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Growing Figs

Two ripe figs hanging on branch.

Are you considering planting a fig tree? In addition to the varieties for the traditional hotter climates, there are some that will thrive even in the Pacific Northwest. This guide is about growing figs.

     

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Article: Growing Figs in Containers

Photo of a growing figFig trees do best in the southern half of the country, but they can also be grown in protected locations along the Atlantic coast as far north as New York. In colder climates, or for gardeners with limited growing space, growing them in containers is a practical and increasingly popular option.

Growing Requirements

Figs are not difficult to grow, but if you ask ten different fig growers how to grow them, it's likely that you'll get ten different answers. Growing requirements will vary a bit depending on local climate conditions and the variety of fig tree you select, so it can take a bit of trial and error to find out what works best. Container-grown figs are most productive when placed in full sun. Because they rely on you to meet their needs, they will require more water and fertilizer than fig trees grown in the ground.

Container Size

The size container you need depends largely on how large your fig tree is to start with. Many people start with the size their fig tree comes in from the nursery and re-pot one size up each year until they reach a 15 to 20 gallon container (anything over 30 gallons may be too heavy to move). Here are a few things to consider when choosing your container:
  • Drainage! Fig tree roots do not like to stand in water so make sure your container provides adequate drainage.

  • The roots of trees in containers can overheat. Avoid dark, heat absorbing colors like black, or at least find a way to shade the sides of the container to prevent overheating.

  • Certain materials (like terra cotta) tend to dry out soil more quickly and may require more frequent watering.

  • Fig trees in containers may easily grow 6 feet tall or more. They get "tippy" in the wind, so the weight of the pot is important. Some gardeners like to add crushed granite or heavy stones to the bottom for additional weight. Others drive stakes into the ground around the outside of the pot to help keep it secure. Because large pots tend to be heavy, use castors on the bottoms to make moving them around a bit easier.

Container Soil

Fig trees aren't particularly picky about the soil they are grown in - as long as it drains quickly and it is not too acidic (pH of 6.0-7.0). An example of a good mix would be 2 parts pine bark (large chunks sifted out), 1 part well composted manure, 1 part Perlite, and a handful of ground limestone. There's no need to complicate things though. Commercial potting mixes formulated for containers will work fine. Just make sure the soil drains well.

Irrigation

To maintain good growth and produce fruit, fig trees need consistent water throughout the growing season. Keep trees well watered through the summer and do not let them dry out or become stressed. (Drought stressed trees may drop leaves and fail to produce fruit.) By the end of August you will want to start cutting back slightly on the water to reduce fruit splitting.

Fertilization

Like other container-grown plants, regular applications of fertilizer are necessary for potted fig trees to maximize their performance. Use a slow release organic fertilizer to avoid rapid leaf growth at the expense of fruit production. This can be applied in the spring and continued throughout the summer according to directions. Stop fertilizing by mid-August to let existing growth slow and harden off before winter storage.

Pruning and Training

Top Pruning: When trees are young, they may require some pruning in order to develop a strong framework of branches. Since fruit grows on terminals of the previous year's wood, avoid heavy pruning once the tree becomes established.

Root Pruning: In general, fig trees tend to perform better when their roots are somewhat constricted. Once they are in their largest pot, they need to be root pruned once every three to four years. To do this, take the tree out of the pot and cut one-quarter of the roots away to make a root ball before returning it to a pot of fresh soil. Root pruning should always be should be done while the plant is dormant (has no leaves); either in the early spring or late fall.

Winter Protection

In cold climates, container figs need to be given protection over winter. In late fall, after frost has caused the leaves to drop, move containers into a frost-free unheated garage or shed where they will be protected from the wind. Ideally, the temperature should remain above 20 degrees F, but below 45 degrees. If an unheated and unattached garage is your only option, the tree should be wrapped before storing.

Water the tree very sparingly (a cup or two) every four weeks during winter storage to prevent the root from drying out. A dormant tree does not need light so don't worry about storing it in total darkness. Plants can be moved outdoors once overnight temperatures consistently remain above freezing.

Choosing a Variety

Take care when selecting a fig cultivar for your area. There are varieties that are adapted to perform best in certain regions of the country. Don't rely on national chains and big box garden centers to sell you the right variety for you growing zone. Local nurseries are your best and most reliable source for finding out which types will perform best.

One tree is usually enough to provide figs for the average family. The most common type of fig trees grown by gardeners are Persistent (or Common) figs. These do not need pollination to set crops. Examples of good overall cultivars to consider for cool to cold climates include Brown Turkey, Celeste, Hardy Chicago, LSU Purple, and Violet de Bordeaux.

Tips for Harvesting Figs:

  • Figs are best eaten fresh, but they can also be dried. Wear gloves when picking the fruits or working on the tree. Stems, leaves, and milky sap from the fruit can be irritating to the skin and mucous membranes, so wear glove when picking them.

  • Figs should be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before they are picked. Once they are removed, fruits will not continue to ripen if they are immature.

  • Ripe figs are soft to the touch. If a fruit doesn't break off easily when you bend it toward the branch, leave it on to ripen for a few more days.

  • Fresh figs do not keep very long, so harvest them gently to avoid bruising. Store them in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

By Ellen Brown

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Questions

Here are questions related to Growing Figs.

Question: Growing Figs

What color is a fig on the inside when rips. We have figs getting soft and drooping, but they are white on the inside. Are they ripe?

By Billie


Best Answer

By Catherine07/23/2012

There are three types of fig: the green or white, the grey or red, and the black or purple, the white fig is more adapted to cold weather than the others.

Question: Fig Tree Not Producing Fruit

I have a fig tree that is approximately 6 years old. Every year I expect it to produce fruit, but have not had any luck at this point. Should I have at least two fig trees? Is there a chemical I should be adding to the soil? I have the tree in a large container and it gets 7 to 8 hours of sun each day. In the winter I take the container to my garage (temperature ranges from 30 to 60 degrees). I introduce the plant to the outside in late March or or early spring. Any suggestions?

By PAT F


Best Answers

By Catherine06/04/2012

Fig tree are male or female and only a female fig tree will give edible fruits. You should try to identify your tree and check if it is possible to graft fig trees in case your tree is a male fig tree.


Best Answers

By gbk06/04/2012

First you didn't say where you live but I gather it is up north or what kind of fig it? I grow 3 different kinds of figs but I live in South Georgia. I grow some in containers also as I have to move some of them to the sunny areas as the year progresses.

Sounds like you need to put a large pan at least 4 inches deep with water in it and put your fig tree in there in the spring. I also put Epsom salt around mine to make it put on fruit. Needs more fertilizing in a pot but in small amounts regularly. Good luck.

Question: Growing Figs in the Puget Sound Area

Can anyone suggest the best variety of fig for this area? I am actually out on the peninsula in Bremerton west of Tacoma. I grew up in the south and love fresh figs. I have tried the larger fruited green figs and they are an OK choice. I would prefer a brown varietal if that is possible in my area. Thanks in advance.

By Barbara


Best Answer

By Dee T.08/29/2011

Check with your local county extension office. They are associated with the Washington State University which will have some gardens which they test grow to see what works in your area.

Question: Fig Tree Has Worms

My fig tree looks like it has worms. What can I do to treat it?

By Ona from Cape Town, South Africa


Most Recent Answer

By Dorothy03/14/2010

Add about two tablespoon garlic paste to a jug of water, stir well and spray. Sprinkle wood ashes. Good luck

Question: Figs Are Not Ripening

I have a fig tree in my yard. It has many figs on it, however, summer is almost over and none of the figs have ripened. They are still medium-sized and hard, they would probably need to grow a bit larger, then ripen.

With the end of summer, the cooler weather will be coming in and I'm afraid I will not eat one fig at all! Any suggestions? Also, what do I do with the fig tree after the summer? Do I cut it all the way down and wrap it, or do I just prune it to, say, five feet tall, then wrap it to keep it warm? Thank you!

Hardiness Zone: 7a


Kelly from Long Island, New York


Best Answer

By Lynda (Guest Post)09/07/2008

My mother's fig tree was loaded each year AFTER we began to add used coffee grounds and chopped banana peelings to the soil in the spring, and compost all year long for overall health.

(There are several varieties of Fig trees/bushes. Go to the Library and look through gardening encyclopedias to view what sort you may have and what sort does best for your area/zone.)

In the Fall, we pruned many small branches out, leaving it thin enough for birds to fly through. It always lost all leaves, went dormant in winter in Texas, but returned robust in Spring. It requires a lot of water and never got many pests, except squirrels, and a tiny fly that would sometimes bore the fruit. It got morning and noon sun, but shade in the late afternoon.

It appeared that the secret to having ripe fruit was to keep the numbers of branches to a minimum, and to keep evenly watered, not picking the fruit until it LOOKED and tasted ripe. We never pruned anytime other than Fall.

Question: Advice For Tree With Small Figs

My fig trees are mature and have plenty of figs, but they are no bigger than a quarter for 1 1/2 months. Why?

Hardiness Zone: 7a

Joe from Port Chester, NY


Best Answer

By Harlean from Arkansas08/21/2007

I believe this has more to do with the type of fig tree that you have. I have this type also, and a friend who has a nursery said if I want large figs, I should plant a Turkey Fig. I plan to do so this Fall. My fig tree bears all summer, but they are very small figs.
Harlean from Arkansas

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