When – and How – to Prune A Prolific Fig Tree?


When is the best time to move my Solomon’s seal – and why is it called that?

Markings on its roots look like stamp marks made by the biblical King Solomon’s ring – which was thought to be magic. If your plant is two to three feet tall, with smooth green leaves and drooping, bell-shaped flowers, it is probably Polygonatum biflorum, the common native Solomon’s seal. It likes moist, somewhat shady woodland soil. Early spring or early fall are both good times to transplant.

When – and how – should I prune our prolific fig tree?

Now, late winter is the time. How old is it? Prune a young fig tree as soon as you plant it in the ground. Cutting about fifty percent of the main branches that extend from the main trunk will help the tree establish a strong root system. From then on always prune annually in late winter — prompting new branches to sprout by early spring. That leads to fresh fruit starting in early summer. By the second year keep only five to six particularly strong branches. They will be your main branches for bearing fruit. Remove all the other smaller branches from the main trunk.

Next address secondary branches growing off those main 5 fruiting branches. Cut off any secondary branch that spans off at less than a 45-degree angle – i.e. too close to fruiting branches. This clears better space for the fruiting branches. As the tree matures, start cutting back even those big fruiting branches – back to a third of their size. This will keep the tree smaller, sturdier and help your harvesting. You may need large loppers to reach high enough.

Other musts: cut away suckers at the base of the tree. Clean all tools with alcohol to prevent disease spread. Cut away dead wood in any season. Older trees need less pruning.

Is winter the best time to prune most garden plants? We inherited a big garden (really it’s a small town-house garden, but to us it is Yuge). Can you offer some VERY GENERAL RULES for pruning trees, shrubs, perennials?

No. Garden pruning is a vast subject with thousands of rules. Timing is crucial – not always winter. Browse the plant name online. Find its unique pruning needs. Use sharp tools, make cuts correctly, and seldom remove more than one third of the plant at any one time. Pruning mistakes can kill a plant. Preserving the “branch/bark collar” is for trees, where big mistakes really count. See diagram.

The Capitol Hill Garden Club features Alex Dencker of the Smithsonian Gardens, on Native Plant Alternatives to Replace Invasives, at its Tuesday February 7, 2023 Zoom meeting at 7:30 pm. Link is at capitolhillgardenclub@gmail.com.

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