Fig Tree Branches Turning Black?

KendraSchmidtMarch 3, 2012

I'm in Zone 8 and I have a fig tree that I purchased from the local garden store in a pot. The pot is not large, and I believe the fig tree is three years old? (I believe)

I brought the fig tree indoors during winter, and noticed that the tree's branches are black. Admittedly, over the winter, I often forgot to water the tree. :o( Now the weather is warming up slowly outside, still cold and still need a scarf and gloves.

But I've noticed all of the trees outside have buds on them, while the fig tree's buds look kind of dead. At the same time, the tree began producing fruit in the middle of the winter, because I had it sitting next to a light that I used often. I eventually moved the tree away from light and the fig tree died.

But I noticed that now, the branches look black. Is this from not watering it often enough? I'm worried that the tree may be dying, please help!

Thank you GF

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Yes, your tree is definitely dying (or might be completely dead at this point). It would have been better to allow your fig tree to remain dormant over the winter rather than try to keep it active and growing indoors.

Here is what I would do now:

Starting from the top of the tree prune all branches that are black. Continue working down the tree pruning all of the branches until you reach an area where the branches are still alive. You can tell if the branch is still alive by scratching the surface skin/bark with a fingernail.....if it is green beneath the scratch...that branch is still alive. Continue to remove all branches that are black/dead (i.e. all of those branches which do not have any green layer under the bark/skin layer). Even if all of the branches above the soil line appear dead and have to be removed, do not give up hope. It is still possible that a portion of the roots are still alive.

After removing all of the dead branches, water your tree well. Take it "outdoors" ASAP and place it in a sunny area on the southern side of your house. Keep it close to a wall if possible. If any portion of your tree is still alive, it likely will send up shoots within a few weeks.

Best of luck to you........

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 8:33AM
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Thank you KingFig. I'm so frightened, I hope the tree isn't dead. I'll go and test the branches now. It's still pretty cold here, the lows have been 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and the highs have been between 48 F and 65 F. Should I still put the tree outside after pruning back the dead branches?

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 11:37AM
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The other trees in your area are budding right now. So it will be safe to put your fig tree near a southern facing (sunny) wall. Once you see any opening bud or a new sprout emerging from below the soil line, move it back inside overnight should they predict a freeze in your area. Put it back outside the next morning when temperature rises.

Put a burlap sack cloth over your tree at night if any frost is predicted. This will prevent the formation of damaging frost on your tree. Frost can only occur when the outside temperature is below 40 degrees and there is no wind. If your tree is close to a wall or your house.....frost is very unlikely to form on it.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 12:25PM
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Thank you Kingfig - I've scratched each branch a bit and two are dead (two small ones) but the larger branches are green beneath the surface. I'm going to water it now and prune the dead branches.

We have the tree in a plastic pot right now (the small plastic pot it was sold with), but we purchased a very large pot made from some sort of ceramic to transfer the tree to. We didn't yet transfer it, because we were told that if we put the tree in the large ceramic pot permanently, that we will not be able to leave the tree outside - that the tree would freeze over the winter.

So we left the tree in the small plastic pot until we could figure out what to do and brought the tree inside the house for the winter. Is it true that a potted fig tree left outdoors during winter will die or freeze? If we do indeed put the tree into the large ceramic pot with soil during the winter can we leave it outside over the winter?

And if so, what steps should we take to protect the tree from dying while outside in the large ceramic pot over the winter?

I appreciate your help with bringing our tree back to life!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 12:40PM
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You saw green beneath the bark on the larger branch of your tree which means it is still alive. It should come back OK.

However; since your tree is possibly three years old and in a small pot, I do know that it is likely that you will need to root prune your tree. You would want to do this NOW while your tree is still dormant. Below is but one link to what has been written in this forum regarding root pruning.

I grow all of my figs in the ground and am not the best person to give advise on pot culture. Maybe someone else will chime in.

There are many variables that affect the cold hardiness of a fig tree. Much information on this topic has been discussed at length on this forum. Just type in words "cold hardy" in the little search box that is located on the bottom of the fig forum page. This will bring up many links on this topic for you to read. You will see how others are growing figs both in the ground and in pots in climates that are much colder than yours.

Here is a link that might be useful: Root Pruning thread and video

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 5:13PM
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Kingfig, are your in-ground fig trees very large? Can they be controlled by pruning to prevent them from becoming too large? I'd honestly prefer to put it in the ground, the pot changes color after a few rains...

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 6:55PM
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I have in ground fig trees of all sizes ranging from 0 feet and up to about 10 ft tall. The smallest was top killed this past winter and is now sending up two tiny new sprouts from the roots.

Yes, they can easily be pruned to keep them on the small size. The better figs (called main crop figs) will develop on the new annual green growth of a fig tree. Some fig collectors prune their trees each year so that many different varieties can be planted rather close together. You can grow a lot of figs in an acre of ground if you keep them pruned.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 8:51PM
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If you are in zone 8 you are probably better off with the fig tree in the ground. Of course you can grow it in a large pot, but then you will have to move it in and out, root prune, replace soil, etc. Why bother with that?

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 11:46AM
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Thank you so much KingFig, for your really helpful and quick advice. I've pruned, watered and moved the fig tree outdoors and hopefully my tree will bounce back to its normal, healthy self. I just might put it in the ground, I'm just worried about the roots becoming too widespread and overtaking my space. Does pruning prevent the roots from spreading everywhere? I believe I've heard this before, but it does seem like too much work to move it in and out. If that's the case, we'd prefer to just keep the tree outside in the large pot.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 5:41PM
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