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Fig Pruning: How to Properly Intervene in Fig Tree Care

Fig pruning is a crucial agricultural operation for these beloved trees. It involves both training and production pruning. Let's explore these procedures.

by BioGrow

Fig pruning is a significant agricultural operation for our beloved trees. We’ve previously covered various aspects of cultivating a fig tree (Ficus carica). In this article, we’ll delve into the intricacies of pruning. With proper care, this tree happens to be one of the simplest fruit species to manage, both through training and production pruning, even for novices.

Let’s explore the necessary cuts in the first two years to establish the classic spherical training form. Then, we’ll understand how to proceed over time with production pruning.

Spherical Training Form and Plant Spacing

Globose pruning of the fig tree

Globose pruning of the fig tree

The fig tree naturally assumes a spherical shape that, with appropriate interventions, is easy to maintain. However, this training form must be established by guiding the tree’s growth, ensuring it has a low scaffold and branches out into 3-4 main branches. A fig tree trained in a spherical form will reach a maximum height from the ground of about 4 meters. Its canopy, instead, won’t exceed 5 meters in width. Maintaining a spacing of 6 meters between rows and 6×6 between each plant facilitates subsequent agricultural operations and prevents plants from obstructing each other.
Firstly, it’s important to understand this cultivar’s behavior concerning productivity and vegetative aspects. Hence, we need to distinguish between bifera and unifera fig varieties. This distinction provides essential insights into fig pruning operations.

Fig Varieties

Bifera figs produce two types of fruits: “breba” in June and true figs in August and September. Unifera varieties, on the other hand, produce only true figs in summer and don’t yield breba fruits. The fruits, similar in appearance, are delicious and highly nutritious, suitable for various preparations such as fig croquettes, fig honey, or classic dried figs (available in these stores).
This distinction also affects bud formation in the tree. In bifera varieties, a mixed bud forms at the apex of one-year-old branches, sprouting in spring. The growth of the new shoot, at the leaf axil of the new leaves, develops the true figs, ready for harvest in the same year’s summer. These true figs are found at the base of the shoot. Meanwhile, towards the shoot’s tip, we find the so-called breba primordia. These primordia resemble small domes and will produce the breba fruits in the following year. In contrast, unifera varieties lack the formation of breba primordia. From the shoot emerging from the mixed bud at the apex of the branches, only leaves will grow, bearing only true figs, which are harvested in the same year’s summer. With this important distinction in mind, let’s delve into fig pruning.

Fig Pruning

Pruning fruit trees, including figs, always necessitates the use of appropriate tools to avoid causing harm. In detail, figs involve two forms of pruning: training and production pruning.

Training Pruning

Plant the fig tree by setting a stone that will be pruned at a meter’s height. From this pruned stone, near the cut, the main branches and other ramifications will form. These should be left in place until the following year. In the second year, select the three sturdiest branches, which will then be pruned back by half of their length, thereby performing return cuts. If these branches aren’t sturdy enough, the pruning operation should be postponed to the following year. Eliminate all other shoots that emerge on the trunk below the scaffold point. This step is easier to understand by observing the figures below.

After these interventions, the plant can grow freely for the next 2-3 years. The plant’s training phase, therefore, lasts from 3 to 5 years. All these fig pruning operations are carried out in late winter, when the risk of frost is averted.

Production Pruning

After the training phase, fig pruning interventions become more limited. From here onwards, pruning aims to maintain vegetative balance and ensure good production. The main production pruning operations include:

  • Removing overly vigorous or poorly positioned small branches
  • Return cuts on excessively tall branches without leaves
  • Return cuts to balance the canopy
  • Eliminating excessively low secondary branches
  • Thinning out the higher branches
  • Removing damaged or diseased branches
  • Removing basal shoots

Naturally, these pruning cuts should also be executed in late winter when temperatures start to become milder. Below, we can observe interventions carried out on the canopy of an excessively lush fig tree.

Special Cuts

Certain specific cuts can be made to favor a particular type of production. For bifera varieties, removing buds at the apex of one-year-old branches maximizes breba production. This stimulates the growth of new shoots (and thus breba) for the following year. Conversely, for those aiming for a higher production of true figs, a special pruning technique involves shortening by one-third the branches that have already borne fruit. This cut stimulates the tree to form new, numerous productive shoots, even for the current year. True figs are, in fact, born on new branches.

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