Perfectly pruning fig trees - tutorial with useful pruning instructions

Perfectly pruning fig trees - tutorial with useful pruning instructions

Pruning fig tree annually - pruning options

Modern fig varieties are also hardy north of the Alps. Primarily in regions with mild winter, such as the Lower Rhine or in wine-growing areas, figs thrive as a richly branched shrub or small tree in the bed. Wherever the temperature falls below -10 degrees Celsius in winter, the Mediterranean fruit trees, used as container plants, provide sweet fruit enjoyment. A careful choice of location and adequate wintering alone are not enough for an annual fig harvest. The expert cut guarantees that your Ficus carica remains vital and blooming with a high proportion of fruit wood. The following table summarizes the cutting options with which you can achieve your goal:

also read

  • Help - my fig tree is getting brown leaves
  • Help - my fig tree has yellow leaves
  • Correctly cut walnut tree - cutting tutorial with instructions
Types of cutsGoal / occasionbest date
UpbringingBuild a harmonious crown, promote fruit woodFebruary to early March
Conservation cutRemove dead, unfavorable shoots, promote light-flooded growthFebruary to early March
Summer cutPromotion of winter-ready fruit plantsEnd of July to mid-August
Taper cutRevitalize neglected fig treeLate winter

Raise fig tree properly

Home gardeners traditionally cultivate a fig tree north of the Alps as a spreading, richly branched shrub. At least in mild winter regions of hardiness zones 7 and 8, the fruit trees, as a bush planted out, bring a generous fig harvest in August and again in October. If the garden is located within rough winter hardiness zones 5 and 6, a fig tree will thrive in the bucket to linger behind glass during the cold season. Under these conditions, training as a small tree with a short trunk and a stable crown is advantageous. If you want to consider this recommended option, prune a young fig like this:

  • On the day of planting: let the central shoot stand, cut off the remaining bottom shoots at the base
  • Up to the desired trunk height: guide the central shoot on the support rod, do not shorten, remove side shoots regularly
  • Crown formation: The central shoot tip bud cut off at least 4 buds above the crown base

As the illustration below shows, a fig tree should be raised with a short trunk and a crown of trunk extension and four side shoots. It is crucial for trunk training and crown building that you only cut the tip bud when it is 4 to 6 buds above the desired crown base. If you cut the top bud too early, height growth will stop and your fig tree will remain measly small.

Fig tree pruning


Leaky milky juice causes itching and allergies.

Under its smooth, gray bark, a fig tree is permeated with milky sap. Direct contact of the milk juice on the skin under sunlight can cause photodermatitis. The allergic reaction manifests itself as severe itching, followed by blistering and eczema. In contrast to sunburn, affected areas of the skin heal slowly and are marked by irreversible pigmentation. Therefore, wear gloves with long cuffs for all cutting work.

Preservation cut - step-by-step instructions

As a shrub or tree, the fig thrives with a long-lasting structure of ground shoots or canopy leading branches. The frame carries the short-lived fruit wood with inconspicuous flowers. On previous year's shoots, the wood blooms in March and brings the desired fruits from August. On this year's wood, greenish flowers appear in July and turn into figs in autumn. An annual maintenance cut aims at light-flooded growth and the promotion of young fruit wood. The following cut has proven itself excellently in practice:

  • Cut off dead wood at the base
  • Cut back frozen side shoots on the scaffolding to short stubs of 5 to 10 centimeters
  • Cut out the weaker one from two parallel vertical shoots
  • Cut inward branches back to one or two outward-facing buds

An impeccable maintenance cut leaves a stable, load-bearing framework with vital wood. Shoots removed from the previous year ideally remain uncut because they deliver the first harvest in late summer. If, on the other hand, a shoot from the previous year has reached a length under whose fruit load it could break this year, cut the branch by a third or half as an exception. Perennial wood is shortened to a few buds, from which the fresh fruit wood sprouts this year, which bears juicy-sweet figs in autumn and again next summer.

Pruning fig tree

Promoting fruit wood - this is how it works

If a shoot has borne fruit for two or more years, it degrades strongly. Overaged fruit wood can be identified by its dense branching and drooping growth . This appearance does not mean that you will definitely declare the branch to be “old iron” and remove it completely. As long as it has an unbranched, annual shoot in the rear area, an advantageous fruit wood cut is suitable at this point.

As illustrated below, use scissors or a saw where the young fruit wood branches off at an upward angle. Please set the point of intersection a few millimeters into the old wood so as not to damage the young side shoot. The stub should not be longer than one centimeter, because otherwise the resulting putrefaction leads to the risk of disease.

Pruning fig tree

Summer cut

A light summer pruning guarantees a vital fig tree and premium quality fruit . The following pruning is intended for figs that have been planted and aims to prevent the exhausting growth of deficient autumn fruits. In return, the planting of winter-ready fruit plants is supported for an early harvest of the best quality. How to do it right:

  • The best time is from the end of July to mid-August (after the summer harvest)
  • Carefully examine the bush or crown for breeding birds in order to postpone the appointment if necessary
  • Cut all this year's unbranched side shoots back to 6 to 8 leaves

As a result of the summer pruning measures, the remaining flower buds form rudimentary fruit systems that overwinter and become ripe figs in the next summer.

If it is a fig in a bucket that hibernates behind glass, there is no summer pruning. The blossoms in July turn into figs that still ripen in the bright, warm winter garden.


What exactly is fruit wood?

Pruning figs is all about extracting and preserving fruit wood. By definition for all types of fruit trees, fruit wood is not the wood from which the long-lasting basic structure for shrubs or treetops is formed. Rather, the term refers to rather short-lived side branches. In the specific case of a fig, the most vital fruit wood comes from the previous year and this year . The easiest way to identify young fruitwood is by its sloping to horizontal and not very branched growth. Older side shoots on the supporting structure bloom and hardly produce any fruit. The declining vitality can be easily recognized by the massively branched, drooping shoot tips.

Taper cut

The considerable cut tolerance of a fig tree is based on its ability to produce fresh shoots from old wood. The floral bravura succeeds because the plant sets up numerous sleeping eyes below the bark as it grows. The tiny, almost invisible vegetation points are just waiting to replace lost branches or trunks. You can build on this “iron reserve” when you revitalize an aged or neglected fig tree with a rejuvenating pruning. Here's how to do it properly:

  • The best time is during the deciduous winter time
  • Cut frozen twigs back into sound wood
  • Cut off dead wood at the base
  • Remaining branches divert to a lower, outwardly directed side shoot

Numerous branches on planted figs can freeze back completely in a harsh winter. The long-lasting scaffolding made of thick, perennial branches is usually not affected by the damage. If you are unsure whether there is still life in an instinct or not, a vitality test will remove any concerns. Scrape off some of the bark with a knife or fingernail. Alternatively, cut off a small piece of shoot. If juicy, cream-colored to green tissue emerges, life pulsates in the drive. Brown tissue, on the other hand, leaves no doubt that you are dealing with deadwood that needs to be cut out.

frequently asked Questions

Our fig tree is now two years old. It grows incessantly and has now reached a height of two meters, unfortunately without side shoots. New shoots are now sprouting from the tree disc. Shall we cut the trunk?

Please decide on a suitable trunk height, for example 150 centimeters. At this point, cut the stem about an inch above a bud. Subsequent growth of side branches begins below the interface, forming the future crown. The shoots from the tree disc compete with the crown for nutrients and should be removed promptly.

We took over a fig tree from our neighbor and now want to replant it in our garden. When is the best time? What to look out for

The best time to change location is after the leaves have been shed in autumn. Cut off the roots all around in a large radius with the spade. Torn off root strands rarely grow back. Choose a sunny location with loamy, slightly acidic soil that is well drained and rich in nutrients. We recommend enriching the soil with rhododendron soil. In February / March, cut back the shoots by a third to compensate for the lost root mass.

How big should a pail be for the fig tree? What height can a Ficus carica reach in a pot? Can I cut back the branches for shrub-like growth?

If the nursery supplies you with the young fig tree with a height of 80 to 100 centimeters, you need a bucket with a volume of 40 to 50 liters. With sufficient water and nutrient supply, the plant can reach a height of up to 3 meters. The pronounced cut tolerance makes it possible to encourage bush-like branching at a young age.

Is a fig tree self-fertile or does it need a neighboring variety as a pollinator?

The pure species Ficus carica thrives as a monoecious plant, so that it produces female and male flowers. Provided that insects take care of pollination, a real fig will produce fruit without any additional pollinator variety. Modern fig varieties such as Dalmatica, Brunswick or Brown Turkey can even do without insects, because their figs grow as virgin fruits. The attribute is particularly advantageous for cultivation in winter gardens and greenhouses when bees or bumblebees are not allowed in.

Can I grow a fig as a trellis tree?

Trellis training is a sensible cultivation method for the fig tree not only when there is a lack of space. Protected by a sun-drenched south wall of the house, the Mediterranean fruit trees act as a picturesque green facade and deliver juicy, sweet figs up to twice a year. Raise the fig with two to three main shoots that you attach to the wall trellis. The young fruitwood, which blooms in spring and summer and then bears fruit, sprouts on this framework. An annual maintenance cut in February is advisable, as this tutorial explains.

The 3 most common mistakes

If a fig tree is left to its own devices, it will turn into a branching thicket within a few years. If they are pruned at the wrong time, flower buds and fruit systems fall victim. In order to protect you from typical mistakes when cutting figs, the following table lists the three most common cutting errors with damage and tips for prevention:

Cutting errorsDamageprevention
never exposedpremature aging, lazy flowers, little fruitwoodclear once a year
pruned after floweringno or few figscut in February
Prior year shoots cut offFailure of the summer harvest, few fruits in autumnPromote annual and biennial shoots with fruit wood pruning


A fig tree in the bucket is vulnerable to frost in winter. Even extensive protective measures are not enough to protect the Mediterranean fruit trees in the pot from frost damage. Please reserve frost-free, light winter quarters. You can leave unripe fruits hanging because they will ripen in the next spring and give you an early harvest.