Grow Guide for Edible Fig Trees – Fig Ficus Carica
If you don’t have a fig tree or two in your edible landscape, you’re missing out on some good eating from some of the easiest to grow of all fruit trees.
High in fiber and rich in calcium and potassium, figs are good for you, too. This guide will teach you all the tips and tricks you need to know for how to grow a fig tree in your own backyard, as well as planting and caring for your fig tree.
There are some 800 species of figs, genus Ficus, but the ones that we grow in the United States for the delicious fruits are all varieties of one species: Ficus carica, the common fig tree.
Interesting Facts About Fig Trees
The edible figs (that is, the common figs) do not require cross pollination, so you need only one tree to get fruits.
Most varieties grow into small to medium sized trees, usually maxing out around 20 feet tall and 20 feet across. Most varieties are susceptible to hard freezes, sometimes dying back in a cold winter, but returning in spring and even bearing fruit before growing season’s end.
In colder climates, fig trees can be grown in containers and brought inside in winter. They can be kept small by regular pruning. Some people Up North go to great lengths to protect their fig trees in winter.
This is done by winterizing their fig tree. There are many methods including wrapping the tree with burlap or even burying it if the weather is extremely cold.
Figs often bear their first fig crop in early spring on the previous year’s growth called the breba crop. The main crop is borne later in the summer and/or autumn on new growth. The breba crop is much smaller than the main crop and is sometimes destroyed by a late spring frost.
Fig trees are deciduous and will lose their leaves over winter. Don’t fret if your tree loses it’s fig leaves! Come spring the plants will flush out and have a bounty of new leaves.
Some trees require pollination from a fig wasp for fruits to develop. The wasp pollinator may live inside the fig for days or weeks at a time.
Figs are commonly grown in the Mediterranean region where climates are hot and dry. They are fast growing trees can provide delicious figs in no time!
Types of Fig Trees
There are more than 700 named fig cultivars of common fig out there. Perfect Plants offers five varieties of fig trees for sale: LSU Purple, Black Mission, Celeste, Chicago Hardy and Brown Turkey. All figs are different and have their own unique look and taste. We are proud of the varieties we offer and think they are the best of all fig tree options out there.
LSU Purple fig trees typically get around ten feet tall with a similar spread. They are well adapted to the Deep South and recommended for USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9. They yield medium-sized fruits of a reddish-purple color.
LSU Purple fig trees usually begin producing in their second year in the ground and frequently produce a breba crop. The LSU Purple is a good choice for growing in a container.
Black Mission fig trees can get up to 30 feet tall and wide. You can plant your black mission fig in zones 7-10. They have a wider hardiness range than most varieties.
The Mission fig tree produces fruits that are purplish black-skinned and are larger than LSU purple. They occasionally produce a breba crop.
Celeste fig trees produce fruits on small trees that rarely get more than 7-10 feet tall. Celeste fig trees do well in containers, and they often fruit in their first year.
Many consider the Celeste fig one of the finest eating of all cultivars. They are hardy in zones 7-9 and very heat tolerant. Often called the sugar fig for its sweetness.
Brown Turkey fig trees are the most widely grown cultivar among backyard gardeners. They can become large trees, up to 30 feet tall and across. The turkey fig trees produce medium sized fig fruits and sometimes a small breba crop. Brown Turkeys are among the most cold hardy of all fig varieties, adaptable in zones 6-10, and even zone 5 with protection.
Chicago Hardy fig tree is the premier choice for fig growers up north. This cold-hardy fig can grow all the way into zone 5. It stays small and compact and can be grown in containers. The Chicago fig tree produces bushels of fresh fig fruit!
How to Plant Fig Trees
Dig a hole twice as wide and a little deeper than the nursery pot the tree came in. Build up a mound of soil in the center of the hole, and place the root mass on top of that, spreading the roots out all around. You will want the tree to be at the same depth it was in the pot. Work the soil in and around the root systems.
Backfill with the same soil (no amendments), and when the hole is half-filled, give it and the roots a good soaking of water.
When the water has drained, readjust the depth of the stem if necessary and finish filling the hole. Gently tamp the soil down. You may want to use stakes to support the new tree. Do not fertilize.
Thoroughly wet the soil in the pot before starting. Place the pot on its side and slide the root ball out. If the plant is stuck, you can slip a long-bladed knife around the inside edge to loosen it.
Gently loosen some of the roots along the sides and bottom, and pull them outward so they are not encircling the root mass. It might be necessary to shorten some of the roots if they are growing in a circle around the inside of the pot.
Build up a 3-6 inch high embankment of soil on the ground over the root zone. This dike will help impound water over the roots, allowing it to drain into the soil rather than runoff. Water thoroughly.
Spread 3-6 inches layer of mulch over the root zone and beyond a foot or two to help hold in soil moisture and prevent weeds. You can use hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings, or compost. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk.
Water frequently and deeply for the first year. New fig trees should get at least an inch of water every week during the first growing season.
You can pull some mulch back and feel the soil to determine if it is dry and needs watering. The biggest reason young plants will die is the lack of enough water. After the tree is established it is fairly drought tolerant.
Fig Tree Care
All edible fruit trees do best in full sun and if your goal is to harvest figs, you will want to position your trees in a sunny spot if possible, such as south-facing.
Keep in mind that fig trees cast a strong shade, and very little will grow under them. The best potting soil is a fertile, humus-rich, loam that is well-drained. Avoid low spots where drainage can be slow. Fig trees should be spaced at least 20-30 feet apart and 20-30 feet or more from any structures.
Bare-root figs should be planted during the dormant season; container-grown plants can be planted any time of the year, but spring is best.
Fig Tree Fertilizer
Do not fertilize a newly planted tree until the following growing season. Then for the next year or two, feed with a balanced fertilizer or plant food at the base of the tree every other month during the growing season. After the first two or three years, figs shouldn’t need any fertilizer at all, especially if you replenish the organic mulch regularly.
Pruning Fig Trees
Fig trees rarely need pruning except to maintain a smaller size. You may prune diseased branches or branches that grow across each other.
Prune to whatever shape you desire or what fits your landscape. Keep the strongest branches to shape the tree and secondary branches for fruiting wood. Cut off all suckers growing from the base of the tree.
The best time to prune fig trees is in winter or early spring before the growth season begins.
When to Harvest Figs
Figs ripen for harvest when they get soft and release easily from the tree. This usually happens in late summer or early fall. Figs will not continue ripening after picking, so wait until they are ripe fruit.
Fig Trees in Pots
If you are growing your fig tree in a container, use a soil-based potting mix and add bark chips, pebbles, or perlite to improve drainage. Keep your potted fig tree in full sun during the summer.
Fig trees grown in containers need to be fertilized with a high-nitrogen fertilizer every four weeks in the spring and early summer. Don’t fertilize in winter when the leafless tree is indoors, and water only sparingly. Repot containerized figs every 2 or 3 years, and prune to maintain desired size.
There are tons of ways to use figs. Our favorite is eaten fresh right off the tree but you can also eat dried figs that have been dehydrated, make fig preserves or fig jelly, enjoy fig newtons, and tons of other recipes. Figs are so versatile and so delicious!
Home gardeners across the world revel in growing figs because of how easy they are to grow, they have little pest and disease issues, and fruit production is usually plentiful.