Pruning Figs

A couple weekends ago, I helped my dad prune his fig trees. He has about seven fig trees, which I believe he got by propagating cuttings from one really old tree that was on the property when he bought it.


The propagated trees are pretty young (mostly < 5 years old). Above is a “before” shot of one of them. He prefers a bush-type structure with 4 or so main branches coming out from the ground, as opposed to a tree-like structure with one main stem. We removed dead, diseased, or damaged branches, and then cut out any crossing branches to keep the structure of the tree open.

Here is the after photo:


In addition, he wants to keep the trees relatively short so it’s easy to harvest the fruit.

With this next tree, we did something he calls “stubbing” to (hopefully) keep the tree from getting too tall. Here’s the before photo:


And here’s the after:


We cut the taller branches back, but instead of pruning them all the way back to a branch point, like we normally would, we left a couple of inches above the branch point — leaving stubs. This photo highlights some of the stubs:

Stubbed branches highlighted

The idea is that stubbing will encourage more growth out to the sides just below the stub to make a bushier, shorter tree, so as to have lots of branches for fruit production that are easy to reach without a ladder. But we’re not 100% sure that this strategy will work. Some sites say that stubbing — also known as topping trees — is bad (examples here, here and here). But it’s not clear that we’re talking about the same thing. Their examples are of people lopping off really thick large branches to make the tree shorter. The anti-stubbers say it’s ugly and will encourage “water shoots” — meaning more growth upwards. However, we were cutting pretty small branches, not big thick branches.

I found a different article that talks about stubbing in a way that sounds more in line with what we’re doing (see here, “A stubbing cut…” under the Branches and Pruning Terminology section). (Side note: that article was written by Dr. James Schupp, PhD, Professor of Pomology. Who knew you could get a PhD in the study of fruit?) The pictures and description he gives look and sound kind of like what we were going for….I think? I hope we did it right.

This is all an experiment. If anyone has any information about stubbing or advice for pruning fig trees in particular, leave a comment.