top of page

Fig Tree Maintenance: Caring for Fig Trees in the Spring

Updated: Mar 29



As the long, cold winter comes to an end and the first hints of spring begin to appear, it's time to start thinking about prepping your fig trees for the new growing season.

In this article, I’ll provide you with tips and techniques for proper fig tree maintenance, from thinning out new shoots to providing adequate nutrients and water, to pest control, soil preparation, and even propagation. So, grab your gardening gloves, and let's get started!

As always feel free to subscribe to the Fig Boss monthly newsletter for more fig-related content like this.

Uncovering Fig Trees


Uncovering fig trees after winter is a crucial step in the process of growing healthy and fruitful figs for the upcoming growing season. The timing of this process depends on several factors, such as location, weather conditions, and the specific method used for winter protection. As the end of February approaches and the weather starts to warm up, it's important to consider when to uncover your fig trees. It's important to uncover them as soon as the weather permits because a longer time undercover can lead to rot or mold.

To read more about uncovering and unwrapping your fig trees, check out those detailed articles.

Aiding the Wake-Up Process


Helping to wake up your fig tree from dormancy is a great way to get an early start to the growing season. Fig trees naturally are one of the last fruiting plants to wake up in the spring. As a result, it’s not uncommon to have a stubborn fig tree that refuses to wake up!

The key is to provide your fig tree with as much warmth and sunlight as possible to increase the tree’s soil temperature. It’s also a great idea to rehydrate the roots by saturating the soil with water.

To help warm the soil, remove excess layers of mulch in the spring that cool the soil down, consider using black plastic mulch, and definitely choose black containers when growing in pots. You can also at planting time, plant your fig trees higher above grade in a raised mound or berm, and place stone, large rocks, and other thermodynamic materials nearby to raise ambient temperatures. Planting your fig tree near structures can also provide additional thermodynamic heating to help raise soil temperatures.

The additional heat that you can give at this time of the growing season pays off exponentially in gains later in the year. Even if it’s just a few degrees of soil temperatures, that extra warmth has positive effects on production, earlier fruits, and even fruit quality. It’s the cheapest and best fertilizer that you can give your fig tree.


Fig Tree Frost | Protecting Figs from Late Frosts


One of the risks in the springtime is late frosts, which can cause serious damage to the plants. Frost warnings can be stressful for farmers and hobbyists, and it is important to consider the severity and duration of the frost and the growth stage of the fig trees. It is also essential to check the microclimate of the location and the frost line map before deciding whether to protect a fig tree from frost or not.

When the temperature drops below 25-26°F, it can cause trouble for actively growing fig trees. In such cases, it is important to take measures to protect fig trees during a freeze watch, warning, and hard freeze warning. If the forecast is predicting a low of 37°F with a potential for frost, growers may not need to do much to protect their fig trees.

However, to sleep soundly, growers can protect their fig trees by moving or covering them with heavy-duty trash bags, tarps, or nursery pots. These protective measures can prevent damage to fig trees that have already been hit by frost, trees in frost-sensitive areas, and young trees that are not strong enough to recover from frost.

To read more about late frosts, click here!

Fig Tree Fertilizer


Fertilizing fig trees is an important aspect of their overall health and productivity and the best time to fertilize fig trees is in the spring, just before new growth emerges or shortly after.

This is the time when fig trees can benefit the most from added nutrients. Just like warmer soil temperatures, critical nutrients get your fig trees off on the right foot for exponential gains that noticeably show up at the end of your season affecting production, fruit quality, and the timing of your first harvest.

I recommend a 4-8 week fertilizer schedule with a dose of fertilizer given each week to container fig trees. For fig trees planted in the ground, a soil test is highly recommended to determine the specific nutrients required.

Fertilizer for fig trees should contain a good balance of macronutrients and micronutrients, including nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium, magnesium, sulfur, zinc, copper, iron, and many other trace minerals. NPK is critical for plant growth and development, with nitrogen necessary for leaf growth and photosynthesis, phosphorus important for root development and fruit production, and potassium essential for regulating water uptake and overall plant health.

Fig trees planted in containers require more frequent fertilization as they have a limited root system and are less able to access nutrients from the surrounding soil. The soil in a container can become depleted of nutrients more quickly than soil in a garden or field. Therefore, container fig trees need to be fertilized more frequently and at higher rates to ensure that they have access to the nutrients that they need to grow and thrive.

Besides NPK, fig trees also require a variety of micronutrients, such as magnesium, calcium, sulfur, silica, and trace minerals, for their growth and overall health. These micronutrients can be supplied to fig trees through the use of organic fertilizers, compost, or mineral-rich amendments like rock dust or greensand. Magnesium and calcium are found in lime, sulfur is found in gypsum, and silica is an important additive to improve plant structure, enhance resistance to pests and diseases, and improve water and nutrient uptake.

Consider adding all of these micronutrients and trace minerals to each of your fig trees. To read more about fertilizer for fig trees, click here!

Spring Pruning Fig Tree


Proper pruning is essential to ensure healthy fig trees that produce high-quality fruit. Pruning is typically done in late winter or early spring before the new growth emerges. This process involves removing any dead, diseased, or damaged branches to improve air circulation and reduce the risk of pest and disease infestations.

The goal is to maintain a well-balanced tree with an open canopy that allows sunlight to reach all parts of the tree. This ensures that the fruit ripens evenly and reduces the risk of diseases like fig Rust. Additionally, consider thinning out some of the new shoots when the growth begins to direct energy to healthy growth that’s going to get the sunlight it needs to produce a better fruit set.


Q: Is it Too Late to Prune my Fig Tree?


A: The ideal time to prune a fig tree is when the fig tree is dormant, however, pruning after bud break is an acceptable practice. Some growers even prune heavily in the summer. Keeping the apical and lateral buds that are growing strongly after bud break is critical for a good fruit set, so I would refrain from doing excessive pruning right after bud break, but it is sometimes the necessity may outweigh the negatives.

Cutting Fig Trees Back to Remove Fig Mosaic Virus


Cutting a fig tree back or what fig growers call rejuvenation pruning is an effective technique for addressing Fig Mosaic Virus (FMV) in your fig trees. FMV is a common virus that affects fig trees, and while it may not always cause noticeable symptoms, it can weaken the tree over time. Rejuvenation pruning involves removing weak and diseased growth, which can reduce the intensity of the virus and encourage healthy growth.

To rejuvenate a fig tree affected by FMV, begin by removing any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. Next, focus on encouraging new growth from the healthy parts of the tree. Cut back the remaining branches to just above a healthy bud or node, which will promote new healthy growth at those locations. This may seem like a drastic step, but it's essential for promoting healthy growth and reducing the intensity of FMV, and there’s no better time to do it than at the beginning of your growing season.

To read more about rejuvenation pruning, read this detailed article here:

Staking


Staking is a technique that can be used to improve the form and fruit production of fig trees. The process involves using bamboo stakes to train the branches in the desired direction. By staking the scaffolds horizontally, the tree can be opened up, creating more space for the tree to grow and allowing more light to reach the new growth on all points of the fig tree.

This improves the chances of the main crop fruit buds forming as the proper sunlight duration and intensity is the key factor for determining that. Staking is particularly useful for branches that are situated in awkward places or areas where they would shade out other branches, leading to lower fruit yields.

I prefer staking the branches as an alternative to pruning them, especially when the form of the tree needs improvement or there is less light available.


Watering Fig Trees


Watering is a critical aspect of fig tree care, particularly during the initial growth phase at the start of the growing season in the spring. As the trees start actively growing, it is essential to continue with additional and consistent water, food, ample sunlight, and warmth to help them grow quicker, fruit more abundantly and produce figs that ripen earlier. Water is a crucial regulator of growth, and fig trees benefit from a lot of available water in the soil during this period. Growers should ensure that the soil is kept moist at all times.

To read more about watering fig trees, click here:

Weed Control


Weed control is an overlooked step by most hobbyist fig growers. Weeds can

compete with the fig trees for nutrients and water. The best way to control weeds is to remove them by hand, making sure to pull out the entire weed, including the roots.


Applying mulch to the top of the soil can also help to prevent weed seed germination. Mulch can also help to retain moisture in the soil and regulate soil temperature, which is important for the health of the roots. However, it's important to keep the mulch away from the base of the tree to avoid creating a favorable environment for rot.

If you're ever lost at any point of the growing season, check out the Fig Tree Timeline. Also available in poster form, here:

Propagating Fig Trees


Propagation is the process of creating new trees from existing ones. During the spring, it is the perfect time to start propagating fig trees. There are several ways to propagate fig trees, including grafting, air layering, and rooting.

Rooting cuttings from a fig tree is one of the most popular and reliable ways to propagate fig trees. To do this, start by scoring the end of the fig cutting and optionally dip the cut end of the branch in rooting hormone.

Then plant the cutting in a moist and well-draining rooting medium, such as perlite, vermiculite, Pro-Mix HP, rice hulls, bark fines, or your own well-draining mix. You can also plant them right into the ground!

Keep the cuttings in a warm location with plenty of bright indirect light outdoors. Aim for an average temperature of 78F. Once the roots are strongly developed, transplant the cutting into a larger pot or in the ground, and keep the new fig tree in a warm, sunny location and water it regularly.


Another method of fig tree propagation is called layering, which involves rooting a fig tree branch while it is still attached to the parent tree. This is a great way to propagate a tree that you don’t want to take cuttings from and for establishing a larger tree in a shorter period of time.

Layering should be performed at the beginning of your growing season because the process takes about 1-3 months and layering early in the growing season can result in a surprisingly well-established tree by the end of the growing season.

You can also layer the new growth or the fruiting branches of your current growing season in the summer. Around the Summer solstice, there's a higher likelihood of root formation when air layering, so try to layer your fig trees either early in the growing season before the summer solstice or around it.


Grafting is another popular propagation technique that involves attaching a scion of a mature fig tree variety that you enjoy eating and growing onto a young rootstock that's not suitable to your preferences. Grafting provides a major advantage as you’re able to establish a fig variety of your choosing quickly because of the large and already established root system of the rootstock.

It is critical to choose a healthy scion and a healthy rootstock when grafting that is not riddled with Fig Mosiac Virus (FMV) as it may be difficult for your fig tree to overcome a severe case of FMV for the remainder of its life as a grafted tree. Grafting should be performed when your fig tree is awake and not dormant during the growing season.

This can take several weeks, and you should monitor the grafts closely during this time to make sure they are developing properly. Once the grafts have healed and strong growth has followed, you can remove the unwanted growth from the rootstock to help establish the dominance of the new growth from the scion. Don’t skip the step of staking the graft unions or supporting them when possible to avoid breakage from critters, fruit set, and heavy winds.

Dividing Fig Trees


Dividing fig trees is another propagation technique that involves separating an established tree into multiple smaller trees. This method is best suited for fig trees that have been growing for several years and have become too large, overgrown or have been stool layered.

To divide a fig tree, start by digging up the tree and carefully separating the root system into multiple sections. Each section should have its own established roots to support new growth. Replant each section in its own container or in the ground, and water the new plants regularly until they are established.


Transplanting Fig Trees


Transplanting fig trees can be a delicate process, and it is important to take care when moving an established fig tree from one location to another. The best time to transplant a fig tree is in the early spring before new growth appears or in the fall after the tree has gone dormant.

To transplant a fig tree, start by digging up the tree and its root system, making sure to keep the root ball intact. Replant the tree in its new location, making sure that the soil is well-draining and that the tree is planted at the same depth as it was in its previous location. Water the tree well, tamp the soil to remove air pockets, and help with settling. Continue to water it regularly until it is established in its new location.


Planting Fig Trees


Spring planting fig trees allows the tree to establish its root system before the hot summer months, which can be an advantage. However, fall planting gives the tree time to acclimate to its new environment before the winter, reducing the stress on the tree. Ultimately, choosing the right location and taking the time to properly plant your fig tree will pay off in the long run with a healthy, thriving tree and a bountiful harvest.

When it comes to planting a fig tree in your garden, there are some key tips to keep in mind to ensure your tree thrives. The first and perhaps most important factor to consider is the location. Figs need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day to produce an ample harvest, so it's essential to choose a spot with plenty of sun exposure. The more sunlight the tree gets, the better the yield will be.

In addition to sunlight, warmth is also crucial for fig trees. Planting your tree near structures or planting it on a raised mound or berm can help warm the soil and create an ideal environment for the tree to thrive. You can also place rocks or boulders around the base of the tree to help retain heat. These thermal mass items will be especially useful in the winter, but they also provide heat during the growing season, which can jump-start the tree in the spring.

Well-draining soil is also important for fig trees, as they are adapted to periods of drought. Figs tend to produce better flavor in drier climates, so it's best to avoid waterlogged soil. Choosing a spot with well-draining soil can also help prevent root rot, which is a common fungal issue fig trees face.

It's also important to consider the size and spacing of your fig tree when planting. Although fig trees can grow quite large, they can be kept smaller with proper pruning and training. Use the intended size of your tree to determine how far apart to space them when planting.

To read more about planting, check out this detailed article:

Treating Scale on a Fig Tree


Pest control is a crucial aspect of maintaining healthy fig trees. Scale insects are common pests that can infest fig trees. These pests attach themselves to the tree and feed on its sap, which can cause damage and stress to the tree. The spring is the perfect time to identify and remove an infestation.

The first step to treating scale on fig trees is to identify the problem. You can spot scale insects by looking for small, oval, or circular bumps on the stems, leaves, and fruit of the tree. These bumps can be brown, yellow, or white in color, and may have a waxy or cottony coating.

To control the scale on your fig tree, you can start by using a soft-bristled brush or sponge to physically remove the insects from the tree. You can also use horticultural oil or insecticidal soap to control the infestation. Be sure to follow the instructions on the product label.

Another effective method for controlling scale on fig trees is to introduce natural predators, such as ladybugs or lacewings, to your garden. These insects feed on scale insects and can help to control the population naturally.


How to Prune Fig Tree Roots


Root pruning is an essential practice for container fig trees, as their roots tend to become congested and spiral around the edges of the container. This can eventually cause problems such as nutrient deficiencies and stunted growth.

The best time to root prune your container fig tree is in the late winter or early spring, just before the growing season starts. This allows your tree to recover quickly and efficiently, and it also helps prevent stress during the peak growth period.

To root prune your container fig tree, start by carefully removing it from its container. Gently loosen the root ball and inspect the roots to determine which ones need to be pruned. Using a sharp pair of pruning shears or scissors, trim away any roots that are brown, mushy, or damaged. Using a saw, remove a third of the rootball. It's important to avoid cutting too many roots at once, as this can shock the tree and slow down its growth.

Next, use a root rake or comb to carefully tease out and trim the long, circling roots around the edges of the root ball. By cutting these roots back, you encourage the growth of new lateral roots that will help your tree absorb water and nutrients more effectively.

Once you've finished root pruning your container fig tree, it's important to replace the old soil with a fresh, nutrient-rich potting mix. This will give your tree the best possible start for the new growing season. Additionally, make sure to water your tree regularly and provide it with plenty of sunlight and appropriate fertilization to encourage healthy growth.


You’re Now Ready for the Start of the Growing Season


Prepping fig trees for spring involves a variety of steps that are essential for ensuring healthy and productive trees. From uncovering the trees after winter to aiding the wake-up process, protecting figs from frost, fertilization, pruning, addressing FMV, staking, watering, weed control, propagation, dividing, transplanting, planting, pest control, and root pruning, there are many techniques and tips that can help fig trees thrive. By following these steps, fig growers can enjoy a bountiful harvest and healthy trees year after year.

3,399 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment


Valya
Valya
Mar 06, 2023

Amazing content! Thank you Ross.

Like
ross raddi_edited.jpg
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.
LET THESE HELPFUL FIG POSTERS BE YOUR GUIDE
bottom of page