Pruning Fig Trees

Common Edible Varieties

Why pruning fig trees correctly is important. When and how to prune a fig tree for best fruit production. Pruning guide for common, edible Ficus varieties.

Fig bush pruning and propagation tips.

This fig tree has been left unpruned. Photo credit: Joseph M. DiTomaso, University of California-Davis,

Pruning a fig tree is essential to controlling its height. It is best to begin fig tree pruning when the trees are young because once they start growing, watch out. Some figs can get as tall as 50 feet!

The actual wood of the tree is weak, as are its twigs. There is a milky substance in the sap that tends to irritate human skin so it’s a good idea to wear gloves when working with figs.

When you are pruning fig trees, you need to remove branches that cross each other or grow into the center of the tree. You want to keep the center open to allow direct sunlight to come through.

Also, suckers that grow off the tree have been known to deplete the health of the main plant; however, these suckers can produce figs, ripe to eat. So whether you remove the sucker or leave it really depends on your preference.

This is a good example of pruning fig trees to let the light in. This photo was taken at Longwood Gardens so you can rest assured that you are looking at an expertly pruned fig tree.

This tree has been pruned to an open center. To do this at home you would cut the main stem (the trunk) off at a height of 1-2 feet depending on how high you want the main branches to be from the ground.

You would then select 4 or 5 of the strongest stems branching off the trunk to form the framework of the tree. These branches should be as evenly spaced around the trunk as possible but don’t worry about them being equal distances apart.

They won’t be.

Your tree will not look exactly like the 1 in the photograph (see the photo lower down the page). Different types of figs have different growth habits.

Remove all other branches growing off the trunk. What you are trying to achieve is a vase shape. When the tree is bare, a bird should be able to fly through it.

Pruning fig trees into a vase shape allows light and air to flow freely through the structure, touching every leaf and branch. This helps the fruit to ripen more quickly and dries excess moisture before it can cause the figs to mold or spread disease spores throughout the tree.

From this point forward, all you need to do is remove stems that are growing in the wrong places. Those that are crossing and rubbing against your established branches or growing into the center of the tree and clogging it up.

You want most of the branches to grow away from the center.

These thinning cuts involve the complete removal of wayward stems. You will only make heading cuts (removing part of a branch or stem), when pruning fig trees, when you wish to reduce the height of the main branches or to shorten the fruit bearing stems growing from them.

Just be aware that heading cuts cause more stems to shoot from every node below the cut, resulting in a bushier stem.

Pruning Fig Trees into Fig Bushes

Brown Turkey Fig
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.
Peter’s Honey Green Fig Tree
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

To prune your fig into a bush, head all the framework branches back to the height you desire. This will force lots of new shoots to sprout throughout the tree.

When the new shoots are about 8 inches long, head them back by a third. This will give you a very bushy plant.

Remember to remove enough wood from the center of the bush each year, while it is dormant, to enable enough light and air to flow through the bush to keep it healthy.

When to Prune Fig Trees

Two more fig trees from the collection at Longwood Gardens.

Normally, figs are borne in two crops. There is the first crop (the breba crop).

The second crop is actually the main crop.

You should prune while the plant is dormant to get more figs in the coming growing season. Be aware, however, that fig tree pruning during dormancy will severely reduce or eliminate the breba crop.

How to Propagate Fig Trees

Fig tree seedling. Photo credit: Joseph M. DiTomaso, University of California-Davis,

The fastest way to propagate fig trees is to open the bark of a low branch (remove a sliver with a sharp knife) and push it to the ground so that it can take root. Place a rock on it to keep it from popping up. Once the roots form (usually about two weeks), you can sever this branch from the main plant and plant it wherever you desire.

Suckers can also be dug up and moved to a different spot. Lastly, you will sometimes find seedlings growing beneath a mature tree. Dig them up and pot them until they are at least 2 feet tall.

The key to pruning a fig tree is to, like a child, train it in the way you would have it grow when it is young so that all you have to do as it gets older is a little trimming–easy fig bush pruning. Figs do not require much pruning at all. But they can take very hard pruning and will usually grow back more vigorously.

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