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Pruning Fig Trees in the Spring: How to Trim a Fig Tree for Better Results

Updated: Mar 29



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The fig tree is amazing. Seriously. But how do you make sure your tree thrives and produces the best fruit possible? A lot of it comes down to pruning.

In this article, we'll dive into the art of fig tree pruning, exploring the benefits of spring vs. fall or winter pruning, and the essential techniques to keep your tree healthy and fruitful. From addressing weak points to rejuvenation pruning and maximizing sunlight exposure, we'll cover everything you need to know to help your fig tree reach its full potential. So grab your pruning shears and get ready to unlock the secrets of fig tree care!

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The Benefits of Pruning Fig Trees in the Spring:


I would argue that pruning in the spring generally results in better results. Here’s why:

Cold temperatures and freeze-thaw cycles can cause entry points and weak spots in the bark of fig trees, leading to dieback in branches. In the spring, our focus should be on shaping our fig trees and removing any dead wood. After seeing the damage of a cold winter, it becomes clearer where to prune your fig tree to properly shape and train it.


By pruning in the winter, I hypothesize that the location of the pruning cuts also creates weak points for additional cold damage. In general, I’ve seen better winter hardiness among unpruned fig trees until the springtime.

Pruning Fig Trees in the Fall or Winter:


In the fall or early winter, you may want to limit pruning or keep it to a minimum until you see what damage your tree received from the winter cold. However, it may be a great time to take cuttings for rooting. Depending on your climate, there may be no advantage to the chosen timing. As long as your tree is dormant, you’ll be better off.

No matter what time of the year we decide to prune, your focus should always be on maximizing sunlight exposure for the tree to produce higher quality and earlier ripening fruits. I recommend staking your fig tree instead of pruning them in most situations, as it helps maintain the apical and lateral buds important for fruit production without changing the tree's hormonal balance. If your tree is too dense, it may be necessary to prune it to allow more light to penetrate the canopy.


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


A: It is generally best to prune your fig tree during the dormant season, which is typically in late winter or early spring. However, if you missed the ideal pruning window, it is not too late to prune your tree. While you should avoid heavy pruning during the growing season, you can still perform light pruning to remove dead or damaged branches, or to address immediate structural issues.

When pruning during the growing season, be cautious not to remove too much new growth, as this can lead to delayed fruit ripening, lower fruit quality, and reduced overall yield.

Objectives of Spring Pruning


  • Maximize sunlight to increase productivity, earlier ripening of fruits, and improved fruit quality: Proper pruning and staking can help maximize light for trees that are too dense or have crisscrossing or crowded branches

  • Remove dead wood to rejuvenate the tree and encourage healthy growth: Cold and freeze-thaw cycles in colder climates may cause entry points and weak spots on the bark

  • Rejuvenation pruning for size control and improved health: Removing scaffolds and lower trunks close to the soil level can promote new growth and maintain a manageable size. Pruning can also help eliminate visible symptoms of fig mosaic virus



Staking vs. Pruning: Maximizing Light Penetration and Fruit Production


Both staking and pruning are essential techniques for training young fig trees to maximize light exposure, encourage better fruit production, and improve overall tree health. While pruning helps remove unwanted growth, staking branches using bamboo stakes or other support materials helps to guide the branches and create the desired form.

Staking:


Staking branches at a more horizontal angle opens up the scaffolds and creates more space for the tree to grow, allowing more light to reach the new growth on all points of the fig tree. This increases the chances of main crop fruit buds forming and ultimately leads to higher fruit yields and improved fruit quality.

Staking is particularly useful for branches in areas where they would shade out other branches, causing lower fruit yields. By staking these branches away from each other, the center of the tree is opened up, allowing more sunlight to reach a larger surface area of the tree.

There are various ways to train fig trees, and each grower should choose the method that works best for their circumstances and climate. For example, some growers prefer to stake branches rather than prune them, as staking can lead to a more productive second season with higher fruit quantity, ease of setting fruits, earlier fruits, and better fruit quality.

On the other hand, some growers argue for alternative methods that involve pruning during the winter and allowing scaffolds to form in the second year. The key is to find a balance between staking and pruning that works best for each individual tree and environment.


Pruning:


One of the primary methods of maximizing sunlight exposure for your fig tree is to thin the canopy through careful pruning. By selectively removing branches that are overlapping, growing inward, or shading other branches, you can create more open space within the tree's structure, allowing sunlight to penetrate the canopy more effectively. This helps to promote better air circulation and light distribution throughout the tree, enhancing fruit production and overall tree health.

One argument for pruning fig trees instead of staking them is that pruning can stimulate root growth, resulting in a more robust and stable root system. A stronger root system is crucial for the tree's ability to take up nutrients and water, leading to an earlier establishment.

Addressing Weak Points and Dead Wood


It is essential to carefully inspect the fig tree for any weak points or dead wood during spring pruning. These weak points may appear as unusual spots on the bark or areas where the branches have died back due to cold temperatures or entry points. By identifying and removing these weak points and dead wood, you’re making it easier for your fig tree to focus on producing new, healthy growth.

Removing these problematic areas helps maintain the overall health and vitality of the tree, leading to better fruit production over a longer period while decreasing the likelihood of pest problems.


Pruning Fig Trees to Lessen the Severity of Fig Mosaic Virus


Fig trees are susceptible to fig mosaic virus (FMV), which can cause visible symptoms like mottled, discolored leaves and deformed growth. Although FMV is considered a minor problem by most experienced fig growers, severely infected trees can underperform for several years, leading to a long-term reduction of growth and productivity.

If a fig tree shows a lot of visible symptoms of FMV, rejuvenation pruning can help combat the virus. Rejuvenation pruning is the process of cutting away heavily infected growth to promote new, healthy growth in its place. By pruning out unwanted unhealthy growth, specifically the unwanted buds, rejuvenation pruning can help fig trees perform more optimally.

Rejuvenation pruning can offer several benefits to fig trees, including eliminating or significantly reducing the severity of FMV, promoting strong, healthy growth from lower buds, increasing tree productivity, and saving time and money.

When rejuvenation pruning, the hard part is identifying the unwanted, unhealthy growth on the tree to cut it back to healthy wood.

After the growing season ends, identification is easier due to the lack of leaves. You can clearly see any damage on the trunks or branches that may be not getting the proper nutrient flow. Before the growing season ends, I recommend marking specific branches that should be pruned and thrown away. This can make identifying severely infected parts of the tree easier.


You’re Ready to Prune this Spring


Mastering the art of pruning is a vital component of fig tree maintenance, promoting the well-being and fruitfulness of your tree. By delving into the nuances of spring and fall or winter pruning, you can make educated choices about the best timing and techniques for trimming your fig tree to achieve maximum benefits. With dedication, consistency, and resilience, you'll soon find yourself relishing the bountiful yield of tasty figs while tending to a stunning, thriving tree.

Embrace the gratifying experience of fig tree care, confident that your hard work will be rewarded with delectable fruits and a flourishing tree that will enhance your garden's beauty for years to come.

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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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