How to prune this fig tree?

james_ducketOctober 15, 2007


This is my first fig tree, which I purchased locally, and it has a label on it, "Texas Everbearing." It's 2 years old now and losing its leaves, which is normal, but the thing is 15 feet tall because of a large branch near the bottom of the trunk forks off and goes skyward. Could I saw off this large branch and seal the main trunk with Elmer's glue? I don't want the tree to get too tall because I can't reach the figs that high, and I heard a wider tree makes better figs.



p.s. I took some pictures of it and have NO IDEA how to post 'em!

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Post them, I gotta see this!!!

[img src='PLACE LINK HERE' ] Instead of brackets use these at the ends. And be sure .jpg finishes your link address.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2007 at 9:03PM
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The black band around the trunk is tape residue from when I bought the tree, never came off. :^(
Notice the plastic owl I had to put up to scare off the birds. They were constantly eating and destroying my figs till I put up the owl.

Should I leave it alone or hack off that branch? I really would like to keep the tree short and bushy. And if I can cut it, would it be difficult to grow another tree from that branch?


    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 12:30AM
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pitangadiego(San Diego, CA)

Feel free to remove that large limb, if you so desire, and shorten the height of any of the other tall shoots as much as you desire, as well
See for pictures at the first two/three threads.

Here is a link that might be useful: Major Pruning

    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 2:24PM
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I checked out your threads, and all I can say is that you know your fig trees! No one that didn't know what they were doing( like me) would never prune that heavily, and expect the tree to live! Fig trees must be very resilient once they establish themselves with a good root system.
BTW, the figs from this little tree are awesome. Got my first real batch this past summer, some about 2" in diameter and very sweet.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 3:30PM
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James, If you want to root that branch before cutting it off, check the link below on Nursery Container Air Layering (there are also a few other FF posts on the subject if you want to search).
I tried this method with a few figs this summer and was amazed at how quickly they grew after potting.

Here is a link that might be useful: Nursery Container Air Layer

    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 10:14PM
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If you want to grow trees from any of the branches you want to prune, air-layer them. If you are far enough south in LA you should be able to grow roots on them before it gets too cold. For now (while it is warm) wrap the air-layers in foil to reflect the heat. As the days get cooler (below 65F) take the foil off to expose the plastic you wrapped the growing medium with. The roots will continue to grow even when the tree is dormant as long as your air-layer stays above 55F. You should have sufficient roots to remove the layer before the tree breaks dormancy.


    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 10:28PM
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I just have to split a 3-5 gal black plastic flower pot down the side, and into the bottom, wrap it around the base of that large (3") branch, wrap it with tape to hold it together, fill it with top soil, lightly water it every few days, and it should sprout roots in a couple weeks? Then I can remove the 'new tree' and plant it immediately? The threads didn't give any specifics that I could see.
I am 10 miles southeast of New Orleans LA in a town called Belle Chasse.

Thanks for the information everyone,


    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 11:03PM
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glenn9643(z8 MS)

Hi James in Belle Chasse,

Sounds like you've got the idea... fill your container with your potting mix. I would suggest something lighter than topsoil. Many use moss for smaller attempts. I've used pinebark based mixes for larger ones, moistened but not really wet. After you tape up your container and fill with the potting mix wrap securely with saran wrap to retain the moisture in your mix. If sealed well this way there shouldn't be any need to add water, especially this time of year. Too wet can be as bad as dry, or worse. Don't be in a hurry to remove from the mother plant. Root growth and development will be slower through the remainder of fall and winter. Probably would be best to figure on removing in early March.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2007 at 7:34AM
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xgrndpounder(Z 8 E. Tx.)

What a WHOPPER of a tree for a two year old !

James D, What do you use to fertilize that that bad boy?
Keep up the good work! :)


    Bookmark   October 17, 2007 at 9:39AM
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James, Your pot size is going to be determined by what you can fit between the branch and the trunk, but it isn't necessary to use a large pot. In fact it might be better to use a smaller pot (about 1 gal.). The Nursery Container method using soil-less potting mix seems to show increased root formation in a shorter period than the plastic wrapping method with moss (both work!), possibly because of the increased amount of air allowed in the pot by not wrapping it. Young figs seem to be very sensitive to moisture and appreciate good drainage and plenty of air in the root zone. So, if you get a lot of winter rain, wrapping it might be a better idea to keep it consistently moist (and drier than letting it get rained on constantly). Using a light soil-less mix as glenn suggests is a good idea - it's lighter, fluffier (holds more air), and is less likely to cause fungus problems than topsoil. The same is true for moss - it's better than topsoil. Since you have months for this airlayer to root, either method ( or features of both) will probably be fine - whatever is most comfortable for you, and best for your area and conditions.
It's likely that the new tree will not be ready to be planted in the ground immediately after severing from the tree. That is a very large branch and the roots formed might not be suffient to supply nutrients to the whole new plant immediately. Consider transfer to a larger pot, and a rest in a shaded, protected spot until it fills the new pot and starts growing. If it looks like it is struggling, pruning would help it balance roots and top. Or you could make two airlayers of that branch at the same time, and sever the top plant when you take the branch off the tree. Then you'd have three trees! LOL
Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2007 at 10:54AM
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Like Glenn said, it sounds like you have the idea. However, you mentioned doing the air layer at the "base" of the limb. I would suggest moving up higher...say about where the other branching of your tree takes place. I'm guessing if the branch is 3" at the base it's probably more like 2" or slightly less at the point I'm talking about. Also, 3 or 5 gal. pots are bigger than you need for this, and I would think they would be very difficult to manage as far as keeping them stable while the rooting takes place. I would think a 6" or so pot deep enough to allow enough soil to cover a couple of nodes on the branch would be fine. You want to be able to keep the pot stationary. You don't want roots to start to develop, have a rain that adds weight to the pot/soil, and have the pot start slipping down the branch thereby damaging the developing roots.

As someone mentioned, don't be in a hurry to cut it. Two weeks is at the short end of the time necessary. You will begin to see white roots sticking up from the soil in the pot. My experience has been the stronger you allow the root mass to develop before cutting the airlayer the more vigorously the new plant commences growth. The thread fignut referred you to was my post earlier this year. When I cut it this airlayer consisted of a 14" plant with two branches (each less than 1/2" in diameter). Today, a little over 4 mos. later this plant has 3 new branches it grew out from the base (total of 5 main branches now). Two of these new branches are 5/8" in diameter, and one is over 3 ft. tall. Last week I had to pick off around a dozen or more new figs it popped out (too late to ripen). Bottom line: this is one healthy, thriving plant today and will no doubt produce a good crop of figs next year (it's first full year). Later today I'll try to get a good picture of this plant and post it. In contrast I have several other airlayers I did around the same time that I was somewhat overanxious to cut. I saw some roots, figured it was enough, and cut/potted the airlayers. One of these was from the same mother tree as the one I've been discussing. These plants are healthy and doing OK. If I didn't have this other one to compare them to I'd probably think they were a complete success, but I know better. My long, drawn out point: don't rush to cut your airlayer. If you cut and pot it with a really good root mass it will most likely take off like a weed.

I'm assuming you will do this in the spring after your tree has leafed out. One other thing that I was a little hardheaded about learning is this: when you cut and pot the airlayer it is best to remove almost ALL the leaves. I was told to only leave a couple leaves at the very end - at the distal buds. When I followed these instructions the new plant invariably sprouted new branches and good healthy new growth from the existing distal buds. However, when I decided to see what heppened when I left more leaves on the airlayer than I'd been told to, the new plants did not produce nearly as much new growth - in some cases almost zero new growth. I guess the plant needs to be forced into producing new growth, and removing the leaves does this. Otherwise, too much of the new plant's energy is devoted to sustaining the existing leaves. Note: Al and others who really know what they are talking about please clarify/correct if my layman's explanation is in conflict with actual fact :)

Good luck James. One last word of warning: this stuff can be habit forming. I started this year with 8 potted fig trees. Not counting rooted cuttings I now have around 60 - with more en route soon :)


    Bookmark   October 17, 2007 at 11:29AM
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I use Expert Gardener 15-30-15 water soluble twice a year per instructions on the box on my orange trees and rose garden too, and permethrin bug killer. Only problem I had is with my fig tree as the birds were eating all my fruit!

I think one more tree for me will be enough, as I usually give up hobbies after a first attempt, but with all the information you guys have given me I should be able to accomplish this task. Just have to run to the store for some soil-less potting mix.
Thank you!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2007 at 3:18PM
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Above Fignut linked (Nursery Container Air Layer link) to my post from this past May. I am going to post a couple of pictures of this plant taken yesterday (approx. 5 mos. after cutting the airlayer) on the original thread.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2007 at 1:05PM
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I have 2 fig trees planted against the southwest side of my home. My father used to always cover the trees in the late fall with insulation and giants plastic wrapping. I have a friend who also has a fig tree and claims that he has never covered it in the cold season. What do you suggest?


    Bookmark   November 20, 2008 at 5:31PM
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Your friend's tree might be in a protected "warm" spot or neighborhood, it might be a "hardy" variety, it might be an older tree that is less susceptible to injury.
You might be able to get away without covering your trees.
The keyword here is "might". Your trees and conditions are different than his.
If you want to try leaving them unprotected, they will sprout from the roots if the tops are killed back (I've done that in zone 6A).
But if what's been done for years works for you, why change it?

    Bookmark   November 21, 2008 at 9:46AM
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fignut, thanks for the advice!

    Bookmark   November 21, 2008 at 5:41PM
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That looks exactly like my tree and my fence, but I inherited the tree when I bought this house three years ago. I was checking to see what would happen if I cut the tree basically down to the ground (about two feet)but now I am going to see about making some air layers. Maybe with two or three trees I will be able to get one low enough for me to eat the fruit instead of the birds and squirrels. I also need to buy an owl! Thanks guys.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2008 at 5:23PM
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I recently purchased my first fig tree. My dad always had one but he's now deceased and I wanted one because we both enjoyed the fruit. We got a frost after I had already planted and now all of the leaves have curled up and fallen off. Should I prune to see if it's dead or just wait to see what happens next.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 8:10AM
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so what did you do to the trtee after all, there was some great advice here by the posters.

start a new thread perhaps with pictures if possible and watch all the replies you get instead. ; )

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 12:54PM
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