I have a couple of brown turkey fig trees and they’ve recently been getting some yellow leaves. While I had an idea of what could be causing it, I wanted to do more research to find out for sure. Here’s what I found about yellow leaves on fig trees.
Fig trees most commonly get yellow leaves due to improper watering, nutrients, and soil pH. Transplant shock, pests, and diseases can also cause it, and spotted yellow leaves are likely from disease. For best results, water fig trees only when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry and provide a quality fertilizer.
So, while fig trees can get yellow leaves for several reasons, is it normal for them to get yellow leaves in the fall and winter, and how can we treat yellow leaves the rest of the year? Let’s take a closer look.
Like other deciduous trees (cherry, apple, and peaches), fig trees normally drop their leaves in the fall. Since maintaining leaves and keeping them alive during winter takes much more energy than regrowing them in the spring, deciduous trees would rather drop them.
Leaves commonly turn yellow before being shed.
Chill hours (below 45ºF) are good for fig trees, but they aren’t as necessary compared to other fruit trees. For example, fig trees do well with about 100 chill hours per season, while other deciduous trees like apples and cherries can require upwards of 1,000 chill hours.
If temperatures get above 45ºF, dormancy will be broken and the fig trees will “wake up”. As long as temperatures don’t fall below 15ºF to 20ºF, fig trees will generally survive well.
While it’s normal for fig trees to get yellow leaves and drop them in the fall and winter, if your fig tree has yellow leaves in the spring or summer, there’s likely an issue at play.
Over-watering is common in compact soils or those with heavy clay and quickly leads to the fig tree getting yellow leaves. If the drainage is bad enough, issues such as root rot develop.
The best way to water fig trees is to only water when the first 2-4 inches of soil gets dry. I check this by pushing my finger into the soil.
When watering, make sure to soak the soil down to at least 2 feet as 90% of the fig tree’s roots are found within this depth.
Watering deeply encourages the tree to grow deeper roots, which better anchor it and allow it to survive drought. Increasing your fig tree’s water independence is one of the most rewarding practices as it means much less work and supervision from you.
However, even if you’re providing the proper amount of water, poor soil drainage complicates things further.
Soil Drainage Test
Here’s how to do a percolation test and determine your soil’s drainage:
- Dig a 1-foot by 1-foot hole
- Put a yardstick in it and fill it with water
- After an hour, measure the amount of water drained on the yardstick
When digging a hole, make sure to dig outside of the drip line (canopy) of your plants to avoid damaging their shallow roots. Also, consider digging up to 3 holes around your property as there can be vastly different soil types depending on the location.
Ideally, the soil should drain at a rate of around 2 inches per hour. However, this is a guideline and not a rule, so don’t worry if yours is off. This test is primarily to determine if your soil drainage is excessively too fast or slow.
How To Fix Soil Drainage
Fortunately, the solution for poor and fast-draining soil is the same. Increase the organic matter (compost) of the soil! This is because organic matter both breaks up larger clumps of soil and retains the proper amount of moisture.
For example, every 1% increase in the soil’s richness leads to an additional 20,000 gallons of water held per acre.
I recommend applying 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months under your fig tree’s drip line.
Other ways to improve drainage are:
- Raised Beds
- Hugelkultur mounds
Raised beds are often the most expensive item in the garden, but a little secret is there are some nice, affordable ones. See which raised beds we use and recommend.
Once your soil has proper drainage, apply 4-12 inches of mulch to reduce evaporation, regulate soil temperature, and prevent soil erosion. This also helps feed the fig tree.
If you’ve checked your watering and drainage, and it seems right, what do we look for next?
3. Lack of Nutrients
|Nutrient Deficiency||Leaf Symptom|
|Nitrogen||Entire leaf is pale or yellow|
|Iron||Dark green veins, rest of the leaf is yellowing|
|Manganese||Broadly pale leaves, foliage color looks mottled or smeared|
Fig trees prefer a balanced fertilizer NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), such as a 10-10-10. While chemical fertilizers are good in the short term, they often have long-term effects such as drying out the soil and decreasing the tree’s pest and disease resistance.
Beneficial soil life, such as earthworms and mycorrhizal fungi, hunt for nutrients deeper in the soil and trade them to the tree’s roots in exchange for sugars (from the tree’s photosynthesis).
Mycorrhizal fungi promote many aspects of plant life, in particular improved nutrition, better growth, stress tolerance, and disease resistance.Department of Biology, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Chemical fertilizers prevent this exchange, causing the soil life to become redundant and die.
Because of this, many gardeners are finding that compost has more than sufficient nutrients and is even replacing fertilizers for them.
Apply 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months under the drip line of the tree. Also, apply 4-12 inches of mulch every 3-6 months to increase water retention, regulate soil temperature, and prevent soil erosion.
Imbalanced Soil pH
Nutrients aren’t everything. Fig trees also need a balanced soil pH to properly dissolve the nutrients in the soil so their fine roots can absorb them.
Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.Donald Bickelhaupt, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Aim for a soil pH of 5.5-6.5 for fig trees.
The best ways to check your soil’s pH are with pH strips or a meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re easy to use and affordable. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, check out my recommended tools page.
If you find your fig tree’s soil pH is too acidic (below 5.5), apply alkaline amendments such as wood ash, biochar, or lime.
For soil that’s too alkaline (above 6.5), apply acidic amendments such as sand, peat moss, and coffee grounds.
4. Transplant Shock
If you’ve recently relocated or planted your fig tree, and it started getting yellow leaves, it’s likely from transplant shock. Transplant shock is when a plant gets stressed by being moved to a new and unexpected environment. The more extreme the move, the more stressed the plant gets.
Recovery from transplant shock can take up to one year.
Here are some steps that I take to help prevent transplant shock for my plants:
- Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
- Remove as much of the tree’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
- Grab the base of the tree’s trunk and wiggle lightly
- Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
- Lightly place the tree in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
- Make sure the soil is at the same level on the trunk as before
- Apply 1-2 inches of compost and mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
Aim to plant or transplant fig trees either in the early spring or early fall (depending on if you get an early or late frost).
For more information about the best time to plant fruit trees, check out my post: When to Plant Fruit Trees: Spring vs Fall? (Solved).
5. Pests and Diseases
While it’s not as common for fig trees to get yellow leaves from pests and diseases, Fig Rust, blight, and nematodes have been known to cause issues. Typically, you can identify pests and diseases from spotted yellow or brown leaves or damage to the tree.
Common treatments include sprays and planting companion plants.
Here are some of the most common diseases and pests fig trees get:
- Fig Rust – A fungus that infects fig trees in the spring, causing the tree’s leaves to yellow and brown, and shed early in the summer and early fall. Can be identified by rust-colored spots underneath the leaves. Treatments include pruning and sprays such as neem oil.
- Blight – Another spring fungus that causes fig tree leaves to have yellow, pink, or white spots or even holes. If untreated, leaves can turn brown and fall from the tree. Highly infectious. Treatments include pruning, picking up diseased and dropped leaves, and sprays.
- Nematodes – One of the most common pests that figs can get, nematodes damage the fig tree’s roots and can kill the tree given enough time. Treatments include soil sterilization, sprays, and planting companion plants—such as marigolds.
Other pests and diseases that cause yellow leaves on fig trees include scale, mites, and aphids.
If you’d like more information on these pests and diseases, and how to revive a declining fig tree, consider visiting my other post: How To Save a Dying Fig Tree: 3 Quick Steps.
Will Fig Tree Leaves Grow Back?
Fig trees that lose their leaves in the fall and winter will grow them back as long as the frost isn’t too extreme (typically above 15ºF). However, if fig trees lose their leaves early due to watering, nutrients, climate, or other causes, they need to overcome the issue before the leaves will grow back.
You can check if a fig tree is still alive by pruning a small branch tip. If there’s any green inside, the tree is still alive and the leaves should grow back (as long as the tree doesn’t have any issues).
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.