Maintaining a happy and healthy fig tree is essential if you want to get tasty and juicy fruit, and the key to keeping one in top health is to prune it properly. However, there's an art to this task that shouldn't be overlooked since over-pruning could lead to disaster for your fruit crop come next summer.
The correct approach to pruning, however, will ensure a bumper crop of figs next harvest season. The only problem is, while every gardener knows the importance of trimming back fruit trees, not everyone is well-versed in the technique or knows the right time to do it.
If you need some insight, we asked some top gardening experts to reveal their tips for pruning fig trees, and while you might think gardening jobs are beginning to wind down for winter, it turns out that the best way to guarantee your tree's health is to provide it with the proper care during these colder months. Here's all the advice you need to know to ensure you have a flourishing fig tree in your modern garden.
Why is pruning fig trees important?
Pruning is an essential gardening skill if you want happy and healthy plants, and while it's still important for flowers - such as the likes of lavender and hydrangeas - it's especially important for fruit-bearing plants like trees and shrubs.
This is because pruning is vital in encouraging fruit production. 'Pruning helps the tree allocate its energy efficiently resulting in larger, sweeter figs,' explains gardening expert and writer at Green Life blog, Itamar Ben-Dor. 'By removing excess growth, you allow the tree to focus all its energy on fruit production.'
The other role of pruning is to keep your plants healthy by preventing diseases and pests. 'Proper pruning enhances air circulation and sunlight penetration, reducing the risk of fungal diseases and pests,' says Itamar. It also enables you to control the shape and size of your tree, too. Keeping your branches at a manageable size won't only help with the tree's overall health, but it'll also ensure it maintains an attractive shape and size for your backyard.
When should you prune a fig tree?
Effective pruning relies on the right timing, and mistiming the task can have a detrimental effect on your future crop. However, the perfect time to prune your fig will of course depend on your local climate and the maturity of your plant. Luckily though, there are some generalized guidelines that can help you get the timing right.
'The best time to prune fig trees is during their dormant season,' says professional gardener Zahid Adnan of The Plant Bible. 'For fig trees, this is typically in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins.'
Trimming your tree at this time allows it to heal and recover before the active growing season begins. This is why you should avoid pruning in late fall or during summer when the tree is using its energy to produce fruit. The same advice applies when it comes to fertilizing fruit trees. It's always best to wait until late winter or early spring when the tree is definitely dormant.
How do you prune a fig tree?
When taking the sheers to your beloved plants, it's vital you know how much to be cutting (and more importantly, what you should and shouldn't be cutting). Although it's a common gardening activity it's also one of the biggest gardening mistakes made by beginners. Fortunately, our expert for everything gardening-related, Zahid, has provided us with a step-by-step guide to pruning a fig tree.
'You should start by cutting away any dead or diseased branches, as they can harbor pests and diseases,' he says. To do this, look for weak branches with no leaves and decaying bark as a sign it should be removed. To prevent disease, you should then start thinning out your tree. 'Thin out crowded branches to improve air circulation and light penetration, and remove branches that cross or rub against each other,' Zahid explains.
The best way to encourage new growth is by performing 'heading-back cuts'. This is where you cut back selected branches to just above the bud. According to Zahid, another way to promote growth in older trees with unproductive branches is through renewal pruning. 'To do this, remove one-third of the oldest, least productive branches at ground level each year over the course of three years to rejuvenate the tree,' he says.
Remember to avoid these common fig pruning mistakes
Where there's a right way to prune a fig tree, there's also a wrong way. To avoid common pitfalls, these are three things to be wary of when pruning your tree.
'Over-pruning is one of the biggest mistakes I see,' says Itmar. 'Removing too much foliage in one go can stress the tree, so stick to the one-third rule: never remove more than a third of the tree's growth at once.'
Pruning at the wrong time of year is also a common error, so don't let it be your fall gardening mistake. Cutting your tree's branches during the growing seasons can lead to excessive stress on the tree and damage to its growing cycle, so stick to late winter or early spring.
'Last but not least, gardeners should also avoid neglecting their tools,' Itmar explains, 'Dull tools can damage the tree and make pruning less precise.' To avoid this, keep your tools sharp and store them away properly to ensure you're making clean cuts, and clean your blades regularly to reduce the chances of spreading diseases between your plants.
Tree pruning essentials
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Amy recently completed an MA in Magazine Journalism at City, University of London, with experience writing for Women’s lifestyle publications across arts, culture, and beauty. She has a particular love for the minimalist aesthetic mixed with mid-century furniture, especially combining unique vintage finds with more modern pieces. Her previous work in luxury jewellery has given her a keen eye for beautiful things and clever design, that plays into her love of interiors. As a result, Amy will often be heard justifying homeware purchases as 'an investment', wise words to live by.
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