Fig grafting disasters

I am new here need advice PLEASE.
I have a large prolific fig adjacent my elevated veranda - you can reach out and eat. Except the fruits are inedible.
I have a wonderful sweet fig battling in the shade elsewhere - so attempting to graft the sweet to the large.
Now wherever I read I am told how easy this is.
I have now had 25 attempts over three months. Ie from spring to midsummer here in Johannesburg (Zone9b).
I tried different grafts (cleft, chip budding, tongue etc) Different size scions. Wrapped in tape. Wrapped in moisturised paper cloth. Wrapped in foil. Without wrap etc etc.
My grafts are done with a magnifying glass and I do not believe I can get them any better.

Two eventually took. TWO.
I was told that after a month you remove the tape. I did and both fell to the ground.
So I am down to zero and no more enthusiasm really. Any advice??


Next time don’t remove the tape unless it is starting to restrict the branch growth. Usually as the branch swells the tape will begin to rip open. If the branch isn’t swelling to rip open the tape then it won’t have put on enough growth to “glue” the scion to the stock. The exception would be if you’re using a non-biodegradable or non-stretchable wrap for the graft. In that case it will need to be cut, but still not until there is obvious swelling showing growth at the graft site.

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If your zone 9b is the same as my zone 9b in California, start grafting way earlier in the year. I graft figs in February–March, that would be August–September for you. Important — use dormant cuttings, which means you should collect them from mid-June to mid-July, when your fig trees are dormant. Keep these cuttings in a zip-lock bag in a refrigerator (not in a freezer!), until you use them. Graft high on the recipient tree and remove vigorous native growth around your graft, otherwise it will be out-competed.

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Is the tree getting enough water to push vigorous growth after being grafted?

Is the big tree the same species of fig? There’s a bunch of related plants that produce reportedly dreadful fruit. I wasn’t clear on whether it was maybe an ornamental variety that produced crappy fruit or possibly a different type of related tree.

Most likely, it’s a caprifig.

OK thank you all -

  1. I will try a few more and then wait for July to collect a few scions for the refrigerator. Our winters are short but we do get a few sub zero nights with frost. Just enough to clear up any tropical insects. Days are never-ending sunlight and blue sky from around April to September when thunderstorms will start.
  2. Yes enough water - we have had a very wet season so far.
  3. It certainly is a fig. Very old and large mind you. And two of the scions actually took (until ineptitude managed to destroy them).
  4. I did take care to clear the branches upstream from the graft and to scar against excessive sap flow - I noticed very little so maybe it is an issue. Too little rather than too much?

The problem with so many variables is that you get it right (if at all) by sheer luck and then you still don’t know why some took and some did not.

I suppose I just have to persevere.

Tx so much for the advice.

Another suggestion is to top-work some of large branches. Top-working is when you cut down a pretty big branch and then bark graft with multiple scions on the stump. The rule of thumb is to have one scion stick per one inch of the stump’s diameter. Bark grafts are easy to do (no precise cambium matching is neded) and usually have a high success rate. Watch some videos on YouTube of people doing this, it’s pretty straightforward. Do it with dormant scions in early spring.

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This is an excellent idea. The fig is encroaching the veranda and will have to be cut back severely. Then I do a liberal top-work and my sweet fig takes over. How I wish I had started 2 years before.


When completely top-working a tree, it is recommended to leave one “nursing” branch. It can be removed later, after grafts grow for a few months.

A few photos to assist you. I have no clue what this is. The fruits are so tasteless the birds don’t eat it. I had all the fruits removed. It is so prolific I fear the weight will collapse the tree! But the fruits are dry as dust and utterly tasteless.

Most likely, it’s a caprifig. Another possibility is that it’s a Smyrna type fig that lacks pollination.

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The first fruit pic looks like a typical fig but the second fruit looks alien to me. Leaves and wood certainly looks like a fig @Stan is probably onto something here

Here’s some info on what @Stan is referring to. Fig Growing Guide - One Green World

Also this caprifig is kinda like yours and apparently displays multiple fruit phenotypes like yours.

thank you.
I took a few close up pictures of the fruit. The one ACTUALLY GOT EATEN!!
Starving bird or rat.
You will note the eaten one is all dry and powdery.
Tastes like carton with an overtone of saw dust.

more pic

I have questions about the small sweet fig (the source of scions). Will do that in a different topic

Good Heavens. I am reading this now (re figs its life cycle etc)
Tx so much for this intro into a fascinating topic.

Never heard of
Capri figs: male figs that contain pollen and host overwintering fig wasps that will pollinate Smyrna and San Pedro type figs.

So OK this is a Capri fig. Before you cured my pathological ignorance (to some extent only much more doctoring needed) I noticed what looked like small worms in the figs but did not bother to report on it.

I now realise it must have been the fig wasps and by taking off all the figs I may have unwittingly destroyed a whole season’s worth of wasps.

The primary question for me now is why somebody would plant a Capri in this yard some 50 years ago?
Johannesburg experiences at least a few days/week/s of frosty cold weather every year. How do the Capri wasps survive?
Smyrna and San Pedro type figs in the vicinity?
Fig afficionados in my house 50 yrs ago?
Pure happenstance?

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Oh Grief - more ignorance cured (from the article you referred me):

Sun, sun, sun
OK no problem with that.

Along rock walls is considered an ideal spot for figs, possibly because the roots are allowed to warm up faster but also because figs produce much more fruit when their roots are constricted

This is becoming eery - here in Africa (not in the Jhb area but further North and East (Savanna and Bushveld) the ficus family of trees grow in rock crevices in extreme heat conditions (like Arizona in summer except here winter is hardly cooler) and also on riverine shores high above the water level (which here is a seasonal stream). LOTS of SMALL fruit. ENORMOUS trees. NOTHING like you guys put in a greenhouse or cultivate. Flocks of birds eat at them almost all year around. My favourite the Green Pigeon - a fruit eating dove (Treron calva)

Having constricted roots in conjunction with appropriate water levels and not applying nitrogen rich fertilizers causes the figs to create short internodes, that space between buds on a branch. At each internode a fig will potentially form so the more nodes you have per length of branch the more figs you will have. This is why excessive fertilizers and watering is discouraged on figs!

Well I never. Now I realise that a fig is like a long-term provident fund. NO SHORT CUTS. And the figs in our Bushveld are VERY slow growers, become enormous and have millions of little fruit. So my rush to greenhouse success is not necessarily a long term success. I will take some cuttings and let them SLOWLY mature into trees against my North facing outside wall (North in my hemisphere equates to South in yours). Walls are necessary here because of theft and break-ins at a Biblical scale.
But the scale and sheer majesty of the wild figs here are unlike anything you find in a commercially grown patch. See pics attached.

As you can see you have sown a little seed here . . .

see pic of the magnificent Green Pigeon and Sycamore fig. I am only permitted one pic per post.

Green Pigeon

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