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Vern's Brown Turkey Pruning
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19 Posts
September 10, 2020 - 3:00 pm

Hi folks,

I have a baby Vern's Brown Turkey (VBT) in the yard (planted this spring, SW Portland, OR) and I was wondering about pruning techniques.  I know for figs that mostly produce a brebra crop in this climate (e.g., desert king) I need to maximize 1st year wood. However, it sounds like VBT often ripens main crop figs out here (at least, I think -- is that correct? I have zero figs so far :), so maybe pruning technique will be different here (?).

So, question 1: should I prune the VBT like a desert king, or employ an alternate strategy (and if so, what?)

Question 2: just for a frame of reference, how big will a VBT get here in PDX if left to its own devices?

Question 3: only somewhat related: how do VBT brebra figs compare to main crop figs? I've read brebra figs are often inferior to the main crop figs of the same tree -- is that the case here?

Any input would be much appreciated -- thanks!


NE Portland, OR Cully Neighborhood
212 Posts
September 10, 2020 - 9:29 pm

I don't have or manage a VBT or other Brown Turkey, but I think I've overheard that the BT's really don't put on much, if any breba; Verns main cropping is earlier than the BT's in general. And regular Brown Turkeys will only ripen here in years with extended summers. That said, the information for controlling size, keeping the crop within reach, as discussed in the topic headed 'Keeping Desert King small enough' is still definitely going to have a major impact on your way to think about the pruning of figs.

I have Latterula, the breba's I favor. The later crop gets watery quickly with the fall rains. 

1400 Posts
September 11, 2020 - 6:04 pm

I had seven figs, of two varieties in the foothills of the OR coast range, Desert King and Brown Turkey.  Learned and listened to a passed friend who was ‘The Queen of Figs’ in my area, to “let them clump,” or grow multiple trunks from the ground.

Figs are not grafted, so any ‘root shoot’ is identical to the upper growth.  Allowing them ‘to clump’ also allowed me to keep their size in check.  And, as my friend described, if an extreme cold spell hit, the outer trunks appeared to shield the inner, so the entire ‘tree’ was not lost.  

I’d advise to let them send up multiple ‘trunks,’ thinning some as needed to keep their size in check - and reinvigorating the entire ‘bush’ by occasionally removing the largest trunk by cutting it near ground level.  The remaining, often two to five year alternate trunks will happily take over.  This method was especially helpful keeping the vigorous Desert King under control.     

Assuming your VBT is close to a ‘regular’ Brown Turkey, it's mature height is about a third the natural size of a Desert King.  I’d easily kept my two BT’s to 8 feet high - with maybe a six foot spread.  

The first crop is the best crop.  Ripening after Desert King, they matched well.  The BT’s second crop was ...special; winter was coming, and any fig was tastier than no fig.  Though, I generally ‘snapped off’ the smallest of the second crop to help shut down the tree and push remaining nutrients into the most mature and likely to ripen.  

Again, I doubt Vern’s BT is much different than my ol’ friend Helen (Webb)’s Brown Turkey variety ...of which I’d collected cuttings and began my ..clumps Wink

19 Posts
September 11, 2020 - 10:16 pm

@sweepbjames: thanks for the lead on BT habits and the reminder about the general fig pruning practices, indeed, the thread you mentioned (“Keeping Desert King small enough”) is what really got me thinking about this.  Re: the Latterula: I have a friend with a mature tree – I agree the brebra is good and the later crop is usually soggy at best.

@Viron: thank you for sharing your experience with your Brown Turkeys.  It sounds like you get a good brebra from them, with the main crop coming in rather late, with some worth salvaging.  I have my VBT in full, south-facing sun in front of a light-colored fence – I hope that this will coax the 2nd crop into ripening as early as possible.  Fingers crossed!

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