People around the world have enjoyed the fig for millennia as a delicious sweet treat. The history of the fig can be traced back to 5000 B.C., and some historians consider figs to be one of the first domesticated crops.
The fig comes from the common fig tree, or edible fig tree (Ficus carica), part of a genus with nearly 1,000 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 feet tall, 10-20 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Organically rich, moist, well-drained|
|Hardiness Zones||Zones 6-9, USDA|
|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 don't have the right conditions, the effort is worth it.
The wonderful thing about growing the common fig tree is that the only real goal you have is providing your tree with the right conditions to produce abundant fruit that is juicy and delicious. The trees do not have much aesthetic appeal, so having fruit production as your goal makes caring for your tree much more rewarding.
Figs require full sun to grow. When your fig tree receives less than six to eight hours of direct sun per day, fewer figs will be produced, which is likely the least desired outcome for anyone growing a fig tree.
The common fig tree grows in a wide range of soils from light sands to richly organic loams and heavy clays, if 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 do not require much water for most of the year. However, they will prefer consistently moist soil when there is fruit on the tree. Inadequate moisture 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 temperatures to 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Figs need a somewhat dry climate with light early spring rains. 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 to keep 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 fertilizer.
A native to western Asia and spread and cultivated throughout the Mediterranean, the climate the fig tree thrives in is very warm and arid. Through centuries of cultivation, cultivars have been developed to allow areas with less hospitable climates which is lucky for those in the United States that receive much more rain and have a cooler climate. Hardier cultivars to look for are ‘Celeste,’ ‘Brown Turkey,’ 'Chicago Hardy', and ‘Ischia.’
When buying an edible fig tree, besides looking for a hardy, cold tolerant cultivar, it is vital to buy the correct variety. Ficus carica produces all-female flowers, self-pollinates, and produces sweet edible fruit. Three other varieties of Ficus carica are:
- Caprifig (Ficus carica sylvestris) has male and female flowers and requires visits by a wasp not found in the United States to produce fruit, However, the fruit is inedible. Although they're not useful as fruit producers on their own, caprifigs are indispensable as pollinators of other types of fig trees.
- Smyrna fig requires cross-pollination by Caprifigs in order to develop fruit.
- San Pedro fig produces two crops of fruit each season. The first crop grows on old branches and fruit develops without cross-pollination. Later in the season, the trees produce a second crop of fruit on new growth, but this crop will usually drop from the tree before it matures if cross-pollination hasn't occurred.
During the dormant winter months, fig trees that have been hardened off can survive temperatures down to about 14 degrees Fahrenheit. But, wrapping them in layers of burlap and fallen leaves in late autumn or early winter will keep them from dying back too severely during a cold and blustery winter season. Here is one way to protect fig trees:
- Fasten the branches together with rope or jute twine, pulling taut to gather the branches in an upright bundle.
- Wrap the stem bundle in a layer of burlap and secure it with jute twine.
- Use a snow fence, silt fence, or stakes and chicken wire to build a structure around the tied-off tree, tapering at the top. Stuff the structure with hay or fallen leaves.
- Once the temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit and during a stretch of dry weather, wrap some kind of waterproof material (plastic tarp or roofing paper) around the structure to keep water out. Some people place a large plastic bucket on the structure's tapered top for further protection.
- When temperatures rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit in late spring, remove all stuffing and wrapping material and untie your tree to prepare for a new year of delicious figs.