When to pot up my fig cuttings?

andyinnycJune 13, 2012

I have a small bunch of fig cuttings growing in a plastic tote in the basement.

Some are planted horizontally and are still completely underground. Others, as (hopefully) the picture shows have several leaves popping out.

If I give a gentle tug, some come out without resistance (clearly no roots).

Others have resistance and don't come out.

Since I used two bags of perlite or vermiculite (can't keep them apart in my head) the depth of the mixture prevents me from seeing any roots (ie I don't have 3 inches of roots growing).

At what point is it safe/appropriate to dig out the ones which appear to have roots and get them in a pot and adjusted to sunlight? If I have to wait until I can see roots, then they are going to be very tangled with their neighbors.


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When rooting fig trees it is important to remember that leaves don't equate to roots. It's much easier to see roots if you put one or two cuttings in a clear plastic cup with drainage holes. Usually I get my initial root growth in covered plastic containers filled with damp sphagnum moss covering my cuttings. Then I use the clear plastic cups to make sure I have vigorous root growth before up potting. Oh and btw think of perlite as little white pearls and vermiculite as the other stuff.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 10:54PM
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There is no real hurry on this. Some Greeks here in Florida wait up to six months to transplant. But they usually add a wee bit of liquid fertilizer to the watering to encourage longevity. I've seen one Greek guy doing this and his roots were very well established when he finally potted his trees.

BTW: Nice set up you have there.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 8:28AM
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Unfortunately I can't change what I'm doing for this run, so the question stands.

When I tug on a number of the cuttings, I feel resistance - which means roots. How much, I don't know. So the issue is deciding when to carve them out and pot them up. I have no idea.

The setup is a deep plastic tote with sterile medium (two bags, so it's actually got lots of depth - which is why I can't see the any roots). If I had filled it so that it was more shallow I might not have the current problem - and I thought over-engineering a solution was supposed to avoid problems.

What the depth has allowed is for the excess water at the bottom to be far away from the cuttings. So, hopefully, my humidity will be high, but I won't get rot on the bottom of the cuttings from having them in standing water.

The tote is sitting on one of my plant starting shelves with a single 4' light over it. The light is on for about 8 or 10 hours a day (on a timer). I'm using the light to generate a little extra heat since the tote is sitting in a NJ basement (quite comfy in the summer).


    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 1:29PM
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Be patient; the more (mature) roots the better.
More so b/c you chose to root multiple twigs in one container.
At the most, leave as-is till fall when they are dormant.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 7:05PM
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I missed the part that they are rooting in a sterile medium.
I usually avoid that (others may disagree).
Let them be as is for a while more.
Some may just die, others may tell you that they are
doing good (you will know by some vigorous growth).
Being very careful not to disturb those still very
fragile roots, transplant into some other regular
potting soil.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 7:19PM
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Hello Andrew,

For starters, they look pretty good!

Keep in mind that there is no one best way to do this. I prefer to set them in a tall glass of water for two weeks, then to pot them and keep them in the shade outside. Others, like my dad, preferred the "just-stab-them-into-the-ground" technique. Everybody does it different, and most of us have success with our own preferred approach.

It's lousy advice I guess, but - just go with your intuition. If you've gotten this far, you know about as much as most of us and more than some.

And please, whatever you do, post a follow up a month after potting them. Too many interesting threads do not get follow-up reports. Do check back by the fall!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 9:31PM
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Let me first say that your setup does have some advantages. First, since it's sterile medium, you should avoid fungus gnats (which have been a real PITA for me this year). Second, you should have no problem keeping the humidity level high.

However, I think you've already discovered a few of the disadvantages. Primarily, it will be nearly impossible to tell when/which have roots, and pretty much anything you do from here on out is likely to break any roots that do form.

What would I do? If there are ones that you're pretty sure do not have any major roots, I'd go ahead and pull those out and stick them in their own container. Even a 16 ounce cup will do. Fill with sterile potting mix, or even just the perlite you're using now will be ok, or some mix of the two. I use about 50/50 perlite and potting mix (DON'T use miracle grow organic potting mix unless you want a million fungus gnats everywhere).

Maybe once you take those out, there will be more space, so the future tangling will be less of a problem. However, each cutting will grow roots straight out, so it's hard to see how it will be easy to transplant, no matter what.

So for the ones that have roots, you can either try to very carefully dig them up now, and transplant them in their own container, or just leave them for a couple months, until the roots get really strong, so they won't break. Each has its own advantages. It's really up to you.

Also, I would give them 12 to 16 hours of light per day, rather than 8. The lights they are under are certainly much weaker than sunlight, so they need more hours to compensate. Not a big deal now while the leaves are tiny, but as they get larger, it will be helpful.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 3:27PM
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It turns out the the HD purchased perlite also contains Miracle Grow fertilizer.

I potted up a single one of my 'twigs' into a 16 ounce cup and left the others as is.

It seems as though almost all the cuttings have roots - some are getting more top growth than others.

Is it reasonable to expect a 'plant' out of these cuttings this year? Especially since they are still sitting in intentionally low light in my basement?


    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 9:17AM
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wisner_gw wisner

I would go ahead and transfer all of them to their own containers. They will soon be crowded like they are. I would also put them outside where they could get some sunlight. I don't think you will be able to put them in the ground this year, maybe in 1 gallon pots.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 6:30PM
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Patrick888(z8 SeaTac WA)

I rooted figs this year for the first time & was surprised at how brittle their roots are! I followed the method of laying them on their sides in a clear plastic shoe box, covered in damp peat moss & the lid in place. I left the cuttings alone until I was seeing plenty of roots against the sides & bottom of the box.

When I found I was breaking too many roots off trying to tease the cuttings out of the damp, heavy peat moss, I took the boxs outdoors to a flower bed and used the garden hose to slowly float out the peat moss and was able to get the cutting out with very little root breakage.

With the lid closed, I don't think I introduced any fungus gnats into the house. I kept the box in my furnace room, where there was usually very little light. There wasn't much temperature fluctuation there...always a bit on the warm side.

Because I had over 2 dozen cuttings in one box (3 layers) I wouldn't have been able to leave them there for any length of time or the roots would have badly entangled.

Dozens of fig cuttings? If 2 or 3 cuttings are good...aren't LOTS of them better?! LOL
I started 2 different cultivars in separate batches.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 9:49PM
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So I put about half the cuttings into clear 16 oz. cups with holes. I used the gas range to heat up a metal skewer to help with the hole creation. I did the cups two at a time to speed things up - boy am I clever. Of course this actually caused the cups to melt together at the hole juncture so I actually wasted a few of my cups snapping them apart - boy am I clever.

Most of the cuttings do indeed have roots. Several observations, though (aside from 'burn holes in plastic cups one cup at a time').

1. The HD purchased Miracle Grow perlite is advertised as preventing compacting - this stuff formed a concrete like layer inside the tub.

2. The resistance I felt when gently tugging on the cutings to test if there were roots gave me the impression that the root growth was much more than what was actually there. This may have been caused, in part, due to the concrete like layer of the wet perlite, but since that was at the bottom I don't think that's so.

I put some of the cuttings in a mixture of roughly 1/2 perlite and half miracle grow seed starting mix and 1 cutting in 100% perlite.

The remainder of the cuttings are now respaced in the tub with perlite.

I've attached a picture (I hope) which shows the 'average' cutting's display of root growth.

Not bad for one month from being on the tree, but less than I imagined.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 5:12PM
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My best results were from just placing my cuttings in a container of water after stripping off all the leaves and placing them in the shade. For me it took from spring until fall when I placed them into the ground with roots over a foot long, resembled a string dish mop.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 9:33PM
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Here's an update on my figs. I have several in clear plastic cups. I've moved one upstairs to the kitchen window. The clear cup has been placed into a red cup to protect the roots from light

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 3:14PM
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Here's a bad photo of the plant above showing the root development visible inside the clear cup.

The file size is really small to allow direct linkage.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 3:16PM
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wisner_gw wisner

Looking good. Good luck.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 3:49PM
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Be very patient all my cuttings died after the transplant because the root are not sufficient. I air-layered some branches and I can see the roots filling the plastic bags and look 3-4 inches long but I am very sensitive after the loss of all the cuttings and waiting

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 12:11AM
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So, I keep reading that I should put the figs outside in sun inside a greenhouse arrangement to keep them humid.

So, as this picture shows, I have a plant in a 16 ounce cup with holes (clear cup) placed inside a red 16 ounce cup with no holes. The plant is then placed inside a 2 liter bottle which has had a slice made to accept the plant.

At the bottom of the bottle I have a 1/2" of water or so - you can see it is already steaming up a bit and its actually cool and rainy today.

It seems that on a hot sunny day with temps in the 90s I'm going to bake or boil the plant rather than help it. Have I misunderstood the mission? The plant will be getting direct sun from 10AM to 5PM in this location. I'm not sure where to put it to provide a greater degree of shade.

The plant was on the kitchen window until now - I'm happy to put it back, but it doesn't get any direct sun in that location. If sun equals growth, it won't grow in the windowsill.

Everybody's thoughts are appreciated.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 5:47PM
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wisner_gw wisner

My advise would be to put it outside in a mostly shaded area, maybe a couple hours of morning sun, out of the wind. I would not put the 2 liter bottle over it. I would not over-water it.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 9:07PM
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these photos and comments gave me hope! thanks!! a friend of mine has a fig that produces very well every year, lives outside in zone 6 and dies back every winter. I had researched rooting cuttings, but it sounded like a very long, painstaking, and involved process. Including having plants inside the house which won't work. this is great! I LOVE the pic of the 1 month off the tree fig with roots! here i go again to ask for a couple of cuttings.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 11:33AM
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I learned about fig trees from my old Sicilian grandfather. His handling of cuttings was the way he learned it when he was a boy. He would carefully shave 4 or 5 inches of bark from the bottom of his cutting and just stick it in the pot. I'm sure he never bought any special soil, or potting mixtures. I won't say he never had any failures, but I don't remember any. Good Luck !

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 11:28PM
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