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Is My Fig Tree Dead?

    A neglected dying fig tree from a friend of mine who didn’t manage to save it on time for fruit to survive.

    I would love it if growing fig trees were even easier than it is. Unfortunately, as much as fig trees are known for their adaptiveness and endurance, there are things that they can really struggle with. Don’t let that discourage any of you from growing them. After all, when we consider everything about them, figs are one of the easiest fruit to grow.

    Knowing if my fig tree is dead or not has been an issue for years. Even when I learned how to differentiate if my fig tree has any life, I had difficulty deciding what to do to save its life. I’ve acquired some experience in the past 15 years, and now I would like to help others grow figs successfully.

    How Do I Check if My Fig Tree Is Dead?

    Ways to check if a fig tree is dead or alive include nipping a piece of bark with the thumbnail to see if it is green underneath, looking for any sign of new growth on the tree, and checking if shallow root ends are properly colored white-tan with small black tips. If any of these methods show signs of life, the tree can be saved.

    That is how I normally check for signs of life. If a fig tree is smaller, I might change the order and check for any sign of growth first.

    I find it difficult to inspect the very top of the tree on large trees and instead climb close to the top and scratch the bark to see if it’s green beneath. If there is any green color, and the wood appears to be moist, then it’s alive. If it’s dead, the wood would be grey and brown. It would also be very dry.

    For larger branches and fig tree trunks, you won’t be able to scratch the bark with your thumbnail. Instead, I use a sharp knife or a wood saw and just cut open a tiny piece of bark.

    I try not to break it off the tree because that can leave the wood exposed to rot later on. I find it best to put the bark back once I’ve checked and tie it with a rope to keep it in place. That way, it will get attached again and continue growing as nothing happened.

    If there are no signs of new growth into the spring season and parts of the tree seem dead when checking under the bark, I continue checking the tree all the way to the ground.

    Lastly, if the situation isn’t promising above the ground, I check the roots. Especially root ends that are shallow under the ground.

    Depending on the size of the tree, you might need to look for roots up to 50 feet from the tree trunk. Healthy roots will have a light tan color, sometimes with small black tips. Healthy roots mean that the tree can be completely renewed, sometimes even within one year.

    Is My Fig Tree Dead or Dormant?

    I believe this is what most people have trouble with. Dormant fig trees may look like they are dead. Branches always partially dry out.

    That’s why I always recommend scratching the bark and checking underneath. The bark on fig trees usually becomes dry after a few months in the dormant season. The same can happen in summer heat too if there is not enough water.

    Back in Texas on my family farm, I had a situation where buds came out and suddenly dried out a week later. They fell off, of course, and a month later, there was no new growth. Knowing these methods was the only way to tell if the tree was alive and how to save it.

    Later on, I learned from my father that fig trees are sensitive to climate shock. Even when switching from bad conditions to conditions figs thrive in, the shock can still happen.

    Now I live in a colder climate, and instead of sheltering my figs completely during the off-season, I only partially shelter them from cold wind and snow. That way, fig trees are more likely to go into a healthy growing season.

    How To Save a Dying Fig Tree?

    Saving a dying fig tree takes time. Here are some things that increase fig trees’ chances of survival:

    • Pruning dead branches back to parts which are alive
    • Giving a fig tree direct sunlight for the better part of the day
    • Watering fig tree as required by each season
    • Fertilizing a week or two after pruning
    • Making sure pH levels are between 5.5 and 7
    • Giving it a full year to recover for the next growing season
    • Making sure there is decent drainage and moisture retention for a potted fig tree

    I’ve written whole articles on watering fig trees and managing pH levels of soil that you can read to help you with this problem.

    Always remember; If any part is still showing signs of life, I prune all the branches back to that point, and the tree will regrow from there. If there are major parts to cut, the tree probably won’t bear fruit that year, but it will survive and be back as new the year after.

    In colder climates, especially during the dormant season, it’s really important to have good drainage and as much sunlight as you can provide it. If a fig tree is in a pot, both soil and the pot need to provide decent drainage. Too wet soil tends to freeze the roots in the cold.

    Since fig trees like to be in full sun, it’s also important to have a layer of sawdust, or straw mulch on top of pots to keep moisture.

    All I’ve mentioned ends up being essential together in the process of fig tree regrowth.