Pruning a Fig Tree to a Single Trunk

Can You Prune a Fig Tree to a Single Trunk?

A few weeks ago I was talking to a fellow fig grower north of us. He was telling me about an upcoming meeting he had with a lady who grows hundreds of fig varieties, and prunes all her trees to a single trunk. My first thought was, "I bet that's a beautiful fig orchard, but I also bet it's a ton of work keeping those trees to a single trunk."

Beginner fig growers are always surprised to see that their fig tree doesn't grow like the other fruit trees they've tried growing. They expect their fig tree to look like their apple tree or citrus tree, but it doesn't. Fig trees like to grow much differently.

Fig Tree Natural Growth Habit

How Do Fig Trees Grow?

Most fig trees will naturally grow like a big bush. Each year they'll sent out new branches from the bottom of the tree. These branches, called "suckers" by some growers, cause the tree to grow more horizontally than it does vertically. Over time as more and more sucker branches develop, a single fig tree can get quite wide.

It's not unusual for those sucker branches to get heavy and lay on the ground as they get longer. When they lay on the ground, they'll put down roots so the tree can continue to spread. I've seen this with fig trees that have never been pruned. They end up making a huge jungle of a fig tree.

Young Fig Tree After Pruning

Can You Force Them to Grow Differently?

The natural growth habit of a fig tree is not necessarily desirable for everyone. That's why most of us prune our fig trees to make them more manageable. I have all my fig trees planted in linear rows, so I definitely try to keep each tree contained within the row.

A fig tree can be pruned to fit whatever mold you like. But one thing is important to note here. The farther you venture away from the natural growth habit of the tree, the more work you're going to have on your hands.

Fig Tree Pruned After Dormancy

Growing Fig Trees with a Single Trunk

If you want your fig tree to have a single trunk like an apple tree or a pear tree, you can do that. Just know that it's going to be an ongoing battle of maintaining that single trunk profile or shape. Even when you think you've finally convinced the tree to only have a single trunk, the following year it will send out more sucker branches that will force you to prune.

Single trunk pruning does look much neater than a bushy, sprawling fig tree. And single trunk trees are easier to mulch and mow around the perimeter of the tree. But  since this is not how the fig tree naturally wants to grow, you have to continuously prune to keep it that shape.

I used to seek the single trunk design, but I've since learned it's not worth the battle in some cases. I have had some fig trees that lean more towards a single trunk than a sprawling tree, and I will try to keep those as a single trunk. But I usually just stick with 3-4 main branches on the other trees that want to sprawl.

Fig Tree Pruned to Single Trunk

Pruning: It's Worth the Work!

After reading this, you may be thinking that fig trees require a lot of work and maintenance. They're actually pretty maintenance-free though. Pruning a large fig tree only takes about 5 minutes and it does wonders for the new growth and fig production the following year.

Don't look at pruning your fig trees as a chore. Look at it as an opportunity to help the tree grow more next year. Once you see the benefits of pruning and keeping your fig trees manageable, you won't mind doing it at all!

Back to blog