PROPAGATING FIG TREES

You can propagate fig trees by simply pinning down and burying an offshoot sprout near the base of the tree ("suckers") or by "stooling" - a technique in which you pile good soil around the base of a suckering fig, possibly after nicking the bark on a few shoots, and allow them to root along the buried stem - both of which techniques have the advantage of keeping the rooting piece connected to a supporting mother tree.

That said, the most popular method of propagating figs - and the one that lends itself best to fig swapping and collecting - is by rooting cuttings.  Cuttings are taken from established figs, stuck in a sterile potting medium and placed in a protected area out of direct sun and heat until the cutting has grown strong enough roots to transplant. 

First Year Fig Trees in Covered Hoop House @ Paradise Nursery
We "stuck" thousands of cuttings each winter/early spring (usually in February) at the nursery.  Over the years, we found our best success rate (well over 90%) came from sticking the cuttings into a 50/50 mixture of sterile perlite/vermiculite - occasionally with a little clean builders sand mixed in.  Each piece was placed with at least two nodes* under the surface of the medium. 

When possible, or when we needed to speed up rooting, the cuttings were placed on gentle bottom heat, but it was not necessary.  The cuttings had filtered light (not direct sun) and were kept in a cool greenhouse (heated for cold nights, no supplemental daytime heating).  Once or twice a day, we came through with a hose mister and gently soaked each pot, allowing all excess water to drain away completely. We didn't mist, cover or otherwise pester the cuttings.  You can do the same thing on a small scale - just water gently, keep cuttings room temperature, out of direct sunlight and mist when the leaves begin developing.

If the cuttings leaf out before roots have developed, do plan to go over the cuttings with a light mist several times daily.  Overwatering and misting, however, can lead to fungal development so be careful! You can also trim any large leaves that develop before the roots have developed by about half to reduce transpiration. Don't remove the leaves entirely, they will feed the developing root system.  Just say no to any tiny adventitious figs that develop. Off they go!

A plant cutting - that bit of stem - is on the line between being a living plant or a dead twig.  It is imperative that you not allow fungus or other disease organisms to take hold in your propagating setup. Some propagators use rooting hormones.  These are unhealthy chemicals for humans and we never found them to be necessary on figs so use sparingly and with caution if you think your cuttings need an extra "boost".

If you would like to compare notes on how some other fig collectors root new trees for their gardens, check out the webpages below:

.09 Acres on Fig Propagation   Dave has OUTSTANDING photos! You can't miss by following his instructions.

Ray Givan's webpage on propagation
Ray's Q&A on propagating has some good pointers.

Figs4fun.com on rooting basics
Jon has his own unique technique and he has the experience and success to back it up - well worth a try!  Great for folks with less space, I would think  And here is a video link that shows the same kind of rooting method:.  Youtube on rooting figs in plastic bags

* Nodes are the slightly swollen "rings" at the bud junctures along the stem. On the tree, leaf buds form at these nodes.  Generally roots develop at these node points as well.  In fact, on older cutting wood, you may see little bumps at the nodes which are the very best root development sites!

20 comments:

  1. Your blog is fab find. I want to read it all :)

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  2. I wanted to find out if you had any more history on the Battaglia Green and where the original mother plant came from. I can be found on the figs4fun or gardenweb forums under the same name. Thanks.

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  3. Do you have any Panache Fig cuttings, not rooted, for sale or trade?

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  4. Hi, De Winne! We are not doing anything with our fig trees this year - I cut them enormously to cover all of the fig cuttings we "sold" to raise money for the orphanage last year. This year the girls will get to recover, although we always send some to a special veteran's rehab program in Georgia. Thanks for asking, though. If you check Thurderbird1956 comments above you'll find the two best sources for figs online: figs4fun.com or the Gardenweb.com fig forum!

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  5. Hi Sybil. I'm Elizabeth from Richmond, Virginia. I'm a big fig fan. I'm looking for fig plants that were planted by immigrants long ago. Do you think there are some in eastern part of the state?

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  6. Hello All,
    Would there be a possibility of sending cuttings to the UK please?

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  7. Hello, Elizabeth and Liza! Alas, Liza, we no longer send cuttings overseas - the inspection process is too complex. But there's at least one fabulous nursery with figs in the UK.... and I'll think of the name and post it sooner or later. We have exchanged cuttings with them in the past.

    Elizabeth, there are undoubtedly fig trees throughout the eastern states that were planted by immigrants. Since they'd only have survived well here in the eastern part of the state, your chances are quite good. The original tree may no longer be here but remember that figs are one of the original "passalong" plants and traditionally cuttings of fig trees were gifted to new households.

    The best collections of "old world" figs, interestingly, seems to be around NYC. So many Italians settled around New York and Long Island, bringing fig cuttings - and then later went back home for visits and brought back cuttings of their favorite fig trees... we were amazed at the variety. Needless to say, virtually all are without variety names, being much longer in common production than copyrighted commercial sales.

    To really get a feel for the breadth of the varieties of figs being grown, you might check out the website of a friend, Jon Verdick, who has www.figs4fun.com and one of the most impressive collections of fig trees in the U.S.

    Check back to the blog later on, you've made me return to some old notes and I'll try to put a blog post together on figs and southern history!

    All the best - enjoy the summer gardening season!
    Sybil

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    1. Hi Sybil. I have joined Fig4Fun forum and I am learning so much. I am still very interested in "unknown" or "found" varieties found in Virginia. I think between old plantations and ethnic neighborhoods of larger towns, Virginia has a rich fig heritage that is very unique. Elizabeth.

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  8. If I see a fig tree, I sometimes knock and politely ask for a cutting. People have been very generous and rarely ever say no. Also, I received like 80 cuttings from UCDavis..it's free,you only pay for postage. For Richmonders:) The fan area behind the museum district has a good number of very old fig trees(big trees) some look like osborne to me. I ofcourse got a cutting:)

    I think my Celeste died this year(sad), it's been in the ground for 3 years but winter in richmond, va was severe this year so the whole tree died. It's branching from the ground up but I lost a lot of the wood that would have produced tons of figs:( How long do you need to provide winter protection for your fig tree? Have you ever seen cankers on the fig tree, if you did how did you treat it?

    Thank you for another excellent post, Sybil!!
    Lisa

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    1. Lisa, did your Celeste fig tree come back over the summer? We understand that many of the figs actually bounded back quite well. Unfortunately most of our figs were not ripe before this year's fall frosts, but we have high hopes for next year! We no longer provided protection for our figs - let's just hope that we have a milder winter in 2015! Cankers - I'd prune below the affected wood to try to remove any infected areas of the tree. Even if it means taking it right down close to the base. They will grow back - it's one of their finest attributes!

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  9. Hope you guys are still active and reading your comments here! Our family recently decided to sell a piece of property that had been in the family for generations. My grandmother had planted a fig tree here and I was very sad to know it would no longer belong to us. After several bouts with drought conditions here in Central Texas, the tree was stressed and half of it was dying. I decided to do some research online on how to propagate cuttings from it. I am having excellent success with your method and have 6 out of 7 cuttings that are successfully rooting and almost ready to make the move to 1 gallon pots. Thanks for sharing this information! You are helping me preserve a tree that has a lot of memories for me.

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    1. I am so delighted that you were able to propagate new trees from your Grandmother's tree. That is a time-honored tradition with fig trees, with various strains being handed down for many generations exactly as you are doing it. I hope that perhaps one day your own grandchildren will be able to start fig trees from yours!

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  10. My family thinks I'm fig mad! They might be right! The notes above have been of immense help. I have about 12 sticks in clear plastic pots at a north facing window in our centrally heated house in Wales planted in October and December. A couple of them show some of the roots turning very dark and thin, and at least some of the small leaves die off and drop.. Is this the end for the fig, and is it too moist or not wet enough? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

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  11. David, I fear the worst. I suspect that the cuttings have been too cold and damp. Now is a great time to start again, however, so please do take some more cuttings! Make sure that you have a very easily draining medium, like perlite/vermiculite to stick the cuttings into. You want it damp but never soggy - does that make sense? Amazingly, the bigger cuttings often do better, although they need more time to "take". If thin cuttings failed you, try some at least as large around as your index finger. I find that frequently folks have taken such thin cuttings that the poor twig can get started but not hold it's own in the long run. You obviously got roots going, so that speaks well of your technique - I'm betting on lack of light (once the leaves appeared) and warmth. Perhaps some bottom heat? A southern window? It's a bit tricky - you don't want to dry them out... But figs are very forgiving. And, personally, I think we should all be fig mad! Best of luck!

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  12. I have only just spotted your kind response. Thank you. The cuttings are against a big north facing window in the hall with a good deal of light and the house is warm. I shall now try some in the conservatory. I have just been to a local hotel and taken some thick cuttings from their ancient fig tree (with permission!) and I have set those into more plastic soup tubs with holes drilled through the bottom and sides for ventilation, filled with a 50/50 mix of perlite and vermiculite. Labels show fig type, date and origin. I spray the leaves with a mist of tap water twice a day whenever I can. My oldest daughter is arriving in a couple of weeks bringing many 'fig sticks' from a tree she had to reduce in size. So our house is becoming a fig nursery! Thanks again, Sybil for your advice. Any more would be much appreciated.

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  13. A further question, please: Having put a cutting into the mix of perlite/vermiculite, and roots start growing, when should they be transplanted into pots of soil for the summer? I guess that once in soil it is easier to get the moisture level right for them.

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  16. Has anyone had success with rooting cuttings in water? How about aerated water?

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