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Fig Pruning

All figs benefit from some pruning

Summer tip pruning

This is possibly one of the most fundamental aspects of fig management as it directly alters the size and shape of the plant's development as well as the fruiting habit and quality of fruit produced.

This technique involves the removal of the growing tip when 5 or 6 leaves have developed (about mid December). This interrupts vegetative growth which diverts the plants energy into fruit development until the vegetative growth resumes. This results in earlier maturing fruit of a higher quality. Fruit shape may change slightly. Some experimentation in individual climates will help to find the limits of the summer prune timing but it must allow enough regrowth to develop and form buds for the following season's early figs since this method maximizes double cropping.

Overseas literature may sometimes recommend summer pruning as the breba figs are harvested, but in the NZ climate the mid December recommendation will fit best, especially where the autumn temperatures may drop off sooner with colder nights, effectively shortening the growing season.

This method will on average reduce the overall growth for the season by about 1/3.

The illustration below shows the summer growth tipped at the 6th leaf, and below it is the resulting summer-autumn growth with 3 tips which will potentially produce breba figs the following summer.

Winter Pruning

To successfully winter prune figs you neeed to be able to identify the buds that will form the breba or early figs. The illustration below will help to do this.

Breba figs are the ones that develop in spring as the foliage develops, but they are actually formed on last years wood, as the illustration shows.
Therefore to successfully grow a crop of breba figs you must leave as many tips on the tree as possible. As a general rule thinning out the canopy by about 1/3 should achieve this.

Alternatively, if all the current seasons growth is removed, only late figs will be produced. These are the figs that develop along the shoots during summer as the tree is growing new branches. Some cultivars have a tendency to produce better late figs and are therefore more suited to this pruning method.

For winter pruning, and where fungicide sprays are not used, it is beneficial to wait until September before pruning. This is because botrytis often girdles and kills the shoots where last years fruit was carried, but did not fully ripen. The disease activity is maximal during cold wet periods. ie July-August. In order to maximise the breba crop, such diseased wood should be removed before selecting further cuts. If pruning is carried out too soon, disease could still strike before budburst.


Espalier is a good method to grow figs in restricted spaces.

For the first season allow the tree to grow and produce the usual long shoots to develop the basic framework. The easiest frame to develop with figs is probably a radiating fan shape, but with a little effort the classical tiered shape can be developed. The first years growth should be tied into position as it develops and is still supple. Be careful to keep the branches growing in an upward incline, since if the branch is tied too low at a given point, there will be excessive growth developing from the point where the branch changes from an upward incline to the dip.

Tip pruning in summer combined with winter thinning of branches by up to 1/3 (leaving tips to form early figs) is then practiced to maintain the espalier once the basic framework is established. To extend the framework simply allow the shoots at the far ends of the main framework to develop and tie them in place as the season progresses.

The habit of figs mean they cannot be grown in a tight espalier for formal effects as can apples and some other fruits, but allowing approximately 0.5m "depth" of plant and spacing each tier or radiating arm by 50-60cm, an effective fruitful screen can be developed.

Star shape training

This this is effectively a single tiered three dimensional espalier since it depends on similar intensive growth management but yields similar heavy crops.

A basic frame of 4 or 5 horizontal arms are trained outward from the trunk at a convenient working height and held in place with ties and sometimes props until a free standing framework is established.

The growth management is then basically the same as an espalier with some summer tipping to allow sunlight onto the developing fruit, and a slightly heavier winter prune to control the growth that tends to develop from the centre of the tree around the trunk.

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