fruit trees that are too large will have small fruit that is not flavorful and sometimes not even edible.
Smaller, bushier fig trees also make it much easier to pick your fruit. Convenience is a factor that should not be overlooked.
While most pruning activity happens in winter, there are a few tasks you can complete during other parts of the year.
In summer, you can pinch off new growth so the bulk of the nutrients goes towards the fruit. Leave a few leaves on new branches but pinch or snip off leaves once there are more than six per branch.
In fall, when your figs start to ripen, pay attention to any that are not growing. These figs may be taking longer than normal and won’t be able to ripen in time for harvest.
Instead of allowing nutrients to go towards unviable fruit, simply remove them so the tree can concentrate on the rest of the figs.
Fig trees can grow in warmer climates and while they need a bit more work in their first few years, once you have them set up, you just have to worry about pruning once a year. Give your fig tree the shape you want and be sure to prune it in a way that promotes a healthy, abundant crop.