Fig trees are vigorous growers and their roots can quickly fill up a container. Long-term this can lead to several problems, including stunted growth, poor fruit production, and even tree death. Luckily, fig growers can use a technique called root pruning to manage the root system of a fig tree and encourage healthy growth.
Traditionally, root pruning fig trees involves removing a third of your fig tree’s rootball, followed by adding new nutrient-rich potting soil giving your fig tree new space to grow, nutrients, and water to revitalize your tree.
If you want to see more fig-related content like this, feel free to subscribe to the monthly Fig Boss newsletter at the top of the page.
How to Root Prune Fig Trees:
Remove the fig tree from its pot.
Using a sharp saw or knife, cut off about one-third of the root ball like a section of a pie.
Repot the fig tree back in its original container. Fill in the new space with a well-draining potting mix.
Water the tree well, but avoid overwatering during dormancy.
Consider pruning the top of the tree by about one-third in early spring. This will help to balance the root system and encourage new growth.
To read more about watering fig trees, check out this article.
To read more about repotting fig trees, check out this article.
To read more about pruning fig trees, check out this article.
When to Root Prune Fig Trees:
The best time to root prune a fig tree is in late winter or early spring, while the tree is dormant. This gives the tree time to recover before the new growing season begins. However, if you live in a warm climate and your fig tree is not completely dormant, you can still root prune it during your coldest time of the year.
Q: Does my fig tree need root pruning?
A: Is your tree showing signs of slow growth, low productivity, or yellowing leaves? Is your fig tree unhealthy? Is your fig tree truly root-bound? Take it out of the pot and check. Root pruning should only be done on root-bound trees, otherwise, the cause of your unhealthy fig tree may be from something else.
If your fig tree is in a large pot, you may not need to root prune it as often. That’s why I opt for a 10 or 15-gallon-sized container long-term. Instead, consider using air-pruning containers like grow bags or fabric pots. These allow for natural root pruning as the roots reach the breathable fabric, potentially reducing the need for future root pruning.
To read more about the right size pot and material for your fig tree, click here.
Q: How much of the root system should be removed?
A: Most information you’ll read about root pruning recommends removing no more than a third of the root ball. As this can severely damage your fig tree.
While this is a good general guideline, it's not always the gospel truth. In some cases, removing more root mass can be beneficial or what’s necessary. It all comes down to balance.
Understanding the Trade-Off:
Removing too little: Leaving the root system largely intact might seem safe, but if the tree is already root-bound, it won't solve the underlying problem. The roots will continue to circle and restrict nutrient and water uptake.
Removing too much: Aggressive pruning can shock the tree and stunt growth. It's important to leave enough roots to support the tree's current size and future growth.
Keep in mind, that small feeder roots are largely responsible for nutrient and water uptake. If you leave these intact, you’ll be surprised how aggressive your root pruning can be.
Root Pruning Before Planting Fig Trees:
While most root pruning takes place after a fig tree has been established, there's a unique advantage to doing it before planting. This is particularly helpful for container-grown fig trees that may be root-bound or have circling roots. By pruning these roots before introducing the tree to its permanent home, you:
Encourage healthy root development: Removing tangled or circling roots allows them to grow freely in their new soil, reaching for nutrients and water more efficiently.
Reduce transplant stress: A well-pruned root system is less susceptible to damage during planting and can establish itself quicker, minimizing stress on the tree.
Read more about planting fig trees here.
Did you know that root pruning fig trees can lead to a form of propagation?
Root Pruning for Propagating Fig Tree Suckers
While root pruning is typically done to maintain the health of fig trees in containers, it can also be utilized for an interesting and rewarding purpose: propagation.
Steps for Propagating Fig Trees through Root Pruning:
Clear the soil around the base of the fig tree to expose the suckers you want to cut.
Identify a healthy sucker with well-developed roots.
Choose the appropriate time for root pruning, ideally during the dormant period or early spring.
For potted trees, use a folding pruning saw to carefully sever the sucker from the main root system.
For in-ground trees, use a saw to detach the sucker and carefully dig around the base with a nursery spade or hori hori to lift it with its root system intact.
Ensure you remove as much of the root system as possible to provide the best chance of successful propagation.
Plant the sucker in a well-draining potting mix within a 1 to 3-gallon-sized pot.
Water the plant thoroughly and pack the soil around the roots to eliminate air pockets.
Apply a balanced fertilizer formulated for propagation during the active growing season.