Pruning figs as shrubs keeps them from turning into concrete-cracking monsters.

How to Prune Fig Tree Branches

by Patricia H. Reed

Fresh figs (Ficus carica) can be hard to find in the grocery store because they have to stay on the tree until they're ripe and only have a short window for fresh storage. If you love figs, grow them yourself in full sun in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 11. Don't let the thought of the complicated pruning schedule required by many fruit trees put you off growing figs. The most efficient pruning method lets you treat your fig like a spring-flowering shrub.

1 Put on gloves. Figs release white, milky sap when you cut its branches that can cause an itchy, red reaction.

2 Spray the blades of your pruning tools with household antiseptic cleaner, and dry them with paper towel to avoid passing along any plant disease or fungus from the last plant you pruned.

3 Shorten all the stems of a newly planted fig back to one-third of their height to encourage branching and new shoots from the roots. Make the cuts at a 45-degree angle, 1/4 inch above a bud or a side stem to avoid leaving stubs that can die off.

4 Cut out at ground level all but five to eight of the most vigorous stems in late winter to early spring while the plant is still dormant. Space the canes evenly to prevent overcrowding as the plant grows -- they can grow 3 to 4 inches in diameter.

5 Cut out any dead wood or cold damage after all danger of frost has passed in the spring.

6 Following your first spring crop on the year-old stems, shorten them with pruners or loppers to encourage fresh growth and more branching. Cut as in Step 2, at any point from ground level to half of last-year's growth. Figs produce a spring crop at the ends of last year's branches and a fall crop on the current year's growth.

7 Remove any excess shoots at ground level to prevent over crowding.

8 Cut one-third of the tallest, thickest stems down to 6 to 12 inches from the ground each year after your spring crop. Shorten another one-third by half the length of last year's growth, cutting back to just above a bud or side branch. This method keeps the plant from getting so large that you can't reach the figs and keeps the plant productive for both harvests.

Items you will need

  • Bypass pruners
  • Loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Household antiseptic cleaner
  • Paper towels

Tip

  • Harvest figs only when they hang straight down on the branch and are slightly droopy, indicating that they are fully ripe. They keep two to three days in the refrigerator or can be dried.

Warnings

  • Handle pruning tools with respect and store them where curious children can't reach them.
  • Fig tree roots can be invasive.

Photo Credits

  • Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images