Fixing Yellow Leaves On Fig Trees | A Simple Guide

A fig tree (Ficus carica) is a great choice for any warm-climate orchard or kitchen garden. Fig trees are relatively low-maintenance — a big reason for their growing popularity — but no plant is 100% foolproof. One of the most common problems associated with figs is yellowing foliage.

Yellow leaves on fig trees can be caused by a number of environmental stressors. Below, I explain some of the most likely reasons your fig tree is struggling and the best steps to take for a full recovery.

Fig tree with yellow leaves

What Causes Fig Trees To Have Yellow Leaves?

Healthy foliage isn’t green because trees have a favourite colour. Instead, this trademark hue is the result of chlorophyll in the leaves. Without chlorophyll, your fig tree (or any plant, for that matter) would be unable to create energy through photosynthesis.

Because this pigment is so essential to normal plant function, a lack of chlorophyll in the leaves is often a clear sign that something is wrong. Leaves containing too little chlorophyll usually appear yellow instead of green. 

Chlorosis is the technical term for yellowing caused by insufficient chlorophyll. Although most gardeners associate chlorosis with nutritional deficiencies, this condition can be triggered by many different factors. Even something as simple as overwatering a fig tree can interfere with chlorophyll production and cause yellow leaves.

Diagnosing the true cause of yellowing leaves on a fig tree isn’t always easy. Taking note of any additional symptoms can help narrow down what could be affecting your tree’s health.

Fig Tree Leaves Turning Yellow And Falling Off In Summer

If the weather has been particularly hot and dry, the most likely cause of yellowing foliage and leaf drop is heat dormancy. This is a natural process by which figs and other types of trees conserve energy during drought or extreme heat. New, green leaves should appear as soon as the weather cools back down.

In some cases, these symptoms are sometimes caused by a virus or the fungus Pellicularia kolerga

Fig mosaic virus is a nasty disease that is caused by a number of viral strains. According to Texas A&M University, many infections can be traced to the mite Aceria ficus. This disease causes yellow patches, stunted growth, and premature leaf drop. The fruit of infected trees may also be affected.

Also known as leaf blight, Pellicularia kolerga first presents as yellow spots on fig tree foliage. As the disease worsens, the leaves may dry out or die off entirely. Visible fungal threads are often visible on the underside of leaves in late-stage infections.

Fig Tree Leaves Turning Yellow And Curling

If your fig tree’s leaves are turning yellow and curling upward, underwatering or heat stress are the most likely culprits. You might also notice that the leaves feel dry to the touch.

Fig leaves that turn yellow and droop downward, however, are a likely indicator of overwatering. It’s common for gardeners to mistake this symptom for the tree needing more water, which only worsens the moisture problem. 

Another potential source of curling, discoloured fig tree foliage is the fungus Taphrina deformans. The disease caused by the fungus is commonly known as peach leaf curl disease but it can also affect fruiting figs and other orchard trees. This disease causes red, yellow, and white patches on the affected fruit tree leave along with curling or puckering.

Fig Leaves Yellow With Brown Spots

Fig trees are prone to a number of fungal diseases, especially when grown in areas with high humidity. One such disease, fig rust, is caused by the fungus Cerotelium fic. Infected trees often develop yellow foliage with brown spots.

The good news of this diagnosis is that fig rust primarily affects foliage. If left untreated, however, the fungus can cause excessive leaf drop and decrease fruit production.

Fig Leaves Turning Yellow And Falling Off In Winter

Fig leaves turning yellow and even falling off of the tree in late fall or winter generally isn’t anything to worry about. This is a natural part of the tree’s growth cycle, and the lost leaves will be replaced with new growth the following spring.

Avoiding Yellow Leaves On Fig Trees

With proper diagnosis, most causes of yellow fig leaves can be easily fixed at home.

If your fig tree is several years old or otherwise a valuable asset within your garden, however, I strongly suggest investing in a professional arborist. An arborist is, in simple terms, someone who specializes in tree health. Hiring an expert to examine your fig tree could make a big difference in the overall success of any treatment.

1. Overwatering

Fig trees growing outdoors rarely need water outside of natural rainfall. Frequent irrigation can actually bog down the tree’s root system and cause symptoms like yellow foliage. If you do irrigate around your fig tree — it may be necessary during extended droughts — be sure to water slowly and deeply. 

Figs grown in containers require more frequent watering, especially when daytime temperatures climb above 90°F. However, be careful watering more frequently than every other week. Plant container-grown fig trees in well-draining soil and allow the soil to dry out between waterings to prevent root rot.

2. Transplant Shock

Transplant shock can cause leaves to turn yellow and fall off the tree. So if you plan to move your plant it’s essential to minimize the risk of transplant shock by only relocating fig trees during the dormant season. Transplanting during the summer can interfere with active growth and increase the risk of heat and drought stress.

Fig trees tend to lose moisture during the transplanting process. This is natural but can be mitigated by sticking to a consistent watering schedule in the weeks following relocation. I also recommend withholding fertilizer for at least a month after transplanting a fig tree to allow the plant some time to adjust.

3. Nutrient Deficiencies

The first step in diagnosing any nutritional deficiency is to conduct a soil test. Many universities and extension offices offer soil analyses for a nominal fee. My local extension office also provides detailed advice for amending the soil according to individual test results.

Follow the instructions they provide when taking a soil sample to make sure the result will be as accurate as possible. Several samples taken from around the tree may be necessary for an accurate analysis.

I also suggest testing the soil pH. Soil pH plays a surprisingly large role in plant nutrient uptake. Most plants require a soil pH of around 5.5-6.5. Within this range, they are able to fully utilize all available nutrients and trace elements within the soil around their roots. Adding nutrients to the soil may be ineffective if the pH is too high or too low. 

4. Underwatering or Drought

Garden figs are native to fairly arid parts of the Mediterranean and Middle East, so mild drought is rarely causing concern. In times of extreme heat and drought, however, irrigation may be necessary to reduce stress and prevent leaf drop.

Fig trees need an average of 1 to 1 ½ inches of water per week. Young and container-grown trees generally require more frequent watering to thrive.

Keep in mind that your fig tree has experienced quite a bit of stress by the time its leaves start to turn yellow from drought. Do your best to provide extra irrigation before these symptoms appear.

5. Pests and Disease

Prevention is always the best strategy when it comes to pests and diseases in the garden. A healthy fig tree grown in an appropriate environment will resist most infections on its own.

Most pests can be controlled using insecticidal soap or, if necessary, chemical pesticides. Horticultural oil may be applied as a low-impact preventative measure.

I recommend treating peach leaf curl with a lime-sulfur or copper fungicide applied in the fall. The same products are effective against fig rust as well.

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for the fig mosaic virus. Infected trees must be removed and destroyed to stop the disease from spreading.

6. Seasonal Changes

Most fruiting fig trees are deciduous, so it is natural for their leaves to change colour and fall as the seasons change. If your fig tree is planted outdoors, this process is entirely normal and does not indicate stress or disease.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily apply to fig trees kept as foliage houseplants. Many species grown for this purpose are evergreens, and it’s not normal for them to drop leaves in the fall. Be sure to provide adequate sunlight, warmth, and humidity in order to minimize fallen leaves.

Verdict: On Fig Leaves Turning Yellow

Most of the time, yellow leaves on a fig tree are nothing unique. The most likely cause is environmental stress or a nutritional deficiency, both of which can affect any type of fruit-bearing tree in your garden.

With that said some cases of yellow foliage are the result of disease or pest damage. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the most common fig illnesses — e.g., fig rust, mosaic virus, and leaf blight — so that you can take steps to prevent and treat such infections whenever possible.

You might also like to read 5 Reasons Your Olive Tree Leaves Are Turning Yellow

FAQ Fig Trees with Yellow Leaves

Should I remove the yellow leaves on my fig tree?

Your fig tree will eventually drop yellow leaves on its own. In nearly all cases, there is no need to remove the leaves manually. If the yellow foliage is caused by disease, however, it may be necessary to remove and destroy affected leaves to prevent the spread of infection.

Why does my potted fig have yellow leaves?

Potted fig trees are more sensitive to over- and underwatering, which may cause the leaves to turn yellow. Fig trees grown in containers are also more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies or — if overfed — fertilizer burn.

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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.