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Branching Out: The Many Ways of Propagating Fig Trees | Layering, Rooting, Grafting, Seeds & More!

Updated: Jan 18



Do you love the sweet, juicy taste of fresh figs and want to share your passion for these delicious fruits with others? Propagating fig trees can be a rewarding and fulfilling way to create new trees and expand your fig collection.

Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a newbie looking to get your hands dirty, there are many methods for propagating fig trees, from taking cuttings and rooting them to air layering and grafting.

In this article, we'll explore the ins and outs of propagating fig trees, and offer tips and tricks for increasing your success rate. So grab your pruning shears and get ready to discover the many wonders of fig tree propagation!

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Taking a Cutting from a Fig Tree for Propagation


Taking a cutting from a fig tree is the first step when trying to propagate a new tree.

Here are some tips to help you take cuttings from your fig tree:

  • The best time to take fig cuttings is in winter when the tree is dormant. This allows you to take hardwood cuttings, which are more likely to root successfully and don’t require a misting setup like softwood cuttings would.

  • Look for healthy branches that are at least 6 inches long, and cut them off with a clean, sharp pair of pruning shears.

  • I recommend storing them in 2 layers of plastic that are both 90% of the way closed in your crisper drawer until you’re ready to root it outside or until your indoor rooting environment is set up.



Rooting Fig Cuttings


Rooting cuttings from a fig tree is one of the most popular and reliable ways to propagate fig trees.

Here are some quick tips for rooting fig cuttings:

  1. Score the end of the fig cutting and optionally dip the cut end of the branch in rooting hormone. I use and prefer a product called Clone-X Rooting Gel.

  2. 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.

  3. Keep the cutting in a warm, bright location either under strong full-spectrum grow lights indoors or in bright indirect light outdoors. Aim for an average temperature of 78F.

  4. Once the roots are strongly developed, transplant the cutting into a larger pot or in the ground.

  5. Keep the new fig tree in a warm, sunny location and water it regularly.



Rooting Hormone for Figs


Using rooting hormone can increase the chances of success when rooting fig cuttings. Especially for stubborn and thicker-in-diameter fig cuttings. I prefer using rooting hormone because in my trials I’ve noted that it does speed up the rooting process by about a week leading to strong root formation before top growth gets ahead of itself.

A balance between the top of the cutting (leaves) and the bottom (roots) like any tree or plant is critical and sometimes fig cuttings grow too much on top before they form adequate roots.

Rooting Fig Cuttings in the Ground


Yes, rooting fig cuttings is often overcomplicated. You can just stick your fig cuttings straight into the ground. What I call the “old Italian man way of propagating fig cuttings.” This is what my late Grandfather did when I first got into growing fig trees. He went around my yard as a teenager and just stuck them right into the ground.

You can’t get any more simple than that and truthfully the results are clear.

  1. Simply cut a long shoot from an established fig tree with pruning shears that are 1-3 ft in length.

  2. Score the bottom of the cutting, dip the end in rooting hormone, and bury the cutting as deep as you can, but allow at least a few nodes above the soil line.

  3. Choose an area that’s going to be this tree’s permanent home. One that’s sunny, warm, and has well-draining soil.

  4. During the rooting process, consider using shade cloth and Parafilm wax to keep the fig cutting from drying out.


You can also create a well-draining raised bed to directly plant your fig cuttings into. Filled with light and fluffy soil, fig trees will root easily and you’ll be able to dig them up in the summer or fall to transplant them elsewhere.


Rooting Green Fig Cuttings


In addition to rooting hardwood fig cuttings, it's also possible to root green fig cuttings, which are taken from softwood and new growth. Rooting green fig cuttings can be a bit more challenging than rooting hardwood cuttings, as the softwood growth is more delicate and can be prone to rotting.

However, with proper care and attention, it's possible to successfully root green fig cuttings and propagate new fig trees.

Here's how to root green fig cuttings:

  1. Look for healthy, green shoots on the fig tree that are at least 6 inches long.

  2. Cut the green shoot at a 45-degree angle with a clean, sharp pair of pruning shears.

  3. Remove all but one or two leaves from the bottom of the cutting.

  4. Dip the cut end of the cutting in rooting hormone to increase the chances of success.

  5. Plant the cutting in a moist and well-draining rooting medium, such as perlite or vermiculite.

  6. Keep the cutting in a warm, bright location outdoors, or use strong full-spectrum grow lights indoors. Ideally, you want a perfect and stable rooting environment in a greenhouse

  7. Mist the cutting regularly to keep the cutting from drying out.

  8. Once roots have developed, transplant the cutting into a larger pot or in the ground.


Rooting Fig Cuttings in Water


This is the last method of rooting fig cuttings that I would use, but you can root fig cuttings in water.

Once the cutting has developed roots, you must transplant it into the soil or another rooting medium to encourage further growth and development. Many growers report that the transplanting process is a more difficult transition when propagating them in water compared to other methods of rooting fig cuttings.

To ensure success, it’s important to change the water daily to ensure that the cutting receives enough oxygen.

Here's how to root fig cuttings in water:

  1. Take a healthy fig cutting that is at least 6 inches long.

  2. Remove all but one or two leaves from the bottom of the cutting.

  3. Place the cutting in a glass or jar filled with water.

  4. Cover the top with a humidity dome.

  5. Change the water every few days.

  6. Keep the cutting in a warm and bright sunny window, or use strong full-spectrum grow lights indoors.

  7. Once roots have developed, transplant the cutting into a larger pot or in the ground.


Pre-rooting Fig Cuttings


Pre-rooting fig cuttings in the process of placing your fig cutting in a humid and warm environment to quickly develop root primordia along the lenticels of the cutting. The advantage is that it’s easier to see the root primordia along your cutting before placing it in a well-draining soil mix.

  1. First, wrap your cutting in a moist paper towel.

  2. Place it in a plastic bag and seal it 90% of the way.

  3. Label the bag with the name of the fig variety and keep your cuttings in a warm environment.

  4. After about 1-2 weeks, you should see root primordia along the cutting. Not just where the buds are, but on every lenticel that a higher humidity was present.

  5. At this point transplant the cutting to your chosen rooting method. Leave the cuttings wrapped in their moist paper towel or carefully remove them. The roots will grow right through.



How to Plant Fig Tree Cuttings


Once your fig cuttings have developed roots, it's time to transplant them into a larger pot or in the ground.

Here are some tips to help you plant your fig cuttings:

  1. Choose a warm and sunny location for your fig tree.

  2. Plant the cutting in well-draining soil.

  3. Dig a hole that is twice the width and depth of the root ball.

  4. Gently remove the cutting from its current container and loosen any tangled roots.

  5. Place the cutting in the hole and backfill with soil.

  6. Water the cutting thoroughly and add a layer of mulch to help retain moisture.

  7. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged, and fertilize the fig tree to cover any missing nutrients.


It's important to monitor your newly planted fig tree closely and adjust your watering and fertilizing practices as needed. Keep an eye out for signs of stress, such as wilting or yellowing leaves, and adjust your care accordingly. With proper care and attention, your newly planted fig tree should begin to grow and produce delicious fruit in no time!


Layering Fig Trees


Layering is the process of 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. You can also layer the new growth or the fruiting branches of your current growing season. Around the Summer solstice, I’ve noted a high 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.

Air Layering Fig Trees


Air layering is the most common method of layering among hobbyist growers and is probably second to rooting in terms of how fig trees are propagated for its ease and almost guaranteed success of propagation. I want you to get creative when air layering. You can air layer a scaffolding branch, a fruiting branch, a sucker, or even the trunk of your tree!

Here's how to air layer a fig tree:

Find a healthy branch on your fig tree that you want to propagate and make shallow cuts in the branch, creating a 1-inch girdle to remove the bark and cambium, to expose the white hardwood.

  1. Apply rooting hormone to the girdle if you desire.

  2. Wrap the branch with a container that's cut down the side or a plastic bag that is filled with moist peat moss or coco coir.

  3. Wrap the air layer with tin foil to keep it from drying out in the sun.

  4. After 1-3 months, the air layer will have developed roots and can be cut off the parent tree and planted in a pot or in the ground.



Stool Layering Fig Trees


Stool layering is a technique that involves burying the base of a fig tree to encourage it to produce roots around the trunks of the tree.

Here's how to stool layer a fig tree:

  1. Choose a fig tree early in the growing season (preferably one with many trunks or shoots coming from the soil line) that you want to stool layer.

  2. Keep the soil moist and wait for roots to develop.

  3. Once the roots have developed and the tree has entered dormancy, dig up the fig tree to reveal the newly formed root system. Cut away each shoot or section of the fig tree that you want to propagate into a new fig tree.

  4. Now that you have new fig trees, plant them where you’d like. Either in containers or straight into the ground.


Tip Layering Fig Trees


Tip layering is a technique that involves bending the tip of a fig tree branch to the ground and burying it to encourage it to produce roots.

Here's how to tip layer a fig tree:

  1. Find a healthy branch on your fig tree that you want to propagate and bend the tip of the branch to the ground.

  2. Bury the tip of the branch under the soil.

  3. Keep the soil moist and wait for roots to develop.

  4. Once the roots have developed, cut the tip of the branch with the new roots from the parent tree and plant it in a pot or in the ground.


Below is a video of how I air layered the trunk of my fig tree. A creative way to air layer:

Growing Figs from Seed


Obtaining viable fig tree seeds can be difficult, as they need to be taken from a female fig of your choosing that was pollinated by a male caprifig.

Unlike all of the other methods of propagation listed in this article, growing fig trees from seed will not net you the same fig variety that the seed was taken from. Figs are not true to type from seed and will not be an exact clone of the Mother tree.

If you're lucky enough to get your hands on some fig tree seeds and want to get into breeding fig trees, here's how to grow them:

  1. Plant the fig tree seeds in pots filled with moist, well-draining soil. They should be planted 1/8th of an inch deep or on the top of the soil.

  2. Cover the top of the pots with a humidity dome or plastic wrap to ensure they don’t dry out and that the soil is kept moist until the seedlings emerge.

  3. Keep them in a warm and sunny location making sure that they are germinating at a temperature around 78F.

  4. Transplant the seedlings into larger pots or in the ground once they are large enough.


Grafting Fig Trees


Grafting is a 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 however 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.

When grafting fig trees, it’s important to keep the graft unions warm (at 78F), covered with wax to keep them from drying out, and preferably out of direct sunlight and heavy winds until they have had time to fully heal.


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.

Here are some common grafting techniques used for fig trees:

Cleft Grafting Fig Trees:


Cleft grafting is a common method of propagating fig trees that involves inserting a scion into a cleft or split in the stem or branch of a rootstock. This method is often used when the scion and rootstock are of similar diameter and when thin branches of the rootstock are available to graft onto.

Here's how to cleft graft fig trees:

  1. Select a branch of the rootstock and a scion with similar diameters.

  2. Make a clean and level cut across the top of the rootstock.

  3. Cut a slit in the middle of the rootstock and insert the scion by making cuts on the bottom of the scion in the shape of a “V” to create a wedge.

  4. Be sure to match the cambium of both the scion and the rootstock to ensure that the two can fuse together and become one.

  5. Secure the scion and the rootstock with a rubber band.

  6. Cover the graft with Buddy Tape or Parafilm to keep the graft union from drying out.


Whip and Tongue Grafting Fig Trees:


A whip and tongue graft is similar to a cleft graft in that you need a similar diameter between the scion and rootstock and will all of the same steps. The difference is that you need to make cuts in both the scion and the rootstock to create a tongue.

As the cambium layers heal and fuse together, the interlocking "tongues" provide structural support to the graft union while also increasing the surface area of cambial contact. Because of this, it’s a grafting method that takes the cleft graft to a slightly higher level.

Bud Grafting Fig Trees:



Bud grafting is a method of propagating fig trees that involves grafting a single bud onto a rootstock. This method is often used when only thick scions are available.

Here's how to bud graft fig trees:

  1. Choose a healthy rootstock and scion for your graft. The rootstock or the place you want to bud graft onto should be at least 1 inch in diameter.

  2. Use a clean and sharp knife to make a small vertical T-shaped incision in the bark of the rootstock.

  3. Cut a single bud from the scion, making sure to include a small piece of the bark and underlying wood.

  4. Insert the bud into the incision in the rootstock, making sure that the cambium layers of the two plants are aligned.

  5. Cover the graft with Buddy Tape or Parafilm to keep the graft union from drying out.


Bark Grafting Fig Trees:



Bark grafting is a method of propagating fig trees that involves grafting a scion onto the bark of a thick trunk or branch, rather than onto a thinner branch that can be matched in diameter. This method is often used when the rootstock is too thick for other types of grafting.

Here's how to bark graft fig trees:

  1. Choose a healthy rootstock and scion for your graft. The scion should have multiple buds and is a bit thinner than most scions you have available.

  2. Make a clean and level cut across the top of the rootstock.

  3. Make a vertical cut through the bark of the rootstock. About 1 inch in length from the top of the level cut.

  4. Make a corresponding cut on the scion in the shape of a “V”, ensuring that the cut is smooth and straight.

  5. Insert the scion into the slit in the rootstock between the bark and the hardwood, making sure that the cambium layers of the two plants are aligned.

  6. Cover the graft with Buddy Tape or Parafilm to keep the graft union from drying out.


Propagating Fig Trees through Root Grafting


Root grafting is another method for propagating fig trees that involves grafting a scion onto the roots of another fig tree.

This method is particularly useful when the desired scion is not compatible with the available rootstock. It’s also particularly advantageous because it shortens the period of time until an established fig tree is ready for transplanting or planting.

Here's how to root graft fig trees:

  1. Choose a healthy, fresh, and living root for your graft. The root should be a similar diameter and thickness as the scion.

  2. Just like the cleft graft, make a clean and level cut across the top of the rootstock.

  3. Cut a slit in the middle of the root and insert the scion by making cuts on the bottom of the scion in the shape of a “V” to create a wedge.

  4. Secure the scion and the roots with a rubber band.

  5. Cover the graft union and the root with a clear plastic bag to create a humid environment.


Fig Tree Suckers


Harvesting suckers with roots from below the soil level can also be an effective way to propagate a new fig tree. Suckers are shoots that grow from the base of the tree and often have their own set of roots.

To harvest a sucker, excavate some soil around the base of the fig tree and cut the sucker off at the base with pruning shears where the sucker attaches to the Mother tree.

Transplant it into a pot or in the ground. Suckers can be harvested at any time of the year, but they are most likely to survive in the spring, fall, or winter when conditions are less extreme.


Propagating Fig Trees through Tissue Culture


Tissue culture is a propagation method that involves growing new fig trees from small pieces of tissue or cells. This method is often used in commercial nurseries or laboratories to produce large numbers of genetically identical plants.

Tissue culture or micropropagation can be a more advanced and expensive method of propagating fig trees, but it allows for the production of large numbers of genetically identical plants.

This method can also be used to produce disease-free plants, making it a popular choice for fig growers wanting to avoid FMV. However, tissue culture fig trees can take a long time to mature and perform the way that they should, so if you’re buying tissue-cultured fig trees, make sure that they are propagated from cutting after being tissue cultured to become disease free.

Comparing the Pros and Cons of Different Propagation Methods


As you now have learned, there are several methods for propagating fig trees, each with its own set of pros and cons.

  • Layering and grafting can net you a larger tree in a shorter period of time, but they have requirements before you can begin each. Grafting requires a rootstock while layering requires a larger tree to layer from.

  • Grafting with most methods like the Cleft graft only requires one node from the scion. That’s extremely efficient.

  • Layering is an almost guaranteed method of propagation that can help restore a sickly tree into a new healthy specimen.

  • Rooting is also efficient. Whether you’re just sticking your cutting straight into the soil or doing a fancy rooting method, the amount of wood required is only 6 inches. You will also have a tree on its own roots, rather than a grafted tree that relies on rootstock for its root system.

  • Digging up a sucker with roots already attached is the simplest propagation method and requires almost no technical skill that the other fig tree propagation methods do.

  • Growing from seed will not net you an exact copy or clone of the tree you harvested pollinated seeds from.

  • Tissue culture is too difficult for the average grower requiring a scientific background and expensive equipment.



Now you’re ready to propagate fig trees.


Propagating fig trees can be a fun and rewarding way to expand your fig collection and share your love of these delicious fruits with others. Whether you choose to grow figs from seed, air layering, stool layering, tip layering, rooting fig cuttings, or grafting, there are many methods to choose from, each with its own set of pros and cons.

By following these tips and techniques, you can increase your chances of success and enjoy the many benefits of having your own fig tree in your garden.

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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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