Updated: Feb 14
This is probably the question I've gotten the most over the years when educating growers on fig trees.
Q: "Why doesn't my fig tree produce fruit?"
"My tree is x, y, and z, but every year the tree just grows and grows and never produces any fruit."
"My wife's gonna kill me if I don't get this fig tree to fruit, Ross."
A: The main reason that your fig tree is not producing fruit is because of a lack of sunlight. Your tree could also be growing in unhealthy soil that lacks air or nutrients, it could be heavily infected with Fig Mosaic Virus, or it may be growing too quickly from a hormonal imbalance, lacking the right metabolic rate or it could be just too young and patience is required.
There are a lot of possibilities, but in this blog post, I will give you all of the tools to diagnose your fig tree’s problem to grow figs, not just leaves.
Figs Not Forming vs. Figs Dropping
First, let's understand the problem. It's important to clarify what I mean by "not fruiting" or “not producing fruit.” This problem is different from the issue of figs dropping off prematurely or not ripening on time. Fruit drop can be caused by a whole host of other issues like underwatering or a lack of pollination.
Click here to read about why your figs are dropping off of your tree.
Instead, I’m focusing on the main crop of figs that forms on the new growth, which is typically the most desirable and delicious crop for fig enthusiasts. If you've noticed that your fig tree is producing lots of leaves but no figs, then you're experiencing the problem that we'll be exploring in this article.
How Long for a Fig Tree to Produce Fruit?
Fig trees can fruit at a very young age. Even after only 6 months from cutting. They're very precocious, but not every variety is. There is a huge diversity of genetics within Ficus Carica.
It's important to recognize that some trees may just take longer to start producing figs, especially if they are still young. Don't give up hope if your fig tree isn't fruiting right away, as sometimes it just takes a bit of patience and TLC to get your tree to produce the sweet, delicious figs you're craving.
Fig Tree Light Requirements
The precocity of fig trees can sometimes be determined by a balance of plant hormones but is more often controlled by the sunlight requirement each variety has genetically coded in its DNA. Every variety requires a certain level of intensity of sunlight combined with a certain duration of sunlight.
Assuming your tree is meeting this requirement as it is growing, main crop fruit buds will form along the new branches even on very young fig trees.
To read more about the importance of sunlight, click here:
Clearly, sunlight is very important, but it's not always as simple as planting your fig tree or moving your fig tree into more sunlight.
But I would argue that if your tree is healthy, big, and, beautiful, the answer to a fig tree that isn’t producing fruit, is almost always because it doesn’t get enough sunlight.
In the pruning section below, I’ll be discussing how you can give your fig tree more sunlight without moving it. Don’t miss this critical step.
Pruning Fig Trees
When thinking about pruning any plant, not just fig trees, we must consider plant hormones. After all, pruning or damage from a winter low changes the hormones within our trees and it is these hormones that control growth, flowering, fruiting and so much more.
Hormonal balance is critical for a properly functioning fig tree. With excessive winter pruning, we only encourage our trees (not just fig trees) to grow the following season.
While summer pruning changes the hormones within our trees to flower and fruit. Let's not forget, the fig is an inside-out flower. So be careful about hard pruning or if our trees are severely damaged by the cold every winter, the same phenomenon occurs.
Having said all that, please don't get me wrong. You can still see fruit set on your fig tree the year following a hard prune, but it will be more difficult. And there are so many variables. The fig variety that you’re growing, sunlight duration and intensity, staking, training your fig tree, etc...
But the point stands, keep pruning to a minimum or try a pruning method that instead, focuses on pruning to get more light into the tree, opening up the center, and removing any unhealthy, damaged, or crisscrossing branches.
By using proper pruning techniques, you can help your fig tree grow and produce an abundance of delicious figs.
Click here to read more about pruning fig trees.
Steps Towards a Healthy Fig Tree
If you have an unhealthy fig tree, of course, it's not going to fruit reliably. And that's not uncommon. Quite a bit of fig trees are plagued with the fig mosaic virus. It's unavoidable, but with healthy soil that has the right moisture, air, and microbe content, our trees will have an easier time showing fewer symptoms of the virus.
Choose a suitable location for planting the fig tree so that it receives full sun and has well-draining soil.
Test the soil to ensure it has the proper pH level and nutrient content for healthy growth.
If the soil is poor, amend it with compost or other organic matter to improve its health and drainage.
Provide supplemental watering during dry spells to keep the soil evenly moist and prevent drought stress.
Be cautious not to overwater, as excessive rainfall can also negatively impact the tree's health and fruit production by causing anaerobic conditions leading to root rot.
I recommend feeding your soil a homemade compost tea to increase your soil life and diversity. After all, microbes are the building blocks of life.
For tips on watering to improve your green thumb with fig trees, click here:
Fig Mosaic Virus
One possible reason why your fig tree isn't fruiting is a severe case of Fig Mosaic Virus (FMV). This disease can cause visible symptoms like mottled, discolored leaves and deformed growth.
It should be noted that almost all fig trees are infected with the virus, but not all have a severe case of it. If your tree is showing a lot of the visible symptoms of FMV and you believe that it’s affecting the growth and production of your fig tree, consider doing some rejuvenation pruning to combat the virus.
The technique of rejuvenation pruning involves removing heavily infected growth in order to promote new and healthy shoots in their place. Hard pruning a fig tree can encourage new growth and is traditionally performed on old trees by cutting them down to below soil level and selecting one or several healthy shoots to become the new trunk(s) of the tree, resulting in a good base and proper performance.
To read more about Rejuvenation Pruning Fig Trees, click here:
Additionally, by giving your soil compost tea you can increase the soil microbes and nutrients available to the tree, as this can help it better resist the virus.
Metabolism | The Best Temperature for Fig Trees
What about metabolism? If our trees are cold, it can be difficult for the tree to operate efficiently. Metabolism is controlled by the soil temperature and the fig tree optimally operates at 78F. Just like us as humans, we operate at a specific temperature and if we're too cold, we shiver to warm up. If we're too hot, we sweat to remain at that optimal body temperature to function correctly.
The fig is no different. When soil temperatures are around 55-65F, some fig varieties can struggle to not necessarily set fruits along the branches but continue ripening the fruits to a larger size.
Just think about how our trees and garden behave in the fall weather. Everything slows down. This is why it's important in places with a mild summer to aid in increasing soil temperatures. By using black plastic pots OR planting our trees in 1-2ft high mounds or raised beds, we can see huge increases in our tree's metabolism.
Additional Reasons for a Fig Tree Not Bearing Fruit
These are some of the reasons I found published on the University of Florida extension website, here:
I wanted to discuss why some of these additional reasons may be incorrect or why they don’t apply to this situation.
Over-fertilization leads to immature fruit.
This is accurate. Too much nitrogen in the soil can lead to excess salt buildup in the soil causing the roots to burn followed by fruit drop and leaf drop. That’s a different issue however than what I’m discussing in this article.
I will mention that too much fertilization actually leads to a reduction in growth contrary to what the author is publishing in their article.
Nitrogen is a requirement and a necessary component of the regulation of fruit formation of a fig tree. Additionally, it is the water and plant hormones within our fig trees that largely dictates an overabundance of growth and lack of fruiting.
To read more about fertilizing fig trees, click here:
Dry, hot weather affects fruit quality.
It does, but not in the way that the author suggests, dry conditions and warm temperatures of 90-110F actually improve fruit quality. While warmer temperatures can stress out a fig tree leading to fruit drop, it is not a reason why a fig tree is not producing figs. In fact, it is usually the opposite.
Celeste variety drops fruit in hot weather.
I agree, Celeste is known to drop figs, but that is due to a lack of internal sunlight in the tree’s canopy, and figs dropping is a different story than them not forming on the tree. This is an entirely different topic.
Root-knot nematodes intensify the problem.
This is accurate. Root-knot nematodes or RKN plague fig trees in sandier soils where they are more present. Ficus Carica is particularly sensitive. I would check for RKN if you’re concerned that this may be the reason that your fig tree is unhealthy.
Fig trees may require cross-pollination.
Again, this is a different issue than what’s being discussed in the article. Pollination is a fruit-dropping problem. Not a fruit production problem.
Read more about fig tree pollination here:
You’re Ready to Ripen Figs!
The most common reason why a fig tree is not producing fruit is a lack of sunlight. Other potential reasons include unhealthy soil lacking air or nutrients, Fig Mosaic Virus, a hormonal imbalance, or the tree being too young.
Proper pruning techniques, providing the tree with healthy soil and watering, and addressing any virus or nematode issues can help improve fruit production.
It's important to note that some trees may take longer to produce figs and patience is required.