How can I reduce the size of my fig tree?

posted in: Fruit tree advice 0

A reader enquires:

Hi Dan,

We have a fig tree in our garden, and it has become far too large for the space we have available. The canopy is too extensive and the lawn below dies off when it is in full leaf. But the figs are delicious. How can we reduce the size of the fig tree?

Dan’s reply:

Unfortunately, you can’t permanently reduce the size of your fig tree without a major operation. It is the size of the root system which determines the size of the fig tree. We generally recommend that new fig trees should be planted in a container in order to contain the spread of the roots.

You on the other hand already have a mature tree, planted directly in the ground, and it has become too large for the space available. This is how you can do the operation:

  • Using a contractor with a digger, lift the tree in early March, when serious frost damage can be avoided. You can then cut back the tree to the size you like it to be, before replanting it.
  • Prepare a robust container. It should be 60 cm deep and about 80 cm in diameter. Always choose a pot or a container which is the same width at the top as at the bottom. This type of pot is more stable. Ideally it should be in clay or double-walled plastic. Avoid thin, single-walled plastic containers which tend to conduct too much heat to the soil.
  • Ensure that there are proper drainage holes at the bottom of the container.
  • The container should be above soil level. Make provisions to anchor the container and the tree to prevent it from being blown over.
  • Place the container on bricks! This is necessary to prevent the roots escaping out through the drainage holes.
  • Use soil-based compost such as John Innes compost number 3.
  • Replant the tree in the container.

The tree will need watering on a weekly basis.

I realize that this is possibly not what you had in mind. However, pruning without seriously reducing the size of the root system will lead to further disappointment.

There are more tips on growing figs here. Best of luck!

Fig tree in container
This is my fig tree, in a container that has been partially buried in the ground, with a brick lining to keep the roots enclosed.