Anna, I've been reading your blog for a couple of months and love what you are doing. I tried to root some fig cuttings in water a month or so ago, and I failed miserably. I am thinking of getting some more cuttings and just burying them in some sand and vermiculite to see if they will root. I will probably do the same thing with some grape cuttings around February.
Starting off with the hard questions already. I'll pretend you asked about the grapes first, even though you didn't, because they're easier. Grapes are a wonderful plant to start learning to root because they take nearly no work. You can see my technique here: http://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Starting_grapes_from_hardwood_cuttings/. If you do everything properly, it's a plant-it-and-forget-it cutting, and you'll get at least 50% success without using rooting hormone.
Now, to answer your real question --- I haven't decided about the figs yet! I got lucky and found three partially rooted cuttings when I was cutting back my fig so I could protect it for the winter. Those I planted straight out in their final locations with a bag of leaves tied around them. Hopefully they'll survive and grow.
I've read a bunch of different techniques for the unrooted cuttings, and am still making up my mind. Maybe someone else will chime in who's successfully rooted figs?
figs root quite easily from dormant wood cuttings... once you have had some cold weather to induce the trees to drop the leaves and go fully dormant, take cuttings about 8" long. I like to keep mine short enough to fit in a gallon zip-lock bag. Take the cuttings and roll them up in some damp (not dripping wet) paper towels. Place the bag in a warm location and wait for a week or so and start checking to see if they have callused and started to root. Make sure the temp is at least 70F or higher - higher is better.
Once the cuttings have started to root, transfer them gently to a pot with well drained soil and let them continue developing their root system. The biggest risk in the process is drying out due to the cutting putting out leaves before getting a decent root system established. Bottom heat can be helpful.
Automated misting is a very easy way to propagate figs (and most other plants) during the growing season. Stick green cuttings in sandy soil and make sure they are receiving mist regularly for several weeks, then transplant to a nursery bed.
"Limitation is the mother of good management", Michael Evanari
Location: Southwestern Oregon (Jackson County), Zone 7
I know some of you guys are working with a cutting you bought or just have, but if the tree is nearby you could just bend one of the longer branches over and pin it to the ground with some rocks, about 8-10" from the tip. This works better with bushier plants. Also, it speeds it up if you push a bit of soil over the part you're pinning so it really has good contact to make roots. This works really well with roses!
Another thing I have found, in general is that those branches that shoot straight up [called watersprouts in aboriculture] are less attached to the tree so they are more willing to root for you. You'll see them in stressed out, or unnaturally shaped trees. Interesting tidbit, they do that because they know they are structurally unsound so they are making little them's to help support themselves, and as a contingency for continuance if they break up and can't get to the reproducing bit of life. [hope that bit made sense.. it did in my head XP] Same for sucker sprouts [for both cuttings at the supporting purpose]. You can just slice them off with a shovel and call it peachy. When neighbors have a tree that tends to do this, I like to offer to snip them off for them. You get good neighbor points and a tiny tree!
Then you just have to keep it nice and moist. If the branch is to big for a baggy you can get those really big produce bags at grocery stores that they have for lettuce. Just make sure you have something to keep it off of the actual cutting cause it can be a place for water to rest against the plant. So a bent willow branch or something works with it planted in some moss or shredded paper. I wouldn't go much bigger than a foot. The ratio of wood to root needs to be right or it just gives up, so don't give it to high of a wood ratio to meet. Oh and making the bottom be a diagonal cut exposes more meristematic tissue [think stem cells] which can grow to be the roots. [Love botany!]
Trying at maple cuttings pretty soon here. Good luck with the figs!
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. ~Frank Lloyd Wright