Two methods of propagating Figs.
First Method: Take dormant cuttings approx 200mm long and wrap in very slightly damp paper towel or newspaper, covering the entire cutting except the bottom half-inch. This allows the bottom end to “callus” which helps to prevent rot when rooting. If you are doing several cuttings, roll the first one in the damp paper, then add one and roll then add and roll until you have five or six cuttings in a bundle. Place the bundle/s in a plastic bag – a zip-loc or other zipper-type will work well. Place the bag in a warm place but not in direct sun with a temperature of 70-80F. Check frequently for signs of mould and if necessary air out the cuttings for a few hours. Remoisten the paper if necessary though this is not usually needed if the bag is tightly sealed. Under the conditions of warmth and humidity, roots will develop starting as small white bumps called initials and gradually elongating into recognizable roots. When there is good development of roots and/or initials, unwrap the cuttings carefully and pot them up as follows: Use clear plastic picnic glasses of about 45 once capacity. Temporarily stack 3 or 4 cups together for firmness and drill 4-5 holes in their bottoms. Take one cup and place course, well wetted vermiculite in bottom half, prepare a hole in your medium and carefully insert the cutting into it, then finish filling the cup with more of the same vermiculate. Place in a container (I use a plastic storage box) with a wire rack or other suitable arrangement that allows water to drain through the cup while keeping it from standing in water. Return the cuttings to your warm place. To maintain humidity, you may want to partly cover the container to simulate a greenhouse environment. Allow for some air circulation to avoid mould. Water only as necessary. The most important element is providing overall humidity without keeping the root zone overly wet. The courseness of the vermiculite allows air in the root zone while holding moi9sture there. If the vermiculite is too fine or packed down too much, it excludes air and retains too much moisture in the root zone. Generally, if you have placed your container in a warm environment and you see condensation on the inside of the cup, there is sufficient moisture. If not, it is too dry. The clear cup is important because it enables you to monitor root development. Leaf development is not an indicator of root development. Being able to see the roots is the best way to know what is happening.
Second Method: Dormant hardwood cuttings are easiest but it is possible to strike softwood and semi-hardwood cuttings in the growing season. The dormant cutting should have good food reserves to power leaf and root growth. I prefer thick wood; the spindly twigs tend to fail more often for me. Avoid peeling bark (disease) and weak growth on cutting wood. Some texts recommend two year old or more up to broomstick or even wrist thickness; I prefer strong one year old wood. Fig wood is soft with a large pith centre and will rot fairly easily so use a well draining medium such as sharp sand or perlite or a mixture of both with 10% coir. Keep the medium just damp in windfree light shade and buy the majority of the twig. An alternative is to put the twig in water with the majority submerged although you must change the water often. It may be the chlorine in tap water which stops fungus attacking the twig. The advantage is that you will see any rotting twigs (for removal) and developing roots. Pot on when roots are small. Commercial growers use bottom heat, rooting hormone and misting sprays but a fair percentage of fig cuttings will root without these. Direct sun or drying winds dry out the top of the twigs and make survival more difficult. Some growers still have success with outdoor and exposed sand beds however. If you are lucky with the rainfall (light and persistent) and soil (light) you can put cuttings straight into the ground. When leaves appear, do not assume roots have grown. Keep the leaves protected and dampened using a frequent fine spray. The pre rooting leaves are normally small but useful for a little input of food by photosynthesis. Dryness will cause them to fall off. When larger leaves and an elongating stem appear, this is a good sign that roots have developed so check the base of the container to see. Be persistent. I have known cuttings to take six months to root. The problem now is to transfer the cuttings to potting mix or into the ground without root damage. I decant and preliminary repot under water for gentle conditions or wait until winter dormancy. Get young figs growing fast with water and a full range of fertilisers. When they are big enough to fruit, cut back on water and nitrogen but keep the phosphorous and especially potassium levels up.
Tony Stevens – Rarefruit Society of South Australia
STFC newsletter Aug Sept 2008