Mastering the Art of Training Fig Trees for Optimal Growth and Fruit Production
Updated: Jun 28
Embrace the exciting journey of training fig trees to achieve outstanding fruit yield and quality. By focusing on maximizing light exposure and promoting fruit production, you can unlock the full potential of your fig trees. Pruning and staking are two powerful techniques that can help you reach these goals.
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Training Fig Trees
Training a fig tree requires patience, skill, and dedication. By following these steps, you can transform a young cutting into a thriving tree with optimal growth and fruit production.
First Year: Selecting and Pruning Shoots
In the first year when starting from a cutting, choose 1-3 healthy shoots from the base of your fig tree. Avoid selecting more than three when growing fig trees in containers and no more than 5-7 when growing fig trees that are planted in the ground. Prune out any additional shoots. If your tree does not produce any healthy shoots early in its life, consider rejuvenation pruning to stimulate growth.
First Year: Encouraging Vigor and Pinching
Allow the selected shoots to grow during the first season. By early to mid-summer, they should display a strong level of vigor, indicated by larger leaves and fast growth. At this point, perform a technique called pinching, topping, or summer pruning, to encourage branching and potentially fruit formation.
Aim to form most, if not all, permanent scaffolds during this first season. If you already have your shoots selected from a prior growing season, follow the same process of topping your tree, but in the spring to form the scaffolds.
Note: If you decide to grow a bush with 2-3 shoots from the base, achieving a high level of vigor may be more challenging in the first season.
In the first growing season, your goal should be to create 3-6 well-spaced scaffolds. Use stakes to guide the scaffolds to grow outwards at a horizontal angle away from each other. This ensures that each scaffold has ample space for growth.
Second and Third Years: Fruiting Branch Formation & Tree Growth Stabilization
In the second year, fruiting branches will begin to form on the scaffolds. In the third year, more fruiting branches will emerge from these existing branches. The tree will continue to grow and develop during this period and your tree will have slowed down considerably and come closer to reaching its maximum height.
At this point, if you feel the tree is too tall, remember that forming scaffolds sooner and with a shorter trunk can result in a lower scaffold height and a shorter tree overall. Alternatively, a smaller container can help limit the tree's size.
Fig Tree Maintenance
Proper maintenance is crucial for ensuring the health and productivity of your fig tree. Techniques like staking and pruning are vital when performed in the springtime as they will significantly impact both the form and fruit production of your tree.
This increased exposure to light improves the chances of the main crop fruit buds forming, as sunlight duration and intensity are key factors in fruit production.
If you have a beautiful, large fig tree that doesn't produce fruit, despite your best efforts in caring for it, you might be overlooking the critical factor of sunlight. Fig trees require ample sunlight to form fruits and produce an abundant harvest.
By staking the scaffolds at a more horizontal angle, you open up the center of the tree, providing more space for the tree to grow and allowing more light to reach new growth on all points of the tree. This can significantly boost the chances of main crop fruit buds forming, resulting in higher fruit yield and quality.
Thinning, pruning, and proper positioning of the tree through staking all maximize sunlight exposure. A well-pruned tree with a less dense canopy, fewer branches, and strategically positioned scaffolds will receive more light, leading to increased fruit production.
For more on the importance of proper sunlight, check out this detailed article:
Staking vs Pruning: Confidently Shape Your Fig Trees
While pruning can shape your fig tree, staking branches with bamboo stakes can guide them to create the desired form. Staking branches away from the tree's center creates a more open structure, increasing light exposure and ultimately improving fruit yield.
Remember, in the first year of training our fig trees, we encouraged them to form scaffolds with topping once they achieved a high level of vigor. Topping or summer pruning was the only form of pruning needed for proper fig tree training. In fact, heavy pruning will likely delay the time to reach the inevitable shape we’re after.
Topping the tree at the desired height during the summer enables it to reach the right form a year earlier than the traditional method of growing our fig trees as a single stem whip in the first growing season followed by topping during dormancy. Topping during the summer leads to a more fruitful second season in terms of fruit quantity, ease of setting fruits, earlier fruits, and higher fruit quality.
It’s also critical to stake those scaffolds for proper training. From my experience, staking is the superior method for shaping fig trees. While pruning is a much more popular technique among growers, staking can is more effective at achieving the desired results in a shorter period of time.
Staking also offers distinct advantages, especially for branches situated in odd places or areas where they would shade out other branches, leading to lower fruit yields.
However, staking enables the preservation of apical and lateral buds while improving the tree's structure. By staking the branches, you maintain the tree's form and promote a healthy tree, which is vital for maximizing sunlight and photosynthesis. This approach ultimately enhances fruit production by maintaining the proper hormonal balance within the tree.
Understanding the role of hormones in fig tree maintenance is crucial when choosing between staking and pruning. Staking offers the advantage of preserving apical and lateral buds, which are essential for achieving the right hormonal balance in the tree, leading to optimal fruit production.
Fig trees, like other plants, have hormones that regulate growth and fruiting. Each bud on a fig tree possesses a unique hormonal component, carbohydrate storage, and varying levels of fig mosaic virus. The hormonal balance within the buds greatly influences the tree's fruit production capabilities.
For example, suckers growing from the tree's base struggle to fruit due to their hormonal imbalance. In contrast, new growth from apical buds, located at the tips of branches, grows slower, fruits heavily, and forms fruit more easily and earlier. Lateral buds found just below the apical buds, also retain the right hormonal balance, although they store fewer carbohydrates.
Pruning in winter can result in the removal of apical and lateral buds, which in turn, makes it more challenging for the tree to produce fruit the following year. This is because the remaining "vegetative" buds on the branch have a harder time fruiting due to their hormonal compositio
Q: What month do you prune fig trees?
A: The best time to prune fig trees is during their dormant season, typically between late fall and early spring, depending on your climate. You can prune at any time and some growers in very warm climates may actually prefer to prune during the summer. Generally, I recommend pruning before the new growth begins in the spring and during dormancy.
Q: Can I cut the top off my fig tree?
A: Yes, you can cut the top off your fig tree. Techniques called topping, pinching, or summer pruning can be used to encourage branching, stimulate fruit formation, or control the height of your fig tree. However, avoid heavy pruning, as it can negatively impact fruit production and overall tree health.
To read more about pinching, check out this detailed article here:
Q: Should I train my fig tree into a tree or a bush?
A: The choice between training your fig tree as a tree or a bush depends on your personal preference, available space, and desired fruit yield. Training a fig tree as a bush can make it easier to harvest fruit and maintain the tree while training it as a tree may provide a larger canopy and higher fruit yield.
Fig “trees” also require additional annual pruning to maintain their form as fig trees naturally grow as a bush. Other than the differences in size, I see no other advantages or disadvantages. Consider your specific needs and preferences when deciding which form to choose.
Q: How long does it take for a fig tree to establish?
A: It generally takes about 2-3 years for a fig tree to become well-established and start producing a substantial amount of fruit. During this time, focus on proper care and maintenance, such as pruning, staking, and ensuring adequate sunlight to promote healthy growth and fruit production.
Q: Are fig trees better in pots or ground?
A: Growing fig trees in the ground is superior in almost all ways when the amount of frost-free days at your location is roughly 165 days or more. Fig trees can thrive in both pots and the ground, but the choice depends on your specific situation and preferences.
Growing fig trees in pots offers the advantage of mobility, easier temperature control, and size restriction, which can be beneficial in colder climates or limited space. Planting fig trees in the ground allows for more extensive root growth, larger trees, and potentially higher fruit yield. Consider factors like available space, climate, and maintenance requirements when deciding which option is best for you.
For additional information regarding growing young fig trees in containers, check out the informative video below:
You're Now Ready to Train your Fig Tree
Training fig trees can be a rewarding and fruitful endeavor when you apply the right techniques and knowledge. By embracing the exciting journey of shaping, staking, and pruning your fig trees, you can unlock their full potential and enjoy an abundant harvest for years to come.
The joy of plucking fresh, sun-ripened figs from your own tree is truly unmatched. So, don't be afraid to put these methods into practice and watch as your fig trees flourish. Remember, patience and persistence are key, and with time, your efforts will be rewarded with a beautiful, thriving tree that produces delicious figs for you and your family to savor.