Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pruning a fig tree to reduce its height.

I received the following inquiry a few weeks ago.

Mr. John, (We) have a very large fig tree. It's at least 15 feet tall, if not taller. When is the best time to prune it? ...I would like to prune it so I can reach all of the figs! ALL OF THEM. Just kidding. ...I heard it was good to prune them, but I won't if it isn't!  -C.K., Athens, GA.

Dear C.K., I'm assuming that your fig tree is vigorous and in good health. Since you want to prune your fig to reduce the height of the tree, you need to do it so it won't grow back to its present height too quickly. Timing is important. Spring pruning tends to stimulate new, rapid growth; summer pruning does not, so prune in late summer.

Prune in stages. Heavy pruning all at once tends to stimulate new, rapid growth; selective pruning in stages does not, so prune selectively in stages.

Heavy pruning will reduce your crop a lot. You don't want that. Selective pruning in stages will reduce your crop a little, so do that.

Here's how:

Resign yourself to the fact that this will be a two-year process. Resign yourself to the fact that you will lose some figs.

Prune from late June to mid-July.

Be sure your tools are sharp. Make clean cuts. Avoid making ragged wounds.

Determine how tall you want your fig tree to be. Select about 1/2 of the tallest limbs, and cut them back about 2 feet below the ultimate height you desire.

Always cut back to a point just above a node, if you can identify it. A "node" is a point on a limb or branch where growth emerges. If you cut midway between nodes, or just below a node, you'll leave a stub that will die and rot. The rotting tissue can invade healthy tissue; you don't want that.

While you're at it, remove any dead, diseased or damaged limbs by cutting them back to the nearest node or joint.

Next year, follow the same procedure, cutting back the remaining portion that's too tall.

Avoid fertilizing. It will only stimulate your fig tree to return to its original height.

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