By: Heather Rhoades
One of the more common fig tree problems is fig tree fruit drop. This problem is especially severe with figs that are grown in containers but can also affect fig trees grown in the ground. When fig fruit falls off the tree it can be frustrating, but knowing why your fig tree won’t produce fruit and how to correct the problem will make dealing with this easier.
Causes of and Fixes for Fig Tree Fruit Drop
There are many reasons fig trees start dropping figs. Below are the most common reasons for this fig tree problem.
Lack of Water Causes Dropping Figs
Drought or inconsistent watering is the most common reason that fig fruit falls off the tree. This is also the reason that this fig tree problem commonly affects fig trees in containers.
To correct this, make sure that your fig is receiving enough water. If it’s in the ground, the tree should receive at least 2 inches (5 cm.) of water a week, either through rainfall or watering. If you are manually watering to prevent dropping figs, remember that a fig tree’s roots can reach out several feet (about a meter) away from the trunk, so make sure that you are watering the entire root system, not just the at the trunk.
If the fig tree is in a container, make sure to water daily in warm weather and twice daily in hot weather to prevent fig tree fruit drop.
Lack of Pollination Causes Fig Tree Fruit Drop
Another reason for when a fig tree won’t produce fruit or the fruit falls off is lack of pollination. Typically, if there is a lack of pollination, the fig fruit will fall off while it is still very small, as the tree has no reason to grow them larger since they will not produce seeds without proper pollination.
Again, this is a problem that occurs most commonly in container grown trees that may be isolated from pollinating insects. To correct this fig tree problem, be sure to place your fig tree in a place where wasps, bees, and other pollinating insects can get to it.
If you suspect that lack of pollination is causing fig fruit falling off in an outdoor tree, pesticides may be the culprit. Since many pesticides kill all insects, beneficial or not, make sure not to use pesticides so that you do not inadvertently kill the pollinating insects for the fig tree.
Disease Causes Dropping Figs
Fig tree diseases such as fig mosaic, leaf spot, and pink limb blight may cause dropping figs as well. Making sure that the tree receives proper watering, fertilizing, and general care will help keep the tree healthy and will help prevent disease and the fig drop that occurs with these diseases.
Weather Causes Fig Tree Fruit Drop
Rapid temperature changes to either very hot or cool can cause fig fruit to fall off the trees. Make sure to monitor your local weather reports and provide adequate protection for a fig tree that may have to go through a rapid temperature change.
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Fig fruit fell off before ripe
I've gotten 3 fig trees and I had a question. I have a Celeste that's planted in the ground, a Brown Turkey that's in a pot, and a Kadota that I received yesterday that's bare root. I'm in SC clay country in zone 8A.
I planted the celeste last spring. I amended the clay soil with some compost and chopped the edges of the hole so the roots would catch and grow out, like I always do when planting. I don't want them to grow round and round in the clay. I then mulched with about 3-4inches of bark mulch. The plant grew pretty well. It put on a decent amount of growth, had nice big leaves, and I didn't notice anything off about it when watering.
It actually started to put out some fruit in the spring. I kept an eye on them, and they started to grow and get bigger, but eventually they dried and fell off, one by one. I didn't think much about it, because it had just been transplanted.
It did the same thing in the fall. It had good vigorous growth, it started producing figs, they grew the size of a shooter marble or regular gumball and then fell off. I also sustained damage to the plant around the same time. I'm not sure if deer ate some of it or what.
I just want to know if it's me or the plant. I haven't ever had a fig before and don't know what to expect. I would guess that it's just because it was transplanted into the ground that year and didn't have the resources it would have when it's better rooted this year or the following years. However, I don't know if that's true or if I'm doing something wrong.
I didn't fertilize it and followed my normal watering routine. When I plant a new tree/shrub/bush/etc. I amend the hole with compost, chop the edges, plant to the recommended depth, water when the hole is half back filled to remove air pockets, water again once all dirt is back filled, mulch 3-4" in whatever diameter a bag of mulch gets me, leaving a gap around the trunk and forming a rough water well. Then I water with 1-2gal of water once a week, less if it rains. That's the first year. The second year I water when it's hot and dry. After that I only water during really dry spells.
So that's what I'm doing. Does anyone have any ideas? As for the other two, I've actually had the Brown Turkey since last spring as well, but a combination of laziness and not knowing where I want to plant it caused me to sit the plant in a semi shaded area with some other plants and I just watered it in the pot about once a week. I suspect the roots have grown into the ground, but it actually started budding this year before the one in the ground. The Kadota just came in the mail yesterday when I ordered a bunch of other nursery plants. I know where I want to put it and will be planting it today.
At the time of planting outside in the soil, cut off the tree to a height of 2 to 3 feet above the ground. During the first growing season, the new shoot growth that arises near the point of topping forms the structural or main branches. During the first dormant season, select three or four main branches that are evenly distributed around the trunk. Completely remove all other branches that arise from the trunk. Cut off the tips of the scaffold limbs about 3 feet from the trunk to encourage secondary branching, especially on varieties that tend to grow more vertically.
Continue to train fig trees during the first 5 years while the trees are increasing in height and spread. The main objective of pruning is to maintain tree growth in an upward and outward pattern by thinning out interfering branches and removing flat, low-growing limbs.
Prune mature trees during the dormant season by thinning branches and by slightly heading back long shoots to maintain tree vigor, shape, and balance. Remember, breba crop figs are produced at the ends of the previous year's shoot growth. If you desire first-crop figs, leave some full length branches when pruning.
Failure to prune a fig tree results in a bushy-type tree that lacks vigor, tends to be susceptible to limb sunburn, and produces small figs of inferior quality. Prune enough to stimulate at least 1 foot of new growth on most limbs each year.
If the trees need to be protected from winter cold, other cultural practices are recommended to ensure a crop of high-quality figs. Most growers cut back their fig trees before wrapping. This isn't necessary for plant health, but it's much easier to wrap figs that have been "skinned" and reduced in height down to about chest level. Because of this annual cutback, figs in the North typically grow only 8 to 12 feet tall. Over time, they end up wider than tall as the roots send out new shoots around the perimeter.
Since figs are subtropical in origin, they can tolerate drier soils than many fruit trees when established. Newly planted trees need to be watered or irrigated to establish the root systems.
Irrigate figs occasionally to obtain good crops. If trees are growing and producing satisfactorily in the lawn or garden, additional irrigation may not be needed. Fig trees like most fruit trees cannot be planted in poorly drained soils.
Soils and Fertilization
Fig trees grow in all types of well drained soil between a pH of 6-7.5. Before planting figs in the soil, a test kit should be purchased from the local county office of Rutgers Cooperative Extension to get a soil analysis of the pH and major soil elements. When the sample is submitted to the laboratory the labeling should indicate that it is for fig growing and a recommendation for fig fertilization will be made with the analysis.
Figs respond well to nitrogen fertilization. After the first season, apply fertilizer in early spring so it can work its way down to the roots. Using ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate, apply ½ cup of fertilizer in the first winter and increase the amount by ½ cup each year until trees are 4 years old. Make sure the fertilizer is spread evenly around the periphery of the tree and is 1 foot away from the trunk. Additional nitrogen applications can be made based on desired amount of growth. Organic forms of nitrogen can be substituted with the same growth considerations.
Be careful not to encourage excessive vegetative growth by nitrogen over-fertilization because this delays ripening and reduces fruit quality. If mature trees are producing more than 1 to 2 feet of new growth per year, reduce or eliminate nitrogen fertilizer.
Fig trees on their own root systems begin bearing fruit at 3 to 4 years of age. Depending on variety, the fruits ripen successively from around mid-September through frost. Fruits turn from green to purplish-brown when ripe and are shaped like mini-pears of 1 to 2 inches in diameter. For best quality the fruit should begin to soften while on the tree. Pickers may want to wear soft gloves to protect the fruit and to protect the picker from the milky liquid that exudes from the stem and twig scars. A fig usually requires a strong twisting action to loosen the fruit from the stem. Alternatively, pruning shears can be used to carefully cut the fruit from the branch. Figs must be handled carefully to avoid skin abrasions and fruit damage since some varieties may crack easily when fully ripe.
Figs are typically grown on their own roots. They are propagated by taking dormant and semi dormant hardwood cuttings. To collect cutting from a fig tree the basal cut should be made just below a node. Cuttings can be taken from 1, 2 or 3-year-old wood about 9 inches long and pencil to no larger than ¾ inch in thickness. Cuttings should be from straight vigorous wood.
The cuttings are planted with the bases buried in the soil or other media, and with the very tops exposed to air temperature. They can be planted directly outside in soil with the tops protected or can be planted in a container of a good, well-drained soil medium. Cuttings, can be individually planted or in bundles of ten or less. They must be kept moist but well-drained and should root readily in a few months during the dormant season. Once they leaf out, separate them if in bundles, plant and water like any other plant that is actively growing. Protect young plants from low temperature injury.
Difficult to say Hellbell, do you know exactly what variety it is and how it was grown?
Wild figs require a male plant and a fig wasp to pollinate the female fruits or they will all drop off before becoming edible. Figs grown from seed are not true to type and are very unreliable.
I'll assume however that she's bought a commercial variety called Brown Turkey from a nursery which should fruit on it's own, otherwise she might as well forget it. In which case the problem would probably be that figs set fruit 2 or 3 times a year but in our climate they have no chance of ripening any but a few of them.
I think what she should do is to remove all fruits that the tree sets except for a portion of those that set in spring.