When we moved to our current property in 2013, there was a huge Brown Turkey Fig Tree already on the property. This fig tree was planted by my wife's grandfather when he lived on the property, but there's no telling how old it is. My guess is that it's around 35-40 years old.
Big fig trees like this are pretty common here in south Georgia. Many people have them in their backyards because their grandparents or the previous property owners planted them. They're usually either the Brown Turkey or Celeste variety, because that's all that was sold locally years ago.
If older fig trees aren't regularly pruned, they can drastically decline in fig production over time. We witnessed that first hand with our big Brown Turkey fig tree. When we first moved here, we were getting buckets and buckets of figs from this tree every year. But each year it produced fewer figs until this past year when we got hardly any from it.
As we've discussed in previous blogs, main crop figs are formed on new growth. If a tree isn't producing new growth, you're not likely to get any figs. This big fig tree had stopped producing much new growth besides some small suckers at the base of the tree.
The top of the tree was loaded with beautiful fig limbs, but they were stagnant, full of lichen, and no longer generating new growth each year. This is how we knew we had a problem. Our Brown Turkey tree needed a serious haircut to get it back producing again.
Saving a Huge Fig Tree
This is a common problem among new homeowners who "inherit" a fig tree planted by the previous homeowner. They don't know if they like figs or not. All they know is there's a large fig tree that's not giving them any figs.
I've seen many cases where unknowing homeowners cut down these trees completely, and this is sad. Older fig trees can have a "revival" of sorts if pruned aggressively, forcing the tree to start adding more new growth each year. If you have a big fig tree that doesn't produce, don't scrap it!
Our Aggressive Fig Pruning Strategy
Our plan for this large Brown Turkey fig tree was to initially remove all the top limbs that weren't producing any new growth. Because the limbs were so large, we had to use a chainsaw to cut them. Our handy Ryobi battery-powered chainsaw did a great job cutting these larger limbs.
Once those larger limbs were removed we decided which of the big trunks we were going to keep and which we were going to cut to the ground. This mainly was a decision based on accessibility. Because this fig tree was so large, we couldn't access some of the larger trunk limbs with the chainsaw.
We cut as much as we could with the chainsaw and then started more delicate pruning. We wanted to also remove many of the sucker limbs at the base of the tree, which was done with loppers and pruning shears. This allowed us to give it a cleaner look going forward.
Although we cut a significant amount of wood off this big fig tree, I'm confident that it will rebound well in the spring. I expect to see more new growth this year and a resurgence of fig production. It will probably take this tree a few more years to get back to the production we once saw, but we'll get there.
To see the entire pruning process, watch this video.
Save Some Cuttings!
While cutting some of the smaller limbs on this big fig tree, we made sure to save some of the better-looking limbs for cuttings. We saved over 100 nice Brown Turkey fig cuttings and could have had more, but 100 was enough.
We trimmed the cuttings to approximately 8" each and washed them in a solution of hydrogen peroxide to clean them. We then dried the cuttings with a towel and dipped the ends in melted paraffin wax to seal them and prevent moisture loss. They're currently sitting in some plastic boxes in our barn fridge and they'll be ready whenever we get more room in the greenhouse to start them!