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Old December 7, 2019   #1
MuddyBuckets's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2015
Location: Eastern/Coastal NC 8b
Posts: 192
Default Pruning Mature Fig Trees

Last summer's crop of figs from mature fig trees was scant. The few figs that ripened were consumed by birds and ants.

Seeking advice from experts on how/when to prune these mature fig trees. The largest and oldest is a single trunk and is about 10 years old, been pruned severely last winter but is now 15' tall. The other two are about 5 years old and were pruned not too severely last winter. Varieties are Brown Turkey and Celeste.

Here in NC Piedmont we have already had our first freeze so I am ready at any time to winter prune severely to get a jump on next season.

Thanks for any advice on how to get a good crop of late summer figs like I have had in the past.
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Old December 7, 2019   #2
Worth1's Avatar
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Den of Drunken Fools
Posts: 38,539

Open up the inside by getting rid of some of the shoots coming out and any branches the rub against each other.
Fig trees can get huge and live almost forever.
I wont even tell how big some of them I have seen are.
One in Bend Texas is reported to have been planted by my grandfather over 100 years ago.
I have no proof of this just hearsay.
Here is information on it from a link I will post.
I posted my recommendations before I found the link.

Fig Pruning - Pruning is recommended only during the initial years. Trees should be trained according to use of fruit, such as a low crown for fresh-market figs. Since the crop is borne on terminals of previous year's wood, once the tree form is established, avoid heavy winter pruning, which causes loss of the following year's crop. If a mature tree has died back during a cold winter the following spring will bring many new shoots and we have found it good practice to thin these out to all but 10-12 stems. Further thinning (of the now bush like plant) will help improve access, air circulation and will result in fewer but higher quality fruits. We remove any mature stems that are touching each other or appear crowded.
Fig branches and leaves contain a milky sap that is irritating to human skin so when pruning and harvesting it's good to wear gloves.
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Old December 8, 2019   #3
Join Date: Jun 2015
Location: VA-7a
Posts: 121

From the look of your trees, it seems like you had a lot of vegetative growth on all of them last year. It looks like all straight, long shoots. So I would guess your trees are growing too strongly instead of fruiting. Just like if you are giving too much nitrogen to your tomatoes you get big plants with fewer tomatoes.

Generally speaking, winter pruning, while all the sugars are stored in the roots, will lead to more growth in the spring and summer since you have all that stored energy pushing back out into new growth, so it is probably not the best way to make the trees more productive. Winter pruning should be for structure/shape and you can do that any time between now and when they break bud and it will have the same effect. Or you can wait until it is pushing new growth and do the significant pruning then and you will be taking away some of the energy at that point as well which may help with getting it fruiting instead of just growing. Figs are very forgiving. And then in the spring/summer, pinch the growing tips out of the shoots as soon as they've put out 5 or so leaves. You may need to pinch them again after they start regrowing and put out more leaves, but basically you are trying to help the tree redirect some energy to fruit instead of just vegetative growth. If the shoots are all close and shading each other, it may also help to prune out some shoots in the early summer to open it up more.

Other things that can reduce your fruit set are lack of sun and too much fertilizing which just leads to more vegetative growth. All the photos show the trees in shade, but that may just be the time of year and the time of day you took the pictures, but if they don't get much sun it will always be a struggle. Figs in containers need fertilizing, but in the ground, with reasonable soil, established trees don't need much if any fertilizer or you are just growing a bigger tree and less fruit. If you fertilize, do it just in the spring, but I wouldn't at all if you do much winter pruning and just see how they do without it. Also, if you are fertilizing your lawn they are getting that as well, so consider not fertilizing the lawn around the trees.

Celeste won't really have any early (breba) figs, but if you are trying to get both the breba and main crop figs from the brown turkey, you will also have go be careful to leave some of last year's growth with the dormant breba fig buds. But my experience is that if you aren't netting the figs, the breba crop is smaller so you are less likely to be left any by the squirrels and birds. I just worry about the main crop figs, which grow on the current year's growth.

I hope this helps.
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Old December 8, 2019   #4
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Location: Eastern/Coastal NC 8b
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Worth and zendog, thanks for the replies. Trees were not fertilized but the lawn was last spring. The pics were late afternoon, sun low on the horizon, spring and summer full sun for ~6-7 hours.

How about structure pruning now and selective pruning in perhaps mid March/April when they break dormancy? Any benefit to winter mulching with composted wood chips?
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fig , mature , prune , small crop

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