How Do I Prune A Fig Tree?

How Do I Prune A Fig Tree?

The excellent news with fig trees is that whatever type you have, they all more or less need the same kind of care, which is the same for when you need to prune a tree, as this can be done in the winter, as some types of this tree can bleed sap, which can ruin the structure of the tree.

You might be thinking about how much is too much to prune from the tree, so as long as you have a good framework, your task should be made easier, and you can identify which disruptive branches you need to remove.  

To find out how to correctly prune, maintain, and protect your fig tree during its periods of growth and dormancy, read on to find out more. 

A Simple Guide To Pruning Your Tree

To clarify a few things, this advice is mainly for trees, but some tips on maintenance and care can also be applied to the plant, especially when it grows bigger roots and branches. 

Below you can find a complete guide on when and how to prune your tree, so it stays practical and gives you the best output of figs. 

Prune It Around Late Winter  

The late winter period is the best time for you to prune your tree, as this is close to the end of the tree’s dormancy so by early spring, the branches will be prompted to sprout, and you can do the same for the following year. 

If you find the winter has extended over to February, the tree may stay dormant, so before the spring, you can give it a quick trim, as some leaves can produce all-green shoots, which should be removed; otherwise, they can quickly take over and become overwhelming.

How Much To Prune From Your Trees

If your fig tree has several wooden stems coming from it, you want to cut these down to the base as this controls the rate and spread of your trees growth, as not doing this often can mean the tree doesn’t develop a lovely crown and can mean fewer fruit are produced.

You should also remove any weak or dead branches and new shoot tips in the summer, but during the warmer season, you want to avoid pruning it more than 50%, as this can weaken the tree, so you might want to do this by the late winter.

If you have done this and find that your tree isn’t producing any fruit, this is just something that happens due to heavy pruning, which can be helpful for trees that outgrow their space. If you return to it the following summer, there’s a good chance that this shouldn’t be an issue.

Maintain The Crown Shape

This process is just as crucial if you want your figs to have equal exposure to sunlight, and by doing this, you can remove the topmost branches without harming the remaining branch system and prevent them from growing too tall and becoming a nuisance.

For this, you can remove any notches near the tree’s top branches, so you want to cut above the notch, and a final stump cut just above the branch bark ridge.

The last cut you make should be parallel with the ridge, so the tree has a smooth transition where the cut was made. 

This can be done after your harvest, which usually happens by the end of summer to around September, so the tree should have plenty of time before the next harvest to grow new terminals, which is vital if you want your fig to return to be plentiful. 

Remove Deadwood And Fertilize  

If you find any brittle or dry wood on the main trunk or branches, you can remove these to prevent any disease from traveling to the rest of the tree, and only use fertilizer if you can determine if your tree is lacking nutrients or showing signs of slow growth.

If your tree is less than three years old, is surrounded by other plants, is kept in a container, or doesn’t get enough sunlight, it may need fertilizer as it could lack nitrogen.

Be sure to use it over a few months so the tree only gets a few nutrients at a time, as this can cause the fruit on your tree not to ripen correctly and can be susceptible to damage caused during the winter season. 

Know When To Harvest The Figs 

For anyone new to fig trees, there may be the temptation to harvest the figs before they have fully ripened, so to avoid this, aim to harvest around the late summer and early fall, so you have a reasonable timeline of when you need to prune the tree next for the next harvest.

For a guide, you can wait for the figs to turn to their fully mature color, as this can vary depending on the type of fig, but the main colors are rust browns, purple hues, or a light green shade, so here is where they should taste their best. 

To harvest the figs, make sure to gently remove them from the stems and avoid ripping the neck during this process.

After this, you can store them in the fridge or place them to dry in the sun; you can store them for a few months. 

Other Considerations To Make 

Now you have a timeline of how to maintain a fig tree, there are certain conditions or processes that you may see other fig tree owners discuss, as these may depend on where the tree is and how often it’s pruned, which is the case for newer fig trees that are growing through.

That is why it’s a good idea to look at these in more detail below, as a new fig tree owner might have a few misconceptions or mistakes.

Tree Pruning Sealer 

This product takes the form of paint used by some to cover pruning cuts in an attempt to reduce the amount of sap lost through them and is described as helping with the healing process, but it isn’t necessary for this.

In fact, it could be harmful to your tree as the sap lost can be fixed by the tree and, if used on newly developed wounds, can damage the cells that are used to close the wound. 

You can avoid this worry by pruning it in small amounts when it’s young, as you won’t need to prune larger branches as it gets older, as this can make it harder for the tree to heal, so your tree should have the mechanisms inside it to reduce the need of a sealant. 

Watering The Tree  

Even though a fig tree can be prosperous in the right conditions, it still needs some assistance to keep healthy and bear the optimal amount of figs, so you should look to provide one and a half inches of water per week, and you can look for signs that you need to water it more.

Examples of this are when the tree’s leaves start to turn yellow and drop off, and all you really need to remember is to keep the soil moist by layering some mulch around the tree, which allows it to retain moisture better.

During the summer, if you water deeply and regularly while the figs swell and ripen, you should get great results, but doing it too often can cause the figs to split, so be sure to be consistent with how much water you use as this will keep the tree happy and healthy.

Manage The Growth 

This is important as it’s likely that a fig tree will get wider than taller, which as a consequence, can mean that the fruit on the branches may not get the sunlight they need, as to produce the most figs, a tree needs 7 to 8 hours of sunlight a day as well as partial shade.

You can improve this further by planting them in soil with good drainage. You’ll find sandy soil with compost and mulch, making them easy to work with, as it holds the optimal amount of water and air for better growth and biological activity. 

You could train your tree to grow on a wall where you can tie the stems to create a fan shape and pinch out the top half of the growing tips on the frame, promoting growth lower down. 

Winter Protection 

In temperatures that reach below 25ºF, you want some coverage for your tree, as this can depend on the type of fig that you’re growing, so hardy figs like brown turkey figs, Ventura figs, and Chicago figs can be easier to maintain because of this quality.

You can implement the winter protection after you have pruned the tree, so you can do this once it’s lost all of its leaves, then, you can tie the branches together to create a column, or you can use a pole or sturdy stick to tie the branches to.

You can also add a thick layer of mulch or compost over the roots to prevent the root tissues from being damaged by below-freezing temperatures. 

For Indoor Fig Trees

How Do I Prune A Fig Tree?

If you’ve decided to use a planter for your tree, you might find that they need a little more attention, as you need to ensure that the planter you use has proper draining and suitable soil; otherwise, it can be susceptible to root rot or bacterial infections.

If you can, try to keep them in the sunny areas of your home and make sure that it has eight or more hours of indirect sunlight a day, and you can avoid direct sunlight as you will risk burning the leaves, so putting them in the most optimal place is essential. 

For the winter, you’ll want to place them in an uninsulated and dark room, as ideally, you want them to stay dormant until the spring, so you can cover them if needed and water them monthly, so the roots don’t dry out completely. 

What Types Of Fig Are There? 

As we can see from these tips, fig trees can be easy to maintain as they are primarily self-pollinating.

In contrast, others may require small wasps to crawl inside and perform pollination if the tree is a cross-pollinator rather than a wind pollinator. 

However, this may differ from fig to fig, and to see which one is best to plant and start growing, it may be helpful to look at each and see how they grow and their needs. 

Common Figs 

These are the type you’re likely to find in many gardener’s backyards as they only need single tree pollination, are less vulnerable to diseases due to rot or bacteria, are more drought tolerant, and only need regular moist soil when there is fruit on the tree. 

Also known as black mission figs, these are cool hardy for temperatures around 10-15ºF for short periods, so any sudden weather changes, you have figs that are more forgiving than most, as they have moderate spreading growth. 

LSU Purple Figs

This is a fig type that isn’t as hardy to the colder weather, as it can tolerate lows of 15-20ºF, but these are suited to warmer and humid conditions.

Still, it only takes five years for the tree to fully mature, so if you compare this to others, that can take 2-3 years to cultivate any figs.

These figs also have above-average resistance to leaf diseases and pests and only reach heights of 10 feet, so these types can be seen as non-invasive when talking about how much space they take up, which is perfect for smaller backyards. 

Excel Figs 

This variety is regarded as one of the best all-around fig types as they can tolerate low temperatures of 5ºF, can be grown in many areas and produces sweet figs even when summers are cooler than usual.

The figs are also pretty resilient, as they are less prone to splitting as they become ripe, regardless of the weather conditions.

Plus, they make good container plants, as they can better survive as you water them every ten days to two weeks.  

Brown Turkey Figs 

These are another variety grown by gardeners in colder climates. They are known to be more cold-hardy than black mission figs but still need protection if temperatures reach 10ºF, where they can be uncomfortably colder.

Just like other fig trees, these trees can be invasive, as they can cause damage to walls, fences, paths, and pools, so it’s best to plant these some 20 feet away from any buildings or any trees, but this can depend on the quality of the soil and the planting conditions. 

Other Types Of Figs 

While there are over 700 types of figs, there are some types of fig trees, such as fig newtons, Smyrna types, and Calimyrna figs can be more demanding.

So they require warmer and sometimes tropical climates to grow and can be cross-pollinated, where they become male or female.

This is important, as it is said that each fig has its own fig wasp type, which is how these types are pollinated and allow the inverted flower to become ripe and full of flavor, and the texture isn’t at all an indication of the presence of eggs, which is another misconception. 

This can put people off from eating them, but it’s worth noting that the insect gets broken down by the time that you eat it, and that’s if one finds its way there on accident.  

How To Keep Pests Away 

Many pests would love nothing more than to take a bite from your newly grown figs, and the list is not limited to earwigs, fig beetles, squirrels, birds, or carpenter worms, and there are a few things you can do to control and limit how these can get into your tree.

One of these is by spraying some insecticide on the tree. Though this may only put off certain insects, such as earwigs, be aware that some insecticides have chemicals that make the figs inedible.

For some of these methods, you might have to wait an entire year before you can eat one of the figs, and that’s before you’re allowed near the tree, as some require you to keep your distance for around 12 hours and not pick the figs for up to 3 days.

You can try more straightforward methods like making sure there aren’t any weeds near your tree and using a netting on the lower portion of the tree to prevent borers from laying their eggs in the bark.  

Final Thoughts 

With all these considerations, pruning and maintaining a fig tree can sound like hard work.

Still, if you ensure you are current with all of these processes, you’ll find that you get a consistent harvest every year, which can be very rewarding as you taste a sweet fig. 

Though not all types are as pleasant tasting, some research before you go to a nursery to get one may be needed.

Or if you have one already, you can continue to prune and keep your tree healthy and even more purposeful.  

For new trees that are less than two years old, it may even be beneficial to prune more than half of the tree, which may sound counterproductive, but it can serve to ensure that when it begins to harvest, you get healthy growth across the entirety of the tree. 

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