When fruit trees go dormant, they sometimes appear to be dead. There’s no visible growth, the leaves are gone, and the branches look like dead sticks.
However, that’s just because the trees are in a self-preservation mode waiting out the harsh winter.
It’s easy to look at a dormant fig tree that is slow to awaken in spring and wonder if it didn’t make it through the winter.
To know if your fig tree is dead or not, scratch the outer layer of a branch to see if the underlying wood is still green or not, look for rotting wood, examine the roots to see if they’re dead, and wait until spring to check for signs of life before losing hope.
Even if the fig tree is dying, there might still be time for you to save it. Read more to find out how to identify a dying fig tree and what you can do to bring it back to life.
Want to be a fig tree care expert? Start by reading my comprehensive article Fig Tree Care and Maintenance that covers all the essentials and shares some professional tips.
How To Tell if Fig Is Dead
It’s true that a dormant fig tree looks very much like a dead fig tree, but there are telltale signs that indicate a problem.
The following 5 symptoms will tell you that the tree is on its last leg, so to speak, and that you should intervene to save it.
1. Scratch Test Tree
A dead fig tree will start to decay even when the outer bark looks healthy and in good condition. By the time the bark cracks and reveals the dead trunk under it, it will be too late.
If you suspect that the tree might be dead, use a sharp blade to scratch the outer layer of wood from a small branch.
Keep the incision small and limited. Check if the underlying wood is brown and brittle. If the wood is healthy and green, then the tree is very much alive.
2. All Dead Leaves During Growing Season
Deciduous trees shed their leaves in the fall, but a dying fig tree will lose all its leaves during the growing season.
First, the leaves will turn yellow. Then they shrivel and fall to the ground en masse. This is a serious symptom, and it means that the tree is dying.
3. Rotting Wood
Boring insects under the bark are another sign that the tree is dead. These insects attack rotting wood since it’s brittle and easy to break through.
If you see these insects or large portions of rotting wood, then the fig tree is dead.
4. Check for Live Roots
One other test that can tell you a lot about the fig tree’s health is to examine the roots.
Use a spade to gently uncover a part of the root system near the base. If the roots are rotting, damaged, or dead, the tree is dead.
However, if the roots are healthy or at least some of them are still alive, then there’s a chance you could save the tree.
5. Wait for Signs of Life in Spring
If your fig tree shows some signs of life but you still can’t tell if it’s alive or dead, wait until the spring.
A live fig tree will show signs of growth in the early spring. If you see small leaves and buds growing on the branches, then the tree is alive.
Why Is My Fig Tree Dying?
Fig trees need the right care and maintenance to keep them thriving.
If the growing conditions around the tree change abruptly or the tree doesn’t get enough water or nutrients, it will die.
Here are the main reasons your fig tree might be dying.
- Drought: The fig tree needs regular water, especially in the growing season. Lack of water can cause the leaves to fall off, and the tree will eventually die.
- Overwatering: Too much water leads to root rot, which is one of the leading causes of fig tree death.
- Nutrient Deficiency: Fig trees need nutrient-rich soil to thrive. Lack of nutrients can stunt the tree’s growth and lead to its demise.
- Abrupt Weather Changes: If the weather changes suddenly and becomes consistently hot, cold, or humid, this can stress out the tree.
- Transplant Shock: If the fig tree shows signs of stress after it has been transplanted, that could indicate transplant shock. Some trees don’t survive it.
- Diseases: Pest infestations and diseases can prove to be fatal for the fig tree unless you intervene.
Is My Tree Dead or Dormant?
While a dormant tree might look very much like it’s dead, a thorough inspection of the tree can help you verify that it’s actually alive.
Scratch the bark from a small branch and look for signs of healthy wood with a greenish tint to it.
Also, keep looking for signs of growth.
Often times new spring growth emerges early, only to be damaged by a late spring freeze, leaving the tree looking as if it died. Within a few weeks, more growth should emerge if the tree is alive.
What Does a Dormant Fig Tree Look Like?
A dormant fig tree has lost all of its leaves. The branches are bare and show no signs of growth or life. The tree stops growing while it’s dormant.
For all intents and purposes, the tree looks like it’s dead, but underneath the surface, the tree is very much alive.
The roots continue to draw moisture and nutrients from the soil even if at a slower pace. The branches are healthy and alive under the bark, just waiting for spring to arrive.
How Long Should a Fig Tree Be Dormant?
A fig tree stays dormant throughout the winter. It only comes back to life with the early signs of the spring.
Leaves and buds emerge on the branches, and the tree prepares for the growing season once again once warm weather arrives and days lengthen.
Should I Water a Dormant Fig Tree?
A fig tree continues to absorb nutrients and moisture from the soil even though it’s dormant. That means that you should water the tree to keep the soil moist.
Allow the top 2 to 3 inches of soil to dry out between irrigations, and don’t overwater it. Moist soil helps keep the roots from dying out, but consistently saturated soil can lead to death.
Do Fig Trees Die Back?
Fig trees don’t usually die back in the winter. However, if the temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the tree might die back to the ground.
This is a defense mechanism to protect its roots and keep it alive throughout the winter. However, in the spring, the tree will show signs of growth and will grow back from ground level.
How To Save a Dying Fig Tree
Since there are many causes for a dying fig tree, the best treatment will vary.
A fig tree suffering from root rot will have different solutions and steps than a tree suffering from a disease or one dying because of insufficient nutrients in the soil.
Here, I’ll summarize the best solution for each scenario.
- Solve Overwatering: If the soil is wet and the roots are rotting, the best solution is to dig up the tree and move it to a fresh spot. Trim off the dead roots, and plant the tree in new soil. Add organic compost and water the tree regularly.
- Solve Drought: The best way to deal with drought is to water the tree immediately and give it 1 inch of water a week during the growing season.
- Feed the Tree: If the leaves turn yellow and fall, that could indicate a nutrient deficiency. Feed the tree with a fast-release balanced fertilizer like this one once every 4 weeks, and side dress with organic compost.
- Treat Diseases: Prune infected branches, and dispose of them safely. Apply fungicides and sprays to treat blight, nematodes, and fig rust. Use neem oil to fight off pests.
Can Fig Trees Survive Winter?
If the winter in your area is cold and the temperatures drop under 20℉, the fig tree will die back to the ground to survive the winter.
Moderate winters don’t stress the fig tree as much, and the tree can go through dormancy and come back to life in the spring.
What Temperatures Kill Fig Trees?
Freezing temperatures can kill fig trees. Usually, the trees will die back when the temperatures go under 20℉, but it’s the roots that are crucial for the survival of the tree.
If the soil freezes over during the winter, that could kill the roots as well.
Fig trees go through dormancy like many other trees, but if the wood starts to rot, all leaves disappear, and the roots die, the tree will die even when it looks like it’s just dormant.
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