Unlike many other trees, fig trees in nurseries are always grown from cuttings because they grow quickly. My question is; why waste money on a one-year-old tree when you can simply grow figs from cuttings yourself? Buying fig cuttings is cheaper, or even better, you can get them from someone who already has a grown fig tree.
A fig tree can be started from a cutting by first taking a cutting from a tree late in the dormant season, properly rooting it before the dormant season ends, planting it into small pots or, in warm climates, in the ground, and fertilizing it when the time is right.
When and How Do I Take a Cutting From a Fig Tree?
I believe the late dormant season in march is by far the best time to take fig tree cuttings. The time can be different depending on the climate zone because the most important thing is that there won’t be any more frost.
That’s also the best time to prune, so cuttings are usually taken from pruned wood. You can easily get fig cuttings for cheap, or even free, from someone who just pruned their fig tree.
The cuttings are always taken from hardwood. The longer clean cuttings you get, the better, although they are more difficult to start with because they require better rooting from the very start.
I prefer having ends of branches if the wood is hard enough because the growth will be quicker from a natural tip. Also, the tips of fig tree branches tend to grow more buds, so you can choose which to grow into a healthy branch. That way, I can have the perfect form from the get-go.
If the wood is not hard enough on the tips, I take the cutting from the lower part of the branch, but relatively young wood. The cutting must have at least one eye, where the buds will form. I prefer at least two. Always make sure you have pruning shears of high quality that are sharp because cuttings will have a harder time growing if the cut is not clean.
The cuts must be made at the joint (node), not along the internode. New growth needs enough hardwood to grow healthy. There will be too much pith and not enough hardwood if you cut along the internode. It will grow anyway, but much slower at the beginning.
One important thing to keep in mind is that you must protect fresh cuttings from direct sunlight at all times. Even a few minutes of the sun shining directly where you cut will prevent the cutting from new growth.
That’s why when we pinch the tips of branches during the growing season, they stop growing in that direction and grow side branches instead.
Can You Root Fig Tree Cuttings in Water?
Fig tree cuttings can be rooted in water, and they take about four weeks to root completely. Cuttings rooted in water will grow better when put in the soil because there was less stress on them during the rooting process. Both the wood and roots need enough water to stay healthy until the growing season.
To maximize root growth, I cut the bark of half of the lower internode. I make very thin cuts, ideally removing only the bark and none of the wood. The goal is not to expose the pith.
Why half of the internode? Because you want to plant so that the first eye is touching the soil. Removing the bark from the whole internode would result in some roots being too shallow and even growing out of the soil. While not removing any of the bark would create bushy roots at the very bottom, taking a long time to spread in the soil.
When cuttings are rooting, they need sunlight, so it’s best to place them near a southern window, however, not in direct sunlight.
Fig cuttings need lots of oxygen so the water can’t be closed off from the air circulation. Additionally, changing the water every few days will help as well.
A small downside of rooting fig tree cuttings in water is that the roots will break easily, so you must be careful when changing water and planting them in the soil later on.
Should I Use Rooting Hormone for Fig Cuttings?
Rooting hormones are not entirely necessary, especially not for fig cuttings. However, there are situations when they can help tremendously.
If the cuttings are not perfectly cut or too big, rooting hormones can help a lot because they force the cutting to put all its energy into rooting.
You might notice the cutting sometimes grows leaves before the roots. That happens because many nutrients were left in the wood from a previous growing season. Premature growth may slow down the rooting, or new growth can die if roots don’t develop on time. Rooting hormones are great at countering this by forcing the cutting to root as quickly as possible.
I’m not too fond of homemade growth hormones in a situation like that because they provide too many nutrients, which can promote new growth instead of rooting. If they have too many fertilizing nutrients, they can burn small, fragile roots. You can dilute them, but it’s difficult to determine how much.
Clonex Rooting Gel and similar products are much easier to use because you get instructions on how much to use and how to dilute them.
Planting Fig Cuttings Directly in the Ground
Planting fig tree cutting directly in the ground is a viable option. However, it has more downsides than I would prefer. Some will recommend doing it, but it’s tricky to make recommendations like these because it depends greatly on the weather.
The process is exactly the same as rooting them in water, except now you put them in the soil. Rooting fig cuttings in small pots with soil has very few cons compared to rooting in water. Although, if you are already going through the process of replanting, why not go with water in the first place.
Planting them directly in the ground is a bit different story.
I do a lot of theory-crafting before testing anything, so I thought of how the choice of soil can prevent either the cutting from developing roots or the tree from growing well later on.
It all comes down to the drainage of the soil. Fig cuttings require an abundance of water until roots are about 2-inches long. Ideally, you would choose dense soil that can keep water better, but then you have to replant the cutting to get good drainage with a different kind of soil.
The problem is we always go a full circle and come back to the question, “why not root cutting in water since you will have to replant them anyway?”
Alternatively, you could plant in soil with good drainage but keep the moisture some other way for the time being. I’ve seen people plant in grow bags with holes so the roots can spread or wrap the paper around the cutting to keep moisture.
You can be successful in rooting and planting cuttings this way. If you consider everything, you end up with either too much work or not-so-great results most of the time.
And I didn’t even mention how certain nutrients or pests can ruin cuttings before they get the chance to develop roots. My conclusion is always that rooting fig cuttings in water is superior to rooting them in the ground.
Should I Fertilize a Fig Cutting?
Fertilizing is where most people make mistakes when rooting and growing fig trees from cuttings.
Roots are formed from nutrients stored in the cutting, not from soil or water nutrients. If you fertilize too early, tiny, fragile roots will likely get burned by the fertilizer. Besides, most fertilizers need to be digested by bacteria before the fig cutting can absorb them. We can establish a few rules for different growing situations by knowing how this process works.
To simplify, if cuttings are rooted in the water, you can fertilize them soon after planting in the soil. I like to monitor their growth to give them as much time to grow from nutrients in cuttings before fertilizing them. When I notice the growth is slowing down, it’s time to fertilize.
If fig cuttings are planted directly in the soil, you must wait 4-8 weeks before fertilizing. Even if they seem dead, you must give them time to develop good-sized roots. Otherwise, the fertilizer will kill them.
If they are planted in-ground, it isn’t easy to know if roots developed or not, and that’s another reason I prefer rooting them in the water.
Choosing a fertilizer is simple. Since the roots system is not developed enough, and the soil might have very few or no soil bacteria, the only option is a soluble fertilizer.
My preferred choice for very young potted fig trees and cuttings is Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All-Purpose Plant Food. It’s a 24-8-16 solution that has more nitrogen than anything else. I find it ideal before the fig starts growing fruit.
When the tree is in its 4th year, and I know I can start getting a decent amount of figs, I will switch to a fertilizer with more phosphate. You can switch earlier if you want the fruit, but you may sacrifice a lot in the long run. It also depends on the climate and growing conditions, so you should understand how the tree will grow in your area.
The one I used the most is Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Bloom Booster Flower Food. The solution is 10-52-10 that has more phosphate than most other fertilizers.
Most flower fertilizers will work because they are phosphate-based. Besides, fig fruit is actually an inverted flower.