This is the first in a series of posts about the dark art of pruning fruit trees. We’re going to take it fruit at a time because each one is slightly different and it pays to get it right or you might be without fruit for a season while your tree recovers or worse you might kill it (trust me I’ve done it).
We’re starting with pruning fig trees because we happen to have one that is in serious need of a haircut. This fig tree is around 30 years old and has been growing under some gum trees that have recently been felled. Without the gums overshadowing it the fig can become a nice feature tree.
Fig trees can become large and spreading multi-trunk trees and a regular prune will help keep them contained and promote the growth of new wood for figs to form on.
Fig trees are a member of the rubber plant family and have a milky latex sap. You should always prune a fig tree in winter when the sap is not flowing and the tree is dormant. If you want to train the branches of your fig tree along a fence or pergola then winter is also the best time to bend branches when they are not full of sap.
To prune a fig tree always cut it back to a node on the branch. This is the only place that the plant will heal itself. In the photo to the right the secateurs are just below a node, everything above the secateurs stays and the tree will heal the cut back to the node where new leaves will grow from.
In the before and after photo below you’ll see that the general approach to pruning the fig tree has been to:
- thin out most of the new suckers shooting up from the base of the tree to take it back to a core framework of trunks
- thin out over-lapping branches internally
- shorten the core branches by a third to promote new fruiting growth.
- remove low hanging branches to raise the canopy
Some of the low hanging branches had formed roots in the leaf mulch around the tree and this layering technique of securing low hanging branches to the ground is a good way to propagate a new fig tree.
I’ve left some branches un-shortened so that I get some figs next summer and then next winter I’ll go back and shorten these ones too once this winters pruning has had a chance to produce new wood.
Figs are pretty hard to kill but as a general rule if you’re pruning a fruit tree that hasn’t been pruned for some years you might like to take it in thirds over 3 years so that it is not such a big shock to the tree.
It is also good practice to use a dab on pruning paint like Bacseal to seal woulds of large cuts on trees. I didn’t because it was such a big pruning job I’d be there all day dabbing. Also if you’re pruning on a dry sunny day when the tree is dormant they will generally heal themselves pretty well.