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How to Prune Fig Tree – Step by Step – Guide

Pruning a fig tree is very important to achieve optimal growth of your fig crop, enhancing both the quantity and quality of the harvest. Learn all about when and how to prune fig trees in this article.

The objectives of pruning the fig tree are:

  • Control the development of the tree.
  • Improve the quantity and quality of the harvest.
  • To favor illumination and aeration in the canopy and inside the tree.
  • Elimination of old branches that may harbor parasites, as well as dry, broken, or damaged branches.

Young fig trees are pruned in the first and second years to determine their structure. Shaping the tree is vital because it could influence the quality and quantity of production, ease of harvesting, and other activities. Fig trees that are more than 4 years old are pruned to preserve their shape and to clear the inner part of the fruit tree, which allows the tree to be better aerated and sunlight to penetrate. All these tasks promote fruit production in future harvests. Mature fig trees are pruned annually or every two years.

There is no written rule on how to prune a fig tree, and the success of the practice will depend largely on the expertise of the person performing the pruning. However, there are some tips to follow when pruning fig trees. So that everything goes well, I will tell you everything you need to know about pruning fig trees.

When to Prune Fig Tree?

If there is one thing to keep in mind when planning to prune fig trees, it is frost. Fig trees, like other fruit trees, suffer damage to their bark if temperatures drop too low after pruning. Consequently, whenever low temperatures (close to 0°) are expected, pruning should be delayed until the risk disappears.

Therefore, it is essential to plan pruning during the fruit trees’ slowest period of activity and growth.

As a general rule, a good time to prune fig trees is right at the beginning of spring, before the tree regains its activity, and as long as there is no risk of low temperatures. This will allow less loss of sap, and as the growing stage is near, the wounds will begin to heal sooner or later. In the case of climates with not very cold winters, pruning in autumn can be a good option.

While important pruning such as training, production, or renewal pruning should be done in cold seasons, green pruning is not. The ideal time for green pruning a fig tree is in early to mid-summer, the warmest time of the year.

when to prune fig trees
When to Prune Fig Tree? Spring is the best time to prune a fig tree.

Tools for Pruning Fig Trees

Before delving into the specifics of when and how to prune fig trees, it’s essential to ensure you have all the requisite tools for this task. If you already maintain other trees or shrubs on your property, chances are you possess most of the necessary tools for effective fig tree pruning. Below, you’ll find a list of equipment commonly employed in the pruning of fig trees.

  • Pruning shears: To cut branches up to 2″ (5 cm).
  • Pruning Saw: To saw branches of between 2″ and 8″ (5 and 20 cm).
  • Extendable Pruning Saw: For pruning high branches.
  • Chainsaw: To cut thick trunks of more than 8″ (20 cm). We use a cheap but handy electric chainsaw for pruning our large trees.
  • Ladder
  • Safety glasses, gloves, and boots

Prioritize safety during fig tree pruning by ensuring you have essential tools such as safety glasses and, if working at heights, consider using harnesses for added protection.

It is recommended to disinfect the pruning tools before pruning the fig tree. This will help prevent diseases in fruit trees.

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How to Prune a Fig Tree

To prune fig trees, the first thing we need to know is the type of pruning we are going to do, and for that, we need to know the age of the fruit tree. It is not the same as pruning a young fig tree, which is growing and requires training pruning, as to pruning a mature one, in which we will have to think more about the production and facilitate the harvesting of the crop.

Also, there are different types of pruning for figs: formation pruning, production pruning, and rejuvenation pruning.

How to Prune a Young Fig Tree

In general, we can say that a fig tree goes from young to mature between 6 and 10 years old since, depending on the climate, the area, and the variety,… the trees can age in different ways. If it is less than 5 years old, we should carry out training pruning, fruiting pruning at 5 or 6 years of age, and, from this point on, production pruning.

Pruning during this period of formation should be oriented to the formation of the structure on which the fig tree will later grow. Let’s see the types of pruning to be carried out during this phase:

Formative Pruning of the Fig Tree

This is done to establish the main structure of the tree and direct its growth. As it is a rather drastic pruning, it is done when the tree is at rest, i.e., in autumn or late winter.

Let’s see how to perform training pruning:

In the first year, we must cut back all the branches so that lower branches sprout.

In the second year, the main branches will be cut back a little. The lower branches should be left, except for those sprouting from the lower half of the trunk.

In the third year, the main branches will be pruned to 2/3 of their length, and we will remove the ones that are growing towards the inside of the top of the tree.

formative pruning fig tree
Formative pruning of the fig tree.

Fruiting Pruning of Fig Trees

Its main objective is to establish the main productive branches.

To do this, we will choose the 3 or 4 main branches on which we want the rest of the tree to grow. These branches should not be too steeply inclined, as this will prevent them from being overcome by the weight of the crop.

Next, we will prune the offshoots that sprout from these branches and trim them a little, thus establishing the structure of the tree.

How to Prune a Mature Fig Tree

Mature fig trees are pruned to maintain their shape and to clean the inside of the tree. In this way, we facilitate the entrance of light and improve its aeration. It is called production pruning, and we can also meet at this stage with green pruning and rejuvenation pruning. Let’s take a look at them:

Fig Tree Production Pruning

Pruning is carried out to maximize sunlight and favor aeration of the interior of the tree. The aim is to obtain an abundant and better-quality harvest.

It is a cleaning and thinning of the branches to facilitate the entry of light to benefit the fruit. Lobed canopies are preferable to spherical ones since, this way, we increase the area of exposure, making the most of the light. In addition, we will also cut the branches that are not very productive so that new ones can sprout.

With all this, the yield of the tree is improved to improve production in future harvests.

We will do it as follows:

  • First, we will eliminate the largest offshoots since they are not very productive and absorb sap from the branch on which they sprout.
  • We should not eliminate all the offshoots but leave the weaker ones located inside the tree to shade the woods that make up the structure of the fig tree.
  • The lowest branches should be cut since they receive the least light and, therefore, produce the poorest quality fruit.
  • The crown should have a rounded shape, with many projections and protrusions, to increase exposure and make better use of sunlight. Intertwined branches inside the canopy, as well as those that are damaged, broken, or diseased, should also be pruned.
  • The thinning of fine branches should be avoided to maintain the leaf/wood ratio. This will avoid excess wood, which reduces the renewal capacity of productive branches.
fig tree production pruning
Fig Tree Production Pruning

Fig Tree Rejuvenation Pruning

Rejuvenation pruning, also called renewal pruning, is performed on trees with signs of aging after having been producing for more than 20 years. These symptoms can be low production and poorer quality, loss of foliage inside the tree, and smaller and yellowish leaves.

It is done to rejuvenate the fig tree and can be done drastically or progressively.

Drastic rejuvenation pruning: In the first case, what we do is eliminate all the foliage of the tree, leaving practically the base of the trunk and the primary branches to grow again.

Progressive rejuvenation pruning: It consists of pruning from the top of the crown to the base of the branches. It is done in phases; every 3 years, we will cut one of the four main branches of the tree.

Green Pruning of Fig Trees

In summer, renewal pruning or green pruning can be carried out.

Although they can be done at any time of the year, they are usually done at the end of August, when the fig tree is barely active due to the high temperatures. This is done to control the growth of offshoots, eliminating those that are not useful for the fig tree.

Final Conclusions

In conclusion, the best time to prune fig trees is in spring. If you live in an area where winters are not so extreme, you can prune fig trees in the fall. From my own experience, I recommend pruning fig trees in spring, even if the winters are mild where you live.

We hope that this article on how to prune a fig tree will be of great use and that you will have a better harvest. We recommend reading our guide about caring for fig trees to learn more gardening tips that may improve your fig harvest.

green pruning of fig trees
How to Prune Fig Tree? There are different types of pruning for fig: formation pruning, production pruning, and rejuvenation pruning.

About Henry Morgan

Henry Morgan is an agronomist horticulture founder of The Garden Style Company and The Garden Style Website. He previously worked for Mondelēz International as an Agronomist Engineer specializing in agricultural products management in highly populated areas. In 2000, Henry started working with farmer-producers in agricultural businesses selling wholesale fresh produce and retail plants in Van Buren, Arkansas. Nowadays, Henry lives in California, where he offers expert consulting services for organic vegetable gardening. As a science writer working with his wife, Julia, Henry shares his passion for gardening and farming, trying to reach and teach as many folks as possible.

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