How to prune fig trees in a backyard garden to size

Written by d.c. winston
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How to prune fig trees in a backyard garden to size
Unripe figs on the tree. (Vincenzo Lombardo/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The fig belongs to a genus of subtropical evergreen shrubs and trees known botanically as Ficus. The common, edible-fruit-bearing species is Ficus carica, but there are also many non-fruiting ornamental species as well, including the common Ficus benjamina and the desirable Ficus lyrata or fiddle leaf fig. Fig trees do not require regular pruning once established and are generally considered to be small in size compared to other species. If a fig tree does get planted and established in a space too small to accommodate its natural shape and size, pruning becomes necessary. If you are growing your fig tree for fruit, you will need to weigh maximum fruit harvests with repeat pruning for size and consider the loss of some fruit.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • Garden gloves
  • Secateurs
  • Loppers
  • Fine toothed pruning saw

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Prune your fig tree either in the early spring or, alternatively, in the summer or very early fall, immediately after the fruit has ripened and has been harvested.

  2. 2

    Cut away any dead, diseased, broken or crossing branches back to the parent branch, just slightly beyond the swollen branch collar joint.

  3. 3

    Reduce the height and spread of the tree by trimming the terminal tips of the branches to the desired length. Place cuts on a slight bias, 3 mm (1/4 inch) above a leaf node or bud to encourage new branching and a dense, if smaller, canopy. Remove no more than one-third of the living tree tissue in this manner and be prepared for a reduction or entire loss of fruit for the coming season.

Tips and warnings

  • Use the right cutting tool for the diameter of woody or soft green tissues. Secateurs are good for tissues that are 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) or less in diameter, loppers for 2.5 cm (1 inch) branches or smaller and a fine toothed pruning saw for anything larger. Using the right tool will help to ensure clean cuts that do not damage the surrounding cambium or invite disease to the wound sites.
  • All species of fig have a milky latex in their tissues that is emitted every time the tissues are compromised. The substance can be mildly to very irritating to some. Unless you are certain that the latex is not an irritant to your skin, always don garden gloves when pruning or working with fig trees.

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