Fig trees are fantastic in the garden, the leaves are a great shape but what we really want is the fruit. It can be troublesome and some years you might have a glut of figs, the next not much fruit at all.
Pruning and training a fig tree is simple and can result in more consistent fruiting and training can allow a tree to really thrive in even small gardens.
A Bit About Figs
Figs will require long periods of hot weather to produce much fruit. In warmer climates, figs can be grown in standards or bushes but cooler climates you will struggle to get a lot of fruit unless the fig is pruned to a very open structure allowing lots of light.
If you live in a cooler climate where the summer is fairly short you may get the best out of a fig tree by fan training against a wall or fence in a sunny position to make the most of the warmth and light.
How A Fig Fruits
The fruiting pattern of a fig can be quite unusual with 3 distinct sequences to look for. The sequence of fruiting and ripening is a follows:
- An embryo or overwintered fig that forms in the leaf axils from the previous season is the first to ripen in the season.
- New spring growth that forms and grow to ripeness in one season ready to harvest in late summer in warmer regions
- Embryo fruits that form at the tip of new growth that will overwinter and form fruit at the beginning of next season.
Knowing this sequence of fruiting can then help us to understand what to prune and how to make sure there is the growth necessary to bear fruit from one season to the next.
In cooler areas, we can prune to encourage fruit to overwinter on new growth and fully ripen in the next season.
When To Prune Figs
The best time to prune figs is after the last frost in early spring. Waiting until all chance of frost has past will protect new, tender growth that forms in spring.
In cool climates where we want to ensure the best chance of fruit production, it is also necessary to pinch out new growth in early-mid summer to let as much air and light in as possible and to concentrate growth on the fruit that is to ripen in that year.
After mid-summer you will need to stop pruning so that the embryo figs that form at the tip of new growth will overwinter and ripen the following year.
Any fruit that is larger fruits that have not ripened can be removed as they will not survive the winter and this will concentrate the figs resources into the more worthwhile fruits.
Pruning An Established Fig Bush
The best time to prune fig bushes is in spring into early summer after the last frost.
A good habit for a fig bush is a bare trunk up to 2ft (60cm) and an open structure of around 8 – 10 healthy branches that are well spaced from each other and not overlapping or crossing.
The idea is to keep the structure open and to encourage a wide-spreading habit. This ensures plenty of light and air to encourage fruit production and ripening.
Any frost damaged or dead growth should be cut back to healthy growth as soon as possible.
Concentrate on keeping the centre of the fig bush open allowing the bush to spread out almost like a goblet. In hot climates, the reverse is true where scorching is a possibility the central growth can provide shade and protection from the hot midday sun.
Cut back any leggy or bare looking shoots to one bud (around 2 – 4 inches) to encourage new vigorous growth to take its place.
Training & Pruning A Fig Fan
To create a fan from a fig is similar to most other fruit fans, however, due to the size of the figs leaves you will want a much larger structure to train against as the branches will need bigger spacing.
A wall or structure at least 7ft / 2m high and 15ft / 4.5m wide is required to achieve spacing adequate for enough light in to ripen the figs.
Early Fan Training For A Fig
A fig fan will need a large wall with wires tied horizontally to support lateral growth and staking with bamboo canes.
For formative fan training, you will want a 2 – 3-year-old fig with strong side branch growth.
You will want to aim for around 6 main branches on each side of the fig and this will take a good 2 or 3 years. Train the arms of the fan with bamboo sticks at 40 degrees against the horizontal wires.
When new well positioned grow forms on the arms tie into the wires. Cut out any growth that is badly positioned or growing toward the wall our outward from it.
Allow growth out from the main arms util the fan fills in. Once established keep the amount of growth limited to avoid overcrowding the fruit and allowing air into the fig.