Use a balanced fertilizer (such as 4-4-4) to feed your established fig tree in spring and summer. Begin by removing any grass and weed growth from the tree’s root zone. Then, measure out your fertilizer based on the tree’s size. Spread the fertilizer in the root zone, cover it with mulch, and add water. Monitor your tree after you provide fertilizer. If the fruit fails to ripen, you’ve used too much fertilizer. This can be corrected by reducing fertilizer use in the future. If the leaves begin to yellow, it is a sign your fig needs more fertilizer.
When Should You Fertilize a Fig Tree?
Fig trees should be fertilized at 3 separate times. First, fertilize a fig tree immediately after you plant it in the ground. Second, fertilize your established fig tree in early spring, typically in March. Third, fertilize an established fig tree in late summer, in August. So, if your fig tree is already in the ground, you will only need to fertilize it 2 times per year.
- When you first plant your fig tree in the ground.
- In early spring of each year (March or April).
- Late summer each year (August).
Fig trees require very little fertilizer, so you do not need to feed them as aggressively as other fruits and vegetables. Using too much fertilizer can prevent figs from producing crops, harm their growth, and leave them susceptible to cold damage. In this guide, we’ll teach you how to fertilize your fig safely, as well as how to spot the danger signs of fertilizer overuse.
What is the Best Fertilizer for Fig Trees?
Fig trees benefit most from a balanced fertilizer. A “balanced fertilizer” is one where all 3 numbers on the packaging are the same. For instance, you may find a fertilizer labeled as “10-10-10 fertilizer.” But, other fertilizers with 3 identical numbers will also work great for figs. These 3 numbers indicate the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the fertilizer.
- This organic 4-4-4 fertilizer is an excellent choice for figs.
- Fertilizers where the 3 numbers on the label are identical are a good choice for figs.
- Organic fertilizers are best for fig trees—they help prevent fruit loss.
I prefer to use organic fertilizers for fig trees because they typically release nutrients into the soil more slowly than synthetic fertilizers. This is important for figs because too much nitrogen released into the soil too quickly can force your fig to grow leaves and branches but neglect fruit development. To ensure you don’t destroy your annual fig crop, stick to organic fertilizer.
7 Steps to Fertilize a Fig Tree
Now that you know when to fertilize your fig and you’ve selected your fertilizer, it’s time to tackle the job itself. Below is the complete guide to using fertilizer to boost fig growth, as well as how to troubleshoot common problems.
Prepare the Soil
Begin by removing all plant growth from your fig tree’s root zone. This means you must pull up any weeds and grasses growing under the branches of your fig. It’s also a good idea to extend this plant-free zone beyond the reach of your fig’s branches, since figs have wide-growing roots. If you don’t remove weeds and grasses, they will steal the nutrients in fertilizer before your tree can absorb them.
- Remove any weeds, grasses, and plants growing under the branch canopy of your figs.
- Plants growing in a fig’s root zone will steal fertilizer nutrients.
- To avoid damaging fig roots, do not dig up weeds or use weed killer spray.
- It is best to weed the fig root zone by hand.
To get the best results, pull up weeds by hand and discard them. Do not dig up the soil with a shovel or use herbicides. Digging in a fig’s root zone can damage the roots. It’s essential to avoid weed killer sprays because most herbicides that kill weeds also harm figs.
Measure Your Fertilizer
The amount of fertilizer your tree needs depends on its age and size, as well as the nitrogen content of the fertilizer you’re using. For fig trees less than 3 years old, provide 1 pound of 4-4-4 fertilizer at each feeding. For figs 3 years and older, use ⅔-pound of fertilizer for every foot of height. So, a 12-foot tree will require about 8 pounds of fertilizer at each feeding. These same weights also apply to 5-5-5 fertilizer.
- Use 4-4-4 or 5-5-5 fertilizer.
- Measure 1 pound of fertilizer for trees 2 years and younger.
- For trees 3 years and older, measure out ⅔-pound of fertilizer per foot of height.
- When using fertilizers with higher nutrient concentrations (such as 8-8-8), reduce the fertilizer weight by half.
If you are using a fertilizer with a higher nutrient concentration than 4-4-4 (8-8-8 or 10-10-10), cut the fertilizer use in half. A young tree will require ½-pound of fertilizer at each feeding while established trees need ⅓-pound per foot of height. This is essential because 8-8-8 fertilizer contains twice the nutrients per pound when compared to 4-4-4. If you don’t adjust the amount of fertilizer you use, you risk overfeeding your tree.
Once you have measured out the right amount of fertilizer for your tree, spread it evenly over the root zone. Make sure that the fertilizer granules are spread on all sides, to encourage even root growth. It’s also essential to spread fertilizer in the cleared area just beyond the reach of the fig’s branches. This will encourage the roots to spread further. Wider roots lead to a healthier, more drought-tolerant fig.
- Spread fertilizer evenly over the cleared area around your fig tree.
- Treat the edges of the root zone with fertilizer to encourage healthy root growth.
- Avoid fertilizing the area within 4 inches of the tree’s trunk.
Do not fertilize the ground within 4 inches of the fig’s trunk. Keep this space near the trunk completely clear of fertilizer granules. Fertilizer too close to the trunk can damage the tree. If it helps, you can put plastic sheeting or weighted newspaper on the ground near the trunk, to keep fertilizer off the soil there. Just remove the ground covering once you’re done.
Cover the Fertilizer
After you spread your fig’s fertilizer in the root zone, cover the soil. You can spread topsoil over the fertilizer, but this may invite weeds and grasses. Instead, it’s best to cover the area with mulch. This barrier will keep the soil moist, allow for proper nutrient absorption, and keep weeds out of your fig’s root zone.
- Cover the fertilizer with topsoil or mulch.
- Mulch is a great voice because it protects the soil and prevents weeds.
- Mulching under your fig makes future fertilizer applications simpler.
If you have already mulched your fig tree, your job is even easier. Just rake the mulch aside to spread fertilizer in the root zone. Then, rake the mulch back into place after you spread the fertilizer. Since organic mulch decomposes over time, it’s a good idea to add more mulch each time you fertilize. Plus, you may need to spread your mulch in a wider area if your fig’s branches have grown longer.
Water Your Fig
As soon as you are done covering the fertilizer, water your fig tree thoroughly. For specifics, review our complete guide to watering fig trees. Figs are drought-tolerant, but they benefit from a cool, slightly moist root zone. Plus, water will break down fertilizer granules and pull them into the soil, so the fertilizer can start feeding your tree.
- Use a soaker hose or similar tool to water your fig.
- Do not flood the soil—too much water can wash away fertilizer.
- Continue watering your fig as normal after this initial watering.
After this first watering, resume your normal fig tree watering schedule. There is no need to make a dramatic change to your fig tree’s routine after fertilizing. Be patient as you await results. Figs grow slowly, so don’t expect a sudden abundance of leaves and branches in the days after fertilizing.
Observe Your Tree For Signs of Fertilizer Overuse
Figs are more likely to suffer from too much fertilizer than other fruit trees. An excess of nitrogen fertilizer can force leaf and branch growth, which results in a failed fig crop. In the weeks and months that follow fertilization, look for these signs that you overfed your fig tree:
- More than 12 inches of new growth on branches.
- Cracks or splits in the trunk and branches.
- Fig fruits that do not develop or drop off.
- Fruits that fail to ripen.
All of these signs are common among figs that have been overfed. Chronic overfeeding can cause fig trunks to split. Additionally, an overfed fig tree is far more likely to be harmed by cold winter temperatures. If you see these signs, reduce the amount of fertilizer you use by half. Continue the same twice-yearly fertilizer schedule, just use less fertilizer at each application.
Look for Signs Your Fig Needs More Fertilizer
Although it is rare, figs can sometimes suffer from too little fertilizer. The most common sign of a fig suffering from nutrient deficiency is yellow or brown leaves even when the fig has been properly watered. A lack of branch and leaf growth also indicates your tree needs more nutrition.
- Yellow or brown trees even when the fig is adequately watered.
- Dry-feeling leaves.
- Smaller-than-normal leaves.
- Little or no branch growth.
If you spot the signs of a starved fig tree, provide fertilizer right away. Use half the amount of fertilizer you would normally provide, to give the tree a small boost. Then, slightly increase the amount of fertilizer you use during regular applications. Figs are light feeders that are more likely to suffer from too much fertilizer than too little, so add fertilizer in small increments.
How Do You Feed a Fig Tree?
Feeding your fig tree with fertilizer is a great way to boost the health and production of your tree. To do it correctly:
- Fertilize new figs right after planting.
- Feed established fig trees twice per year—once in spring and once in late summer.
- Use a balanced fertilizer for figs.
- Before fertilizing, pull up any plants and grasses growing in your fig’s root zone.
- Measure your fertilizer based on the fig’s age and height.
- Spread fertilizer evenly in the tree’s root zone.
- Cover the fertilizer with soil or mulch.
- Water the tree to pull the fertilizer into the soil.
After fertilizing, continue to observe your tree. If the fruit fails to ripen or splits appear in the tree’s bark, it may be suffering from too much fertilizer. If this happens, reduce the amount of fertilizer you provide.