Pruning Fig Trees: How-To Guide for Different Growth Stages

Fig trees are a delight to have, but without proper trimming, they can get out of hand quickly!

Pruning your fig tree is beneficial because it increases the number of branches for figs to grow on while keeping the branch structure strong and the tree aesthetically pleasing.

Follow the guide below to understand the different growth stages and what you should do at each point in a fig tree’s life to grow the best figs and keep your tree happy!  

Maximize the productivity of your fig tree by mastering its care. Get the basics and pro tips in my comprehensive article Fig Tree Care and Maintenance.

Why Prune Fig Trees

Pruning fig trees is beneficial to remove dead, diseased, and dying wood, which helps keep the tree healthy. It is also a great way to increase new branch growth, leading to more buds eventually developing into figs.

Whenever you prune, the tree will grow multiple new shoots from the site of the cut. This will at least double the branches figs can grow on.

When To Prune Fig Trees

It is best to prune fig trees in their dormancy during the fall and winter months. Once the leaves fall from the tree, this indicates that it is fine to begin pruning!

It is always okay to prune in any season using the three Ds as a guide: dead, diseased, or dying wood.

How To Prune a Mature Fig Tree

Pruning a fig tree can be a daunting task due to branches growing every which way. If it’s a mature tree, it may be quite large and it can be hard to determine the correct branch to cut off.

Take a look at the tips below to guide you on how to prune your fig tree effectively for bountiful figs and to help keep your tree healthy for years to come!

You’ll want to clean up the tree, thin the branches, and shape the tree’s canopy yearly for the best results when growing figs.

Timing

As stated above, you’ll want to prune your fig tree in its dormancy unless you’re simply following the three-D rule.

It is even easier to prune in the winter once its leaves have dropped so you can get a good overall picture of the structure without the leaves blocking your view. 

What To Prune

Start with the three Ds. Then, once you have removed what is essential to keeping a healthy tree, you can begin to shape it.

Most fig trees will grow in a fairly open shape. This depends on how it was first structured and if it has been pruned to keep its shape growing well. 

Now look for any overlapping branches, branches that cross back in toward the trunk, or branches that are rubbing on one another. These should be removed.

You’ll want to leave the branches that grow outward to evenly absorb sunlight when leaves are present and to have plenty of space away from other branches. 

If there are any long, over-extended branches, reduce them rather significantly by about ⅓ their length to keep the tree more compact. This will help avoid breakage when heavy fruit begins to form. 

How To Prune a Young Fig Tree

There won’t be much to prune on a young fig tree in most cases, so it is good to focus on training a strong central leader.

Choose one vertical growing branch that seems to follow the natural center of the tree and is growing directly upward. This will ensure there are no weak V-shaped competing leaders that have a tendency to break. 

From there, you’ll want to create a strong branch structure, selecting branches that grow from a 45˚ angle from the central leader.

Because figs grow on previous years’ growth, choosing branches that are evenly spaced apart and will not rub or intersect as they grow larger is key. 

Pruning out any poorly spaced branches will help to establish a strong tree for years to come!

Figs developing on a Black Mission fig tree.

Pruning Fig Trees in Pots

Fig trees are vigorous growers, so growing them in a pot can pose certain difficulties. You’ll want to keep the tree shorter in height so it does not become too top-heavy and fall over.

It is also key to keep fertilizing your fig tree every time you prune it so there is a supply of new nutrients available for the tree since it only has a small amount of soil and nutrients in the pot. 

How To Prune a Fig Tree for Winter

Before the tree goes into dormancy for the winter, it is good to prune away anything that falls into the category of the three Ds and to remove any new shoots originating from the trunk.

If these new shoots are not removed until spring, they will begin to utilize the tree’s energy and end up reducing the amount of fruit produced. 

What Happens if You Don’t Prune a Fig Tree?

Fig trees are vigorous growers, and they will most likely grow branches far away from the trunk, causing heavy-ended branches that are more likely to break easily.

The tree can live in nature without pruning, but over the years, issues have been seen with their natural structure, and horticulturalists have found they can mitigate these issues if you prune them yearly. 

Can I Prune a Fig Tree in Summer?

It is always alright to prune fig trees to remove any dead, diseased, or dying branches, but fully pruning your fig tree in the summer is not a good idea.

It can cause excessive sap loss and also remove all points of new growth, preventing any figs from growing the next season.

Should Fig Trees Be Topped?

Topping is a practice that should never be done to a tree. It is extremely stressful for the tree to handle and can lead to long-term effects of reduced vigor.

This stress may cause the tree to overreact and grow weak shoots that will likely break in high winds and inclement weather. 

In some cases, a tree may become too large for its space and require large reduction cuts to keep it around.

When this is necessary, it may be best to call in an arborist or fruit tree specialist to ensure it is pruned correctly and keep the tree thriving for years to come. 

Hard-Pruning Fig Tree

Hard-pruning a fig tree is when you remove one-third or more of each branch’s length in a single season. This will cause excessive new branch growth that new figs can grow from.

While it benefits fruit production, it can be stressful for the tree. Pairing hard-pruning with ample fertilization will supply nutrients to regrow the branches it has lost.

Closing Thoughts 

Pruning your fig tree is a must, especially in its young formative years.

Any time you can structure the branches of a tree, you should do so as it will increase fruit production, lead to years of strong growth, and keep your fig tree looking tidy!

If you’re unsure how to prune the tree, begin with the 3 Ds and then use this article to help guide the rest!

Pruning your trees is important, but there is so much more to learn! Explore these fig tree topics next: