Fig trees can produce wonderful tasting fruits. However, unlike other fruits that can ripe after picking, figs have to be almost fully ripe when picked to have their full flavor. If you have a short growing season this can be a problem as some varieties might take more than 90 days to mature since the fruit is formed. Also, since some of the best tasting varieties may only start to set fruit in mid-summer, maturation can come in late September, October or even later. The cold weather in some areas or rain might prevent fig maturation or spoil the fruits. One of the options to try to induce early fruit formation is pinching the tip of fruiting branches. Nevertheless, in some cases, pinching is not recommended. These are the situations where pinching might help your fruit trees, and not only in early fruit set.
First, let us look at the physiology of a plant and in what way pinching changes it. When you pinch the tip of a branch it will stop vertical growth and will promote side branching. This happens because removing the tip will also remove the cells that are producing auxins, a type of plant hormone, in that meristematic growth area. This group of plant hormones produced in the tip of a branch, promote stem elongation and will inhibit the growth of lateral buds. This is called apical dominance and will limit the development of lower branches, concentrating the energy for growing in the main branch. Free from that inhibition through pinching, the branch lateral meristematic areas, near the lower nodes, will start to grow and produce new branches.
Will this also produce new fruits in those areas? Not necessarily. Only if you have two bumps in the leaf axil, you can be sure that one will produce a new branch and the other will produce a fig. By removing the vertical growth, pinching will allow the plant to concentrate all its energy in those lateral buds and so, can induce early fruiting. Inducing early fruiting is ideal if you have a short growing season or you are growing fig varieties that have very long maturing periods.
So, pinching your fig trees can be used in several ways and for several different reasons. First, it can be used as a way to induce new branching. Pinching is a great way to force the development of lateral branches and help shaping a young tree. Pinching can also be used to eliminate apical dominance of the most vigorous branches, resulting in a more balanced tree.
Finally, pinching is most widely used to induce early fruiting. When you pinch, remember that you will be stopping the growth of that branch and you will be promoting the growth of lower lateral branches. If your growing season is not long enough this may produce lots of small diameter branches, which is not ideal if you later want to cut some nice thick dormant cuttings. From figlet to maturity, most varieties will take a minimum of 60 days. But others, like Figo Preto, might take more than 90 days depending on local conditions. Late maturing varieties are the ones where pinching might be most useful, particularly if you have a shorter growing season. If you have two bumps in the leaf axil you can be sure that pinching will induce the growth of new figs.
This happens because when you have double bumps in the leaf axil, one will produce a new branch (the vegetative bud) and the other will produce a fig (the fruiting bud). If you only have one bump, that bud will probably just grow into a new shoot, so pinching will not help in producing new fruits. You can pinch along several weeks during the growing season.
Remember that you dont need to pinch all the branches at the same time, and you sure dont want to do that. First, remove the tip of the strongest, higher branches. This will promote the growth of the weaker ones, promoting a more balanced tree. How long should a branch be so I can be able to pinch it? As a rule, avoid pinching branches that have a small number of new wood nodes. We are talking about same year, green growth. Last year growth has turned brown and has hardened. Remember that most fig varieties will only produce a main crop, in same year, new growth.
If you pinch a branch too early, that branch growth will be too small, and the resulting number of new fruits quite scarce. So, has a rule of thumb, its common to pinch a new branch only when it has at least 5 to 6 new nodes. But, that really depends on the time of year. If its mid-June and your fig tree doesnt have small figlets, pinching might produce mature figs by late September, depending on the variety. In some areas, this can still produce nice figs, before colder and rainy weather prevents your figs to mature fully and get their best taste.
Therefore, even if the pinched branch has a small number of nodes, it might be worth pinching it to produce a few figs, that might still mature in time. Some of these branches will only be used to produce figs that year and will not be part of the trees permanent structure. Beware that pinching most branches, every year, will result in lots of lateral growth and too many, small, concentrated, weak branches. This will reduce light and air flow to the other branches and might make fruit maturity more difficult. This might also produce a more unbalanced tree that can be more susceptible to some diseases. All these problems can be corrected later, by pruning, so dont worry too much about that, when pinching. Pruning can and should be used later to form the tree in the desired shape and size. It will reduce the concentration of these small branches, avoiding all those problems. Pinching should not be used in all situations and is best avoided in some cases. For instance, dont pinch if your tree is too young.
Let the tree grow and establish strong branches and roots before worrying about fruit production. Another reason to avoid pinching individual branches might be if your tree is well balanced and no individual branch is too strong and excessively vigorous. If you decide to pinch in this situation, pinch all the branches with the same development, to avoid unbalancing your tree. Avoid pinching when your branches already have small figlets forming, early in the season. These figs will mature naturally and pinching will not help in any way. Pinching is also not needed for most varieties, as they develop figs without this procedure, at their own pace. Pinching will also disrupt natural branch growth and can promote excessive branching. So, it should be avoided if you have a normal growing season and most fig varieties mature well without this procedure. Finally, you should also avoid pinching, if the branches of your fig tree, show only one bump in the leaf axils. This means that the chance of promoting early fruiting by pinching is small, as most of the buds are probably vegetative and will produce new shoots, not figs.
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