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Underwatering Fig Trees: Signs, Prevention, and Solutions



Water is crucial for all life, including fig trees. I often receive questions about watering them—people want to know about underwatering, overwatering, how much to water, when to water, and how to water.

In my experience, the first skill every fig grower should develop is having a green thumb. This skill forms the foundation for successful plant growth. It's not just about talent; it's about learning through hands-on experience.

Becoming a skilled gardener often starts with making mistakes. Yes, that means experimenting, learning from plant failures, and improving your approach. This process is essential for becoming proficient in gardening, including growing figs.

In this article, I’ll provide you with tips to develop this skill. However, remember that gardening is a journey of trial and error. You can study countless books or articles like this one, but true expertise comes from applying knowledge in practice.

Let's begin by understanding how to identify signs of overwatering or underwatering in fig trees, so you know what to watch for:

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Signs of Under-Watering


Under-watered fig trees show several signs, including premature fruit drop, halted growth, and drooping leaves. 

Keep in mind, if only the top leaves on your tree are drooping, it’s likely humidity shock caused by a sudden change in humidity, but if the entire tree looks sad and droopy, it indicates insufficient soil moisture.

After recovery, you’ll note the leaves perk back up and resume where the tree left off, but if the stress was too much after a period of drought, the lower leaves will turn yellow and fall off. The tree may even completely defoliate and enter a self-preservation hibernation mode. Luckily, if this occurs, your fig tree is not dead. Rarely does a lack of water result in death.

The figs are usually the first to go. Other than a lack of pollination, underwatering is the number one reason figs drop prematurely.

In extreme environmental conditions, you’ll note something called leaf scorch, which cannot be reversed. Leaf scorch in fig trees occurs when hot, dry conditions lead to insufficient soil moisture, causing large portions of leaves to brown or yellow and potentially leading to crispy, falling leaves. This stress is primarily caused by water shortage exacerbated by high temperatures and intense sunlight.

Signs of Over-Watering


Overwatering is not a quick process. Constantly saturated soil degrades in quality over time, leading to unhealthy fig trees. Therefore, there are many warning signs well in advance of an overwatered fig tree, which is an important distinction between underwatered fig trees.

When soil is waterlogged, it lacks air, causing anaerobic conditions that promote root rot—a fungus that rots fig tree roots. Figs are particularly prone to root rot because their roots are thin and fibrous. 


Symptoms of overwatering include similar signs to underwatering, like yellow leaves and browning edges, but without the droopiness. Overwatered trees also exhibit poor growth and production, and the soil might smell bad.

Another distinction is that fig trees being overwatered usually have pale green leaves because fig trees in anaerobic soil have trouble uptaking nutrients. A vibrant dark green fig tree is far from being overwatered.

Overwatering most often occurs during colder months or when trees have fewer leaves. During dormancy, if temperatures are between 40-60°F, overwatering is a much higher risk.


Causes of Underwatering Fig Trees


Underwatering fig trees can stem from several factors:


  1. Inconsistent Watering Schedule: Fig trees need consistent watering, especially during hot, dry periods. Missing a day or two, especially during a heatwave, can quickly lead to underwatering.

  2. Soil Type: Fig trees planted in sandy or well-draining soils may require more frequent watering than those in clay soils. Sandy soils drain water quickly, increasing the risk of underwatering if not monitored closely.

  3. High Temperatures: During extreme heat, fig trees need more water to cope with higher evaporation rates. Failing to adjust the watering schedule during heatwaves can lead to underwatering.

  4. Container Limitations: Fig trees grown in pots are more susceptible to underwatering because the confined space dries out faster than ground soil. Container trees need a minimum of daily, and sometimes even twice-daily, watering during warm weather.

  5. Inadequate Mulching: Mulch helps retain soil moisture. Without adequate mulch, soil moisture levels can drop rapidly, leading to underwatering.

  6. Neglect: Sometimes, underwatering occurs simply because of neglect or oversight, especially if the gardener is away or too busy to maintain a regular watering routine.




Preventing Underwatered Fig Trees


Regularly checking soil moisture levels is crucial to avoid under-watering or over-watering. Simply stick your hand in it or use a moisture meter like this one.

If the top 1-2 inches of soil is dry, it's time to water. Conversely, consistently wet soil indicates over-watering, which can lead to anaerobic conditions and root rot.


Many growers use drip irrigation systems, which deliver water directly to the roots in a controlled manner, reducing over-watering or under-watering risks while promoting healthy growth.

Setting Up Drip Irrigation



I couldn't grow 100s of fig trees in containers without drip irrigation. Especially when connected to a battery-operated automatic timer. This allows me to go away on vacation, daily watering is no longer time-consuming and eliminates watering errors.


To assemble drip irrigation, you'll need some fittings and tubing. To see a full list of the materials you'll need visit my storefront. You can also purchase these products on Drip Depot.


Follow these steps for an easy setup:


  1. Following the images above, you'll need to connect your irrigation line to your outdoor hose bib. If you have a high PSI or high water pressure, you'll need to reduce it to 25-35 PSI to work with this system. You can find a pressure regulator here.

  2. Then connect a brass "Y" connector with shutoff valves to continue using your garden hose whenever you please. On the other half of the "Y" attach your irrigation timer. Configure your timer to your specific watering needs.

  3. Then attach a female connector to the bottom of the irrigation timer. That connects to the main irrigation line (1/2 inch). Cut it to size. If you ever need to adjust the length, you can always cut again with scissors and connect each end with an irrigation line coupler.

  4. Then with a hole punch, create the spots in your main irrigation line where you'd like to insert your 1/8th inch irrigation lines. Did you make a mistake? Invest in goof plugs. At the end of your 1/8th inch lines, insert the spot spitters and place those where you want to be watered. I like the blue spot spitters. They emit a wide radius of water at a rate of 12.6 GPH.

  5. Finally, at the end of the main irrigation line attach the end piece.


Reviving an Underwatered Fig Tree


Keep the following in mind when reviving an underwatered fig tree:


  • Rehydration: Begin by watering the tree thoroughly, ensuring the soil is evenly moist.

  • Provide Shade: If your fig tree is exposed to intense sunlight, consider providing temporary shade using a shade cloth or strategically placing other plants around it. Reducing sun exposure helps the tree recover without losing too much moisture to evaporation.

  • Raise Humidity: Raising the humidity around the leaves can cool down your tree, reducing stress and preventing leaf scorch damage. Simply use your watering wand to cover the leaves in moisture. This is my favorite garden hose. It’s high quality with replaceable parts.

  • Fertilize Cautiously: Avoid fertilizing immediately after rehydrating the tree, as this can cause further stress. Once the tree shows signs of recovery, you can apply a balanced fertilizer to support new growth.



Do Fig Trees Need a Lot of Water?



Fig trees are native to warm, dry climates and are well-adapted to drought conditions. They generally require less water compared to other fruit trees and can tolerate periods of dry soil. However, when temperatures are over 80F, they may need water every day based on soil type, conditions, growing practices, and tree size.


The Role of Soil Type, Climate, and Tree Size


In heavy clay soils, fig trees require less water than in well-draining sandy soils due to clay's higher water retention capacity. Trees growing in hot, dry climates need more water than those in humid climates because of higher evaporation rates. 

Additionally, larger, well-established fig trees have extensive root systems that can access water and nutrients more efficiently than younger trees. The same is true for fig trees in pots. They have a finite amount of water available to them.

How Much Water Does a Fig Tree Need?


During warm days and drought periods, large, established fig trees need between 1 to 5 gallons of water daily. In contrast, they require much less water during mild spring or cool fall days and very minimal to no water during winter dormancy.



Watering Fig Trees in Pots


The number one mistake I see when growing fig trees in pots and containers is inconsistent soil moisture.

Fig trees in containers need more frequent watering, especially during warm summer months. Depending on the tree's size, leaf amount, and sunlight exposure, container fig trees should be watered daily or even 2-4 times a day. Each tree in a five-gallon pot typically needs a fourth, half, or one gallon of water per day depending on your conditions.



How to Water a Fig Tree


When caring for fig trees planted in soil, deep and infrequent watering is better because it encourages the roots to grow deeper, making the tree more drought-resistant and stable. This method ensures the soil remains moist deeper down, promoting healthier and more resilient root systems.

When caring for fig trees in pots, providing a consistent amount of water daily is best because pots have limited soil volume, which can dry out quickly. Maintaining consistent soil moisture improves fruit quality and reduces the risk of fruit splitting by preventing the stress and irregular water uptake caused by fluctuating soil moisture levels.

When to Water


Watering fig trees in the morning allows any damp foliage to dry in the sun, reducing the risk of fungal diseases like fig rust. In hot, dry, and harsh conditions, consider more frequent watering to help cool the soil and alleviate stress. 

This is a good schedule to follow:

  1. 6 AM

  2. 11 AM

  3. And again at 4 PM 


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3 comentários


Please address the following statement because I'm just not getting it:

mature fig tree water requirements - Search (bing.com)


"A general rule is 1 to 1 ½ inches (2.5-4 cm.) of water per week either from rainfall or irrigation."

My largest fig trees have a root zone of well over 300 sq feet.

1 to 1 and a half inches of water over a 300 sq feet of root zone translates into far more gallonage than I am reading in this article.


Is there something I'm just not getting? Is the article wrong?


Thank you...in advance...for your consideration.

Curtir
Respondendo a

I will try it.


Thanks.

Curtir
ross raddi_edited.jpg
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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