Table of Contents Hide
Figs are one of the most delicious fruits in the world, and they are fun to grow. Figs (Ficus carica) are in the same family as mulberries.
They are native to Turkey in Asia, northern India, and warm climates in the Mediterranean, where they do well in full sun.
During a recent hot summer in Provence, we picked figs from a tree every day for a quick, easy, and healthy dessert.
Growing figs is fun and not too hard, but there are a few important things to know about caring for fig trees.
How to Grow Figs in the Garden
Nematodes will not bother your figs if you buy your plants from a reputable nursery.
You can also get fig trees by planting root suckers from other trees or getting cuttings or divisions from older plants.
When the fig trees are dormant, you can plant new ones outside. Late fall or early spring are the best times.
Some types of fig trees do well in cooler temperatures, but most will do best in USDA zones 8 through 10.
If you live in a cooler area, you can plant figs in half-barrels or other containers that you can move so they won’t freeze in the winter.
It’s important to keep them safe from cold wind and frosty weather, so in many places, you’ll need to make them portable.
If a fig is trained as a shrub or bush, it is easier to protect it from the cold.
On the other hand, the edible fig needs about 100 hours of cold weather to grow and set fruit, even though it is a fruit that grows best in warm weather.
You can plant your dormant fig trees with bare roots from late fall to early spring. Fig trees like to be in full sun and have a lot of space.
If you’re planting more than one tree, leave 15 to 20 feet (5 to 6 m) of space between them.
If you want the trees to be bushy and grow low, you should plant them 10 feet (3 m) apart.
Your soil should be sandy, rich, and well-drained, and its pH level should be between 6.0 and 6.5.
Clay-heavy soil can kill your tree, so make sure to dig in a lot of organic material like compost or well-rotted manure before you plant.
Fig Tree Maintenance
When you first plant a fig tree, you should cut it back by about half. This may seem bad, but it will let the young tree focus on growing strong roots.
Most likely, your fig won’t bear fruit until the second or third year, so pruning it early gives it a good head start.
Once the tree is established, it should be trimmed every year in late winter, just before it wakes up from its winter sleep.
Feed your fig tree with a balanced fertilizer one pound (0.5 kg) for each year the tree has been alive or for each foot (31 cm) of growth.
Continued Fig Tree Care
The roots of a fig tree tend to grow close to the surface of the soil. Regular watering during the growing season is imperative.
Mulching with straw or grass clippings can help keep the roots moist. Dry roots can lead to premature fruit drop.
While fig trees don’t have many natural enemies, they can develop some problems. The most common issue for fig trees may be root-knot nematodes.
Be sure when purchasing a new fig tree that it doesn’t already have this problem by examining the roots before transplanting it into the ground or container.
Although too much water can drown a fig tree’s shallow growing roots, regular watering and mulching can keep the tree healthy. Other less frequent potential diseases include:
- Fig Rust
- Fig Souring
- Fig Mosaic
- Leaf Spot
- Pink Limb Blight
- Cotton Root Rot
Figs are ready to harvest and eat when the fruit has softened. They won’t ripen once they’re picked from the tree and unripe figs aren’t very tasty.
Ripe figs, however, are exceptionally sweet and delicious.
Figs don’t require formal training; just thin or head back as needed to control size.
Use a shovel to disconnect suckers that sprout from the roots throughout the growing season; replant or share them with friends.
You can propagate figs by taking cuttings, but the easiest way is to bend a low-growing branch down and secure it to the ground or the soil in a container with a U-shaped wire; cover lightly with soil and check for rooting.
Once the stem has rooted, sever it from the mother plant with pruning shears and it’s good to go.
- You should harvest figs only when they are fully ripe, as they will not continue to ripen off the tree. The figs should be fully colored and slightly soft to the touch.
- You may need to invest in bird netting to protect your crop; figs are a favorite of birds and squirrels.
- When picking figs, wear gloves or long sleeves because the sap from the fig tree can irritate your skin.
- Figs are very perishable. Store figs in the refrigerator; they will keep for 2 to 3 days.
- For long-term storage, you can freeze figs whole for later use. Another storage method is to dry the figs. You can also can your own figs.
Keeping Fig Trees Healthy
Generally, figs do not suffer from insect or disease problems in North America.
Keep birds away with netting; spread wood ashes around the base of trees to keep ants from climbing up to fruits.
Keep plants well watered to avoid leaf drops, especially when they’re growing in containers.