Finding good quality figs at stores can be quite the task. It can also be pretty pricey. In such conditions, it is a good idea to grow your fig trees at home.
Figs (ficus carica) are a part of the mulberry family. It’s not that difficult to grow a fig tree by yourself. A lot of home gardeners grow their own fig trees. It is a gratifying venture.
Fig trees produce large and beautiful leaves and fruits. They’ve often been maligned due to their role in the biblical tale of Adam and Eve. However, they are rather admirable plants that can conveniently be grown.
Let’s dive right in and have a look at how to grow a fig tree plant.
Selecting The Right Type
There are over 700 fig varieties, but not all of these varieties can be grown at home. Broadly, there are four categories of fig trees.
Caprifigs are not suited for home gardens as they do not bear fruit. They only produce male flowers, and their sole purpose is to pollinate their female counterparts.
These plants offer female flowers. They have to be pollinated by the male flower, a caprifig. They are not an excellent choice for a home gardener.
3. San Pedro
The San Pedro fig plant bears two different crops. One is on a leafless mature wood that does not require any pollination. The other crop is on new wood, and it needs to be pollinated by a male flower. San Pedro fig trees are not grown at home gardens.
If you want to grow figs at home, these are the correct picks. They do not have pollination requirements. Since they do not require pollination, they do not have the opening that allows pollinating wasps into the internal flowers. Therefore, they are less prone to rot caused by rainwater or insects that enter the fruit.
Within common figs, certain varieties are suited for growing in home gardens.
1. Alma Figs
The fruits produced by these trees are wonderfully rich in flavor. They ripen late in the season.
These are brown or purple figs that grow on large trees. The fruits are small to medium in size. Celeste figs are dessert quality fruits and ripen earlier than most of the other types. Being one of the sweetest figs it is called “sugar fig”.
3. Purple Genca
These are a large, deep purple variety of figs with sweet red flesh. Purple Genca is also known as Black Spanish or Black Genoa.
4. Brown Turkey
Brown Turkey crops offer big and delicious figs over a long season. The fruits have few seeds and an attractive flesh.
Visit your local nursery to find out which type of common figs suit your climate best.
How To Grow Fig Tree Plant In Containers
Figs need plenty of sunshine. They don’t grow well in colder areas, where temperatures plunge below 10 degrees. If you want to grow figs in an area north of zones 7, it is best to plant them in containers.
Select a large container, similar to the container sold at nurseries for patio fruit trees. Plastic containers are beneficial in controlling weight. The container should be several inches wider and deeper than the root ball.
With the help of regular potting mix, plant figs at the same height at which they grew in the nursery. If you have compost, use it to cover the top of the container plants. Always use high-quality potting soil that offers good drainage.
When the soil is dry an inch below the surface, it’s time to water the plant. Inadequate watering may leave the plant dry and make the leaf drop. While leaves can regrow, the fruit production of the gif plant will be affected.
The Perfect Spot To Grow Figs
Fig trees, like most fruit trees, need a lot of sunlight and elbow room to thrive. When planting a fig tree, pick a spot that receives a minimum of six hours of sun exposure every day.
If you’re in colder climates, your fig tree will need winter protection. Provide southern exposure to the plants or place them near a south-facing wall that retains heat.
Be careful not to crowd the plants. Depending on the variety you pick, check the mature size of the tree. Since these trees are self-pollinating, there is no need to grow multiple plants and fill your backyard. Instead, plant fewer trees, but give them plenty of room to grow and spread.
The roots of fig trees also need a lot of space. Plant your tree somewhere the root system gets enough room to roam. This is especially important for warmer climates, where the trees grow much more aggressively.
The hardiness zone for a fig tree is 8, 9, 10, and 11. You should avoid growing figs in an area north of zones 6. If you do, look for the most cold-tolerant cultivars. Move the tree indoors for winter temperatures. Figs can stay green all winter long in a greenhouse.
The Best Time To Grow Figs
Do you want to search for the perfect time to grow figs? The ideal time to plant fig trees is during late winter or early spring. At this time, trees are still dormant once the frost leaves the ground.
Planting fig trees in the fall may be counterproductive. It does not give the root system enough time to start growing before the plant goes dormant for the winter or the ground ends up freezing.
Nourishment For Fig Trees
To ensure the well-being of your fig tree and its products, you need to focus on its food, soil, and water requirements.
For a healthy start, add well-rotted compost or composted manure to the planting area. Spreading a 2 to a 3-inch thick layer of compost over mulch under the fig during spring will offer enough nutrition to your fig tree.
You can boost your tree with a fertilizer rich in phosphorus and potassium early on in the growing season. Try not to use fertilizers that have high nitrogen, as they support lush, green foliage growth.
Seaweed extract can also be a good solution if you see your tree looking a little paltry. Just apply it twice a week throughout the active growing season.
Figs need water abundantly in the early spring. It is at this time that the stems start shooting, and the fruits begin to form. However, when it comes to established in-ground figs, they only need to be watered during drought. On a weekly basis, provide the tree with one inch of water during the active growing season.
Figs p0tted in containers are susceptible to splitting if they receive sudden bursts of water, such as a thunderstorm.
Fig trees thrive in well-draining soil. They do not prefer loams or clays. Sandy soil is ideal for growing figs. Soil pH is not a very important concern when growing ficus carica.
Moreover, the soil needs to be loosened, in case you’re using heavier soils. Organic matter such as well-rotted manure or finished compost can help in loosening up the soil. They need to be worked 18 to 24 inches deep into the soil.
Caring For Fig Trees
Certain tips can be helpful in caring for fig trees.
- Apply mulch around the trees to prevent weeds and lock in moisture for the roots.
- A fig tree does not need to be fertilized unless it’s being grown in a container. However, if it grows less than 12 inches in a season, add half to one pound of nitrogen supplement into the soil over three to four feedings. The best time to begin is late winter, and to end is midsummer.
- Water young trees regularly to establish them. For dry climates, the fig trees should be watered deeply at least once a week.
- In colder areas, do not forget to move all container planting indoors. They will not survive in the garden.
- During the dormant phase, get rid of all dead, weak, or diseased branches. It helps in promoting growth.
- If you have an abundant growth of fig trees, thin the fruit to encourage larger figs.
- Invest in good bird netting to keep your crops safe.
Apart from the aforementioned care tips, you should also consider pruning every once in a while.
Figs don’t require much pruning during the first few years. They just need a little thinning or head backing to control size. While it is safe to prune at any point in the growing season, spring pruning can encourage larger fruit growth.
A few things to keep in mind while pruning:
- Shorten branches that become too tall by removing a third to a half of the entire stem.
- Remove any dead wood or branches that rub.
- Wear non-porous gloves, as figs produce a milky, latex-like sap that may cause skin irritation.
- In lower temperatures, if figs die to the ground, spring pruning may promote new growth.
- To check if stems are living or dead, scrape the bark with a fingernail. Alive stems will show green, whereas brown or gray means that the stem is dead.
Fig trees need proper air circulation. Removing stems helps the tree breathe well as well as yield higher quality figs.
Understanding The Process
Pruning for figs is quite simple. All you need to do is, use a shovel and disconnect suckers that sprout from the roots during the growing season.
By taking cuttings, you can propagate figs. However, the easier method is to bend a low-growing branch and secure it to the ground or the soil of a container, using a U-shaped wire. Cover it lightly with soil or rocks if it resists being buried. As soon as the stem has rooted, you need to sever it from the mother plant using pruning shears.
In lower temperatures, you can expect only one harvest during the fall or late in the summer. However, in warmer areas, you can go about harvesting figs twice, once in June and then again in late summer.
You need to be well aware of the maturity color of the cultivars you plant to get a fair idea of when your fruits have ripened. Some fig cultivars turn golden upon ripening, whereas others may turn gold or even green.
Unripe figs are firm and green. They stay perpendicular to the branch. If you pick them, the fruit will be grainy and hard. It may also lack sweetness.
When the time for harvesting figs arrives, check the tree daily for ripe fruits. Ripe figs are soft to touch. Fruits start drooping down from the branch. Their skin may begin splitting. Only harvest fruits that are completely ripe because fig fruits do not continue to ripen off the tree.
Most trees start offering ripened figs after three to five years. Figs potted in containers may provide fruit sooner.
Storing Fig Fruits
Figs are highly perishable. Fresh figs will keep well in the refrigerator for no longer than two to three days. If you want to store them for longer, try drying or freezing them.
To dry, thoroughly wash the fresh figs and dry with a towel. Place the fruit on a wire rack, either in whole or halved. Place the wire rack on top of a baking sheet. Bake in a 140F oven for eight hours or longer. You could also try using a dehydrator.
Pests And Diseases
Several pests and diseases may attack a fig tree. Let us have a look at some of the common ones and how to manage them.
1. Fig Rust
If you see the leaves of your fruit tree develop small orange spots that increase in size with time, use copper-based fungicides. This is fig rust and may even cause the leaves to droop.
2. Root Knot Nematodes
These can be observed as bumps or knots on the root systems of the fig tree. Over the ground, they lead to trees looking unhealthy and stunted. To be sure, send a sample of your soil for diagnostics. It’s the only way to know if your figs actually suffer from nematodes.
As the infestation worsens, there will be more galls and bumps on the roots. It’ll hamper root growth, and the tree will not be able to take up nutrients efficiently. It may lead to the death of the tree.
While there is no cure for nematodes, prevention is possible. Get your soil tested before planting. If it is already infested, fumigate the soil.
3. Fig Mosaic
You may notice some large yellow spots on your fig tree leaves. Gradually, the spot gets surrounded by a rust-colored ring. It may cause the leaves to be smaller or the fruits to drop. The best way to treat fig mosaic is to remove and destroy all the affected trees.
You can grow figs in your home garden without much fuss. Pick a variety that thrives in your living conditions. There are few things you should keep in mind before planting a fig tree. Always check the hardiness zones and ensure that the roots have enough space and sun required for different varieties.
You should be responsible gardeners and ensure proper care for your trees. All varieties need to be treated differently, and as gardeners, you should be well aware of these needs.
If your garden receives enough sun in a day and you have the time to care for your plants, you will be able to grow figs successfully!
James Fields is the founder of Gardener to Farmer. His passion for gardening goes back to his childhood days when he would visit his grandfather during the holidays and help him with the plants in the backyard. This has now translated to creating a dependable resource for gardening.