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Growing outside is low maintenance
When you grow your fig tree outside, all you have to do is plant it and let it grow. Here are some suggestions to consider.
Watering trees outside as often as possible depends on your weather conditions. At least once every 3 days. If you have a lot of rain, your tree may grow at a rate of about 2-3 ft per season (without fertilizer). Mine grew 4 ft during the first year I planted it.
Train your tree to grow outside with one base trunk (not like what you see in the photo above) by clipping off additional branches that grow from the base. See these Training tips. For pruning tips, scroll down to item number 6 on this page.
I suggest that you not add pesticides outside if you can help it. Once figs begin to grow in the middle of June, they stay on the tree throughout the entire growing season until they become plump and juicy. Pesticides are poisonous because they’ll absorb into the figs and then bitten revealing a terrible cocktail. Peeling the skin off does not provide protection against consuming the chemicals.
Studies suggest following this step when trees grow up to 3 years or less than 5ft tall.
When the Fall season approaches after the figs have a harvest and all the leaves have fallen off, prepare the tree for Winterizing. To prepare, gardeners can insulate by surrounding the tree outside with garden stakes and either wrapping that with chicken wire then fill the interior space with leaves from other trees, wrap Water Heater Blanket (Paid Link) around the stakes and then encase that with a Plastic Mattress Bag (Paid Link).
You may encase the fig tree in sheets of thick Styrofoam Foam Sheets (Paid Link) and then covering with plastic.
Wrapping with water heater insulation: use duct tape to wrap the plastic tight. Do not let any of this plastic touch the branches. I like water heater insulation because it does an excellent job with warming the tree and the exterior plastic keeps the fiberglass from spoiling. Insulation in good condition following the winter, reuse it next time. This insulation prevents the branches from freezing. You may also dig up the tree, lay it on its side on the ground, cover with burlap and dirt. But I don’t recommend it. I know all too well what happens when no insulation covering around the tree. Most of the time, the tree dies back and essentially has to start all over again with its growth if it doesn’t die entirely.
I’ve found that if the branches are a minimum 1/2 inch thick on a 3 yr old thick trunk, those branches will survive the Winter frost when you do not winterize the tree.
Pruning timetables are set from February thru March. Spring arrives by April, but if the temperatures return to freezing wrap it back up. Between March and May, green growth should appear and all insulation separating even if outside temperatures reach upper 30s to mid 40s. Why bother pruning it when it looks fine the way it is? Your other question might be, why prune in February or March? After all those harsh cold months, the sap has fallen deep into the tree. Pruning it at this point will give you a clean-cut without sweet sap oozing out. Pruning causes it to grow more branches and therefore more figs. Once the form of the tree has been reached after the initial years of pruning, then there is no need for heavy Winter pruning.
How do you prune it? Look at the branches and you’ll notice bumps where new branches emerge from. Now look at the entire tree. Picture the shape of the tree in your head and remove only 1/3 of the tree from the top. Cut just above those bumps on the branches. If you’re cutting back an entire branch, cut it back only to about 2 inches away from the main branch or trunk.
During growing season let the tree grow and don’t prune the branches. Pruning during the growing season causes the sweet white sap or latex to ooze out of the branch. Sap attracts insects and all sorts of fungus that may rot the tree.
Clear away branches in the center to allow sunlight to reach the entire tree when it grows. OK, now it looks like you are killing your tree. Don’t worry, it’s still alive.
Whitewashing is important for the cut the ends of the tree to prevent a hole from developing too soon at the center (branches have a soft center where the milky sap flows) of the branch, which can provide a haven for fungus and insects once dried. To white wash, mix 50/50 of water and Latex paint (Paid Link) and dab it on with Foam Brushes (Paid Link) I sometimes use white wash on wood that has the potential for winter weather damage or any other damage to the wood.
When To Apply Outside: Regular fertilizing usually applies to potted fig trees and when grown in sandy or clay soils. Readers usually purchase inexpensive soil pH testers without questioning on whether or not fig trees need fertilizer. Scientists say that the pH should read between 5.0 to 5.5 for potted trees and 6.0 to 6.5 for trees grown in the ground. I use a Soil Meter for Moisture (Paid Link). I like the one in the picture below because it comes with a convenient chart/guide on the back of the package.
Nitrogen fertilizers encourage foliage growth, but the fruit often ripens terribly, if at all. Fertilizer should only be used if the tree grew less than 1 foot the previous year. Application should be broken into 3-4 applications starting between March and May, then ending in July. To read more on this topic, see this Fig Fruit Facts website.
Depending on where people live in the Northeastern climates, their outside trees may begin to show leaves anywhere between April 1st to May 1st and then the cycle begins all over again. Gardeners are suggested to not add mulch to the tree at this point. Mulch can actually rot the base of your established fig tree after the first year of growth. Fig trees love water, but they also like well-drained soil otherwise they can rot. Readers have chosen Dolomite Limestone (Paid Link) or limestone chips when fertilizing. Some people claim that outside fig trees LOVE limestone for it’s slow release properties.
Researchers have no solid evidence that fig trees need excessive amounts of Ca or Mg. With that said, as mentioned above under the Fertilization topic, fig trees prefer a pH of 6.0-6.5 when planted in a mineral soil in your yard and 5.0-5.5 when in a pot. If your soil is very acidic, then you can buy the bag of dolomite lime mentioned above and sprinkle it around the base of the tree. Most of the time, there is no need to add limestone to the soil if it was from a potting mix or if you’ve added it when making a pine bark/peat based medium. Store purchased potting mixes are generally pre-limed with dolomite to a pH of 6.2. If you determined that your soil needs fertilizer, be sure to water the tree afterward to allow the nutrients to reach the roots.
During a dry spell or Summer drought conditions, water the tree outside everyday. If your town has restricted lawn watering use. Just use a Watering Can (Paid Link) and give the tree some water.