The following is an answer to a question that I received from a client concerning fig production.
I'm seeking advice regarding two fig trees I'm trying to grow. These trees are about 3+ years old, 8-9' tall, and the limbs are approximately 1-2-inches in diameter. Both trees showed fruit this year (one more than the other). The many limbs jut out in all directions, and the foliage is sparse on the bottom two-thirds of these trees.
1. I want the trees to fill out more toward the bottom and middle parts (and top, too). Most fig trees I've seen have lush foliage when in season. How should these trees be cut back? When should they be cut back?
Fig plants can be trained for both the tree form or bush form. Begin training the fig for bush form at the time of planting - or as soon as possible. Afterwards cut back the young plant about 1/2 it's height. This forces shoots to grow from the base of the plant. Let these shoots grow through the first season. Then, during the winter after planting, select three to eight vigorous, widely spaced shoots to serve as leaders. Remove all other shoots and prune the leaders to within 1-foot of the ground. Be sure the leaders you select are far enough apart so they can grow to 3 or 4-inches in diameter and not crowd each other. If they are to close together they cannot grow thick enough to support themselves and their crop. They also tend to blow down or split off under stress or high wind. If this happens, remove the damaged leader and select a new leader the next winter from one of the many suckers that arrive annually.
Beginning the second year after planting, head back the bush each spring after the danger of frost has passed but before growth has started. Do this by removing 1/3 to 1/2 the length of the annual growth. Also prune out all the dead wood and remove branches that interfere with growth of the leaders. Cut off low growing lateral branches and all sucker growth that is not needed for replacement or broken leaders. Do not leave bare unproductive studs when you prune. They become entry points for wood-decaying organisms. Make all cuts back to a bud or branch.
Both trees have the large figs. It seems to take the figs a long time to reach the full stage. Even when they reach the full stage, it takes a very long time for the figs to ripen (they're in full sun). Will they ripen inside the house (on a sunny window sill) if I pluck them from the trees once they've gotten large?
Figs will continue to ripen if they are harvested at full maturity and placed in an area that receives direct sunlight. When harvesting the fig fruit prematurely be sure the bottom of the fruit center has turned a pink/reddish color which indicates maturity of the fruit.
For additional information, please email or call for publication ANR-1145 - Fig Production Guide.