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Pinching Fig Trees | 4 Important Applications & A Rundown of its History

Updated: Dec 7, 2023



There are 4 lesser known, but powerful applications of pinching fig trees. Did you know that pinching is just another name for summer pruning, nipping, or topping? In this article, we'll explore how this technique can be used to:

  • Train young fig trees: Encourage branching, accelerate growth, and achieve a mature form a whole growing season sooner.

  • Induce fruiting in stubborn fig trees: Restore hormonal balance and promote fruit bud formation.

  • Increase main crop production: Optimize ripening times and maximize yield.

  • Boost breba fig production: Maximize breba size and quality, especially beneficial in mild climates.


So what is pinching exactly?



Pinching is performed by simply removing the apical buds or growth tips during the growing season. It's called pinching because the new growth tips are soft and can be easily removed with just our fingers. But be careful! When pruning fig trees during the growing season, they will leak a white sap that can burn your skin! Don’t forget to use gardening gloves.

The History of Pinching Fig Trees


The knowledge of pinching has been passed down from fig grower to fig grower. When did it start?

I’m not sure, but the old knowledge stated by a northern fig grower named Vasile many years ago on the now-defunct Fig4Fun forum was that pinching when performed after the formation of the 5 or 6th leaf will encourage the fruits to form. And not only that but it was said to speed the ripening of those fruits by a whole 2 weeks!

Since then many growers have summer pruned or “pinched” their fig trees and it's created quite a controversy among hobbyist growers. Some growers argue that when the 5th or 6th leaf is formed, the main crop figs are forming anyway and therefore there is no benefit in terms of ripening speed.

Regardless of whether the claim of increased ripening speed is accurate, the controversy has overshadowed some really important applications of pinching or summer pruning fig trees.

Pinching Applications and Benefits


1. Training Young Fig Trees:



Objective:


Achieve a mature shape and form quickly for early fruit production.
Technique: Pinch the apical bud (main growth tip) to encourage branching.

Benefits:


  • Faster development of mature form, potentially saving a year.

  • Increased branching leads to earlier fruit production.

  • Transformation of young trees within a single season.

  • Significant fruit production in just 2-3 years.


Detailed Procedure:

Year 1: Encourage vigor and pinching.


  • Let selected shoots grow until early-mid summer.

  • Start pinching to promote branching and potential fruit development.

  • Aim to form permanent scaffolds during this season.


Year 2 and 3: Fruiting branch formation & stabilization.


  • Fruiting branches emerge on the scaffolds.

  • By the third year, more branches develop.

  • Tree growth slows down.

  • Consider limiting tree height with shorter trunks or smaller containers.



Additional Tips:


  • Pinch only when leaves are larger than your hand, indicating sufficient light and potential for scaffold formation.

  • Assess tree health and growth before pinching.

  • Aim for 3-5 well-spaced scaffolds.

  • Ensure good tree health before proceeding.


For more on training fig trees to save an entire growing season, check out this detailed article.


2. Pinching Stubborn Fig Trees:



Objective:


Restore hormonal balance and induce fruiting.

Technique:


Pinch apical buds on fast-growing young trees or suckers.

Benefits:


  • Promotes flowering in trees neglecting fruit production due to hormonal imbalance.

  • Helps fruit buds swell and develop.


How it works:


Removing the apical bud disrupts the hormonal balance, and temporarily directs more energy toward fruit production instead of vegetative growth. This can stimulate the formation of fruit buds and encourage flowering in trees that were previously neglecting fruit production.

3. River's Pruning for Increased Main Crop Production:



Objective:


Ensure fig ripening during the warmest and driest periods for optimal quality.

Technique:


Pinch off one-third of immature terminal buds on fruiting shoots.

Benefits:


  • Extended fig harvesting season.

  • Increased yield potential.

  • Strategic timing to avoid unfavorable weather.


How it works:


By removing a portion of the terminal buds, River's pruning redirects energy toward the remaining buds, causing them to develop and ripen earlier. This strategic timing ensures the main fig crop matures during the warmest and driest period, resulting in higher quality fruits.

To read more about River's Pruning, check out this article.

4. Argenteuil Pruning for Increased Breba Crop:



Objective:


Maximize the size and earliness of the breba crop, especially in cooler climates.

Technique:


Remove all wooden terminal buds at the beginning of the growing season.
After a few days, eliminate all wooden auxiliary buds except two at the base.

Benefits:


  • Larger breba figs.

  • Improved breba quality.

  • Ideal for regions with unfavorable main crop climates.


How it works:


Removing the terminal buds promotes the growth of the remaining two auxiliary buds, leading to larger breba figs. This concentrated energy flow also accelerates their development, resulting in earlier breba harvests. This technique is particularly beneficial in regions where the main crop struggles due to unfavorable climate conditions.

Conclusion


Pinching fig trees, when applied correctly, can offer a range of benefits, from training young trees to maximizing fruit production. Understanding the history, different applications, and proper techniques is crucial for harnessing the full potential of this valuable practice.
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2 Comments


here is my full note , I see it did not all post all the way


Hello Ross, thanks so much for your help with this fig tree!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I started it from a cutting from a productive fig tree and have not received one fig in 10 years! (THANK YOU FOR ASKING ME TO SEND A PHOTO AND THANKS FOR YOUR HELP!) I dont know the name of this fig.

I live in Zone 6a and today is the 6th of June, 2024. As you can see it is vigorously growing as it always does this time of year !!!

I tried 1)the pinching process one year as you have shown and no figs, 2)I have put a light with…

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Hello Ross, thanks so much for your help with this fig tree!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I started it from a cutting from a productive fig tree and have not received one fig in 10 years! (THANK YOU FOR ASKING ME TO SEND A PHOTO AND THANKS FOR YOUR HELP!) I dont know the name of this fig.

I live in Zone 6a and today is the 6th of June, 2024. As you can see it is vigorously growing as it always does this time of year !!!

I tried 1)the pinching process one year as you have shown and no figs, 2)I have put a light with a cover over it in plastic for one winter so the new growth would start from…



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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.
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