Last updated on March 14th, 2022
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Fig trees are stunning and produce beautiful fruits, and some varieties, for example, ‘Brown Turkey’ can even be grown outside successfully. They have been popular in infamous Mediterranean gardens throughout history, mentioned in ancient biblical gardens, Roman gardens, even Ottoman gardens. But growing them outside in the UK successfully requires you to choose a particularly strong variety and plant it near a sunny wall to get the most out of it. Figs need protection against our severe winter weather and usually grow better in milder parts of the UK.
Thankfully they do grow quite effectively in containers, which is good if you have a garden with limited space, they grow well in greenhouses and will sometimes even produce two crops a year. It is also beneficial because you can move the pots or containers inside to protect against severe winter weather. A single, self-pollinating plant can give you a successful yield of fig fruit as long as you tend to it properly. One of the jobs that cannot be overlooked is pruning, and the correct pruning will mean bigger, better fruits, which are super tasty.
Pruning your Outdoor Fig Trees
When you grow fig trees outside you can train and prune them to achieve optimum success. It is best to plant them against a wall or, if you are growing them inside a greenhouse, plant them against horizontal wires. Similar to vines, give your figs something to climb against and keep them growing in the right structure with the appropriate frame. That being said, you can also grow them as a bush and the best practice is to keep the canopy as open as possible because this makes them ripen more successfully as they get more sun.
Note that as you are training and pruning your fig trees, you need to wear protective gloves because the sap from the fig tree can irritate your skin. As you prune, do so from the bottom of the plant upwards to prevent severe exposure to the sap.
When you are training your outdoor fig tree against a wall or wires, you should pinch the tips of every other young shoot from the main framework in June (on an annual basis) but do not do it any later because it could result in reduced fruiting. This will help to encourage lower growth and as these new shoots develop you can tie them directly into the wires if you have chosen to grow them along wires.
Whether you are growing your fig trees in a container or in your garden directly, pruning should be done for smaller and younger trees to help establish the supportive structure or frame that the plant will maintain throughout maturity. You want a single upright central leader from which are no more than four outward shoots and all the others can be pruned away. As your fig tree matures you can focus only on cutting out weaker branches or dead stems.
Pruning Tips and Guidelines
- When you first plant a fig tree it’s a good idea to prune all branches by around half because this will help encourage the plant to root rather than put on new growth and help it to become more established.
- Remove any suckers that grow from the base of the plant.
- In early spring prune out any damaged or crossing branches and choose which branches will be the fruiting branches, the rest can be pruned out. Ideally, you want to aim to have 4-6 fruiting branches.
- In autumn remove any larger figs that have not ripened but do not remove any of the smaller embryonic fruit that will be next year’s fruit.
Pruning Overgrown Fig Trees
If you have an overgrown fig tree that has become very leggy with often bare branches then it’s not uncommon for all the fruit to form at the end of the branches on the new growth.
If you want to rejuvenate an overgrown tree you need to prune out the oldest branches around February. Remove up to 25% of the branches and if you need to stimulate replacement growth then leave little stumps when cutting back the branches. However, if you want to prune back more than 25% of the branches, then we recommend pruning over 2-3 years to avoid excessive growth.
In summer once you have new growth, remove any unwanted new growth to get the shape you want, leave the new growth that provides you with your desired shape and remove the rest.
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