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Planting fig trees and other potted fruit trees

Jul 21, 2011 -
  Planting fig trees and other potted fruit trees

You can plant bare-root fruit trees in the fall/winter, but if you get a spring/summer brain wave that you’d like to add a fruit tree to your garden or orchard, you can certainly plant a potted tree. Right now in July we have potted apple, peach and pear trees in our Grass Valley nursery, ready to go into local gardens.

In fact, if fruit trees have sensitive roots, or are evergreen, they should be planted from a soil-filled pot or sleeve. Figs, pomegranates, olives, and citrus trees are finicky that way.

In our new video Tricia plants a fig tree in a home orchard. Here’s how to transplant your new fig tree, or other fruit tree, from a pot or a sleeve.

Fruit tree site selection

All fruit trees need 6 to 8 hours of full sun. Bear in mind how large the mature tree will be and make sure it will not be shaded when it’s full grown.

All fruit trees require well-drained soil, but fig trees are able to handle wet soil better than the others. Ideally the soil depth should be 3 feet. If your soil is compacted by construction machinery, or you have a layer of impervious hardpan not far below the surface, plant on a berm of soil or in a raised bed about 2 feet deep.

Think ahead to how you will water the tree, and choose a site near an irrigation source.

Prepare a planting hole for the fruit tree

If you’re not sure how well your soil drains, check this article from our local Master Gardeners about testing and correcting drainage.

Dig a hole the same depth as the pot or sleeve, and twice the width of the roots.

Protection from gophers

Fig trees are especially attractive to gophers and in our video we used one of our Root Guard Gopher Baskets to stop gophers from reaching the tree roots.

Planting your fruit tree

Gently ease the tree from its sleeve or pot and check the roots. Cut off any dead roots, and loosen any that are wrapping around the root ball.

If there is a graft union site on the trunk, turn it to face north-east, away from harsh sunlight.

Place the tree in the hole and back fill with the original soil, adjusting the trunk to keep it at the right planting height. Most fruit trees should be planted so the trunk soil line is planted at the same soil level as they were pot. A fig tree is an exception. It should be planted 2 to 4 inches deeper than it was in the pot as shown in our video.

Check with your local Master Gardeners or Farm Advisor about any chronic soil issues in your area. In Nevada County the soil is low in phosphorus so we usually add rock phosphate at planting time. Otherwise, do not add fertilizer to the planting hole.

Prevent crown rot by sloping the soil away from the trunk of the tree, tapering to a basin beyond the edge of the planting hole.

Add a 3 to 4-inch layer of compost and then a 4-inch layer of mulch around the tree, keeping those materials 4 inches away from the tree trunk.


If you’re planting during the growing season, the basin will be the water source for the tree until wintertime. When winter rains come, depress the outer sides of the basin so rain does not accumulate there and drown the tree.

Water the tree with about 5 gallons of water the first time, and tamp down the soil to eliminate air bubbles. The University of Maine suggests 5 gallons each week during a dry season, and the University of California recommends 5 to 10 gallons of water weekly. Check with your local Master Gardeners for your county’s rule of thumb.

Pruning the new fruit tree

Bare-root fruit trees should be pruned at planting time, and you can watch our video for tips on that. Potted trees with leaves should not be pruned until they are dormant in the winter time.

Trunk protection

A young tree trunk needs protection from sunburn, and the standard sunshield is to paint the trunk with a 50/50 mixture of water and white latex indoor paint. An alternative is to wrap the trunk in a Spiral Tree Guard.

Find more details about planting fruit trees in California in this article from UC Davis, and for complete information on fruit trees we recommend a celebrated book, The Home Orchard.

Categories: Fruit Trees, Pomegranate Trees, Olive Trees, Fig Trees, Citrus Trees, Animal & Bird Control, Tree Guards, Edible Landscaping, Organic Gardening 101

marcia campbell Says:
Dec 3rd, 2012 at 11:30 am

How much can I prune an over grown figs that did not produce this past summer as before?

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Dec 3rd, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Marcia, Here is info about pruning figs from the California Rare Fruit Growers, ” Fig trees are productive with or without heavy pruning. It is essential only during the initial years. Trees should be trained according to use of fruit, such as a low crown for fresh-market figs. Since the crop is borne on terminals of previous year’s wood, once the tree form is established, avoid heavy winter pruning, which causes loss of the following year’s crop. It is better to prune immediately after the main crop is harvested, or with late-ripening cultivars, summer prune half the branches and prune the remainder the following summer. If radical pruning is done, whitewash the entire tree.” They are a reliable source of information. Here is the link to their fig page http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/fig.html

Elaine Says:
Jul 10th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I am planting 2 dwarf fig trees and need to know how far away do I need to plant them from my peach tree and gooseberries?  I’ve googled it an consulted my organic gardening book and can’t seem to find an answer.  I’m planting a dwarf brown turkey & a ATREANO fig variety for colder climates.  Please help smile

Luci Cooper Says:
Jul 10th, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Where can i purchase a sleeve to restrict the root growth of a pear tree?

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Jul 18th, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Elaine, You should allow 4 to 8 feet between dwarf trees. Give 10 to 14 feet between the dwarf trees and standard size trees. Happy planting!

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Aug 5th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Luci, We don’t know of such a sleeve. Restricting root growth is not generally a good idea. If you want to keep the tree small you can prune the branches. Let me know if you have further questions.

E. Tamar Alford Says:
Aug 12th, 2013 at 8:07 am

How far away should a fig tree be planted from gas and water lines?

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Aug 12th, 2013 at 11:37 am

E. Tamar Alford, Fig trees have large root systems. Here’s info from Purdue University: “The root system is typically shallow and spreading, sometimes covering 50 ft (15 m) of ground, but in permeable soil some of the roots may descend to 20 ft (6 m).”

Lynn Says:
Nov 3rd, 2013 at 5:26 am

How close tithe house can implant a fig tree? I am concern about the roots pushing into the foundation of the house.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Nov 5th, 2013 at 10:44 am

Lynn, That’s an excellent point. Fig trees are known for their invasive roots, so planting far away from buildings is a good idea. The University of Florida says, “Fig trees produce roots that can be very deep in well drained soils. The lateral spread of roots can be substantial. ... The root system of fig trees can extend well beyond the tree canopy. ... The fig is a deciduous tree that can reach 50 feet in height.” Based on this, plant the tree more than 50 feet away from your house. For more fig tree information, here is the U. of Florida article http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg214

Robyn Says:
Dec 27th, 2014 at 10:42 am

I just got my fig tree delivered.  I live in the Seattle area.  So am I suppose to plant it outside now, or put it in a pot and keep it indoors until end of winter..??

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Dec 29th, 2014 at 1:02 pm

You should not allow your new potted fig to freeze. So if you experience freezing temperatures in your area, I would wait to plant the tree in the Spring, when the danger of frost has past. Just keep it indoors so it won’t freeze and don’t let the roots dry out.

Once the tree is established, it can better tolerate freezing temperatures.

Aron Says:
Jan 7th, 2015 at 7:54 pm

I just recieved a bare root fig and the temperatures are between 20 and 40 degrees.  Should I keep it indoors or go ahead and plant it outside?

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Jan 9th, 2015 at 2:22 pm

See above comment. Keep it indoors until risk of freezing temperatures has past.

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