Sweet, delicious and productive: fig trees are easy to grow using these tips.
The day we planted our fig trees, I imagined sweet and delicious fruit dripping from their branches within the year. The reality was a little less fruitful, given that I didn’t have the information I needed to help my trees thrive and quickly produce their first crop.
Thankfully, with the right details at your fingertips, growing a fig tree can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for any gardener. Not only are figs delicious and high in nutrients, they are also beautiful trees perfect for a variety of settings. If you’re interested in growing your own edible figs, here are the steps you can follow to ensure success.
Choosing the right variety
Chicago Hardy? Violette de Bordeaux? No, those aren’t the names of craft beers or wines. They’re just a few of the many varieties of fig trees available in the US today. The type you choose will depend on your climate and growing conditions.
Most fig varieties are suited to growing in USDA hardiness zones 7-11 where mild winters and long, hot summers help fig trees fruit reliably without the additional protection from winter cold.
There are some varieties of figs that can tolerate the colder temperatures found in USDA hardiness zones 5 and 6, but they may require extra winter protection. This involves wrapping the tree or planting in a sheltered location.
While there’s nothing better than checking with your local extension agent to see what varieties are suited to your area, we’ve listed some popular varieties below.
- Brown Turkey: This is a common variety of fig tree that is known for its sweet, juicy fruit born in heavy crops. One of the hardiest fig trees around, it can tolerate a range of growing conditions, making it a popular choice for backyard gardeners. Brown turkey fig trees will mature to be 10-25′ tall, and 10-25′ wide. They’re good for zones 5-9.
- Chicago Hardy: This variety of fig tree is known for its ability to withstand cold temperatures and harsh growing conditions. It produces medium-sized fruit with a sweet, rich flavor. This tree will mature to be 10-15′ tall, and 10-12′ wide. It’s perfect for zones 6-9.
- Violette de Bordeaux: An heirloom variety, this sweet purple fruit ripens in late summer right through fall. It’s perfect for a smaller space or containers and is sometimes referred to as Negronne. Violette de Bordeaux/Negronne will mature to be 6-10′ tall, and 10′ wide. It’s a good fit for zones 6-10.
- Celeste: Also known as the “honey” fig, Celeste is a small, sweet fruit with a delicate flavor. It is a relatively small tree that can be grown in containers or in the ground, making it a popular choice for urban gardeners. Celeste grows best in zones 7-10.
- Black Mission: This is a popular variety of fig tree that produces large, sweet fruit with a dark purple skin. It is a vigorous tree that can grow quite large (up to 40 feet tall and 50 feet wide), making it a good choice for larger gardens. Black Mission figs grow best in zones 7-10.
- Kadota: This variety of fig tree is known for its large, green fruit with a sweet, mild flavor
Pick the right location.
Once you find the fig tree right for your growing zone, consider the location on your property. Fig trees like to be in full sun and need well-draining soil. You can grow them in containers or in the ground, but they require plenty of space. Make sure you choose a location that is sheltered from strong winds and that has plenty of room for the tree to spread out. Some of the larger varieties have roots that can become invasive or crowd out other plants if left to spread indiscriminately.
Ensure your soil is balanced.
Fig trees prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. The ideal soil for fig trees is loose, loamy, and slightly acidic, with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Soil that’s too heavy or compacted can cause drainage problems and limit root growth. Soil that’s too sandy or lacks organic matter can dry out quickly and provide poor nutrition for the tree.
If your soil is heavy or poorly drained, you can improve it by adding organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure. This will help to improve soil structure and aeration, increase drainage, and provide essential nutrients to the tree. You can also add sand or gravel to the soil to improve drainage, especially if you are planting the fig tree in a low-lying area.
If you’re growing your edible fig in a container, use a soilless potting mix. The University of New Hampshire Extension Office recommends a blend high in organic matter (e.g. compost or shredded bark) and absorbent materials (vermiculite or perlite). Other additions include sand, nutrients and a source of lime.
It’s important to note that fig trees are relatively tolerant of a wide range of soil types, so if your soil is not ideal, don’t worry. With a bit of soil amendment and regular care, your fig tree should still grow and produce fruit for many years to come.
Planting your fig tree.
When planting a fig tree, make sure the hole is at least twice as wide as the root ball. Fill the hole with a mixture of compost and soil, and make sure the tree is planted at the same level it was in the pot. Water the tree well after planting. The best time to plant a fig tree is during early spring. This will give the plant ample time to establish a strong root system before the next cold snap.
Caring for your fig tree
Fig trees like to be kept consistently moist, but they do not like to be waterlogged. Water the tree deeply once a week, and more often during periods of drought.
Since figs are heavy feeders, they require regular fertilization to grow. Use a balanced organic fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and apply it every 4-6 weeks during the growing season.
Pruning your tree
Fig trees require routine pruning, particularly in the first five years as you help your tree establish a central leader and preferred growing shape. After the first growing season, while your tree is still dormant, prune back up to half of the previous year’s new growth, selecting the strongest branches and a sturdy trunk. In subsequent years, remove any suckers that appear around or on the trunk, and continue to trim back some of the previous year’s growth to further strengthen the tree.
Once established, your tree will need routine light pruning to remove any dead or diseased wood and to maintain its shape. Keep the canopy open by pruning back any branches that are getting too long or that are crossing over other branches. Prune the remaining branches to encourage new growth and fruit production.
Figs are ready to be harvested when they are soft and have a slightly wrinkled skin. Pick gently from fruiting trees, being careful not to damage the tree or the fruit. Once harvested, you have a number of great options:
- Eat them fresh: Figs are delicious when eaten fresh, and they make a great snack or addition to a cheese platter or fruit salad.
- Make preserves: Figs can be made into jams, jellies, and other preserves, which can be enjoyed throughout the year.
- Dry them: Dried figs are a tasty treat that you can use in a variety of recipes, from granola and trail mix to baked goods and desserts. You can also take them on camping trips for a dose of sweetness.
- Roast them: Roasting figs can bring out their natural sweetness and make them a delicious addition to savory dishes like roasted meats or salads.
Troubleshooting problems with edible figs
No matter how you care for your figs, problems can sometimes appear. Here are some of the most common, along with our favorite solutions.
Improving fruit production
Does your tree bear fruit much smaller than average, even though it’s well established? Or are your figs few and far between, despite your best efforts? Getting the most from your fig trees involves a few key steps.
- Allowing your tree to mature: If your tree is very small or you just planted it into the ground, you may need to wait a year or two before seeing the fruits of your labor. Fig trees need to reach maturity before they will fruit, usually three to five years. However, some varieties will fruit within one to two years and potted figs may bear fruit sooner. Be sure you know the approximate fruiting age of your fig before intervening.
- Routine pruning: Pruning helps stimulate the tree to produce more fruit. As noted above, prune your fig tree during the dormant season, before the new growth begins. Fig trees bear fruit on new wood, so you won’t risk damaging the year’s crop.
- Test your sunlight: Fig trees need eight hours of sunlight daily to thrive. Use a sunlight calculator or app to see if your struggling tree is getting the light it needs to bear fruit.
Consider the weather: If your area experiences a very hot period before the fruit is ripe, fruit may be smaller or of poor quality. Help your tree weather the heat by applying mulch to its base or providing a temporary shade cloth.
- Fertilize your fig tree: Figs are heavy feeders and require regular fertilization to produce a bountiful crop. Use a balanced fertilizer and apply it to the base of the tree in the spring and again in the summer. Avoid overapplying, since this can also affect fruit production.
- Water your fig tree regularly: Fig trees need consistent moisture to produce fruit, but they don’t like to be waterlogged. Water your fig tree deeply once a week during the growing season, and more frequently during hot and dry weather. Make sure the soil is moist but not saturated using drip irrigation or soaker hoses. Too much water can cause figs to split on the tree.
Dealing with pests and disease
There are different issues that can affect fig trees, though careful tending will usually prevent most problems from surfacing. If you do see issues on your fig tree, consider the following:
- Fig Rust: This fungal disease causes rust-colored spots on the leaves of the fig tree. It can lead to defoliation, stunted growth and reduced fruit production. To control, remove infected leaves or branches. Avoid overhead watering and instead water at the base of the tree. Use an organic, copper-based fungicide as a last resort.
- Fig Mosaic Virus: This viral disease causes yellowing, mosaic-like patterns on leaves, and can lead to reduced fruit production. While there is no cure for fig mosaic virus, you can limit the spread by removing and destroying infected plants and using horticultural oil. Use certified virus-free plants and practice good sanitation to prevent transmission.
- Fig Beetle: A pest that feeds on the fruit and leaves of the fig tree, the fig beetle reduces fruit quality. Handpick and dispose of adult beetles when they appear. Use sticky traps to catch the beetles before they burrow into the fruit. Apply organic controls such as neem oil, insecticidal soap, or pyrethrin-based insecticides when populations are high.
- Fig Whitefly: The whitefly feeds on the leaves of the fig tree, causing yellowing and stunted growth. Use reflective mulch to deter whiteflies and sticky traps to catch and monitor. Introduce natural predators such as ladybugs and lacewings. Use organic controls like insecticidal soap, neem oil, or pyrethrin-based insecticides as a last resort.
- Fig Moth: The fig moth lays its eggs in the fruit of the fig tree, causing damage and reducing fruit quality. Apply insecticidal soap or neem oil to the fruit at the first sign of infestation. Use pheromone traps to catch male moths before they mate.
- Fig Borer: This pest burrows into the branches of the fig tree, causing damage and reducing fruit production. Remove and destroy any infested branches. Use sticky traps to catch adult borers. Apply beneficial nematodes to the soil to control larvae.
- Fruit Rot: Fruit rot is a fungal disease that causes fruit to rot and become unusable. To prevent fruit rot, harvest fruit promptly when ripe. Store fruit in a cool, dry place. Use organic fungicides such as copper-based fungicides or sulfur-based fungicides to control fungal diseases.
Long live the fig tree
While it may have taken us a little longer to get fruit from our figs, we enjoyed them all the more when they did start producing. Luckily you have the benefit of information at your fingertips. With the right variety, location, and care, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of delicious, easy to grow figs year after year. Happy gardening!
Would you like to grow more fruit at home? View our full line of fruiting trees and shrubs at the Eartheasy shop.