How to Prune a Fig Tree

Figs are small trees or large shrubs that are widely popular because of their fleshy and tasty fruits, as well as amazing foliage. They are quite sturdy and can be grown in a container, your garden, a glasshouse and even trained against a wall. They usually grow up to 3m in height. Once they are planted, figs usually take about 3 years to start producing fruit, and that is only if they are taken care of the way they should.

Part of this maintenance included pruning your fig tree properly, at the right time and with the right tools. So if you want to learn how to prune your fig tree in Australia, stick with us while we guide you through this process.

When to prune a fig tree

Educating yourself about how and when to prune a fig tree is always going to be worth your while. If your tree can concentrate its efforts on sending sugars and hormones to only specific branches and fruits, those fruits are going to be all the sweeter and tastier.

The best time of year to prune your fig tree is during the winter months. That’s because edible figs are dormant in winter (your tree will lose all of its leaves).

  1. After the coldest part of winter has gone.
  2. Before your tree starts putting out new leaves.

Without leaves and fruit, it’s much easier to see where you’re at with your tree. You can then prune away, confident that you’re giving your tree the best chance to start growing tasty figs when the new growing season begins.

How to prune a fig tree

First up, a word of warning. Fig tree sap can be irritating to some people’s skin. This means that no matter where your fig tree is or how old it is, it’s a smart idea to wear a pair of gloves.

Secondly, a piece of good news – once you get a little practice, fig trees are easy to prune. Because all of their fruit happens on new growth, even if you make a serious mistake or two when pruning, your tree will almost certainly help you out by simply growing back anyway. In general:

  • If your tree is too big or too tall to harvest – you can safely chop it back by a solid 60% or more and still have a happy tree come next year.
  • If your tree is the right sort of size – you can be a bit more selective with your pruning to make it yield more, better fruit.

Pruning a young fig tree

Working out how to prune a young fig tree is a little bit more complicated than an established tree.

  1. Start strong – To begin, you will need to prune your tree more extensively for the first two years. You can think of this as teaching your tree to walk, as this “training” period will ensure it grows in the pattern you prefer.
  2. Prune when you transplant – As soon as you transplant your tree from its first pot to the soil, trim it back about 50%. This process encourages the tree to establish a good base of roots and spread itself out. Your goal should be to have somewhere between three and six low-growing branches which are fairly well spaced out.
  3. Prune during winter – When winter rolls around, and your young tree goes dormant, it’s time to prune. Specifically, you will be pruning by selecting “fruiting wood” – the one you will be concentrating on so that your tree grows the best crop. When you prune during winter, hope to have somewhere between six and eight well-spaced branches and prune the rest.

The only exceptions to the above rules are if you have a tree which is quite small or weak and are planning on transplanting it. If so, it’s a good idea to wait until after the first winter dormant season to have your first proper pruning session. Otherwise, you risk shocking the tree.

Pruning a mature fig tree

Once you’ve done the hard work of transplanting and taking care of your young tree, it’s time to work out how to prune a mature fig tree. This process is a lot easier since you’ve already established your “fruiting wood”, so you know where extraneous growth is taking place.

  1. Remove suckers – “Suckers” are what gardeners call branches that begin to grow from your fig tree too far down towards the base or even from the roots. These suckers may look like your tree, but all they’re doing is sucking up some of the energy your tree could better spend on growing you delicious figs.
  2. Cut deadwood – Sny bits of your tree which look dead or dying or – in the worst cases – look diseased, need to go. If one of your selected “fruiting wood” branches takes a turn for the worse, feel free to select a new branch or even a new sucker (you’ll probably need to wait very late in the winter for this to happen) and mentally designate that as new “fruiting wood”.
  3. Cut non-“fruiting wood” branches – Any branch which your tree is growing not from the “fruiting wood” is wasting its energy. It’s time to prune these away.

How to prune a fig tree in a pot

If you’re worried about how to prune a fig tree in a pot, don’t be. You don’t need to put much work in when the tree is at this stage. Figs grow well in pots because the container serves to restrict the roots in a beneficial way.
As long as you have even, moist, fertile, well-drained soil, you should be good to grow.

Takeaways

  • Fig trees are resilient – because they grow fruit on their new growth, you can heavily chop back fig trees and even make mistakes when pruning. Your tree almost certainly won’t mind.
  • Chop back immediately on transplanting – as soon as you transplant your fig tree from pot to soil, trim it back heavily unless it’s small or sickly.
  • Always prune in winter – the time to prune your tree is when it’s dormant.
  • Choose and maintain your “fruiting wood” – select somewhere between six and eight low, well-spaced branches and prune away essentially everything else that doesn’t grow from them. This will keep your tree focussed on producing tasty figs on those few branches.

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