Updated: May 20
I wanted this blog post to act as a way of pushing back on what some growers believe to be an inferior way of forming a fig tree and instead allow them to look at formation from a different viewpoint. A lot of growers are closed minded to pinching, summer pruning, tipping or topping (whatever you want to call it) for form. They believe that one of the consequences of pinching is that you produce oddly shaped and weak branching that forms as a result. In the video below, I've clearly demonstrated the opposite to be true on young trees establishing their form.
In fact, by topping your tree at the desired height during the summer, you allow your tree to reach the right form a whole year earlier than the common alternative method. Not only do you reach the desired form quicker, but you also have a much more successful 2nd season in terms of the quantity of fruits, ease of setting the fruits, earlier fruits and even a higher fruit quality. This does come with some caveats of course and lets also look at the alternative other growers argue for:
1st year from cutting: The fig tree cutting roots and it's grown out as a single stem whip for the entire length of the growing season. During that winter, a cut is made along the whip at the desired height.
2nd year: The tree wakes up from dormancy and then 3-5 permanent scaffolds are formed.
3rd year: Heavy fruit set is reached.
Below is a photo a tree after its second growing season. The first season it was a strong single stem whip that was winter pruned to the desired height. 5 scaffolds were formed and staked to maximize photosynthesis.
Here's my quicker and more productive alternative:
1st year from cutting: The fig tree cutting roots and it's grown out as a single stem whip or a bush. During the summer when the branches are showing strong growth and have formed large & appropriate sized leaves, those particular branches are topped. After topping we continue watering and potentially continue fertilizer to encourage permanent scaffolds to form. It may be appropriate to tip the scaffolds to form more branching on those scaffolds. A heavy fruit set after topping will not yield the desired growth. It may be worthwhile to remove some fruits after topping, so that there is a surplus of energy for the tree to continue growing.
2nd year: The tree has already formed 2-5 permanent scaffolds in the first year. Very minimal winter pruning was performed if any. The scaffolds should be staked and now heavy fruit set is reached.