Rooting figs is the process of taking seemingly dead sticks of wood and turning them into fig trees. Although not magical, it is amazing. To get from a stick to plant it helps to understand the conditions and steps required to root a cutting. There is lots of other great information out there too on YouTube and in the sticky topics (and elsewhere) on OurFigs.com. I will borrow from that content here, but encourage you to read and watch other descriptions too.
To be successful fig cuttings need the right amount of moisture, light, heat, and nutrients at the right times to succeed. Steps also need to be taken to avoid mold growth.
Prior to starting rooting cuttings require some preparation.
Trim the bottom of your cutting to within about a quarter inch of a node. A node is where the leaves/figs grow from and is the only section of the cutting with a solid core. Most likely the cutting will rot back to the node, so cutting close to the node discourages rot. In the picture note that how the section where the node is has solid wood through the cutting, whereas the rest of the cutting is a soft white material.
To determine what the bottom and top of the cutting is look at a node. The small convex nub is a bud and is on top of the leaf scar (where the leaf was attached). Sometimes the buds are very hard to see so you can also remember that you want the leaf scar ‘smiling’ at you when it is right side up. That is to say the bottom portion of the leaf scar at each node has a curve like a smile.
If cuttings have not already been cleaned (ours are always cleaned before shipping) you should clean them with a disinfectant. 10% bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts water), 3% hydrogen peroxide (commonly available concentration), Physan20, or other disinfectants will do the job. We soak our cuttings for about 5 minutes in 10% bleach, rinse them, and let them dry.
Although not necessary it can be helpful to seal the top (not bottom!) of your cutting with melted wax or pruning sealer. This helps the cutting maintain moisture. If the cutting has a bud on the end this is not necessary. We avoid waxing the bottoms of the cuttings because our experience is that wax on the bottoms results in more cuttings rotting, this is subject to personal preference though.
Cuttings can also be optionally treated with rooting hormone. We use Dip N’ Grow at 10X concentration. Each cutting is dipped in Dip N’ Grow for at least 10 seconds prior to starting any of the procedures below. Although we have not tried it, others warn of avoiding talc based rooting powders because of more cuttings rotting when they are used.
Below is a discussion of the stages of rooting that follow the preparation steps above. Each procedure below implements the stages differently, and each have advantages and disadvantages.
Following is a break down by stage of rooting and here are links to procedures for specific methods.
Stage 1: Re-Hydration
Cuttings need to absorb water before they start sending out roots. During this stage cuttings need high humidity, temperatures between 72 F and 78 F, and fresh air. No light is required in this stage and there is some information to suggest that light at this stage may encourage cuttings to send out leaves before roots, which generally sets back or kills cuttings since the leaves can’t survive for long without roots. No fertilizer is required at this point either since there are no roots.
This stage can take anywhere from a few days to a 2-3 weeks. During this stage the cuttings appears to be doing almost nothing.
To avoid mold in this stage it is helpful to use a mix with a low PH (5-6). Most peat moss and coco coir mixes are in this range. Sphagnum peat moss is also in this range. Maintaining a temperature below 78 F also helps reduce the likelihood of mold and rot.
Stage 2: Callusing and Root Growth
Ideally roots grow before leaves, though other than keeping cuttings dark you can’t actually control this perfectly. Leaves first does not mean the cutting is doomed, it is just undesirable. Once leaves do appear it is generally best to provide light, even if you don’t yet see roots. Otherwise the growth will be weak.
A healthy cutting that is progressing should first start growing calluses around the cut bottom end of the cutting. Calluses are hard wood colored tissue that forms in a ring around the bottom of the cutting and usually precedes root growth.
To avoid mold in this stage continue to use a potting medium with a low PH (5-6), maintain a soil temperature between 72F and 78 F, and provide a medium with plenty of air space. Commercial mixes like HP Pro Mix work well, or you can create your own by mixing 50% peat moss or coco coir with 50% perlite or vermiculite. There are also other great recipes for cutting potting medium mixes on the fig forums
Importantly you also want to provide high humidity for the roots to form, but not wet medium that encourages mold growth and cutting rot. To do this you want a medium that is damp but not wet. One simple test to see if your medium is too wet is to squeeze a fist full, if any water comes out it is too wet. In order to maintain the right moisture level in the medium you want to avoid watering AT ALL until the cutting either progresses to the next stages or the medium is very dry in the top 2-3 inches. You can test the dryness by sticking your finger in the pot, or by feeling the weight of the pot. A very light pot is dry.
Next you hopefully get root growth. Roots can grow from the callused tissue or from anywhere along the cutting. More roots grow near nodes in the cutting.
Stage 3: First Leaves
A healthy cutting will begin to put on leaves. Buds that are already swollen will generally form leaves and branches first. Once one or two buds break hormones in the plant stop most others from breaking, especially lower buds. This allows the tree to focus on one or two branches instead of many. At this point it is best not to remove any leaves, even if they are not in the ideal position; the tree needs energy from the leaves and there will be many other opportunities to shape the tree.
At this point rot is still a real threat. Most cuttings that rot will rot in this phase. Leaves will wilt due the bark rotting and not allow water to be transported up the stem. Continue to water very sparingly if at all. It is possible to underwater a cutting, but it is much more common and easy to overwater them. Water only when the pot is light and the first 2-3 inches of the potting medium is dry. Also try to water around the edge of the pot (assuming it is relatively small) so that the roots get water, but the cutting itself is not water logged.
Provide light and temperatures between 72 and 78 degrees for optimal growth. Light can take the form of grow lights or windows that receive a lot of sun.
Stage 3: Plant
Once the cutting has put on 3-4 sets of large leaves it is (usually) much less susceptible to rot and can be watered like any other house plant. Water thoroughly before the pot is completely dry. Don’t keep the pot soaking wet, but allow it to dry between waterings. At this point you can also fertilize your plant with every watering. Using dilute Miracle Grow (1 tsp per gallon) seems to work well.
Plants will tolerate a wider range of temperatures at this point. Growth will be slower below about 72 F, and the temperature should be kept below about 85 to 90 F, but otherwise any temperature will work.
Once a cutting makes it this far it is much harder to kill and will likely turn in to a healthy tree with just a little more care.