How To Prune A Fig Tree (Quickly & Easily By Season!)

Jessica Stone
by Jessica Stone

By keeping your fig trees properly pruned, you will allow them to produce sweeter, more flavorful figs. Pruning enables the hormones and sugars to make their way all the way up the branches and into the fruits. While the process isn’t entirely complicated, many home gardeners are at a loss as to how to prune a fig tree.

Basic “maintenance pruning” of fig trees involves pruning off damaged, diseased, or dead limbs as they appear. This process is similar to the way you would prune most other plants. However, beyond the basics, there are specific pruning instructions for after the fig tree has been transplanted and once it’s established.

During the fig tree’s first year or two, it must be pruned considerably to help train its growth pattern for the years that follow. Whereas, after this time, the tree can survive on either very minimal pruning or more extensive pruning. So long as you keep up with basic maintenance procedures, your fig tree will rebound year after year.

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General Overview of Fig Trees

The Common Fig (Ficus carica) is considered to be a deciduous tree or shrub of the Maraceae family. Known for its edible fruits, the fig tree is also a relative of the mulberry tree. They are believed to originate from Western Asia and can also be found in areas of southeastern Europe. However, it is considered an invasive plant in some parts of North America.

In addition to producing their namesake fruits, fig trees are characterized by their palmate leaves and numerous spreading branches. The leaves are thick, deeply lobed, and possess a hairy lower surface and a rough upper surface. Their many attractive features make them ideal as ornamentals in patio landscaping, especially if you’re trying to achieve a tropical aesthetic.

While the fig itself is most commonly referred to as a fruit, it technically isn’t. The fig “fruit” is actually a syconium, or a hollow, fleshy receptacle that contains small flowers on the inner walls. It is pear-shaped and, although most often seen in a dark purple color, can be bronze or even yellow-green.

Although the flowers that sprout in springtime are nothing special, they are the first stage of the production of figs. Fig trees can range in height from 10 to 30 feet tall and roughly 10 to 20 feet wide. Depending on conditions, fig trees can live for 50 to 75 years.

How to Prune a Fig Tree

As far as pruning is concerned, fig trees are relatively easy to take care of. After it has been transplanted, it must undergo a very significant pruning to help set the fig tree up for success. In the years that follow, the process becomes slightly less involved.

To help simplify things, we’ve broken down ‘how to prune in fig tree’ into two distinct sections: pruning during the early stages and pruning in the following years.

Pruning in The Early Stages

While some sources claim that you should prune fig trees immediately after transplanting, others recommend waiting until the first winter, or dormant season. Pruning right after it has been planted helps get the tree off to an early start and trains it to focus its’ growth in a more concentrated manner. By the end of the growing season, the fig tree will likely be better established and stronger.

On the other hand, you do risk shocking the tree if you trim too much off of it immediately. While most fig trees are pretty resilient, if you obtained a weak sapling, the tree could wither and stop growing. As a rule of thumb, if you trust where your fig tree came from, you can prune it immediately. If not, you may want to consider waiting until the first dormant season.

During the first pruning, it will be a pretty extensive trimming. You must clear away a major portion of wood, trimming the fig tree back by about half. This is what is known as “training pruning.” By pruning a significant portion of the tree, you are forcing it to form a very strong root system. It can also encourage the tree to grow in a horizontal direction, developing in a bushier tree.

The following dormant season after transplantation, you’ll be pruning for fruiting wood. You’re continuing the training process, but now you have much more to work with. Choose roughly four to six of the strongest branches that are spaced evenly around the trunk, allowing room to grow. These branches will be the backbones for fruit production. You’ll want to trim away all the rest. By doing this, you are promoting healthier fruit and restricting the tree’s height.

Pruning in The Following Years

In your fig tree’s third winter, or third dormant season, most of the pruning will take place at the end of the season since the tree is no longer actively growing. Pruning during winter reduces the risk of damaging or shocking the tree while it’s still young. However, you should wait until the coldest part of the season is over.

When you’re ready to start pruning your fig tree during the third dormant season (and those that follow), prune the following:

  • Suckers growing at the base of the tree. Suckers are branches that start to grow from either the base or the roots of the tree. They may look similar to the tree but are easily identifiable by the fact that they don’t stem from the trunk or main branch. If suckers are not removed, they will drain energy from the main portion of the tree and cause it to produce a smaller yield.
  • Secondary lateral branches. If you find secondary lateral branches growing close to the ground, they must be removed. These plants cannot support foliage or fruit, so they’ll only be draining the tree’s resources.
  • Dead and diseased wood. If any part of your fig tree displays signs of disease, you’ll need to remove the affected branches to prevent the disease from spreading. Equally, you should cut off any wood that is dead or dying, as it can summon disease as it decays.
  • Branches that do not stem from the fruiting wood. Any new growth that does not come from the fruiting wood you established in the last growing season must be cut away. You want to direct your fig tree’s energy to the fruit it is producing on the branches.
  • Trim down secondary branches. Secondary branches are those that emerge from the main branches of the fruiting wood. You don’t want to remove all of these branches. Instead, trim them so that they grow at less than a 45-degree angle from the main branches. These secondary branches grow much slower and may eventually start growing too close to the main truck – a concerning position.
  • Secondary branches that are crossing. Any secondary branches that have started intertwining are crossing should be removed.
  • Cut back the main fruiting branches. By cutting the main branches to roughly one-third to one-quarter of their current height, you keep the tree small and its’ resources concentrated. As a result, the fruit your tree produces will be larger, sweeter, and stronger.

While you never want to over-prune a tree, fig trees are notoriously resilient and can still bounce back healthier even if a large amount of the tree is removed. If you’re pruning a large fig tree that hasn’t been maintained in a while, you can cut back the main branches by a full two-thirds.

Pruning in Summer

Although the majority of the pruning will take place in the winter, there are some fig tree maintenance tasks you should do in the summer. For example, you want to pinch out any new growth that forms on your fig tree in the summer. Allow roughly five to six leaves to grow on new branches during peak summer and after they establish themselves, pinch away any additional leaves that emerge.

If you have a fig tree that does not produce edible fruit, this pruning isn’t entirely necessary. The main purpose of pinching out new growth is to focus the minimal necessary energy to the tree’s leaves. Removing excess leaves stops the tree from giving energy to the leaves and with less energy focused on the leaves, more can be dedicated to fruit production.

Pruning in Autumn

In the autumn months, take a good look at your fig tree. If you notice any large figs that have failed to start ripening, these should be removed. These fruits are potentially harmful to the growth of your fig tree. Since most fig trees produce fruit in either early or late summer, fruit that isn’t mature by autumn likely won’t ever mature.

Like most reasons for pruning, removing fig fruit that isn’t ripening redirects the tree’s resources to other, more important areas. Removing fruit that is stealing vital energy also helps to strengthen the tree come wintertime.

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Final Thoughts

The main reason for pruning your fig tree is to help direct its’ energy to the proper parts of the plant. Pruning it in the proper manner can help significantly improve your fig tree. With a better understanding of how to prune a fig tree, you’ll be able to help your crop produce stronger, healthier, and tastier figs.

Jessica Stone
Jessica Stone

Jessica considers herself a home improvement and design enthusiast. She grew up surrounded by constant home improvement projects and owes most of what she knows to helping her dad renovate her childhood home. Being a Los Angeles resident, Jessica spends a lot of her time looking for her next DIY project and sharing her love for home design.

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