Fig trees are among those plants that many gardeners, especially fruit lovers, find a joy to grow. If you are into gardening and you are interested in growing a tree, then figs should be on top of your choices.
By planting fig trees, you will not only enjoy easy access to their fruits but also find them really fascinating as they serve as very impressive ornamental plants.
Quick Facts About Figs (Ficus Carica)
- Common name: Fig tree, edible fig
- Botanical name: Ficus carica
- Type of plant: Fruit tree
- Sun exposure: Full sunlight
- Mature size: 10 to 30 feet wide; 10 to 30 feet tall
- Soil pH and type: Neutral; moist, organically rich, well-draining soil
- Color of flowers: Green
- Bloom time: Seasonal
- Hardiness zones: USDA zones 8 to 11
Fig Tree Basics
Fresh figs are sweet and flavorful treats that will surely make you enjoy the sunny climates even more. These are among those fruit trees that are worthwhile to grow because aside from producing delicious fruits, they also have scented and attractive foliage that makes your garden look even better.
It is a native plant to Western Asia. You can also find it being spread, cultivated, and grown throughout the Mediterranean. This fruit tree that can provide you with a delicious fruit can also survive well in areas with arid and warm climates.
People from different parts of the world enjoyed these delicious sweet treats for thousands of years already. This tree’s history even goes back to 5,000 BC. Several historians classify figs as part of those crops known for being the first ones to get domesticated.
Fig can be derived from the edible fig tree or common fig tree. It belongs to a genus that has almost one thousand tree species from the mulberry family. The majority of the trees that belong to the genus can be classified as massive tropical trees capable of producing latex instead of fruits.
You can expect figs to ripen on the tree in their entirety. This makes it different from some fruit varieties that tend to ripen after picking them. This is the reason why they no longer reach large distributors, supermarkets, and even specialist fruit tree supplier.
To enjoy the fig, therefore, you should consider buying it from the farmer’s market. Growing figs on your own is also a great idea as doing so gives you the opportunity to enjoy them anytime once the season to harvest figs come.
Why Should You Grow Figs?
One thing that makes most fig trees so special to gardeners is the fact that they are easy to grow. They are also special and distinctive in the sense that they have flowers that yield fruits without the need for any pollination.
You can also expect this tree to have relatively fast growth. It can reach around 20 to 30 feet and its width is also almost the same. Moreover, it has deeply lobed leaves with each one being around 4 to 8 inches wide.
Another thing that makes it distinctive and special is that unlike other fruit trees, it is only necessary to grow one fig as a means of enjoying its fruits. You also have a few ways to enjoy the fruits. You can choose to eat fresh figs or eat them directly from the tree. You can also bake or preserve them.
Aside from being easy and convenient to grow, figs also serve as attractive landscape trees. This is the reason why many also look at figs as among the best ornamental plants.
Fig Trees and their Varieties
The first thing that you should do when planning to grow fig trees is, of course, to check out their different varieties. Note that the figs that you can access in the market come in different types. Some of them are very popular and common because of how hardy they are.
When choosing a fig variety, make sure to find those that tend to grow really well in your area or region. It is advisable, though, to check the ones that are versatile enough that they can survive in various locations. These varieties often include the Osborne, brown turkey, and Brunswick figs.
Figs also come in various colors. You can find purple, brown, and green ones. Every fig variety or type also tends to ripen at varying types of the year. As much as possible, visit a reliable nursery in your locality or contact the agricultural extension in your place so you can get those varieties that are perfect for your local environment and climate.
Basically, they tend to grow successfully in desert-like, tropical, and warm areas. This means that large fig varieties also have a higher chance of growing well in such environments.
Now to give you an idea about the different fig varieties that you can choose from, here are the most common ones:
Brown Turkey or Brown Naples
This variety is considered the most famous one that is ideal for outdoor growth in the UK. The reason why the Brunwick is one of the best outdoor fig trees is that it boasts of its reliable and prolific nature.
You can also choose to grow the Brunswick, which is a hardy fig variety with the ability to grow and survive well outdoors, even in the cooler areas of the UK. It produces sweet and large fruits with pink and yellow flesh, as well as green skin.
Violette de Bordeaux
Another fig variety known for its hardiness, the Violette de Bordeaux can be seen growing well in the gardens located at the Palace of Versailles. This is very close to Paris. This tree produces small black or purple fruits recognized for their sweet and delicious taste as well as their fragrance.
If you are looking for a compact yet hardy variety that will work well in your small garden, the Dalmatie is an ideal choice. You can expect this plant to produce figs, specifically large fruits featuring amber flesh.
Madeleine des Deux Saisons
This heritage variety’s name can be translated into Madeleine of two seasons. The reason is that it is capable of giving gardeners two crops every fig tree growing season, specifically around June and September, the time when the UK experiences its hot summers. It has round fruits with delicate pink and sweet flesh.
San Pedro fig
This variety is also capable of producing two fruit crops every season. You can expect the first crop to experience growth on its old branches. The fruit of this variety also develops even without the need for cross-pollination.
During the latter parts of the season, expect this fig tree to develop another fruit crop and you can see it being produced on new growth. Note, though, that this crop often just drops from the tree prior to maturity in case there is no cross-pollination.
This variety comes with male and female flowers. Fruit production will occur successfully only if it gets visited by a wasp regularly, which is not often found in the US. One thing to note about the fruit of this fig variety, though, is that it is not edible.
You can’t also expect caprifig to be that useful when it comes to producing fruits on their own. Despite that, they are still indispensable as they are effective pollinators of other fig tree varieties and types.
The Celeste fig variety is also very popular because of its great taste and sweetness. It has an exterior that is light brown to violet in color. This variety also has strawberry-red meat.
The sweetness of this variety is one reason why many also refer to it as the honey fig or the sugar fig. Aside from being sweet, Celeste figs are also very refreshing, making them perfect for you if you intend to eat fresh figs or prepare preserves from them. They are also among the most productive fig varieties as they can produce plenty of fruits even on small trees.
Where Should You Plant a Fig Tree?
The first thing to do when trying to select a location for your fig tree is to decide whether you should plant it in a container or the ground. Both choices have their individual advantages and disadvantages. However, your decision will depend on the specific hardiness zone in the particular area where you are living in.
For instance, if your living location falls under zones 8 to 11, the ground will be a safe planting location for the fig tree but you have to make sure that there is protection from the winter. Meanwhile, those who live in zones with colder winter have to cultivate a potted fig tree – that is plant the fig in containers.
It is then crucial to bring the potted figs or container grown fig trees indoors once the climate becomes too cold.
When Should You Plant Figs?
The best time to plant and grow figs is during the months when the early spring or late winter seasons fall in your location, the time when trees are in their dormant phase. It is also the time when the frost finally leaves the ground. This is in case the ground freezes due to the cold winter.
Do not plant this tree during the fall as much as possible. The reason is that this season will be unable to provide enough time for your plant’s root system to begin growing before it gets to its dormant phase when the winter comes and causes the ground to freeze.
Selecting the Perfect Fig Tree to Grow
In general, you can find over 200 fig cultivars that are growing in North America. These cultivars also have fruits that differ extensively in colors and shapes. During the selection of variety, ensure that you pick one that adapts well to your climate, like Brown Turkey.
Find a self-pollinating cultivar, too. The reason is that small and specialized flies may be needed to pollinate figs. You can’t therefore, expect the trees to set fruits in the absence of the pollinating flies. As much as possible, buy figs that are only self-pollinating from reputable nurseries in your place.
How to Plant Fig Fruit Trees?
For you to start to plant and grow figs, get a solid and sturdy digging shovel then use it in digging a hole in the ground. The planting hole should be a bit bigger than the tree’s root system. It also has to be around twice or thrice as wide as the fig tree’s roots.
Moreover, it needs to have a depth of around two to three inches. This is the required depth whether you decide to grow container grown figs or those bare-rooted ones. The next thing that you should do is massage the roots and spread them out.
Be extra careful when doing so to avoid breaking them or causing any form of damage to them. The next thing you have to do is to set it on a mound full of loose dirt at the hole’s bottom part.
Set it in such a way that the soil level is deeper by just a couple of inches compared to when you plant and grow figs at a similar level or in an original pot. Use your foot to tamp down the soil gently while you are also filling in the hole.
Try to get rid of every existing air pocket without causing soil compaction around the plant’s roots. This is to ensure that it will not restrict root growth.
Form a bit of depression or bowl while reaching the top part of each hole. This will let the water naturally settle in the area surrounding the tree. Avoid mounding the soil in the area that surrounds the trunk.
In case you decided to plant bare-root trees, reduce the topmost part of the tree’s branches to just around half an inch of their original length. The next thing to do is to spread a few inches of mulch at the tree’s base. Keep it away from the bark, should be around three inches.
Once done, you can start watering or adding moisture to your newly planted tree. Go slowly. Make sure that the water is already absorbed before you add more. There is a high chance for the water to help in making the soil settle around the plant’s roots. With that, you can eliminate formed air pockets once you filled in the hole.
Planting Fig Trees in Container
In case the climate in your location is incapable of supporting your fig trees when grown outdoors, you can rest assured that you will still be able to grow them. An effective way to make that happen is to use containers.
You can expect container grown trees to be completely prolific, making it possible for them to produce a lot of tasty fruits even if you do not plant them outdoors. The following are the steps you should take in planting fig trees in the container.
Look for a container suitable for fig trees
For small cuttings or trees, choose a container with a minimum depth of around 12 to 14 inches. You can expect small pots to work well during the first few years. In fact, figs are said to be capable of growing well even when it is experiencing a kind of restricting root growth.
Take note that you will have to transplant them into bigger pots eventually, so you can also space fig trees sufficiently.
Prepare soil-based potting mix
Use this potting mix to fill the container. Do not forget to add fine bark chips as a means of improving drainage. Also, remember that figs are not fond of extremely wet and soggy soil, so the container should drain well as a means of releasing water from the soil.
Look for an area that receives full sunlight
Ensure that the area where you place the container for your fig tree receives full sunlight the entire summer. Ensure that you also get to use a high-nitrogen fertilizer to fertilize the plant every four weeks.
Take your fig tree indoors
Do this during the winter. When that season comes, take the fig tree grown in a container indoors. You can put it in your unheated garage or a shed.
When indoors, do not forget to monitor its growth. Once you notice the tree getting larger, it would be much better to upgrade into a slightly larger container, one with a capacity of around 10 to 20 gallons.
Caring for Fig Trees
Now that you know how to plant and grow fig trees, it is time to give them proper care and attention. The good thing about these fruiting crops is their easygoing nature. They can also thrive even if you only give them minimal care.
In that case, your focus areas should include the following: they can encourage higher fruit yields and better growth.
Fig trees have to be grown in a sunny location – one guaranteed to receive full sun as well as partial shade. Like other fruit-bearing trees, figs also need to be soaked in a lot of sunlight to produce a higher yield.
Exposing the trees to the sun for at least seven to eight hours is advisable. Note, though, that fig trees still have this ability to grow even when exposed to less sun. However, there may be a significant reduction in the number of fruits they can yield.
The common fig is also very versatile in the sense that it can grow in various types of soils, including light sands, heavy clays, and rich organic loams. You just have to make sure that they have sufficient drainage.
Never grow figs in highly acidic soils, though, as it can’t tolerate such conditions. It is crucial to stick to the recommended pH level of around 6.0 to 6.5. Figs are also capable of handling moderate salinity. With that, they are ideal for coasting planting. They may not work, however, on shorefront landscapes.
The drought-tolerant nature of fig trees is one of the reasons they do not need that much water most of the year. Note, though, that during those times when the tree has fruits, there is a high chance that it will favor being in soil that is consistently moist.
Avoid giving your figs insufficient moisture as this can greatly affect the size and quality of the fruit. If you want it to be able to retain moisture correctly, mulch it using quality organic mulch. Do the mulching around the base of the tree as it can truly contribute to keeping the soil moist.
Basically, you will have to water newly planted and cultivated trees frequently until you were able to establish their root systems. You can start watering the tree less once getting a well-established root system.
As a guide, give the tree an inch of water every week when in the active growing season. You can give them water through scheduled irrigation or rain.
There is a high possibility for the fig tree to survive in places that experience mild winters and long and hot summers. This is the reason why they seem to be more popular in Western and Southern climates.
When in a place with a colder climate, you can view them as container plants, making it possible for you to grow them in a greenhouse or indoors. The fig also seems to grow successfully in hardiness zones 8 to 11.
If you are in a place that experienced colder climates and has very severe winters, you can still grow figs but choose hardy cultivars. You can still grow them outdoors but ensure that they receive proper protection.
For climates that are lower than zone 8, ensure that the figs are planted in containers. That way, you can easily take them indoors once the winter season comes.
Humidity and Temperature
Figs are only capable of tolerating temperatures that are around 10 to 20 degrees F. This tree also requires a somewhat dry climate that also has light early spring rains. One crucial fact about this tree that you should also know is that once you start to have a ripe fig, being exposed to the wet season may only hurt it.
It may cause the crop’s fruits to get spoiled and split. It would be best to grow figs in a semi-arid climate and a warm temperature in case there is no irrigation.
Another impressive fact about the fig tree is that it is low-maintenance. There is a high chance for it to grow happily even with just minimal or zero use of fertilizer. The reason is that the tree is capable of pulling its required nutrients not only from the soil but also from organic matter.
However, take note that anytime you need to improve the ability of your tree to grow well, it is advisable to feed it using a fertilizer rich in potassium and phosphorus during the early growing season. Make it a point to follow all the instructions indicated on the label.
If possible, avoid using fertilizers rich in nitrogen. The reason is that it only promotes green and lush growth rather than the development of fruits. It also helps to apply seaweed extract once every two weeks during the tree’s active growing season in case it appears a bit paltry.
How to Prune Fig Trees?
One reason behind the popularity of fig trees among homeowners is that compared to other fruit trees, they also require only minimal pruning. In most cases, they are only capable of retaining a tidy and neat appearance without any intervention from you.
Despite not growing into an unruly size, part of caring for fig trees will always involve pruning them once they become dormant during the fall. In that case, you have to prune the diseased or dead branches of the tree to improve its look. Do a little pruning annually to ensure that the tree will stay at a manageable size, promoting ease when you reach the season to harvest figs.
For trees with plenty of fruits overloading them during the growing season, it helps to thin them out to encourage tastier and fewer fruit once the next season comes. The good thing about pruning is that it can also result in not only healthier and better growth but also the prevention of diseases.
Remember that you should avoid doing it for your fig tree during the spring when it comes to pruning. The reason is it may only result in the prune bleeding sap, which can weaken and potentially kill the fig.
Overwintering the Figs
If you are living in a place with temperatures that tend to go down to 10 degrees F and even lower, you have to make it a point to plant the fig’s cold-hardy varieties, including Brown turkey. However, note that even if your fig is hardy, you still have to take the necessary steps to keep it protected from the harsh effects of the cold winter.
One crucial tip is to take your trees grown in containers indoors once the winter months come. Let the tree lose every leaf it has while outside before bringing it indoors, specifically inside your dry and cool place. A lot of people prefer an attached basement or garage that can provide the tree with a cooler temperature.
You can bring back the tree outdoors once again once you notice that the temperature remains consistent at around 35 degrees and above at night during the spring season. As far as overwintering figs is concerned, one more tip is to give the plant simple insulation.
This should give your figs planted in the ground effective protection from the winter. Create a cage that will surround the tree’s trunk with the help of a chicken wire that you can wrap using burlap. You should then use straw or dried leaves to fill it up.
Do not use plastic to wrap the tree trunk as it may only lead to the tree overheating during the sunny season. You can remove the insulation and cage once the temperature starts to climb during the spring season. Clean up the area surrounding the tree to lower the risk of experiencing insect issues or diseases.
One thing to remember about figs is that you can’t expect them to continue ripening upon taking them out of the tree. This makes it necessary to harvest the fruits only when you are sure that they are already fully ripe.
One sign that your tree already has ripe figs, making it ready for an abundant harvest, is when the fruits get their full colors. They are also slightly soft when touched. Ensure that you have done complete research on the specific fig type or variety you are growing.
That way, you will know exactly the basics of harvesting figs correctly. Some species, for instance, are capable of growing two crops annually, so prepare for that period. In case there are birds that tend to go after the ripe fruits, the best thing you can do to protect the fruits would be to spread a netting on top.
Once harvested, you should remember that figs are perishable. This means you can only store them for around 2 to 3 days in your fridge. Before the harvest, ensure that you already have a plan for your intended use for them, so you won’t end up wasting anything.
To lengthen the life of your harvested figs, you may want to freeze figs while whole so you can use them for later. You may also choose to dehydrate them as they tend to bring out more flavors in that case. One more thing that you can do to make your harvested figs last longer is to can them.
Pests and Problems to Watch Out for
While fig trees are generally easy to grow and do not require a lot of care and maintenance, they are still not immune to pests and problems. To give you an idea, here are the common pests and problems you should watch out for as they may affect the growth of your figs:
This disease can often be detected when you notice tiny black, brown, or yellow spots appearing on the plant’s leaves. Eventually, the affected fig leaves will enlarge. They will merge and infect the whole plant.
The fig mosaic is a disease that causes the development of large yellow spots on the tree’s leaves. There will also be a ring colored in rust that will gradually surround the site. The problem with fig mosaic is that it tends to destroy the tree, which is why you must get rid of and destroy every infested one before spreading it even further.
Another disease that may affect your fig tree is fig rust, which causes the leaves to develop tiny spots in yellow to orange. There is a high chance for the spots to enlarge slowly then spread once the season progresses. It will also cause the plant’s leaves to drop off eventually.
The presence of scale is a major problem as it has the tendency of infecting the bark of young branches and twigs. They are actually encrusted with small raised bumps that are hard and scaly and have yellow centers.
You may also see these spots on the fruits of your fig. They tend to weaken the tree slowly as they feed on its sap. You can use neem oil and insecticidal soap to control the scale.
The mealybug refers to an annoying small pest. Basically, these pests are oval-shaped while being around one-fourth-inch long. Naturally, mealybugs lay eggs that are yellow to orange in color.
It is also possible for them to overwinter on trees that can be found inside branch crotches and loose bark. They are among the most unwanted pests in any fruit tree, including figs, as they don’t only cause damage to the fruit but also encourage black sooty mold to form.
If you are still unfamiliar with root-knot nematodes, then note that they refer to tiny microscopic worms feeding on your plant’s roots. They also tend to burrow into the plant’s root system.
There is also a high chance for you to notice red to brown lesions when pulling up your plant. If they infect your plant, make sure to remove them right away. Destroying every infected plant is also necessary to prevent them from spreading further.
General Tips in Preventing Fig Problems and Diseases
In general, fig trees do not suffer that much from diseases or insect problems, especially when grown in North America. However, there are still a few things that you can do to indeed prevent that from happening.
One is to provide netting to the plant to ensure that you continue to drive birds away. You can also prevent ants from climbing up and reaching the fruits by spreading some wood arches around the tree’s base. Watering the plants well is also crucial in preventing leaf drops, especially if you decided to grow them in containers.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do you need 2 fig trees to produce fruit?
No. The reason is the self-fertile nature of fig trees. In other words, they will not need one more fig tree that is close to it to bear fruit through cross-pollination. This makes the fig ideal for home gardens with smaller spaces.
How long does it take for a fig tree to bear fruit?
Around three to four years after you plant it. There is a high chance of your fig tree starting fruit production as early as May. It will continue up to the first frost around November in a few areas. Some varieties produce fruits twice yearly – once during summer or spring and once during the fall.
What is the most common fig tree?
The Ficus carica. Many consider it the most popular species as it has flowers that no longer require pollination to produce figs.
Do fig trees prefer shade or the sun?
Figs prefer to be in full sunlight. This is especially true when they are already in their growing season. The need for full sun is also one of the reasons why they are very resistant to dry weather and high temperatures.
What is special about the fig tree?
One thing that makes the fig tree so special is its long and rich history. It has been around for over 5,000 years already. It also has a unique root system that tolerates even drought conditions, making it worthy of earning a desert king title.
Another nice thing about the fig is that it works perfectly for containers. Even if it grows fast and really big, you can still grow figs successfully in containers. You just have to limit the height to ten feet and make sure to prune it regularly.
Like most fruit trees, there are many reasons to grow your own figs. If you are thinking of planting fig trees, then do not hesitate to start doing it now. This tree will definitely be a great addition to your garden plus it can withstand harsh conditions, including the drought, making it a true desert king.