Figs are not meant for small gardens. These trees sometimes top out at 50 feet and often spread wider than they are tall. Although taproots anchor the tree in deep soil, horizontal roots spread near the soil surface the length of the canopy. The lobed leaves are larger than a grown man's foot. Homeowners who under-estimated the size of their fig cannot rely on heavy winter pruning keeping it small without forgoing the fig crop.
A common fig tree offers double pleasure. It provides a wide canopy of deep shade, thanks to its enormous, deeply lobed leaves, and produces fruit. Most figs produce a smaller, breba crop in spring and the main crop in summer. The California Rare Fruit Growers' Association recommends light pruning immediately after harvesting the main crop. This allows the tree time to start timely bud production for the next year.
Pruning Damaged Branches
When a branch breaks or cracks, an immediate trim reduces damage. Wind or gravity cause a damaged branch to fall, ripping away bark or even wood from uninjured sections, leaving it open to insect attack or disease. Shear the branch just below the break as soon as possible after the injury. When branches suffer freeze-damage, wait until spring when new growth begins before eliminating the bad wood.
Pruning Late-Ripening Cultivars
The fruit of some varieties of fig trees ripen very late in fall or early in winter. If you wait to prune these trees until after harvest, you risk removing the terminals of previous year's wood bearing the next year's crop. Instead, prune late-ripening cultivars in the summer, trimming half the branches one year and the remainder the next. Prune sparingly, as even this approach may reduce the following year's crop.