Pruning fig tree: when and how – Instruction

Fig tree with green figs
Fig tree with green figs

The common fig (Ficus carica) is an exotic fruit species that is gaining more and more fans. The shrubs can even tolerate a few sub-zero temperatures and can certainly grow in the garden in mild regions in locations with a favorable microclimate, for example, the fig variety ‘Violetta’, which is considered particularly robust. Optimal for the plants is a wind-protected sunny place alongside a heat-retaining wall. The fig usually grows as a multi-stemmed tree, but is also offered as a single stem. In cooler regions, it hardly grows larger than a shrub because it freezes back severely each year.

To keep it growing healthily, it’s important to avoid a few mistakes when caring for figs. Therefore, like most fruit trees, you should prune a fig tree regularly. The woody plants form their fruits on the previous year’s shoots and also on the new shoots. However, the latter do not ripen properly in most regions because the growing season is too short.

Nevertheless, it is important that you promote the formation of strong new shoots for next year’s harvest with pruning. At the same time, the crown must remain so airy and loose that the fruits on this year’s bearing wood can soak up plenty of sunlight and ripen optimally.

When to prune a fig tree?

It is best to prune the fig tree in early spring, from mid-February to early March, depending on the region and weather. It is important that after pruning, no more prolonged periods of frost are expected.

Remove frozen shoots

First remove any shoots that froze over the winter. These can be easily identified by briefly scratching the bark: If the tissue underneath is dry and yellowish, the branch is dead.

The dead wood you either cut back to the living part or remove the corresponding shoot altogether. If the branch is inconveniently positioned anyway or the crown is too dense at the point, it is best to cut it off directly at the branch ring so that no new wood grows back at this point. A branch that is merely cut back, on the other hand, will always sprout again in several places.

Thinning out the crown of the fig tree

After removing the dead wood, take care of all the stronger branches that grow into the interior of the crown or are simply too dense. They often take away the light from the ripening fruit and should therefore also be cut off at the branch ring. As a rule, you need to use pruning shears or a pruning saw for this purpose.

Reduce branches at the shoot ends

Branches on figs are often very dense at the ends of the main shoots, so these branch sections should all be thinned out. In most cases, you can remove every second to third side shoot.

You should also shorten the ends of each main shoot or divert them to an outward growing side shoot. Very long side shoots are also shortened to an outer eye. In the end, the fig tree or shrub should not be too dense and the remaining fruit shoots from the previous year should be well distributed. The airier the crown, the larger the figs will grow and the better they will ripen.

Severe pruning is possible with figs

Few amateur gardeners know that a fig can be cut back very far into the old wood if necessary – even to just above the ground. The plants have a very high sprouting capacity and reliably resprout. However, you will then have to do without the delicious fruit for a season. Severe pruning is only necessary in rare cases, such as young plants with insufficient winter protection that have frozen back to the ground.

Pruning the fig tree in summer

Every year the fig tree is ready to give us a second generation of fruit. However, some local climates are unfavorable that even in warm years at most a few autumn specimens ripen. The rest of the fruits freeze to death. So that the tree does not waste its energy unnecessarily, a second pruning in summer is advisable.

  • prune back in August
  • shorten this year’s shoots
  • to about 6 to 8 leaves

The shoots thus shortened will form overwintering buds, which, with a little weather luck, will provide us with delicious fruit the following summer.

Rejuvenation pruning the fig tree

When an aging fig tree becomes increasingly senescent, it can be rejuvenated by proper pruning. Not only the crown becomes more densely branched and leafy again. Fruits can also be seen in greater numbers. These measures help to keep the tree young:

  • Carry out rejuvenation measures during spring pruning.
  • remove old ground shoots every 5 to 10 years
  • replace them with young ground shoots
  • the new ground shoots are not shortened in the process

If the tree is severely shortened, radical pruning should be carried out. The fig will then sprout fresh and must be raised again with new ground shoots. This radical pruning also radically affects the substance of the tree, which is why it should not be done every year.

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