There’s something uniquely beautiful — both visually and culturally — about figs. The jammy, teardrop-shaped fruits have been loved for centuries in Europe, and for millennia further east. Now they’re gaining popularity in the United States and Canada, where more and more people are growing the trees at home.

If you start watching over neighbor’s fences, chances are, whether you’re in Seattle, New York or Austin, that you’ll start noticing fig trees. The temptation to duck into a yard and snatch a few low-hanging beauties can be powerful — but the civil option is to knock on the owner’s door and, hopefully, gain per-mission to take away a bag full. Still, you’ll eventually have to face the fact that these figs are not yours.

Unless you clone the tree. It’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s beautifully simple and one of the very oldest tricks in agriculture.

Happily, figs are among the easiest of fruit trees to clone. That’s because they needn’t be grafted onto an existing tree, as with most other fruits. Rather, a freshly cut fig branch can be crudely placed in the ground, where it will root, grow, and eventually produce heaps of the very same fruit borne by its mother tree. Fig trees can also be grown to fruit-bearing size in a pot — meaning you don’t even need a yard.


Project Steps

Select your fig tree

The tree should be a favorite that makes excellent fruit consistently. If its owner can tell you the fig variety — whether White Genoa, King, Black Mission, Kadota, or a hundred others — this will help you decide if the tree will do well in your climate zone. Gardening books and websites ( is a great resource) will tell you where different varieties grow best.

The green-skinned King fig is a favorite for coastal, cool areas, while the Black Mission is suited for places with blazing summers. The King makes only an early crop — in June or July. The Black Mission makes two crops, a small one in early summer and a large crop in the fall. Other figs make only the later crop. The Calimyrna fig, which requires a unique insect to pollinate its fruits, may make no figs at all outside of California’s Central Valley.

The best way to select the right variety for you is to locate a tree that’s thriving — and bearing delicious fruit — in your neighborhood.

Take cuttings

Cloning a tree requires wood — that is, branch cuttings. For best results you want healthy wood from the previous season — so at least 1 year old. The green wood near the branch tips may not root properly. This means you may need entire branches 36″ long or more if you’re taking cuttings late in the season. If you’re cutting early in the spring, when the tree is just waking up after winter dormancy, you may only need 8″ or so.

Trim the cuttings

Snip off the leaves and any unripe fruits. Cut each branch into 8″ sections. These are your future trees.

Incubate and root them

Figs are tough — adaptable and durable — so prompting your tree branch to send out roots and leaves will require wonderfully little finesse. I’ve had success just sticking a cutting into a pot of soil and, eventually, watching the twig become a tree.

Consistently better luck can be expected, however, by keeping the cuttings damp, or even submerged in water, until they sprout. Place the cuttings in a vase of clean water or seal them in clear plastic bags. If mold appears in a bag, open it and dry out the twigs for a few hours. You may, at this point, place them in water, where fungus is less likely to proliferate.

After 10 to 20 days you should see white, noodle-like root tips emerging from the wood. Some cuttings will send out green leaves at the same time, or even before the roots appear. Whatever the sequence, once it’s clear that a cutting is alive and raring to grow, give it some soil. Plant it 4″ deep in a small pot. Root hormones are not necessary.

Grow the tree in a sunny place

The more direct sun a tree receives, the sweeter its fruits will be — a simple equation of energy in, energy out. So, select your tree’s planting location very carefully.

If in doubt, just transfer the small tree to increasingly larger pots, move as needed through the season. Eventually, you may find a good permanent location; in the meantime, you can expect a potted tree to produce luxuriant crops — though the tree’s size will be restricted if it isn’t planted in the ground.

Remember: If you plant your tree in the front yard, you’re likely to someday receive visitors kindly asking for a few inches of wood. Give it to them.