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Pruning Fig Trees in Pots

    In my opinion, people value pruning way more than they should when it comes to small and young fig trees. Pruning is mainly used to shape fig trees at an early stage of their life.

    The problem I have with pruning is that no one ever asks if pruning is the best method for many different situations. They simply assume it is, probably, because they read it online.

    Let’s see if that really is the case!

    Why Prune Potted Fig Trees?

    Everyone always talks about when and how to prune fig trees, but there is a more important question; why prune fig trees?

    And by that, I don’t mean what results or benefits you will get, but rather, what goals you want to achieve with it.

    When you phrase the question that way, you can then start thinking about how exactly you need to prune to achieve a certain goal for your fig tree.

    That is especially important for container fig trees because there are more reasons to prune them than older trees.

    There are four primary reasons to prune a potted fig tree:

    1. Growing a fig tree into the desired shape from the start.
    2. Allowing a fig tree to absorb more sunlight.
    3. Encouraging a fig tree to fruit (a method called pinching, often confused with pruning).
    4. Rejuvenation pruning potted fig trees.

    Any of these are valid goals to achieve by pruning. However, there are alternatives that depend on the shape, size, and age of your fig tree.

    I will talk about them later, but before I reach that point, let’s discuss pruning container fig trees in more detail.

    When to Prune Fig Trees in Pots?

    Fig trees are pruned in late winter or very early spring, just before their growing season starts. That way, there is no sap in the wood to leak out, but there is also minimal risk of cold injury. Potted fig trees can be pruned slightly later than in-ground ones because they have longer dormancy.

    To give you a more precise answer, pruning is done at different times for different goals.

    To grow the tree into the desired shape, I prune it in late autumn or early spring. Since I will be cutting smaller branches, I don’t want to risk exposing them to frost injury right away.

    To bring more sunlight to my fig trees, I choose to prune them in late winter if sunny days are ahead. That way, a fig tree will start absorbing sunlight on time to grow quickly once it ends dormancy.

    However, to do this properly, you must be sure about the coming weather. Fig trees can end dormancy earlier if they start absorbing too much sunlight. It’s best to have a place to protect them if the weather turns cold again.

    Rejuvenation pruning is usually done earlier when it is still a bit colder. It heavily depends on the climate in the area. Rejuvenation pruning is done by cutting older wood to force the tree to grow new wood which produces quality fruit.

    Doing rejuvenation pruning a bit earlier means the tree will get better signals that it needs to renew its limbs, and also, those cuts on older wood are much more resistant to cold injury.

    Pinching vs. Pruning Container Fig Trees

    Pruning to encourage fig trees to grow fruit is best done by pinching. People often confuse the two because both involve cutting parts.

    Pruning is cutting mature wood, while pinching is cutting new growth while still “fresh” green wood. Pinching can be categorized as pruning, and it’s called by a different name because the new growth is usually snapped or pinched by hand.

    I don’t advise pruning or pinching to encourage fruit growth to get to the point of having ripe quality figs. Both often backfire by triggering green growth and not fruiting, and pinching is only useful when fig buds are already formed to speed up their development and ripening process late in the season.

    In addition, I found pruning for fruit growth to create bushy fig trees, which results in even more pruning. In the end, you lose lots of figs because the tree is slowed in its growth and development by too much pruning.

    How to Prune Potted Fig Trees?

    Pruning container fig trees is different from in-ground trees only because you need to plan ahead all the time.

    When you cut a sizeable limb from a bigger in-ground tree, you didn’t lose too much. In-ground trees grow back quicker and grow large treetops to produce many new figs in a single season.

    Potted fig trees are often small, and when you have to cut a larger portion of them, you can lose more than a year of progress. Therefore, constant planning and care are necessary to avoid that scenario.

    I try to monitor the growth at all times so, when I need to promote branching at a certain point, I can do it by pinching tips in the middle of the growing season. Pruning wasn’t possible at that time because it would cause injury to the tree.

    I can minimize the lengths I need to cut from branches in late winter and not lose too much progress by planning carefully.

    There are methods, which I will talk about at the end, to minimize pruning even more, or make it completely unnecessary, and have the tree grow to your desired size in fewer years.

    Tree Form vs. Bush Form Container Fig Trees

    To be honest, it’s completely irrelevant 99% of the time which form your potted fig tree will take. In both situations, fig trees can get all they need, as long as you keep an eye on their form to allow sunlight to reach all their parts.

    Over the years, the only difference I noticed is that tree form is easier to get going once replanted in-ground. That’s why I prefer the tree form myself.

    However, bush form often produced more figs in the first 4-5 years, which is great if you want to get enough fruit as fast as possible. I’m guessing nutrients are more equally distributed among bush-formed branches.

    While in tree form fig trees, I’ve often noticed only one branch producing figs while others form only leaves in the first few years.

    How To Get a Strong Base Trunk on Potted Fig Trees?

    Many people will tell you to prune it this way or that way, stake the tree, and so on…

    It’s all false.

    The best way to get a strong base trunk is to let it grow without touching it. If it’s healthy, it will grow the strongest that way. However, you might end up with a terrible form that isn’t ideal for fruiting.

    That perfectly describes the reason why I’ve put so much emphasis on pruning less rather than heavy pruning throughout this article. The less you prune, the stronger the fig tree, but you might not get much fruit if you neglect the form altogether.

    In the end, a perfect balance of pruning as little as it is necessary is what gets you the best fig trees.

    That’s also where other methods enter the conversation.

    Techniques Better Than Pruning Potted Fig Trees

    Having container fig trees means you don’t always need to prune them to change their shape. They are small and flexible enough to bend the branches and even the tree trunk.

    Bending a fig tree with a weight or tying it to a stake will force it to slowly shape the way you want. It doesn’t actually put stress on the tree unless you overdo it so much that branches start to break.

    Bending is perfect for spreading the branches to allow sunlight to pierce through the middle. It’s also amazing when the tree is growing too much to one side as you can simply pull it back to the other.

    However, if the main trunk is already bending the way you need to pull, but the branches are developing the other way, by bending, you might end up with a bad tree trunk.

    Luckily, there is an alternative to that as well.

    You can pull the tree up from its container and rotate the whole rootball so that the treetop moves in the direction you want. The bent main trunk will then naturally straighten up, and you can repeat the process until you make it as vertical as possible.

    From there, you can bend certain branches to spread them out. The possibilities of correcting fig tree form this way are endless if you use a bit of your imagination and test things out.