People around the world have enjoyed the fig for millennia as a delicious sweet treat. The ancient fruit’s history can be traced to the cultivation its tree and the fruit's popularity around the Mediterranean Sea.
The fig comes from the common fig tree, or edible fig tree (Ficus carica), part of a genus with nearly 1000 species of trees from the mulberry family. Most of the trees in the genus are massive tropical trees that produce latex rather than fruit.
Figs ripen entirely on the tree, unlike some fruits that can ripen after being picked. Because of this, they do not travel well to supermarkets or large distributors. The best way to enjoy a fig is to buy them at a farmers’ market or, better yet, grow them your own.
|Botanical Name||Ficus carica|
|Common Name||Edible fig, fig tree|
|Plant Type||Fruit tree|
|Mature Size||10-20 ft. tall, 10-20 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Organically rich, moist, well-drained|
|Hardiness Zones||Zones 6-9, USA|
|Native Area||Southern United States|
Fig Tree Care
Growing the common fig for fruit production is a balancing act in many areas of the United States that offer climates that are either too wet, too cold, too hot, or too dry. If you are lucky enough to live in the goldilocks zones with the perfect conditions to grow fig trees, you will have plenty of juicy figs to enjoy. For those who live in areas that need to work to make the conditions just right, the
effort is worth it.
The wonderful thing about growing the common fig tree is that the only real goal you have is giving your tree the right conditions and requirements to produce abundant fruit that is juicy and delicious. The trees do not have much aesthetic appeal, so having a goal in mind and how to achieve it makes care so much easier.
Figs require full sun to grow. When you give your fig tree less sunlight, fewer figs will be produced, which is likely the least desired outcome for anyone planting a fig tree.
The common fig tree grows in a wide range of soils from light sands to richly organic loams and heavy clays, as long as there is adequate drainage. Highly acidic soils are not recommended and are not tolerated. The pH should be between 6.0 and 6.5. Figs can handle some moderate salinity, making them suitable for coastal planting but not shorefront landscapes.
Fig trees are quite drought tolerant and will not require much water for most of the year. However, they will prefer consistently moist soil when there is fruit on the tree. Not sufficiently providing moisture just will affect the fruit quality and size. To help retain moisture properly, mulching with a good organic mulch around the tree’s base is recommended.
Temperature and Humidity
Figs are not incredibly hardy and can only tolerate down to 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Figs need a dry climate with light early spring rains if intended to produce fresh fruit. A wet season during fruit ripening will hurt the crop, causing the fruits to split and spoil. Semi-arid climates with warm temperatures are perfect for growing figs if irrigation is available.
Feeding your trees is a vital step in keeping them healthy and producing an abundant amount of fruit. Fertilizing should be done at least twice a year, or if you notice yellowing or lack of vibrancy in the foliage. A perfect time to feed the tree is usually in late winter or early spring and again in late summer when the fruit is ripening. Choosing the right fertilizer is essential; a good fertilizer for F. carica is an all-purpose granular slow-release 8-8-8.
Are Common Fig Trees Toxic?
The sticky sap and resinous liquid from unripe figs (i.e., latex), while not toxic, can cause skin irritation if not washed off promptly.
A native to western Asia and spread and cultivated throughout the Mediterranean, the climate fig thrives in was typically very warm and arid. Through centuries of cultivation, cultivars have been developed to allow areas with less hospitable climates to grow the tree which is lucky for those in the United States who get much more rain and cooler climes. Hardier cultivars to look for are ‘Celeste,’ ‘Brown Turkey,’ and ‘Ischia.’
When buying an “edible” fig tree, besides looking for a hardier cultivar, it is vital to buy the correct variety. Ficus carica produces all-female flowers and self-pollinates. There are three other varieties of Ficus carica. The “Caprifig,” which has male and female flowers, requires visits by a wasp not found in the United States to grow figs. The “Smyrna” fig needs cross-pollination by Caprifigs in order to develop normally. Finally, for the “San Pedro” fig, which mixes both traits, its first crop is independent like the common fig while its second crop depends on pollination.
During the dormant winter months, fig plants that have been hardened off can survive temperatures down to about 14 degrees Fahrenheit. It may be best to wrap and tie the tree in burlap or plastic during winter conditions to protect from colder temperatures and wind chills.
- Fasten the branches together with rope, pulling taut to keep the branches from spreading. An optional step is adding snow fence or silt fence around the tied-off tree and stuffing this area with hay or leaf mulch, then moving on to the next step.
- Once the temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit during a stretch of dry weather, wrap your tree using burlap, fabric, or landscaping cloth.
- You can supplement the insulation by adding layers of newspaper, brown wrapping paper, or old clothing.
- When temperatures rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit you will want to clear away all insulation and stuffing and untie your tree to prepare for a new year of delicious figs.