Fig trees can be expensive to buy as an already established tree and then only live for around 10-15 years, so growing them from a stem cutting is very appealing. The good news is that they are in fact relatively easy to propagate, so let me share with you how to grow a fig tree from a cutting, then you can have as many fig trees as you can squeeze into your garden.
Growing Fig Trees From Stem Cuttings
Propagating your fig tree at home is a great way to expand your collection and a fig tree sapling ready to plant up makes a great gift. Such is the simplicity of fig tree propagation many commercial fig growers will also cultivate their next crop of trees using stem cuttings.
1. Pick The Right Time Of the Year
The Royal Horticultural Society suggests that the best time of year to take a cutting from a fig tree is while it is dormant, either at the end of fall after all the leaves have fallen or just before spring starts and new buds start to shoot. I have tried growing cuttings in summer and winter, and I agree that winter propagation is definitely more productive.
During late winter I usually prune my fig trees, after the worst of the weather. At this point, it’s clear to see if there has been any frost damage to the buds of the fruit. I can then prune accordingly removing damaged material and generally tidying the tree. This is when I also select a stem to propagate.
2. Gather Tools And Equipment
To propagate a fig tree, you will need:
- Sharp pruning shears, and heavy-duty scissors. I would avoid using a knife as I often fail to get a clean cut through the woody material with a standard blade.
- 4 or 6-inch pot with good drainage holes.
- Free draining soil, I like to use sandy loam soil.
If starting the propagation in the winter months, you will need some equipment to cover the plant to retain moisture and heat… an empty, plastic 2L bottle would work well. or a clear plastic bag. Failing that, just make sure you keep an eye on it and don’t allow the soil to dry out.
3. Choose A Suitable Cutting
- Choose a young healthy green branch on your fig tree. New wood works well for propagation.
- Ideally, you want a branch that has developed within the last 12 months and had plenty of flourishing leaves in the previous summer. Look for new buds forming ready for the coming Spring.
- The branch should have turned to brown wood and not still be soft and green.
- The branch should be roughly the thickness of a pencil (1/4″) and long enough that you will be able to cut a section 12 inches in length.
4. Prepare The Fig Cutting
Once you have selected the branch to propagate from, cut a section that is around 10-12 inches long. You will need at least two leaf nodes to be below the soil line where roots will form, and at least 2 leaf nodes to be above the soil line once the stem is potted. This is where new leaves will grow.
Cut from the branch with a straight single snip that leaves a flat edge. If there is a bud right at the tip of the stem you can leave that in situ. If not, snip away at the tip at a 45-degree angle so there is a slanted line.
It may feel like you are left with just a twig in front of you, but with the right care and attention, I promise you will soon see signs of new life!
It’s a good idea to take several cuttings to maximize your chance of success as not of them will root. Maybe try four stems and you can place them all into the same pot for rooting.
5. Root Your Cutting
It’s a good idea to dip the cut the flat bottom end of the stem into a tree rooting hormone powder to give it a boost, but it is not a necessity as it should draw all the nutrients it needs from the soil.
Starting a fig tree cutting indoors will yield the most reliable results and you have the ability to control soil moisture, the ambient temperature, and other environmental conditions that will help the cutting to root.
- Take a medium-sized pot with drainage holes.
- Fill it with sandy loam soil and insert up to 4 cuttings into the pot, and place them around the edges equally spaced apart.
- Insert the flat end first so they are stood upright.
- At least 2 nodes and around 4-6 inches of the stem should be visible above the soil.
- Firm the soil around the cuttings to securely anchor them in place.
- Give the soil a thorough water and allow any excess water to drain off.
- Then you can choose to cover your cutting with an empty drinks bottle or clear plastic bag to help retain moisture whilst the stem roots.
- Place them in a warm and bright spot but not in direct sunlight.
- Once you notice the first new shoots sprouting, you can remove the plastic cover allowing more space for them to grow.
- Transplant outdoors when the roots begin to show through the pot drainage holes.
If you live in one of our warmer climate zones with a relatively mild winter, you may like to just plant your cutting straight into your garden:
- Find a clear patch of soil and cultivate it to add air so that the roots can form more freely.
- Create a 6-inch deep hole using a bamboo cane or stick.
- Push the cutting into the hole, flat edge first, so it is about 6 inches deep.
- You will need at least 2 leaf nodes below the surface of the soil to produce roots and at least 2 leaf nodes above the soil to where the leaves will form.
- As always it is wise to use multiple cuttings at once, so space them around a foot apart to give them the opportunity to flourish.
- If you choose to root your cutting outdoors, it’s important to keep the soil moist. You will need to water it regularly or you can use a cloche or plastic bottle with the bottom cut off, and place this over your cutting to act as a mini greenhouse.
One year after pruning my fig tree, I decided to use the branches to create a protective barrier over my raised vegetable bed where I had planted peas. I wanted to keep the birds off. I pushed the fig branches into the soil and made a sort of protective cover above the pea seeds.
After about six weeks two of the fig branches started to grow new leaves and both of these plants were potted up. In fact, when I moved house both of the plants came with me, and I still have them today, growing on a south-facing wall. These are the same trees that you can see in the photographs above. Propagating fig trees from stem cuttings really is that easy!
Fig Tree Cutting Growth – Timelapse Video
This short video shows a fig tree cutting propagating under an artificial grow light. The roots emerge from the woody stem and the leaves quickly branch out to form healthy new green growth.
Caring For A Fig Tree Cutting
Fig trees originate from the arid climate of the Middle East so they do not require large volumes of water. I give my cuttings a good initial drink after planting then I will just water them as the top inch of soil dries out. You need to keep the soil around the roots damp at all times until the roots are established.
At this stage, there is no need to feed the cutting with anything over and above the nutrients they will draw from your potting compost. Try not to be overly fussy about them, follow the basic guidelines of keeping the roots moist, avoid sudden swings in temperature, and give them plenty of indirect bright light.
Once you see the roots forming through the bottom of your pot, or when you see the green buds turning into young leaves, you will know that your stem propagation has been a success. From here you can expect your cutting to grow up to 50cm in its first year, but don’t expect a harvest for the first few years
Transplanting Fig Cuttings
If you have planted your cuttings directly into the ground then you can leave them in situ. If you planted numerous cuttings together it is wise to this them out by selecting the strongest one or two plants to keep growing on, otherwise, you will eventually end up with overcrowding.
If you started your cuttings indoors, once they have established and there are clear signs the cutting has taken root it is time to consider potting them on or planting them out.
When you are ready you should use a large, heavy ceramic pot filled with a sandy and clay mix soil and carefully transplant your sapling to the pot being careful to minimize disruption to the roots.
You may also like to read Fixing a Fig Tree With Yellow Leaves
FAQ How To Grow A Fig Tree From A Cutting
Royal Horticultural Society – Hardwood cuttings
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.