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Grow a Fig Tree from a Cutting

Fig cutting rooting in water

The last cutting from my brother’s fig tree still stands in a pint-sized canning jar. Even when I took the cuttings out of the shipping container, some had sprouted leaves. The cuttings didn’t add much growth at all while rooting in water.

Wanna grow a fig tree? It helps to know someone who already has a fig tree. My brother (Kris, who has written a few guest posts for this blog) has at least one fig tree. He taught me how incredibly easy it is to grow a new one.

In April, Kris mailed to me six cuttings from his fig tree. These were about six inches long and each ended in a terminal bud—Kris had pruned his tree and made the cuttings from pruned branches.

After removing the cuttings from the mailer, I set them cut-side-down in a pint-sized canning jar with about an inch of water. This I placed on my enclosed porch where it has remained since.

Fig Twigs Sprout Easy

Within a month, one cutting sprouted roots. When the roots were about three inches long, I transferred the cutting to half a milk carton filled with very moist potting soil. The cutting put out leaves and grew taller and it looks encouragingly like a small tree.

After I removed the first rooted cutting from the canning jar, a second cutting put out roots. Then a third rooted while a fourth obviously died.

I planted the two rooted cuttings in half milk jugs, and a month later those look quite happy. Another cutting has made it into soil, and the remaining one still sits in the canning jar. It doesn’t seem stressed, but it only just started to grow roots. I’ll move it to soil soon.

Fig Tree Hardiness

Fig trees are, apparently, nearly as indestructible as weeds. They aren’t naturally large to begin with, but they don’t mind if you prune to limit their height and girth. This makes it possible to maintain a fig tree in a planter.

Young fig tree from a cutting

After a few months in potting soil, a rooted fig twig has grown into a very promising shape. I’ll most likely plant two of these in larger containers and move them inside for the winter. The rest will go in my yard where it will be sink-or-swim: they’ll receive no special protection against winter cold.

Most experts report that figs are hardy only down to zone 7. Fortunately, there are varieties claiming hardiness down to zone 5. In colder hardiness zones, fig trees die back significantly in winter but recover and actually grow fruit in the following season.

Many fig enthusiasts in cooler zones hedge their bets and plant in moveable containers. As leaves drop in autumn, they take the planters indoors. Alternatively, they wrap their trees in plastic or burlap and stuff in autumn leaves or straw to provide insulation. With either strategy, it helps to limit the tree’s size through regular pruning.

When you decide to add figs to your kitchen garden, find someone who is growing figs in your area. When you get cuttings from them in spring, ask how they winter over their trees—if they recommend special treatment beyond what you’re willing or able to provide, at least plan to drag your fig trees into a garage or shed after they drop leaves in autumn. With cuttings and patience, if you want a fig tree, you can grow that.


You Can Grow That celebrates gardening each month. The list of this month’s celebrants and links to their posts are at You Can Grow That.


6 Responses to “Grow a Fig Tree from a Cutting”

  • Hi – Thanks so much for this post.
    We’re in Zone 7 and our Celeste and Brown Turkey fig plants die back to the ground each winter.
    Due to a mild winter, this summer they are 10 feet tall in their railroad tie bed. The walls of the tie-bed provide some protection for the roots when we have an ice-storm type winter.
    We mulched them this spring with bags and bags of pecan shells from a local sheller.

    I wonder if I can take cuttings this fall, pot them and keep them in the garden shed over the winter.

    Your thoughts?

  • When I was a child growing up just north of Boston, my Italian grandfather would bury his fig tree every winter. If you search, within the last few years, the New York Times published an interested article about other gardeners who did this, or who wrapped their trees in burlap as protection from the cold. Since Cape Cod is 100 miles south of Boston and slightly more temperate, I’d love to try to grow my own tree. But as you say, it’s chancy; I grow rosemary bushes which require a similar climate, and while I’ve had luck weathering them over some winters, I also lose them some years!

  • bobbie-sue:

    This post is perfectly timed, since I might be inheriting some potted fig trees soon. Do you know if a fig that is brought indoors for the winter needs to be watered?

  • Daniel Gasteiger:

    Martha! Thanks for your comment. I understand that young cold-hardy fig trees die back to the ground for several winters, but that they eventually get established enough that the main trunk and larger branches survive winter. A 10 foot tree might actually winter over and have a much better head start next spring.

    Typically, it’s better to prune once a tree enters dormancy. Harvesting and trying to root cuttings in the fall may confuse the cuttings–you’ll be asking them to grow when they’re trying to go to sleep. Still, if I thought I’d lose all the youngest twigs to cold anyway, I’d experiment and try to root some indoors over the winter (these I’d harvest before they show any sign of dropping leaves)… and put a few others cut-side-down in slightly moist soil in a protected space such as a garden shed (these I’d harvest after they drop leaves and go dormant). Chances are, cut twigs kept mildly moist and near freezing through the winter will simply stay dormant and come back strong in the spring.

    The whole answer would be: I’ve never tried, but why not experiment and see where it gets you? I love discovering that much of what you think might work in gardening actually DOES work… as long as your life doesn’t depend on the result, give it a try!


  • elspeth flood:

    I live in S.Portugal with a healthy fig tree which yields almost no fruit. Should I water it?

  • Daniel Gasteiger:

    bobbie-sue: Sorry about my delayed reply–crazy days around the Cityslipper ranch. Yes, if you take a fig tree “indoors” for the winter, water it. By indoors, I’m guessing you mean into a protected, cool area once the tree is dormant? In that case, I like to give the container a final deep soaking outdoors, drag it into the garage or shed, and check it periodically through the winter. Unlike bulbs, begonias, and other tuberous plants, you shouldn’t let the soil go completely dry. Rather, keep the soil mildly damp; don’t keep the roots soggy.

    elspeth flood: In my experience, there aren’t many reasons a tree fails to set fruit. Believe it or not, the first reason that came to mind when I read your question was, “Is the tree too comfortable?” Sometimes, a tree that has everything going well sees no reason to reproduce. If you manage a forest and you want a particular tree to drop a lot of seeds, you might deliberately stress the tree by damaging the bark (please don’t do this to your fig tree).

    Perhaps your fig tree enjoys very rich soil? Do you fertilize it? If so, cut way back on fertilizer for a season–maybe even altogether skip it. If you’ve had extremely hot weather, frequent watering may help, but figs, like many other plants, tend to produce poorly when it’s very hot. Hot or not, figs prefer moist soil, so if you haven’t gotten much rain, watering regularly may encourage fruiting.

    Good luck!

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