Many garden books and papers on fig tree care recommend the growing of figs only in the South and West where the abundance of sunshine and sandy soil favors them.
One gardener shared how they have grown them successfully for years in Missouri. Their secret? Cutting off all the sprouts level to the ground, covering with leaves, dirt, fertilizer and humus for the winter.
In spring they uncover them and loosen the ground so it will warm up quickly. The fig tree starts to grow in April, has green fruit in July and ripe fruit the latter part of August.
From one clump they harvested as many as 200 pieces of fruit which ripened almost daily during the bearing season.
Their fig tree care was relatively simple. They used lots of humus and made sure the soil was never water-logged. Figs have few enemies except ants and grasshoppers which bother the ripe fruit.
Fig Tree Quick Plant Guide:
Family: Ficus or Moraceae
Origin: Asia and the Mediterranean
Common Names: Laurel, fig laurel, banyan, ficus
Uses: Fig trees do well planted outdoors as single specimens or in groups. They thrive in areas with long, hot summers and mild winters. In colder climates, they can grow indoors or in a greenhouse as container plants. The tasty fruit can be eaten out-of-hand, canned, dried or cooked.
Height: Varies greatly depending on the type of tree and its environment. Varieties that grow wild in tropical settings can attain lofty heights, but the types typically planted in North American grow between fifteen and thirty feet high.
USDA Hardiness Zones: 8-11 Hardy cultivars grow outdoors in colder climates if provided with proper protection in wintertime.
Flowers: The tree produces clusters of very small, green blossoms, but are not visible. They are hidden inside a structure known as a syconium. This receptacle ripens throughout the growing season to become a fig.
Fruit: Typically, showy, abundant and tasty. Varies in size, color, flavor, and abundance depending on the cultivar.
Foliage: The leaves are typically a medium green. They are divided into three or more lobes and may reach a length of ten inches.
How To Care For A Fig Tree
Sun: Full sun to partial shade. More sun typically means more fruit.
Water: Young trees require regular watering until well established. If you live in a dry climate, plan on watering a minimum of once a week. It’s a good idea to surround the tree with a layer of organic mulch to help conserve moisture.
Fertilizer: When grown directly in the ground, fig trees usually don’t need fertilizer. When grown in containers, they benefit from nitrogen supplementation from late winter until mid-summer.
Soil: Almost any well-drained soil is acceptable. If the soil is heavy, add wood chips for better aeration.
Pruning: These trees naturally maintain an attractive shape and require little or no pruning for appearance; however, wise annual pruning does help keep the tree at a manageable size.
Some special pruning is also needed in cold climates to encourage early harvest (breba crop).
Generally at the end of the growing season, when the tree goes dormant, prune back weak, diseased and dead branches. If your tree is overburdened with fruit, thin it to encourage larger, tastier fruit.
Miscellaneous: Figs are an excellent choice as a trouble-free, nourishing fruit crop. They are an excellent source of fiber, calcium, and potassium. The tasty fruit can be eaten out-of-hand, canned, dried or cooked.
Pruning Figs in a Cool Climate for First (Breba) Crop
Now that you know how to take care of a fig tree here’s out tips for choosing the right one for your setting.
How To Choose The Right Fig Tree For Your Setting
There are over two-hundred fig cultivars that grow well in North America. These fig trees offer a wide variety of fruit colors and shapes.
The shape, size, flavor, texture, and color of the fruit may vary significantly from one type of tree to another. Fruit colors at the time of harvest may be green, yellow, brown, violet, purple or black.
Because fig trees are self-fruitful, you do not need to plant an orchard to produce fruit. Just one good specimen can keep you well supplied. Some types produce an early season (breba) crop as well as producing later in the season.
For the longest harvest, choose mid and late fruiting varieties. If you have enough space, plant several different types for a long and interesting harvest.
4 Best Varieties of Fig Trees
#1 – Brown Turkey produces lots of medium-sized-to-large fruit. This is a good choice if you live in a warm climate.
Growing the Brown Turkey Fig Tree
#2 – Desert King is a nice choice for cooler climates and typically grown in the northwestern states. Its fruits are medium sized and very rich and sweet.
#3 – Kadota produces lots of small-to-medium sized, rich, sweet fruit. Kadota is the type usually used for canning. This tree is hardy in zones 5-6 when planted in a sheltered area.
#4 – Celeste (aka: Honey Fig or Sugar Fig) produces exceptionally sweet, large, pear-shaped fruit in shades of violet. This tree does very well in the southern and southeastern United States.
Other common fig varieties include:
Ficus carica (Common Fig or Edible Fig) is a good, all-around choice. [source]
Ficus Microcarpa (Curtain Fig) is also called Indian Laurel. You may hear it referred to as Taiwan, Malayan or Chinese Banyan tree. This enthusiastic grower can attain a height of 50 feet. It is considered invasive in the state of Florida. [source]
Ficus macrophylla (Moreton Bay fig) native to Australia and grows well in southern California. Unlike other varieties, this tree has both male and female flowers. It can attain a height of 180 feet. [source]
Ficus rubiginosa (Little Leaf Fig, Port Jackson Fig or Rusty Fig) another Australian native that does well in southern California. This tree also has both male and female flowers on the same tree. Unlike its towering cousin, Little Leaf Fig attains a maximum height of 60 feet. [source]
Ficus benjamina (Weeping Fig, Benjamin’s Fig or common Ficus) is an ornamental houseplant that typically does not bloom or produce fruit.
Ficus Pandurata (Ficus Pandurata, Fiddle Leaf Fig) grown as an ornamental houseplant and the “tree” Joanna Gaines from the TV show “Fixer Upper” typically uses in all here houses!
Choose Your Fig Tree With Care
For good fruit production and a good fit in the garden setting, make your selection carefully. Shop at a reputable nursery and be sure you get a self-pollinating cultivar.
Some types of figs can only be pollinated by flies native to specific areas of the Mediterranean. Obviously, this type of tree will not produce fruit in North America!
Care And Planting Of Fig Trees Outdoors
Begin by choosing a location that gets good sun exposure and provides shelter from cold winter winds.
Be ready to add a thick layer of compost mulch. When planting fig trees outdoors, be sure to provide ample water during the first year.
Once the trees become established, they are quite drought tolerant.
Espoma Citrus-tone (5-2-6) is a good choice in high nitrogen fertilizer for fig trees.
Monthly foliar spraying with seaweed extract throughout the growing season will encourage healthy growth and abundant fruit.
Early spring is the best time to plant a fig tree outdoors, directly in the soil. Fig trees will do well in full sun or partial sunlight.
Remember that more sun means more fruit. Don’t worry too much about the pH of the outdoor soil for fig trees. The primary consideration is drainage.
The soil should be well-drained and contain an ample amount of organic matter. Water the plants regularly and thoroughly to avoid stress, leaf-drop, and low fruit production.
When planting outdoors, dig a hole that is several inches wider and deeper than the root ball. Make a little mound of loose soil in the bottom of the hole and set the tree on top of it.
Massage and spread the roots as you would before repotting. Take care not to bend or damage them.
Set the tree on the mound of loose dirt in the bottom of the hole. You may set it a couple of inches deeper than it was planted in the pot or keep it at the same level. Both methods work well.
In the southern states, outdoor fig trees do best in the warm lower, coastal and tropical regions. If in the middle south, it’s a good idea to place the tree in such a way that it gets shelter from a wall on the north side and has full southern exposure.
If you are in the upper southern regions, be sure to select a cold-hardy variety. Both Celeste and Brown Turkey are good choices for this region.
Although these rugged varieties can do well outdoors year-round in the upper southern states, they may do better planted in large containers and brought indoors to a cool basement or garage to over-winter.
Growing Fig Trees In Containers
If you are in a location north of USDA Zone 7, don’t despair. You can grow fig trees in containers in a sunny, sheltered setting.
Large plastic or resin patio planters are perfect and easy to come by at the local garden center. These containers are durable and light and can last a lifetime and then some when well-cared-for.
Ready to learn how to grow a fig tree indoors?
To grow fig trees indoors or in a greenhouse, be sure to use a light, organic potting mix amended with fine bark or other organic matter. Top dress the soil with compost for constant feeding and good moisture retention.
Pay close attention to the moisture of the soil. Water deeply when the top inch of soil is dry, but never allow the soil to dry out completely.
This will cause the tree to drop leaves. Even though the leaves will grow back, this is a waste of energy for the tree and results in lessened fruit production.
When kept indoors, it is important to boost humidity levels and give plants a little extra nourishment with occasional foliar spraying. Use a weak mixture of water and compost tea or liquid seaweed once or twice a month. Fertilize “weakly, weekly” with a high nitrogen fertilizer.
Fig trees in containers may be kept in full or partial sun. Although you will naturally reduce watering during the winter months, don’t ever allow the soil to dry out completely.
Growing Figs In Containers
You will need to repot trees in containers from time-to-time. To do so, carefully remove the tree from its pot.
If the tree has become very root-bound, cut through any roots that encircle the root ball. Massage the roots to open them up and separate them before repotting the plant into a larger container.
Pruning Fig Trees In Pots & Propagation
Fig trees are easy to propagate in a number of ways. During the growing season, they send out multiple suckers that can easily be separated from the roots and planted outdoors or in pots.
These enthusiastic growers can also be started from cuttings or by simply bending a low growing branch to the ground and securing it until it sets roots. Once roots appear, you can cut the branch loose from the parent plant and pot it or move it to a new location. [source]
Taking Care Of Fig Trees In Winter
If you live in an area where temperatures drop to 10 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, be sure to plant one of the cold hardy varieties of figs. Even then, you will need to take steps to protect your tree from the cold.
You can do this by building a hardware cloth cage around the tree and filling it with dried leaves or straw to insulate it. Don’t wrap it in plastic because this may overheat on sunny days.
When springtime arrives, remove the straw or leaves and clean up thoroughly around the tree to prevent disease and/or insect infestation.
Another, more labor-intensive method of protecting fig trees in winter is known as “trenching.” To trench, your fig trees begin by pruning them to a height of about six feet late in the autumn.
Prune spreading branches back to the central trunk. Tie the remaining branches with twine or rope to create a tight cylinder. Once this is accomplished, dig a trench right next to the tree. It should be a couple of feet wide and of a length that will accommodate the tree lying down.
Line the trench with boards on sides and bottom. Loosen the root ball of the tree so you can lay it down into the trench. Wrap the tree with heavy plastic and bend it over into the trench.
Insulate it all around with dried leaves or straw. Place a board over the top of the trench and bury it in soil.
Your tree will go dormant until springtime. After all danger of frost has passed, dig it up and resurrect it.
Over-wintering A Fig Tree Indoors
If you live north of USDA hardiness zone 6, you cannot plant figs directly into the ground outdoors. You must keep your fig trees in containers and bring them inside for the winter.
You may keep them in your basement, garage or another sheltered area that stays at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If your trees go dormant, they will lose their leaves, but you must still keep the soil lightly moist through the winter.
If you keep fig trees in a greenhouse or other sunny indoor setting, they will naturally stay green and thrive through the winter months. In fact, you may even be able to enjoy a small harvest in the winter time.
When keeping your fig trees active in a greenhouse setting for the winter, care for them just as you would during the growing season outdoors. Although fig trees are usually very pest resistant, be vigilant and inspect for pests such as aphids when you keep your tree indoors.
When the weather begins to warm up, start transitioning the tree to the outdoors (if it is not too heavy to move conveniently) by allowing it short periods of time outside on warm, still, sunny days. Wait until all danger of frost has passed to relocate your tree back outside for the spring and summer months.
Fig Tree Pests, Diseases And Problems
In general, fig trees are very resistant to diseases and pests. If your trees are stressed, they may be subject to some problems.
Likewise, when kept indoors, the figs will be more susceptible to typical greenhouse pests and diseases. Watch for these problems during times of drought or when keeping fig trees indoors:
Root-Knot Nematodes: These parasitic roundworms live in the soil and feed on plants by puncturing their tissues and sucking out nourishment. If your tree seems sickly and has galls (swellings) on the roots, nematodes are a likely cause. [source]
Thrips: These tiny winged insects (aka Thysanoptera) puncture the leaf surface of plants and suck out nourishment. If you see galls on the leaves and stems of your plants, thrips are the likely culprits. Prune away affected parts of the plant and dispose of them by burning them or placing them in sealed plastic bags in the trash. Do not compost diseased plant matter. Use natural predators such as parasitic fig wasps, minute pirate bugs or green lacewings to keep these pests under control. [source]
Fig Rust: This problem is common in the deep south along the Gulf Coast and Louisiana. It is caused by a fungus known as Cerotelium fici. If you notice brown or yellow spots on the upper surfaces of leaves, this fungus is the likely culprit. It is not safe to use fungicides on plants producing edible fruits, so it is best to prevent development of this fungus. Avoid over-watering, trim off affected leaves and prune back crowded limbs to promote good air flow among the branches of your tree. [source]
Predation: Birds and ants may partake of your fruit if you don’t take precautions. Use bird netting to protect your fruit from birds. You may also want to hang reflective tape or other frightening objects around your trees to discourage birds. Spread wood ashes on the ground around your trees to keep ants from climbing up the trunk.
Twig Dieback: This sickness is not specific to fig trees. Any tree can suffer from dieback when subjected to a variety of stressors. If your tree begins to die back at the crown and tips of the branches, it is a sign that the plant is somehow stressed. Evaluate your care and make adjustments to address the problem. [source]
Harvesting Your Fresh Figs
Be sure you know what color your figs are supposed to be when ripe. Depending on the variety, ripe figs may be green, red, purple, brown, black or a number of variations in between. Pick figs when the color has fully developed, and the fruit is soft.
Once fruit begins to develop, check it daily and pick individual fruits as they ripen. Be sure to prepare your figs right away or store them in the refrigerator. They are very perishable but can keep for up to a week if properly stored.
You can eat figs out-of-hand fresh, and there are a number of ways to prepare them.
You can cook them by simmering them with a little honey and lemon for about twenty minutes. Once soft, mash them and then puree them.
Freeze the puree for use later in baking, or use it as an ice cream topping or spread for fresh bread or toast. Use a dehydrator to make your own dried figs for snacking.
Benefits of Figs
If you do not have room for many fruit trees in your home, yard or garden, the fig tree makes a perfect choice. Figs are delicious, versatile and rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
When you take the time to select just the right type of fig tree for your climate and setting, take the care to nurture and cultivate it correctly, you can enjoy a great looking addition to your home along with lots of tasty health benefits for a long time to come.