Updated: Jun 28
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!
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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 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.
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.