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Jul 21, 2010 05:31 AM

Trimming a Fig Tree

I never expected the fig tree that I planted about 5 years ago in our Westchester NY garden on a swath of land between the neighbor's and our driveway to grow quite as large as it has gotten. It is really huge and will soon begin overhanging both the neighbor's property and our driveway. It is loaded with figs, which I know will not ripen until fall, so I am wondering when and how to cut this beast back. Anyone familiar with fig trees?

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  1. I had a runaway Brown Turkey Fig; I am surprised you do not have to bury it or wrap it in Winter in Westchester. Concerning trimming I never trimmed mine, intentionally, but a hurricane did it for me. I cleaned it up by trimming the jagged limbs and branches. The next season it produced better than ever. Mine was funny looking after the storm but did not affect the fruit.

    A little more info. at the below link.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ospreycove

      I actually wrapped it the first couple of years, and it had some problems in the spring. I decided to live and let live, and it has thrived ever since. I planted it where I did because it is near a stone wall that retains quite a bit of heat, and it clearly likes its spot, though my husband is not so fond of its runaway growth. A neighbor near me also planted a fig, and hers is thriving too, so we must be in a micro-climate! Thanks for the link.

    2. You can hack the living daylights out of a fig. Do it in winter when it is dormant.

      I would start by doing the obv. like ruthlessly cutting out your dead, diseased and non fruiting limbs and any limbs extending audaciously into the neighbor's yard - but without completely screwing with the symmetry so you do not compromise its health if wind kicks up or heavy snow falls upon it.

      Then you need to decide how much more your tree can handle. Prune cross branches and anything that will dig into the main branch up or main fruiters. Try not to cut off more than 1/3 of the length on your neighbors side, but vow to him that you will tackle it religiously each year. Then offer him fruit and fruit goodies - possibly not involving figs. Bribes. Yes. That is my chosen method. That and looking very determined with my saw.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Sal Vanilla

        Thanks Sal Vanilla. I would have thought that hacking it back severely in winter might compromise the fig tree's survival, especially since I think of us as being on the far edge of the tree's USDA zone. But I will take your advice and give my husband carte blanche this winter. He is not a fig fan and will be oh-so-happy to prune away. In the mean time, we have literally hundreds of figs. September will be a happy month!

        1. re: Sal Vanilla

          Sal, I know this is an old topic but I found this site today and desperately need an expert to reassure me. I bought a house last week, in southern california near L.A. I loved the house but fell equally madly in love with the tree in the back yard. As soon as you walk into the front door a huge picture window looks out onto a gorgeous tree that I was told was a fig. Maybe one of the prettiest trees I've ever seen.... there is a back house that I'm planning to rent and the branches, looking out that window were like looking at a postcard. Well.... they were. Today, I went to the house, and when the opened the door-----the tree had been demolished. The gardner, who the bank had retained to care for the yard had chainsaw massacred it. There are no branches left, none, zip. It now looks like a totem pole. Excessive is not the word. It's like going to get your hair trimmed and having your head cut off. I literally stood in the yard and cried which sucked because today was my birthday. Is this poor thing going to grow back any time soon? I mean COMPLETELY BACK? I like it short and bushy. It transformed the whole yard! I think it's a brown turkey and it WAS about 16 feet tall, and 12 feet wide with limbs that grew out as far down as.... like a foot above the ground. Please tell me it won't take years to come back.... How old do you suppose it is, to be this tall? And one more question, can't a fig tree be pruned back a little every year to look nice all year long? I'm more concerned by the ambiance of the tree than the fruit, although of curse I want it to be healthy. Thanks...

          1. re: TodaysMyBirthday

            Figs can take a hard pruning and come back. They are very fast growers. Hopefully when this "gardener" did it, it was in its dormant stage and will handle it better. I'm surprised actually that he showed up if you'd already closed on the house! I don't think I'd be able to judge its age because our 6" fig starts from last year grew about 3-4' tall over the past season! If it comes back for you next season, you can definitely, and should, do some pruning on it every year to shape it and aid in fig production.

            1. re: TodaysMyBirthday

              I am having to get over the shock. I do not think I fully understand what he did to your tree. Did the gardener take it to a foot from the ground? Or did he take it back to ONLY thru trunk or did he take it to trunk plus sturdy limbs and no foliage? Do you have a picture? That might be really helpful.

              The positives are that you live in a nice even climate and Morwen is right that you can hack the hay out of them and they will return mightily. But it won't come back from a one foot stump. Well it may come back as a weird bush and maybe eventually make some sort of treeish thing. I cut a cherry down and that little sucker (and I use that term not at all loosely) came back and told his friends to come. Grrr. But that is for another day.

              Anyway, you scare me with chainsaw talk. Sometimes you can get what I call chainsaw giddies where you start cutting and then some more and then another piece needs to go and you look up and whoa! No tree. it is like hedge trimming on steroids. I think it is the exhaust fumes.

              Take a pic after the crying ends (if you can post it). Enjoy your birthday and if it is a goner, let's come up with something else for that spot. Another fig may balk. Would another fig balk Morwen?

              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                I'm not sure what you mean by balk. TMB describes it as looking like a totem pole so I'm hoping it hasn't been cut down to a stump. I think the only thing to do is to wait and see if it leafs out.

                OTOH, I'd be in a huge temper if it had happened to me! TMB, if you have a photo of it as it was before the desecration, I'd take a photo of it as it is now, go to the person whom you dealt with when buying the property, show him/her the before and after and throw a huge snit fit. Seriously. If that happened after you closed on your house, the lawn/landscape service had no business being there. My temper tantrum would include a demand for replacement of the tree with one of potential equal value. Not some rooted stick in a 5 gallon bucket. Somewhere the word "vandalism" would be inserted. But that's just me. You may choose to be more tactful.

                1. re: morwen

                  I misread the part of the limbs coming from a foot from the ground. But a totem pole is not any better quite frankly. A picture is necessary to be really helpful.

                  By balk I meant if you pull a tree out from a spot and then replant another tree in the same spot it may not thrive because of mineral depletion (since they need the same things). Often times, but not always, when say - a fig tree is pulled out of spot A and then another fig tree is planted into spot A, the replacement fig does not thrive - it balks at being planted in the same spot.

                  1. re: Sal Vanilla

                    Ah. That makes sense. I haven't needed to do that yet since we (so far) haven't lost anything in our young orchard. Our biggest predator is deer and between DH's rifle, my bow, the freezer and the fencing, it hasn't been too much of a problem.

                    I guess it would depend on how long the original tree was in place. If it was forever then it might be a problem. If it was a few years then generously amending the soil at planting and regular feedings might get the replacement through until it matures.

          2. In Maryland the Brown Turkey Fig does very well. Even with our 30+ inches of snow which hung around for quite some time our fig is more prolific than ever. I had given it a major haircut last December. Sal Vanilla is spot on. I would add that I try to thin it out so sun can get into its inner most branches. And you can use the branches cut into pieces for smoking on the grill. Because of our deer population I allow the outer branches to keep the deer from the interior ones and there are enough figs for the birds and us. I'd love some fig recipes.

            1 Reply
            1. re: zenim

              I saw a recipe in a French magazine (Cote Sud; Aug/Sept 2010) that calls for fresh figs:

              Slice figs in half, spoon out an indent and fill with crushed amaretti cookies, sprinkle with ground almonds and a few julienned candied lemon peel, put a dollop of butter on top and bake ... they look delicious ...

              ... and I too am still in shock over the hacking of TodaysMyBirthday's fig tree ... I'm with morwen + I would insist that whoever authorized the gardener's contract foot the bill for a) a local arborist to come and have a look, and if it's been ruined then b) have a reasonably mature replacement tree brought in with sufficient new soil excavation/enhancement to allow the new one to thrive! In my northern climate I'm envious of anyone who can have a fig tree ...