This easy guide shows how to grow and prune a fig tree to get the most out of this hardy fruit tree. Ripe figs picked straight from your own tree are wonderful on their own or drizzled with a little honey. Fig trees are versatile and can be grown in any sized yard.
The fig tree is native to western Asia and the Middle East. It is suited to Mediterranean climates however some varieties can be successfully grown in other areas.
Common fig trees such as Brown Turkey and Black Genoa do not need another tree for pollination to produce fruit making them perfect for the home garden. Most fig trees will produce two crops a year in the early summer and then again in the fall.
Figs are a deciduous tree that can grow 23 to 33ft (7 to10 metres) in height which will need to be taken into account when choosing a location. However, they can be trained along a fence or pruned to a smaller size. They will even grow in pots.
They prefer a sunny location with deep, free draining soil. Figs can grow on nutrient deficient soil and will tolerate periods of drought. They have an extensive root system that will find their way down to subsoil moisture but these roots can also be invasive in urban areas.
Fig trees will also grow well in areas with standing or running water such as near rivers or creeks. Finding the right position on your property may be a little trial and error. Don’t be afraid to dig up your tree when it is dormant in the winter and move it to another spot if you find it isn’t growing well.
If you live in a cold climate the best fig is this Chicago Fig tree for sub freezing temperatures. You can find it on Amazon. (Paid link)
Planting a Fig Tree
Fig trees are usually planted in the winter when they are dormant. They will arrive bare rooted in a bag. Sometimes you can find young fig trees in pots during the warmer months.
First dig a hole twice the size of the root ball in width and depth. It is a good idea to improve the soil with compost or aged manure prior to planting especially if your soils are poor.
Take the bag off of the root ball then place the roots in a bucket or wheelbarrow of water for a few minutes to reduce transplant shock.
Place the tree in the prepared hole then backfill the soil, firm down, mulch then water in well. Keep moist for the first two weeks to help the tree settle in. Protect from frosts during the first and second year. Fig trees will be frost hardy after that.
If planting during the summer make sure the soil is kept moist especially during hot days during the first year.
Apply a layer of compost around the base of the tree in early spring or apply a slow release fertiliser. It is also a good idea to apply liquid fertiliser every two weeks when the tree is producing fruit. You will start seeing your first good crops of figs two years after planting.
It is best to let figs ripen on the tree as they won’t continue to ripen after they are picked. You may need to cover the tree with bird netting (paid link) if birds become a problem. The fruit will be ready when the skin turns colour and has some give when pressed. See this guide to covering fruit trees with bird netting.
Be aware that the sap from the tree can be irritating to the skin. If effected it would be wise to wear gloves while picking.
Figs can be stored in the fridge for a few days but are best eaten as soon as they are picked. Try one on your cereal in the morning with a drizzle of honey or make a fig tart. An abundance of figs can be made into fig jam or jelly then given to your family as a unique gift.
Figs are easily dried in the oven which is a great way to preserve any excess you can’t use. See this guide to Drying Figs for more information.
Pruning a Fig Tree
Pruning should be done in the late winter when the tree is dormant. It is not necessary to prune a fig tree in the first two years of growth unless you have suckers growing up from the base. Cut them off as close to the base as possible with pruners.
Time needed: 20 minutes.
How to Prune a Fig Tree
- Assess Your Tree
Stand back and pick out the dead branches, low branches, suckers growing at the base, any cross branches that can be removed and if you need to cut back the length of the branches.
- Removing Dead Branches
Use a pruning or hand saw to cut out any dead branches as close to the trunk as possible.
- Low Branches
Next look for any branch close to the ground that may prevent mowing around the tree. Saw first underneath the branch close to the trunk to prevent the wood from splitting then saw down from the top at an angle so the water will run off the cut.
- Increase Airflow Through the Middle
Cut off any branches which are growing through the middle of the tree. This will allow more airflow through the tree.
- Remove Suckers
Cut off any suckers growing out from the base of the fig tree with pruners.
- Pruning Back Large Fig Trees
If your tree is large you can cut the length of the branches back by one third to a half to promote new growth on old trees. Cut an inch above a node at an angle.
- Assess and Finish
Stand back and assess your tree. If it looks uneven you can cut out any branches to achieve a more pleasing shape. Keep in mind your fist crop of figs will be on the existing wood so the more you prune the less figs you will have in the summer.
Younger trees like the one below will not need a hard prune.
If you are looking for a purpose made pruning saw try this top rated one from Amazon. (Paid link)
Fig Pests and Diseases
Aphids can affect figs which then attracts ants. The ants can get into the ripe fruit. Fruit fly can also be a problem in some areas. Mealy bugs and scale have also been known to affect fig trees so it is best to keep an eye on the tree during the growing season.
The three most common diseases are; Leaf blight which causes yellow spots on the leaves that dry out, fig rust which causes the leaves to turn yellow then drop and the fig mosaic virus which can cause yellow spots on the leaves and the fruit to drop prematurely.
The fig mosaic virus is the worse of the three. The only option for affected trees is to destroy the tree to prevent the spread of the virus.
Fig trees are one of the easiest fruit trees to grow and are a great addition to any garden. If you have read through this guide on how to grow and prune a fig tree and wondered how you could fit one in your small yard, consider growing a tree in a large pot in a sunny area.
Let the pot dry out between watering then fertilise with a liquid fertiliser every two weeks during the growing season for the best results. Containing the roots in this way can promote more fruit.
Try this fiddle leaf fig tree from Amazon. It’s a great tree for pots. (Paid link)
Would you like to save more money around the home? Try this Homesteading guide.
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