How to trim a fig tree for winter

Pruning Fig Trees (With Photos and Video)

Pruning fig trees is an essential part of looking after the tree. It should be done at least once a year, in the dormant season (winter) but it is recommended by experts to prune the tree twice a year, the second time in summer.

If you don’t prune them regularly, the trees will not develop a nice crown, will be prone to diseases, and will produce fewer fruits. In this article, I will show you when and how to prune fig trees in winter and summer and in the first, second, and further years, as well as which tools to use for the best results.

Two pruning cuts on the young fig tree

Table of Contents

When to Prune Figs

The fig tree should be pruned twice a year. A combination of winter and summer pruning is the most effective.

Winter Pruning

Winter pruning is done usually in late January or February (depending on the climate) when the fig tree is in the dormant phase. It is the safest time to prune the tree as it has a low amount of white milky fluid (latex) spread in branches. If you start with pruning while the milky fluid is still in branches (you will notice it as it bleeds out of cuts), it is a good idea to stop and wait a bit longer (a week or two longer). This is how to do it, in three steps:

Step 1 – Cleaning the Tree

Cleaning the tree is the first pruning step and should include:

  • Remove all branches that have been damaged, broken, or have dried out
  • Cut off all new shoots that grow directly from the tree trunk
  • Prune all branches that bend towards the center of the tree crown

Step 2 – Thinning

The aim of thinning is to allow light and air to reach all leaves in all parts of the crown. Thinning reduces the spread of diseases and the spread of harmful insects.

  • Remove branches that grow down
  • Cut off branches that overlap with others
  • Prune the crown as thin as possible to maintain an even foliage density in all parts of the crown.
  • Where the branches fork, leave the healthiest one that spreads away from the trunk and cut out the rest leaving the angle between the two branches on about 60 degrees. If you leave the angle lower than this, there will not be enough airflow nor sunlight during the vegetation. The space around each branch should be at least 20 cm or more. It is important that each branch has enough air flow and space to develop.
  • Remove all branches that are longer than 35 cm and has no side or forked branches.

Step 3 – Trimming And Shaping

This is the last step, an easy to do one as the aim is just to gently style, trim, and shape the crown to keep it preferably symmetrical. Start from the outside and cut towards the trunk. The goal of this step is to create thicker and shorter branches. Prune about 1/3 of last year’s growth on about 1 cm above the chosen bud.

Pruning also depends of how old is your tree.

First Year Pruning

First-year pruning is made in order to form a tree crown. Remove just one or two branches that are growing towards the center of the crown. Start with forming a tree crown in a vase shape. See the below photo where I pruned just one branch, the one that was growing toward the center of the crown:

At this young fig tree I pruned just one branch that was growing towards the centre of the crown

Second Year Pruning

In its second year, trees are just a bit larger, still not mature trees. In this year, in the winter, clean all dried branches, gently thin, trim, and shape further very carefully as in the first year.

Third Year and Further Pruning

In its third year and further, the tree is already mature and is hopefully producing some fruits that ripe into a soft, sweet and brightly coloured figs that are delicious to eat or dry. This is the time when thorough winter and summer pruning should start and from now on, in the following years, prune the trees the way I described above.

Here are some photos of my fig trees that I pruned recently – the three-year-old tree and one-year-old tree. As you can see in the photos, the older and larger trees needed more pruning than the smaller and younger ones.

At this older and larger fig tree, I pruned seven branches, some of them were growing towards the center of the crown while others were just getting dry or forking (branching) the way it is not suitable

Here are my last year’s and this year’s pruning cuts – as you can see the last year’s cut is already healed and safely covered by bark. This year’s cut is slowly turning brown and will hopefully heal too.

Some of my trees will also need bending meaning pushing the branches towards the right angle in relation to the trunk. I plan to do it this year and will use water bottles as weights to gently bend the branches towards the right angle ( about 60-70 degrees).

Summer Pruning

Summer or green pruning, in the late spring and summer, removes water sprouts (water shoots) that exhaust (deplete) the tree and actually do not bear any fruit. Check if any of these are growing on your tree and cut them off as soon as you notice them. Also, remove any leaves that are touching the others in order to control diseases and pests. Summer pruning should be quick and gentle where you will remove leaves or branches that are absolutely essential to remove. Leave hard pruning for the dormant period.

Pruning Tools

You don’t need a lot or any expensive tools to prune – use garden scissors (pruning shears) for smaller branches and garden loppers for larger branches. You can also use a pruning saw if you need to remove a very thick branch but their cut can be not very clean. The best option for pruning thicker branches is the bypass loppers which are making very good and clean cuts.

Pruning tools >>


In this video I am winter pruning my fig trees, removing some dry branches, inward growing shoots, and shoots that grow directly from the tree trunk – have a look:

Important things to remember when pruning

  • Make sure your pruning shears or garden loppers are very sharp. You can easily sharpen them yourself as you would sharpen any kitchen knife.
  • To avoid spreading any disease, make sure you disinfect the pruning shears and garden loppers with alcohol.
  • Properly dispose of pruned branches to prevent the spread of disease to healthy trees.
  • If you prune a branch that is thicker than 4 cm, coat the cut with grafting wax. This will prevent possible disease.
  • As soon as you finish with pruning, apply winter treatment by spraying your trees with oil sprays in order to control diseases and pests. Add some fertilizer soon after.

What happens if you don’t prune fig trees

Pruning fig trees is an essential part of looking after the tree. If you don’t prune it, the tree will grow irregularly. If you don’t cut them back annually you’ll end up a less productive tree, with fewer fruits and shabby foliage. Unpruned figs also have a shorter lifespan.

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How to prune a fig tree – everything you need to know

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you want to have a healthy fig tree, then learning how to prune a fig tree is a must. Fig trees are a great to grow in a pot, freestanding in a garden or espaliered against a wall, their fan-like leaves add a touch of Mediterranean elegance to any garden, patio or courtyard. 

'Figs need a warm, south-facing wall, as sun is vital for ripening. Water well through summer and feed as the fruits develop,' advises PL gardening expert, Leigh Clapp.

How to prune a fig tree – where to start

While it is not essential to prune your fig tree, especially when its more mature, doing so in the early years can encourage it to produce more fruit and cultivate a more aesthetically pleasing tree. 

'Figs are produced each growth season on old wood (branches produced the previous season). So, to produce more fruit in future seasons you need more branches,' advises Brent Wilson from Wilson Bros Gardens .

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to prune a fig tree if you have a young tree

You can prune young trees into a fan shape by pinching out every other young shoot. 'Wait until late winter to prune, but before new growth begins to emerge in early spring,' advises Brent Wilson from Wilson Bros Gardens .

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to prune a fig tree if you have a mature tree

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

Fig trees can grow up to 3m tall and 4m wide, so it's vital that you prune your mature fig tree to keep it manageable, especially if it's been planted in the ground. Plus, fig trees produce their fruit on one year old wood, so by pruning the old wood you can encourage its fruiting. 

There are three key seasons that you must consider when learning how to prune a fig tree.

  • EARLY SPRING – remove any branches that are crossing or rubbing. 'select 4 to 6 of the strongest branches growing from the main trunks to be your fruiting wood and prune away the rest. Be sure to stagger them around the trunk,' advises Brent Wilson from Wilson Bros Gardens , 'then remove any secondary branches (shoots growing off the main branches) that are growing at less than a 45 degree angle from the main branches'. 
  • It is important that any significant pruning happens during the trees dormant period as fig trees bleed a white sap. The larger the incision the more they bleed and an excess of bleeding will weaken, or even kill, the tree. The bleeding is less significant during the dormant period and pruning now will limit the damage.
  • EARLY SUMMER – pinch the tips off any shoots that have grown five leaves, this will encourage the tree to divert its energy from growth to fruit production and ripening.
  • FALL – remove any ripe figs. 'Figs are ripe when the stalk bends and the hanging fruit produces a droplet of sugar on the base,' advises PL gardening expert, Leigh Clapp.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How do you prune an overgrown fig tree?

If your fig tree has gotten out of hand, or maybe you've inherited a neglected tree when you moved into a new house, then knowing how to prune a fig tree is a must.

  • In summer look at the tree and identify any branches that look bare or are only producing fruit at their tips. Mark these with a small amount of paint so that you can remember which ones to remove come the time to prune.
  • Wait until the dormant season, late winter or early spring before starting to prune. This will limit the amount of sap that the tree bleeds and so will reduce the damage that the pruning might cause.
  • Start by removing any suckers – the small branches that grow low-down near the trunk of the tree.  
  • Then remove any dead or diseased wood, you may have highlighted some of this when you assessed the tree in the summer, this will give you a better understanding of exactly what you are working with.
  • From here you can remove up to 25 per cent of the tree, starting with the branches you highlighted in the summer. When cutting back large branches, leave little stumps, around an inch long as this will encourage the fig tree to put out new growth. This new growth will carry figs the following year.
  • Be warned that pruning an overgrown tree might reduce your fig yield for the first year, but after that you'll have delicious figs and a beautiful tree.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to prune a fig tree into an espalier

Did you know that you can train your fig tree into an espalier? An espalier is a tree, usually a fruit tree, that has been trained to grow flat against a wall, usually supported on a lattice framework. The residual heat emitted from the wall can encourage the fruit to ripen.

If you want to grow your fig tree into an espalier, then the pruning method is fairly similar, you simply tie your tree to a lattice framework on the wall. 

Lucy Chamberlain, Amateur Gardening's Fruit & Veg expert suggests:

  • Taking out unwanted growth before cutting off any large, framework branches that are too tall.
  • Weaving or tying in straggly shoots.
  • Tying in young branches (around 1in thick) horizontally as framework stems or cutting them out entirely. 
  • Splaying out branches – to ensure sunlight can penetrate the canopy to ripen fruit.
  • Cutting out damaged branches.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When should fig trees be pruned?

'Figs are best pruned in March or April after the worst frosts have passed, all dead and diseased wood should be removed.' says Sue Sanderson of Thompson & Morgan . This way the frosts will not be able to cause damage to the wounds left by pruning but the plant will still be dormant enough to cope with the pruning.

Fig trees bleed a white sap when they are cut, if you are cutting large branches it is important to the health of the tree that it is dormant when you do.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can you over prune a fig tree?

Yes, you can over prune a fig tree but they are quite resilient so shouldn't suffer too greatly from a more aggressive pruning so long as you do so in the dormant period. Avoid pruning more than 25 per cent of the over all tree in a single year to keep it healthy. 

Also if you cut off too much of this year's growth, it will reduce the amount of figs the tree will produce next year, as the figs grow on the previous year's growth.

This feature was created by H&G's sister brand, Period Living magazine

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Period Living is the UK's best-selling period homes magazine. A subscription provides you with all you need to know about caring for and improving a traditional house and garden.

Having graduated with a first class degree in English Literature four years ago, Holly started her career as a features writer and sub-editor at Period Living magazine, Homes & Gardens' sister title. Working on Period Living brought with it insight into the complexities of owning and caring for period homes, from interior decorating through to choosing the right windows and the challenges of extending. This has led to a passion for traditional interiors, particularly the country-look. Writing for the Homes & Gardens website as a content editor, alongside regular features for Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors magazines, has enabled her to broaden her writing to incorporate her interests in gardening, wildlife and nature. 

How to prune figs for the winter: instruction and video

Growing a southern fruit tree in the middle lane is not an easy task, but will this stop an avid gardener? For the first time I planted figs a few years ago, and I can say with confidence that with the right care, an exotic handsome man can grow even in not the most favorable conditions.

Mandatory activities - watering, fertilizing and, of course, pruning. It is necessary to prune trees, otherwise they will not only turn into a shapeless clump of branches, but will also cease to bear fruit. Today I will talk about the features and subtleties of pruning figs, which will allow you to regularly get a big harvest.

Content of Article

  • Why Cut the fig
  • Under natural conditions, figs grow in warm climates with a long summer period, mainly in Asia and southern Europe. In these countries, growing a tree is not difficult - the height of some representatives of the culture reaches 1.2 meters, and the yield is 300 kg of fruit from one tree. With significant drops in temperature, fruiting decreases, and in order to avoid this effect, you need to rid the figs of extra branches and direct the flow of nutrients to the fruits.

    In regions with very low temperatures, the tree may die, so it is grown as a shrub. To protect the fig from frost, you need to cut off its branches and cover it for the winter with straw, branches or special material.

    When to prune

    Figs bear fruit from March to June and from August to September. Tree pruning is carried out in spring or autumn, depending on the region. In areas where frosts come very early, it is better to carry out the procedure in the spring, otherwise the plant will not have time to recover and will suffer from low temperatures. In regions with long summers, pruning is best done in the fall - if you choose the right time for the procedure, the figs will recover and bear fruit.

    In autumn, pruning is carried out after the tree sheds its leaves - approximately in the second half of autumn. In the spring, the procedure is carried out after the risk of return frosts is left behind - from March 10 to March 30. The temperature outside the window must be above 8 degrees, otherwise the plant will not give buds for a new crop.

    How to prune figs correctly

    The first pruning should be carried out as early as possible - if the seedling is strong and well established, it can be cut immediately after planting. In the case of weak trees, it is better to wait with the procedure, otherwise they will not have time to recover from the shock, slow down growth and may die. There are several options and methods for pruning figs, which are carried out for different purposes - young trees are crowned, then it is necessary to do sanitary and anti-aging pruning.

    The procedure is carried out with a clean, sharp pruner, and cover the cuts with garden pitch to prevent the spread of infection.

    Formative pruning

    Fan pruning is most often chosen for figs, which will allow you to get the maximum yield. Pruning is carried out as follows:

    • after reaching the age of one year, 3 shoots are left on the plant - vertical and two horizontal;
    • in the second year, horizontal shoots should be shortened by three buds and tied to the trunk, the conductor should be cut off in order to stimulate the development of new branches;
    • the third year - the shoots that developed last year are shortened by three buds, and the vertical branch is cut off a little.

    After the formation of the tree skeleton, no further pruning is required - only weak, frozen and too old branches need to be removed.

    The second method - standard - is suitable for cold climates. The purpose of pruning is to form a bush that can be easily covered for the winter. To form a tree, you need to leave a trunk with a length of 45-90 cm and 3-4 evenly spaced branches, and then leave 8-10 branches that will move away from the trunk.

    Sanitary pruning

    Sanitary pruning involves the removal of all dry, diseased and unsuccessfully growing branches. In the northern regions, the crown must be thinned as much as possible - so that the sun evenly illuminates all shoots and inflorescences. For the southern regions, the pruning principle will be slightly different - the central branches should be thick, which will protect them from sunburn.

    Crossing shoots must be removed, as they will overlap each other and interfere with fruiting. It is recommended to cut off too powerful and thickened shoots - they also slow down fruiting and “pull” nutrients onto themselves.

    Rejuvenating pruning

    On old figs, the branches should be shortened to the second bud, and it should be located exactly under the cut. In order not to expose the tree to serious stress, pruning should be carried out in several stages - in one year they cut off half of the branches, and in the second year they shorten the other half.

    The fig is a plastic crop that lends itself well to formation, which allows it to adapt to different climatic conditions. With timely and proper pruning, the trees will bear fruit for a long time and give an excellent harvest.

    To summarize

    1. Figs require regular pruning, otherwise crop yield and fruit quality will be significantly reduced.
    2. In cold and hot climates, the rules for crown formation will be different, but in any case, dry, diseased or overly dense branches should not remain on the trunk.
    3. In areas where winter temperatures drop below 20-22 degrees, trees should be protected after pruning in autumn by covering them with straw, burlap or special material.

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    Pruning figs in autumn - how to cut figs for the winter, recommendations for care + video

    Features of fruiting figs

    What kind of care is needed for this plant in order to get a crop in unfavorable regions for it? Will all the techniques used in southern horticulture produce appropriate results in a more temperate climate? To answer these questions, you need to know the biological characteristics of figs.

    Figs, or Ficus carica in Latin, are native to Asia Minor. From there, this plant spread to all areas with a tropical and subtropical climate. It is ubiquitous in culture in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Crimea. There it is a tree up to 3-5 m high with large carved leaves. Inflorescences, and then fruits - rounded fleshy berries with a diameter in a mature form up to 10 cm, are located in the axils of the leaves. Moreover, they appear throughout the summer season, so on 1 tree you can see fruits of varying degrees of maturity. A sufficiently warm and long autumn allows most of the fruits to ripen, and those that remain for the winter, no larger than a pea, will safely overwinter and ripen next season. This is possible only at short-term winter temperatures not lower than -5-7°C.

    Figs are a plant with a rich history

    If the air temperature drops to -18°C in winter, all annual shoots die, and, of course, there is no need to talk about any fruiting on last year's shoots.

    But figs successfully recover from overwintered buds on skeletal branches, lay flower buds in leaf axils, and if there is a sufficiently long warm period, we will get a harvest. Of course, it will not be as significant as in the south, where some mature trees produce about 300 kg of fruit and live up to 100 years.

    If you want to have a fig tree in your garden and winter temperatures drop below -22-25°C in your area, then you will need to grow it as a low shrub or cordon to cover for the winter. How to cut figs following the example of covering grapes, you can find out by watching the video. If you want to grow figs in an uncovered culture or as a houseplant, then a simple description will suffice, taking into account the climatic features of your area.

    Video: What is a fig plant?

    How to prune figs correctly depending on the growing region

    In the southern regions, figs are prune both in autumn, after the leaves fall, and in spring, before bud break. Pruning is aimed at thinning, removing dry and poorly located branches and periodically lowering the crown. It is carried out carefully, because excessive pruning can cause strong growth of lateral shoots and thickening of the crown. All sections are covered with garden pitch to prevent infection. An undesirable increase in the height of the tree can be avoided by pinching the growths in summer.

    Pruning and shaping nigra

    In a zone risky for the cultivation of southern fruit plants, figs are grown as a bush or low tree and cut in autumn, greatly (up to 20 cm) shortening all summer growths. Then the plant is tied with insulating material (reed mats, matting) or simply covered with earth, as shown in the video on the formation of figs as a covering crop.

    Video: Pruning figs

    Indoor fig culture

    The cultivation of the fig tree as a houseplant is now very popular. The ease of propagation by cuttings, the presence of varieties that bear fruit in room conditions without pollination, beautiful large and carved leaves and the rapid onset of fruiting make this plant attractive to many lovers of room exotics. Do I need to prune a houseplant and how to do it correctly? You need to cut it off, otherwise the shoots will stretch out a lot, the bush will lose its attractiveness and side shoots will cease to form, on which flower buds are tied. At the same time, it is not recommended to carry out too intensive pruning of figs: this will cause a strong thickening, as a result of which the fruit branches will become too short and fruiting will stop.

    Pruning indoor figs

    Pruning indoor figs in autumn, after shedding their leaves. If the plant has not shed its leaves, then you need to transfer it to a dark room and limit watering, letting it rest for 2-3 months. Shorten summer shoots by 10-20 cm, depending on growth, above the outer bud. Slices are covered with garden pitch or plasticine. After transferring the pot with the plant to a warm, bright room, the buds quickly start to grow and form young shoots, forming flower buds in the axils of the leaves.

    Video: Growing figs indoors

    Rejuvenating pruning

    Like other fruit plants, an old fig tree or bush can be rejuvenated with pruning.

    Learn more