Top 10 Questions About Fig Trees

By Amy Grant | July 16, 2017
Image by Tinieder
by Amy Grant
July 16, 2017

It can be disheartening to have your hard work in the garden go caput due to unforeseen challenges along the way. That’s why it is the goal of Gardening Know How to help avoid these issues, or at the very least amend them, by providing the best information possible so your garden will flourish – and that includes answering the gardening questions that plague us all. Fig trees are no exception. The common fig, Ficus carica, is native to the Middle East and western Asia but can be grown in the southern and western United States quite easily. Fig trees can be grown outdoors or in containers and, with the right care, will fruit prolifically. Here are the top questions about growing figs.

1) How to prune a fig tree?

Fig trees should be pruned when you first transplant them and again in the winter when the tree is dormant. When the tree is first planted, it should be cut back by about half to allow the tree to concentrate on developing a strong root system and to grow side branches. Once the tree is established, prune the tree to make it easier to harvest and maintain its overall health. Prune out any dead or diseased wood or suckers, remove secondary branches that are at less than a 45-degree angle from main branches, and cut back the main branches by 1/3 to 1/4. Container grown figs can be pruned similar to that of those grown in ground.

2) How to propagate a fig tree?

Fig trees can be propagated quite easily, especially cuttings. Take a ½ to ¾ inch thick cutting that’s between 8-12 inches in length from the tree late in the dormant season. Cut the tip at a slant and the bottom of the cutting flat. Treat the slanted end with sealant to prevent disease and the flat end with rooting hormone. Place the flat end into a couple of inches of sand or potting soil and then back fill with more medium. Keep the cutting warm, in a sunny location and regularly watered. The new tree will be ready to transplant the following dormant season.

3) Can you plant and grow fig trees in containers?

Yes, and the larger the pot, the better unless you want to restrict the plant size. The benefits of growing figs in containers are that yields are often improved and the harvest date is earlier due to root restriction. A half whiskey barrel or the like is an ideal container for figs. Place the pot on casters for ease of movement. Choose a site with lots of sun and pot the fig in well-draining, loamy, compost-rich soil. Container grown plants require consistent irrigation and more of it than those grown in the garden as well as more frequent fertilization.

4) Why isn’t my fig tree producing figs?

There are three major reasons for a fig tree not producing: the age of the tree, excess nitrogen and stress caused by too much or too little water. Some fig trees fruit at 2 years of age and some at 6you’re your tree is older than this, I would look at watering next. Remember, fig trees in pots need more water than those in the ground. Try using a water gauge to determine if you are over or under watering. If that doesn’t seem to be the problem, then the issue might be nitrogen. Too much can lead to lush foliage at the expense of flowering, thus no fruit. Switch to a lower nitrogen fertilizer or add some phosphorus to the soil.

5)  How to treat rust on fig trees?

Rust fungus thrives in wet, humid environments and is most common in late summer or early fall. While rust on fig trees is unsightly, it isn’t fatal, although it can foster winter die back of branches and affect the ripening of fruit. Remove any infected leaves at the first sign of infection and dispose of them; don’t compost them. Then treat the plant with a fungicide that contains copper sulfate and lime. Treat bare trees during the dormant season and repeat every 2-3 weeks. Also, prune the fig to improve air circulation and allow for more rapid surface water evaporation.

6) How to care for fig tree in winter?

Caring for fig trees in winter differs slightly depending on your zone and if grown in pots versus those in ground. Container grown figs can just be moved into a cool, dry area such as a garage or basement. If kept outdoors, however, I would place the container in a well-protected location, such as next to the house or a wall where it can absorb heat. The pot may also need to be wrapped. For trees planted in the ground, start by pruning in the fall. Then, tie the branches together and place a thick layer of mulch over the ground to protect the roots. Wrap the tree in layers of burlap, leaving the top open to allow for air circulation and let excess heat escape. Build a cage of chicken wire around the tree and fill it with straw or leaves and then wrap entirely in bubble wrap or other plastic insulation. Top the entire contraption with a bucket. Remove in early spring when night temps are consistently above 20 F. (-6 C.).

7) How do you stop fig leaves from browning?

First, check the soil. If the soil is very dry, it could be resisting taking up water. If this is the case, then rehydrating the plant may be all you need. Fill your tub or a large bucket with water and place the plant in the water and let it sit for about an hour. This will force the overly dry soil to once again take up water and should help with any leaves falling off as well. For in-ground plants, soak the ground for about an hour to obtain the same results. If the soil is moist, something else is causing the browning. Pests or disease could be to blame and will need to be dealt with accordingly, which will ultimately help take care of the browning foliage. Also, you can prune off the brown leaves as well as any dead or dying branches.

8) What causes leaf drop on fig trees?

Figs are notoriously fickle and will drop their leaves due to a number of factors. Leaf drop may be a normal result of dormancy, which is a natural occurrence upon the onset of winter. Pest infestation can cause leaf drop but can be controlled with weekly neem oil applications. Over or under-watering figs will result in leaf drop. Be sure to water when the 1st inch of soil is dry to the touch. Also, environmental factors such as a change in lighting, humidity or temperature will stress the fig and result in leaf drop. Gradually expose the tree to any new conditions beginning with an hour and increasing the fig’s time in the new area over the course of a couple of weeks.

9) Why figs are not ripening?

A fig tree that fruits but doesn’t ripen or mature is probably under stress either from a lack of water or nutrients, or due to high temps. If you fertilize and water regularly, it might be a temperature flux. Also, pests and disease might be the problem; attacks by either of these causes the fig to divert energy from ripening into protecting itself. Treat any pests or disease promptly and if you have had a period of high heat, be sure to water more frequently. Poor pollination can also contribute to this issue, as the fig fruit will remain very small and may also drop from the tree before ripening.

10) How and when to fertilize a fig tree?

Generally, these plants draw all the nutrients they require from the soil; therefore, regular fertilizing of figs is not usually necessary except for potted trees or those growing in poor soil, such as with sandy soil that leaches nutrients rapidly or when figs are surrounded by competing plants. Fig fertilization also depends on whether a plant is young or mature. Use a general purpose balanced fertilizer (8-8-8 or 10-10-10) per foot of plant height each time. For instance, feed 1 and 2 year old trees an ounce of fertilizer once a month when the tree begins to put out new leaves, in late winter or early spring. Older trees get 1/3 pound of fertilizer per foot monthly in late winter, mid-spring and mid-summer. Stop feeding before the end of July.

We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.

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  • Zosia Jordan
    Comment added July 10, 2021Reply

    Today, I was simply perusing along and happened upon your blog. Simply needed to say great blog and this article helped me a ton, because of which I have found precisely what I was looking for.

  • Pam Harrison
    Comment added April 4, 2021Reply

    I live in the UPstate of SOuth Carolina, We recently had a frost in 1st part of April & the leaves on my fig tree look wilted & shriveled. Will the tree recover and still bear fruit. There are still some leaves that were not impacted.

  • Rose
    Comment added July 12, 2020Reply

    I have Had a fig tree for over 20: years and never have any fruit. The tree grow beautifully and is very lush but no fruit. I prune it back to make it airier, but still no luck. Any suggestions

    • Fran
      Comment added June 4, 2021Reply

      Add lime My tree didn’t fruit for many years then a friend told me that her father adds a lot of lime to the soil
      This year I have a tree loaded with large figs. And it’s only the first week of June. So now it’s wait and see if I get a second crop this year

  • bill c maynard
    Comment added July 10, 2020Reply

    can you grow fig trees in montana ?

  • stephanie
    Comment added June 9, 2020Reply

    my fig tree every year produces loads of figs; however as soon as they turn green they start to fall off. I am only able to harvest a handful. the tree is about 5 years old. Should I be fertilizing it or watering it? If so how often and what to use and how to apply it.

  • Gaia
    Comment added August 25, 2019Reply

    I have a big fig tree that produces great amount of figs, but... the problem is that large green bugs are gathering and ruining the fruits. It's making huge mess under the tree. What can I do to avoid the bugs?

    • Laura
      Comment added September 1, 2019Reply

      What I did was to cover the tree with tulle netting which you can get at any fabric store. I know you can get netting at hardware stores, but I am not sure how fine the netting is. I just used what I already had at home. I used a big piece of plastic sheeting in addition to that and clothespins. Pick the fruit daily to prevent fruit from getting overripe and attracting lots of beetles.

  • Ray Cason
    Comment added July 27, 2019Reply

    Two fig bushes 7` high 25 yrs old always produced lots every year. In upper SC now is July27. Two weeks ago we took one gallon of beautiful figs to can as usual. the bushes are loaded with half size green figs very hard with all maturing stopped. They have always provided abundantly and are needed. What do NOW??? Many thanks!!!

    • TERRY
      Comment added September 25, 2019Reply


  • julian trevino
    Comment added July 5, 2019Reply

    How soon can you start eating figs off the tree?

  • Dr Bernard Mooney
    Comment added June 27, 2019Reply

    do fig trees require a fig wasp to fertilise for fruiting. my small fig tree produces one or two fruits that either drop of or rot. I live in Buckhurst Hill Essex GB

    • dennis McCrone
      Comment added July 29, 2019Reply

      to the best of my knowledge only a few fig trees require the wasp. Most trees do not need any more than proper watering and small doses of luck and love.
      Mine are all in pots in Upstate New York and I get bumper crops every year.

      Good luck,

  • Anthony Centineo
    Comment added June 23, 2019Reply

    How to prevent ants from eating my figs on the tree.

  • Noeule
    Comment added April 3, 2019Reply

    Those who have grown figs without fruit production may be growing the indoor ornamental fig. I don't believe it produces fruit or grows well outside. Of course, this not your problem if you purchased your fig as a known fruit producing fig from a reputable nursery.

  • Barbarar
    Comment added December 29, 2018Reply

    Our fig tree is planted in ground in southern Arizona. We flood irrigate the tree once a week during the summer. This year we have seen bark split and have lost 3 branches. What is causing this? We also lost a peach tree with the same bark split. Apple and apricot trees are doing just fine.

  • Paul Brown
    Comment added November 11, 2018Reply

    i have an infestation of small 5 mill dark grub looking insects on the leaves.
    they clump together, the tree is under 12 months old and about 1.3 mars high and grows in emerald Qld overall looks very healthy.

  • Patti Soule
    Comment added August 31, 2018Reply

    I have a fig bush that is over 30 years old. There are new plants growing all around it, some of which have figs on them. Would the main plant produce more figs if I get rid of these other fig plants? If so, what is the best way to do this?

    • Melva
      Comment added August 10, 2019Reply

      The birds planted a fig tree that sets fruit but the figs don't become soft or droop when ripe, instead they split and expose the seeds, is this because it is a "wild" tree?

  • Dale
    Comment added August 21, 2018Reply

    I have/had 3 potted fig trees for several years. Each year they grew bigger but none produced figs. Last year I planted them in the ground where they did stay alive, grew bigger, produced leaves but not one fig was produced. I consulted a website and properly wrapped all three for the winter. When I unwrapped them in the spring, two were dead and the third, which was the smallest of the three, survived and is thriving. It is branching out into a bush-like plant but has not produced any figs. We had a tremendous amount of rain this year and it still seems fine. My question is now that I finally got one of them to branch out grow like a fig tree should, how do I proceed with it's care this winter. Last year I cut them way back, but they were mostly just sticks with leaves, this is much fuller and I don't want to kill it. Oh as a reference, I live in the lower Hudson Valley in New York State, approximately 20 miles northwest of NYC. Thanks for any help you can provide.

  • Lindsay
    Comment added August 1, 2018Reply

    I planted a fig tree against a south facing wall about 4 years ago, being careful to restrict the roots by placing a surrounding 'wall' of tiles around the roots underground, and I have never fertilised it. I have never had any fruit! Should I be watering it much more than allowing rainwater to do the job? Are there male and female figs - is it a pollination situation?

  • Jim
    Comment added June 29, 2018Reply

    Our fig tree which is over 30 years old has been potted in 20" dia. pot 20" high; the tree is 10 feet high, spread across 6 foot, trunk midway 3.5 inches. Up to 28th July 2017 we already had 60 figs with still over 50 ripe figs on the tree.
    The tree was blown over on the 28th July and had broken the root in to ground from pot. I was surprised to find the heavy root in the ground. We stabilized the pot and watered regularly to compensate for the lack of ground root, the tree was pruned in the dormant period.

    It is now 29th June 2018 and I thought the tree had recovered, it has about 60 green figs but when I feel them they seem to be spongy the leaves are drooping. Over the last week the weather has been hot. So I thought it would be good lightly water every day, have I over watered the tree and will it recover or is there another reason for the spongy feeling?

    I am not a gardener, can anything be done to save our much loved fig tree.

    Comment added May 30, 2018Reply

    Whether early buds when the figp plant is small of about six months to be removed?

    Comment added May 30, 2018Reply

    Whether early buds when the plant is small of about six months to be removed?

  • Amellia
    Comment added May 19, 2018Reply

    My tree did not survive the harsh winter. Now it is starting to get leaves from the roots, no leaves on the branches. I think I did a bad pruning job and did not winterize properly. Will I get any figs this year?

    • Aly
      Comment added May 26, 2018Reply

      My understanding is that fig trees are not typically grafted onto rootstock. This means the leaves coming from the roots will eventually produce figs. I'm not sure however if they will produce figs this year. Might depend on variety. As for the new growth, choose 3 or 4 branches to be your main limbs and prune away the others. Alternatively you could take cuttings and try to start a new tree. Good luck!

  • Rebecca S
    Comment added April 20, 2018Reply

    I want to harvest fig LEAVES. When is the best time? I tried the other day (got mature and immature) and they tasted AWFUL ! I removed the stem and toughest veins, I blanched them for 10 minutes and then wrapped them around a mixture of my own. They were bitter and hard to chew. It's only April... did I harvest them too early?

    • Louise Bell
      Comment added September 29, 2018Reply

      I have not heard of eating fig leaves. Grape vine leaves would be much better. They are lovely to eat with rice and herbs. As a generally rule of thumb I don't eat leaves of anything with a milky sap because I assumned it was poisonous. Except for the fruit of figs. Don't let the fig tree experience put you off. Grape vines leaves prepared are awesome. Famous greek receipe. They are called 'Dolamades'- Greek Stuffed Grape Vine leaves.

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