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  • Training and Pruning Figs: Tree, Bush and Espalier Form

    When I first started cultivating figs I found very few detailed instructions for pruning and training potted fig trees other than the standard recommendation to grow as a bush form in colder zones. I found several posts by Ingevald (Byron) on the Fig Forum, the links were in Japanese so I used Google translate which provided enough info to duplicate the basic pruning techniques... The Japanese Techniques simply uses the Ficus Carica's natural growth habits to maximize fig production in a minimum space. the following procedures were trialed over the past 3 years and have proven successful in use. Step one (1) proves difficult for most growers , but is the most important, IMO. The pruning techniques work for in ground or potted trees and can also be used to prune existing trees.


    Tree Form
    Step 1. Establish a single, straight main trunk for the uninterrupted flow of nutrients to the scaffold limbs and fruiting branches. Remove all side branches and figs that form on a rooted cutting less than six months old. Prune the main trunk @ 16" when the trunk caliper is 3/4" or larger.

    Step 2. The main scaffold limbs have to be spaced far enough apart vertically on the Main trunk for future increase in caliper size, which means that they need to be 2 to 3 nodes apart. Select 3 - 4 scaffold branches and train at 45 - 60 degree angles to main trunk. Prune at 24" at the beginning of the growing season to remove apical dominance and induce branching.

    Step 3. The secondary scaffold branches that are selected and allowed to grow have to be separated by 8" (2 or more nodes) for branch caliper increase and for the growth of future fruiting branches, which are also spaced 8" apart. The main scaffold branches are lengthened by 16" and the apical tips are pruned to induce branching on the extensions, fruiting branches are then allowed to develop 8" apart.

    Step 4. The fruiting branches are pruned back yearly to two (2) one year old buds (nodes) for the next seasons fruiting branches. Only one bud is allowed to grow into a fruiting branch, usually the less dominant, the other is removed.
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    Bush Form
    Step 1. Establish a single, straight main trunk for the uninterrupted flow of nutrients to the scaffold limbs and fruiting branches. Remove all side branches and figs that form on a rooted cutting less than six months old. Prune the main trunk @ 6" when the trunk caliper is 3/4" or larger.

    Step 2. The main scaffold limbs have to be spaced far enough apart vertically on the Main trunk for future increase in caliper size, which means that they need to be at least 1 node apart. Select 3 - 4 scaffold branches and train at 45 - 60 degree angles to main trunk. Prune at 40" at the beginning of the growing season to remove apical dominance and induce branching.

    Step 3. The secondary scaffold branches that are selected and allowed to grow have to be separated by 8" (2 or more nodes) for branch caliper increase and for the growth of future fruiting branches, which are also spaced 8" apart. The main scaffold branches are lengthened by 16" and the apical tips are pruned to induce branching on the extensions, fruiting branches are then allowed to develop 8" apart.

    Step 4. The fruiting branches are pruned back yearly to 2 one year old buds (nodes) for the next seasons fruiting branches. The fruiting branches are located at 8" intervals along the secondary scaffold branches. at the fruiting branches Only one bud is allowed to grow the other is removed.
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    Espalier Form.
    Step 1. Establish a single, straight main trunk for the uninterrupted flow of nutrients to the scaffold limbs and fruiting branches. Remove all side branches and figs that form on a rooted cutting less than six months old. Prune the main trunk @ 16" when the trunk caliper is 3/4" or larger.

    Step 2. The selected main scaffold limbs are allowed to grow vertical until they are at the desired length or at least 6' tall. They are then lowered into the horizontal position over several days to ~ 2 weeks.

    Step 3. The fruiting branches that develop are selected and allowed to grow. The fruiting branches are located at 8" intervals (alternate sides) along the main cordon (scaffold) branches. Eight inches (8") is the minimal spacing for the growth of the fruiting branches and leaf canopy

    Step 4. The fruiting branches are pruned back yearly to 2 one year old buds (nodes) for the next seasons fruiting branches. The fruiting branches are located at 8" intervals along the secondary scaffold branches. at the fruiting branches Only one bud is allowed to grow the other is removed.
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    The tree can be renewed after several years by pruning back to the main trunk and starting over, or just air layering a large branch, and starting over. Also an additional benefit of this pruning technique is that the fruiting branches can easily be air layered or harvested for new plants or cuttings.

    Additional References:
    http://point09acres.blogspot.com/search/label/Espalier
    http://www.hawaiifruit.net/Figs-Japan.htm
    http://stevec.smugmug.com/Other/Kado...3823&k=4MCfwd3
    http://figs4funforum.websitetoolbox....-links-7128063
    https://www.google.com/patents/US7818915
    http://figs4funforum.websitetoolbox.com/post?id=6769908
    Last edited by AscPete; 04-18-2015, 02:59 AM.
    Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

  • #2
    And here's a similar diagram for Columnar fig tree pruning...
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    Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

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    • #3
      Thanks Pete for all that great info. Now to see if i shall have the guts to do it

      Vincent zone 5 ice cold Canada
      Vincent Canada Québec zone5

      Comment


      • nepenthes
        nepenthes commented
        Editing a comment
        For me, the first rooted cutting was the scariest. When I realized that my cutting wasn't screaming in pain, the others were a piece of cake. So far so good. And if doing this now makes a more productive and still healthy fig, then I think it's worth some fig cosmetic surgery.

    • #4
      I like it Pete. Well done.

      Hopefully, I will have some pictures to share later this year, of what I've started along these lines.

      -Bill (saxonfig)
      Zone 6b. West KY.
      My eBay username is fruitnut.
      Fig Well and Prosper!

      Comment


      • AscPete
        AscPete commented
        Editing a comment
        Bill, Thanks and Welcome....
        Glad to see you here, even with a new name
        Looking forward to your pictures and info.

    • #5
      Thanks for posting this, I'd like to try the 'espalier with winterization' once some of my plants size up a bit. It'd be great to hear if anyone else is trying it in zone 5.
      Jesse in western Maine, zone 4/5
      Wishlist- Figues Juane, Demos unk, Nantes Maroc, Thermalito

      Comment


      • AscPete
        AscPete commented
        Editing a comment
        You're Welcome, I will be uncovering the in ground espaliers in a few weeks, once the temperatures warm up and the snow melts. Although my Zone is listed as a 6 its closer to a 5B due to elevation (Catskills foothills).

    • #6
      take a look at these

      https://youtu.be/MjGNgLO9_Tk

      https://youtu.be/Gjotnm_iXdI
      Wish List -

      Comment


      • AscPete
        AscPete commented
        Editing a comment
        Thanks for sharing those videos.
        Those normal espalier shapes do not work well with Figs if fruit production is the goal.

    • #7
      Thanks Pete, great info!
      Phil
      Zone 7A - Newark, DE; Zone 8A - Wilmington, NC;

      Comment


      • AscPete
        AscPete commented
        Editing a comment
        You're welcome...

    • #8
      OK, since this will be my first time pruning my last year's fig starts, I am going to ask for some expert opinions. These are cuttings started last year, planning to be in 5g bucket SIPs indefinitely. I want to prune to a bush form, as AscPete describes above, need to keep these to a size that I can move up and down my basement stairs.

      First example - I have a number of plants that grew a pretty straight trunk like this one:

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      Ignoring the sucker for now, the main trunk is 18 inches tall, with buds emerging at the top for the past week. This one has already been placed into the SIP. The directions for bush pruning above state that I should cut it at 6 inches when the trunk is an inch thick, but I think that is going to be a fairly long wait for the trunk to make that diameter. Should I prune it now at about 6 inches or wait till later in the season? I would think that it would be better to prune now rather than let it put a lot of energy into a trunk that is going to be pruned shorter. I think I should prune at the third node above the plastic band near the base?

      Secondary question on this example - if you would prune this shorter now, how small a plant would you do this on? I have a number that were smaller - only 8-15 inches with a single straight trunk.

      Tertiary question on this example - I will be removing the sucker at the base. It still has green wood at the tip (these plants were stored and never got below 33 degrees, so the green wood was not damaged). How would you best root this kind of cutting, same way as any other?
      ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      Second example - I have a few that grew in a sort of V shape like this one:

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      These two trunks are about 8 inches long. Would you, as above, wait for thicker trunks before pruning? Would you eliminate one trunk and prune the other to 6 inches, then train it more upright (or plant it at an angle when moved to the SIP this weekend)? Or tip each of the two trunks and select 2 scaffold branches on each?

      I have a large number of others that I think I can figure out what to do with given some helpful advice on these 2 examples.

      Thanks for any and all suggestions. There may be, I realize, a number of ways that will eventually work out OK.

      Ed
      SW PA zone 6a

      Comment


      • #9
        I want to make an espalier where each tree will have a single 18" tall trunk that will split into two lateral cordons. I have seen people use vineyard trellis systems with stakes and tension wires. I have also seen people set 4" x 4" wood posts in the ground and then fasten electrical conduit or re-bar between them to support the cordon. In Pete's post above where it shows the espalier illustration, it looks like the support is made entirely of wood... like maybe 4" x 4" posts with 2" x 4" lateral supports.

        I was considering simply placing a cinder block on end into a few shovels full of wet cement. The blocks are 16" long, so with an inch or two of cement under it, that is about the right height. I don't know if I would need a cross bar as long as I place them close enough together. Since each block is independent, I could add/remove them as needed. Would that work, or do I need some sort of horizontal support like a beam, pipe, or wire?

        I would like to hear from anyone who has first hand experience with this. What kind of espalier support structure did you build? What did you like/dislike about it? Pictures please?

        Comment


        • #10
          Ed,

          First Example;
          IMO, "suckers" or branches that grow low on cuttings will grow faster than the main trunk and should be encouraged and trained as the "main" trunk if possible. The idea is to get the node spacing as far apart as possible on the main trunk for less restriction of vascular flow from roots to leaves. It should only take one (1) season to gain enough caliper size to start the training as a Bush. The attached picture is last seasons growth from a purchased 1 gallon plant.
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          Although the cutting is in its 2nd leaf, they are still small and should still be grown as a single stem for at least another season. They should be fertilized regularly to encourage "excessive" vegetative growth. The smaller single stem plants can be pruned to remove apical dominance and the resulting "apical" bud can be selected and trained, as a single stem.

          The removed sucker can be rooted like any dormant fig cutting.

          Second example;
          Same as the first.

          IMO, the goal is to establish a common main trunk as the base for the scaffold branches. After the main and scaffold branches are established the yearly growth will be better "balanced". The tree will then concentrate most of the yearly growth to the fruiting branches due to the balanced vascular flow from roots through the main trunk and scaffold branches.


          Even if you chose not to prune as a single stem, the goal for this season should be to get as much vegetative and root growth as possible. Figs can also be harvested because its been my observation that limiting the number of branches, forcing growth into fewer branches speeds fig production for young trees and also quickly increases branch caliper.
          Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

          Comment


          • drphil69
            drphil69 commented
            Editing a comment
            Pete, you give such good and complete answers! Thank you for all your contributions.

            I have questions on training newly rooted cuttings.

            How long do you wait before removing any extra shoots? I would be interested in knowing if it depends on root development as well. I have some in cups with good roots, about ready to up pot, with 3 shoots, but others with little or no root showing in the cups and multiple shoots.

            Also, if I keep the bottom shoot, do I just clip the shoot(s) above it (leaving the cutting whole) or do I snip the cutting above the node with the shoot I want to keep?

            Thanks!

          • AscPete
            AscPete commented
            Editing a comment
            For cuttings you can can start removing extra shoots as soon as they emerge, or when the cuttings are up potted to 1 gallons, but training can start as soon as shoots emerge, Select the "dominant" shoot and tying it to a small stake or bamboo skewer to keep it growing upright (vertical).

            For cuttings remove the shoot or bud only by rubbing it out, don't damage the actual cutting, it has the stored reserves and nutrients needed for initial growth. Good Luck.

        • #11
          Paul,

          The in ground espalier trellis was simply formed with 4' fence posts with 3/4" EMT conduit as the horizontals. The fence posts were hammered into the ground and the conduit was attached to the fence posts with electrical wire. Cross members (Tee's) could be attached at multiple points on the fence posts for installation of supports (wire, rope or pipe) for vertical branches. My preference for the vertical branch supports was 1/4" polypropylene rope.
          Click image for larger version

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          Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

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          • cyberfarmer
            cyberfarmer commented
            Editing a comment
            That sounds cheap and easy!

          • AscPete
            AscPete commented
            Editing a comment
            It was

        • #12
          A step over in the shape of a wagon wheel with 8 to 12 spokes would be cool.
          Scott - Colorado Springs, CO - Zone 4/5 (Depending on the year) - Elevation 6266ft

          “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” – Bill Mollison

          Comment


        • #13
          Here's a few before and after photos of 2 older trees being bare rooted, pruned and potted. The trees have not been pruned in over 2 years. The smaller tree will be limited to 3 new fruiting branches (future scaffold s) and the larger tree will be limited to 4 new fruiting branches. Updates will be posted in this topic.

          Before, During and After. Planted in a "standard" 8 hole (surface) buckets with 2 inches of sand mulch to deter Fungus Gnats. Also Photo of 16 hole (in ground burial) buckets all with 3/4' holes...
          You may only view thumbnails in this gallery. This gallery has 6 photos.
          Last edited by AscPete; 05-04-2015, 10:31 AM.
          Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

          Comment


          • mgreco04
            mgreco04 commented
            Editing a comment
            Do you use any particular type of sand Pete?

          • AscPete
            AscPete commented
            Editing a comment
            mgreco04 ,
            Yes, coarse 'Concrete Sand' purchased by the Cu Yd.

        • #14
          Very informative! Thanks a lot! :-)

          Comment


          • #15
            Pete, question pls. What would be the best shape if you want maximal fruit production?

            Comment


            • #16
              Ninamd,
              You're welcome, Thanks for commenting...

              In answer to your question;

              It depends on a few variable,
              1. Your Zone.
              2. Whether it's in ground or potted.
              3. Amount of space available for the growing plants and for storage.

              In colder zones the potted tree form is the easiest to maintain, store and manage.
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              In colder zones in-ground a multiple cordon shape is the most productive and can be easily covered with netting and winterized.
              In warmer zones a large multiple cordon shape is also the most productive, as in this link from the OP, http://stevec.smugmug.com/Other/Kado...3823&k=4MCfwd3
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              Last edited by AscPete; 05-07-2015, 09:51 AM.
              Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

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              • #17
                Oh, a lot to think about. Thanks Pete! :-)

                Comment


                • AscPete
                  AscPete commented
                  Editing a comment
                  What is your plan potted or in-ground?

                  If potted, in your zone the tree or bush form can be very productive (since there is no winterization required), but so could the espaliered, if done in a multiple cordon (4 or more ), but it will need a simple scaffold support. The pruning technique is the important part not the "trained" shape. Establishing the Main and Scaffold branches, then creating the fruiting branch stubs (for yearly pruning) is the actual key to increased production.

              • #18
                Planning on "potted" plants, just like how they do it in nurseries in Asia, in big cement rounds, forgot what they are called.
                I live in Manila, Philippines. Not sure what zone we have, but you are right, no winter here. Hehe
                Thanks! I thought that the trained shape is the important thing. :-)

                Comment


                • AscPete
                  AscPete commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I've seen pictures of the trees in those cement pipes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=238&v=MsK_lnSbNFY .
                  If they are planted as close as those shown in the video, the tree or bush form would be the easiest to maintain and prune. Establishing the permanent scaffold branches could be done in only one season in your location. pruning maintainance would be simply pruning back the fruiting branches yearly after harvesting the figs.

              • #19
                Thanks Pete! :-)

                Comment


                • AscPete
                  AscPete commented
                  Editing a comment
                  You're welcome.
                  The Japanese have invested in a lot of research on commercial fig production including the most productive pruning methods. I don't speak or read the language but have Google translated some of their documents. They may be a good source for better pruning shapes that can be used in your location. As an example from the links in the OP, http://www.hawaiifruit.net/figstation/index.html . The potted espalier shape is reputed to produce "220 figs in a 2 feet by 9 feet space" and that's in a colder zone.

              • #20
                Just though that I would add a picture of the planting and pruning method mentioned by Ninamd, that seems to be practiced in Malaysia. This facebook page has lots of very good info and videos in English... https://www.facebook.com/figmalaysia

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                In the photo the trees have small caliper "mains" and very long and spindly branches (which may be due to the long growing season). I would be curios to know if anyone has tried establishing mains and or scaffolds when pruning. The pictured trees look similar to the Columnar pruning diagram,
                http://www.ourfigs.com/forum/figs-ho...1779#post11779 in post #2, the branches would be pruned back to the main vertical yearly.

                Video of young trees...
                https://www.facebook.com/figmalaysia...type=2&theater
                Last edited by AscPete; 05-08-2015, 08:32 AM. Reason: Added Video.
                Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

                Comment


                • #21

                  Update 6-10-2015:
                  photo of the two trees in post #13 that were bare rooted and root pruned on May 4, 2015.

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                  Both trees have buds breaking at almost every node.
                  Last edited by AscPete; 06-10-2015, 11:14 PM. Reason: added closeup photos
                  Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

                  Comment


                  • #22
                    Originally posted by AscPete View Post
                    In the photo the trees have small caliper "mains" and very long and spindly branches (which may be due to the long growing season). I would be curios to know if anyone has tried establishing mains and or scaffolds when pruning.
                    Great links, Pete. Interesting that they remove so many leaves. I did that last year on a small Binello tree after figs had long formed. Didn't seem to have much effect, did not seem to accelerate ripening much if at all. Maybe other factors played out.

                    The one tree that I have with a small caliper main and long and spindly branches arrived at that point due to being put under too low light in late winter indoors. Now I am taking advantage of that skeletal shape to try to grow and shape a fruitful especially tall tree. Definitely lots of fruit forming so far. Hope the tree can be pruned to fill out much more for next year.
                    Tony WV 6b
                    https://mountainfigs.net/

                    Comment


                    • AscPete
                      AscPete commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Thanks.
                      I read that the leaves are removed due to Rust, 'old age' and the plants are at the end of their production cycle. The long spindly branches, long inter-node spacing and small leaves may be due to specific cultural practices and location, like type and amount of fertilizer, but its only a guess.

                  • #23
                    A video on pruning a Bush form in-ground tree after winter dieback, from Petals from the Past...
                    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsT8VADJ02I

                    A video on pruning potted trees in the UK with an interesting emphasis on tip removal before bud break in the spring.
                    https://www.youtube.com/watch?featur...azoMDYVw#t=465
                    Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

                    Comment


                    • #24
                      Update 7-12-2015:
                      Progress photos of the two trees in post #13 & #21 that were bare rooted and root pruned on May 4, 2015. Most of the new buds will be removed to allow the "selected" 3 or 4 branches to grow out this season and form the scaffold branches.
                      These photos are "Before final pruning", I'll add the after pruning photos to this post later today...
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                      Last edited by AscPete; 07-13-2015, 09:59 AM.
                      Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

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                      • #25
                        Hi all,

                        so once the fruiting wood is done producing figs, the same fruiting wood is cut back to 2 nodes. The following year new growth occurs on one of the two nodes and after that has finished fruiting, that fruiting branch is reduced to 2 nodes and the process is repeated yearly right?


                        looking at the Japan photos those side spurs seem uniform with this be the case too?

                        Comment


                        • AscPete
                          AscPete commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Yes, but the pruning can be done in late winter, just before bud break, if done in the fall a pruning sealer will delay die back of the cut end. Actually only 1 node is required the other node is a backup. The process is repeated yearly, but can be extended to every 2 years if growing a San Pedro type, predominantly Breba producing fig in colder zones.

                          Over time the caliper of the limbs and spurs will increase creating a "uniform" appearance, similar to Pollarding.
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