top of page

Complete Guide to Pruning Fig Trees in Containers | For Production, Earlier & High-Quality Fruits

Updated: Jan 18

Below is my recent video on the topic of pruning container fig trees. It'll give you an up close and personal view. Check it out:

Key Takeaways

1. Introduction:

Get ready to take your container fig tree pruning game to the next level! This comprehensive guide will demystify the process of pruning fig trees and provide you with insider tips to achieve a healthy and productive tree.

With a focus on form and rejuvenation pruning, you'll learn how to maximize your fig tree's photosynthesis and production. Don't miss out on the chance to transform your fig tree's growth and shape.

Subscribe to the Fig Boss newsletter for more fig-related content and start pruning with confidence.

2. Establishing Goals when Pruning Container Fig Trees:

As mentioned in the comprehensive fig tree pruning blog post found here: - I said that we need to first establish our goals before we make any pruning cuts. I would highly recommend reading that post before continuing with this one.

When growing fig trees in containers, the goals of pruning solely revolve around improving health & form.

If we have a healthy tree with the right form, goals that you may have like size control & production will come naturally.

Size control of container fig trees

The size of the container controls the size of your fig tree. Of course, the variety also plays a huge role, but when growing fig trees in containers, there are limited resources available. Your tree can only get so big as there's limited soil for it to grow in.

In a short period of time, the fig tree fills its container with roots, and correspondingly the top of the tree won't get much larger in size from that point. In fact, once the form is set up, there's not a whole lot of pruning left to do. The tree reaches a hormonal balance, growth slows and the tree becomes manageable at a reasonable size while also being productive.

Maximizing production of container fig trees

Pruning fig trees to have the correct form is the best way to maximize production. Because with the right form, our trees can reach the most sunlight possible leading to higher levels of photosynthesis.

Once the form is achieved through minor pruning (winter and summer pruning) with the combination of staking branches, we will see the desired production. The last missing piece of the puzzle is hormonal balance, which can be achieved by preserving at least the lateral buds on our branches every season. When and how much we prune directly influences the tree's hormones.

For more information on the importance of these buds, see this blog post:

3. What you'll need - Tools for Pruning Fig Trees:

Having the right tools when pruning fig trees is crucial for achieving the desired results. Pruning tools such as sharp, clean pruning shears, loppers, and saws are essential for making precise cuts that won't damage the tree or leave ragged edges.

Using tools that are not appropriately sized for the job can make pruning more difficult and time-consuming, and can also lead to injury. The tools below are perfectly sized for any job.

Investing in quality pruning tools can save time, money, and effort in the long run. These products are the best in the industry of pruning tools. These all have high-quality steel and offer replaceable parts. I would highly recommend them & they make fantastic gifts for any avid fig tree grower.

4. Pruning fig trees to improve their health:

If you were to propagate 10 cuttings from any Mother tree. A decent percentage of those new trees would be bizarrely different than the Mother tree for their entire lives. Why is that?

A lot of the reasoning I believe has to do with the individual buds. Each bud on a fig tree represents quite a difference from the other. They have different carbohydrate levels, hormone levels, and severity of fig mosaic virus (FMV) & even have a chance to spontaneously mutate, which is referred to as a chimera mutation.

This is why I feel like it's important to use rejuvenation pruning. By rejuvenation pruning, we are pruning out unwanted unhealthy growth. Specifically the unwanted buds. These buds may be making our tree behave in an inferior way. And by that logic, couldn't the opposite also be true too?

Rejuvenation pruning is the process of cutting away heavily infected growth to promote new, healthy growth in its place. Hard pruning a fig tree alters the tree's hormones, resulting in strong and healthy growth from new, lower buds.

You can read more about Rejuvenation pruning here:

While many experienced fig growers will attest that fig mosaic virus is a minor issue, I've come to realize that our trees can still underperform 3-5 years down the road and never truly shake it off and they'll be hindered by the virus their whole lives. Rejuvenation pruning however solves that.

5. Pruning fig trees for the proper form:

I recently examined the form of container fig trees once again to explain two different ways of formation. One uses summer pruning in the first year. The other does not prune until the winter after the first growing season.

I would highly recommend watching this video for an up close and personal view of fig tree formation:

Let us imagine that our fig tree is grown from cutting. In that first year, we can choose anywhere from 1-3 healthy shoots from the base. More than 3 is too much for a container fig tree. I would prune out the rest. Unfortunately, sometimes our fig trees don't even produce one healthy shoot early in their life. This is where rejuvenation pruning comes in.

Once our shoot(s) are selected, they grow out during the first season and hopefully reach a strong level of vigor by early-mid summer. This high level of vigor can be indicated by the formation of larger leaves and fast growth. At this point, I would recommend doing some pinching (aka summer pruning). This will allow your tree to branch out and even potentially form fruits. At this point, we're forming most if not all of the permanent scaffolds in the first season.

If you're choosing to grow a bush (with 2-3 shoots from the base) this level of vigor can be difficult to reach in the first season.

In either form, we want 3-6 scaffolds in total (depending on the container size). They should be well-spaced. Each with a stake to allow them to grow outwards on a somewhat horizontal angle away from each other. See the photo below:
The following year (in year 2) fruiting branches will form and more fruiting branches will form on those fruiting branches the following year (in year 3). At the beginning of year 4, your tree will have slowed down considerably. The tree has pretty much reached its maximum height.

If at this point your tree is too tall, keep in mind that if you form the scaffolds sooner and have a shorter trunk, the scaffolds will form at a lower height and you will have a shorter tree. A similar result can also be achieved in a smaller container.

6. A Fig Tree Pruning Case Study:

Recently I was asked about pruning fig trees and I thought that this particular case would make for a great learning experience. With Michael's permission, here's what he wrote:

Hiya Ross. I’m Michael- an arborist in se pa. I have just this year boarded the fig train headed to addiction town, and have acquired a i258 recently. It’s pruned, well…like a houseplant tree🤷🏻‍♂️. I have transplanted it into a large cast iron cauldron, which will be its permanent home. All figs in garage for winter.
Since I have 20 years experience as an arborist, I’d assume I can more or less take my orchard fruit pruning skills and apply it to fig pruning for production. I don’t want to mess this 258 up, as it was the top fig variety I was after with my current knowledge. In late winter/earlyspring, I’d like to cut it in half, canopy gone, and start training it to have Lower scaffolding branches.
Please let me know if I’m off my rocker here..I’m new to this, and I’m sure you get asked advise often. Really enjoy your YouTube…and admittedly when doing my research, I used your experience to make selections. Appreciate you 🙌🏻 -M

Assessing his situation and needs:

What were his intentions for pruning? Was he just not a fan of the form? Did he think the tree was unhealthy? The objective of pruning should always be the first thought.

I agree with him that the tree does look a bit sad, so I can understand from his perspective why he would want to prune it. It's clear by the thin branching that his tree wasn't getting enough food and or light. This however can be fixed next season very easily and should not be a reason for pruning.

If his tree was sickly then I would recommend going through with what he wanted to do, which is basically a form of rejuvenation pruning, but from my perspective, there is no visible fig mosaic virus or signs of a sickly tree. In fact, the tree has a nice form. Why ruin that?

My advice:

Avoid pruning by staking. This will preserve the apical and lateral buds for increased production, an earlier harvest, and higher fruit quality. With a little staking, we can maximize photosynthesis a bit more and set the tree up for success in the years to come.

7. Conclusion:

This article covers the essentials of container pruning for fig trees. From setting goals to maximizing production and size control to using the right tools and techniques, this guide is a comprehensive resource for fig tree growers.

By mastering the art of container pruning, fig tree growers can transform their fig tree's growth and shape, while improving health and form. From establishing goals to the importance of hormonal balance and rejuvenation pruning to the proper form of fig trees, this guide provides all the information needed for a successful container pruning experience. With the tips and tricks provided, fig tree growers can achieve their desired results and grow thriving, healthy fig trees.

Again I would highly recommend reading the comprehensive pruning blog post that I wrote here:
4,905 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Hello Ross! I live in Tallahassee FL, zone 8b, with allot of rain and humidity in the summers. I have several fig trees in the ground but now want to experiment with container fig trees. I recently purchased a ‘Fignomenal’ fig tree that’s in a 7 gallon nursery pot. This is a new variety that’s supposed to grow 28 inches high and develop a crown 28 inches wide. The tree I got was over 30 inches tall and had the first scaffold starting at about 16 inches from the soil line. I want to grow this as a bush form. I’m mostly interested in width than height. I’d like to have the scaffolding start a few inches above t…

ross raddi_edited.jpg
I'm Ross, the "Fig Boss." A YouTuber educating the world on the wonderful passion of growing fig trees. Apply my experiences to your own fig journey to grow the best tasting food possible.
bottom of page