Sunday, April 25, 2010

It Fig-ures

I have enjoyed growing the couple of common figs that I have. Brown Turkey and Celeste. I am rooting some fourteen more varieties. Some with unusual names like Panachee, Osborn Prolific and Rattlesnake Island Fig. Talking to people about figs, they are often amazed at how many varieties there are. It is estimated that there are over 700 different varieties around the world! The fig is considered the oldest cultivated tree for food by humans. Remnants of figs have been found in excavations of sites traced to at least 5,000 B.C.
According to botanists, who break them down by the way they are pollinated, there are four main fig divisions.
Caprifig..produces pollen, but no edible fruit. This one also hosts a special type of wasp. It actually lives inside the fig.
Smyrna figs..depend on Caprifigs for pollen and the special wasp I mentioned above.
San Pedros figs..produce two crops a year, one with the assistance of Caprifigs and one without.
Common self pollinating. Many of the edible figs fall under this category.
The different types of fig trees gave rise to frustration in cultivators for thousands of years, since people did not initially understand why sometimes figs fruited and sometimes they didn't. Flowers need to be pollinated.
Many people do not realize that the fruit of the fig is actually an inverted flower. It contains both the male and female flower parts enclosed in stem tissue. For all you major geeks out there, it is known botanically as a syconium. So when the fig reaches maturity, the interior of the fig contains only the remains of these flower structures, including the small gritty structures commonly called seeds. Those so called seeds usually are nothing more than unfertilized ovaries that failed to develop. Sounds yummy huh?
The fig grows best and produces the best quality fruit in Mediterranean and dryer warm temperate climates. It is a deciduous tree that can reach heights of 50 feet. More commonly they only attain 10-30 feet. The tree has a sap that contains copious amounts of a milky latex that is irritating to human skin.
Fig leaves have a very tropical feel to them and come in a wide range of shapes and sizes.

As do their fruits, This is only a small sample of the diversity of fruit shapes, colors and sizes.

Figs require full sun all day, Early morning sun is particularly important to dry dew from the leaves. Good drainage is important, and although drought tolerant, figs need 1 inch of water per week from rainfall or irrigation. Figs require little to no fertilization, excess nitrogen encourages leaf growth at the expense of fruit production. As a general rule, fertilize fig trees if the branches grew less than a foot the previous year.
Growing zones for figs are usually 6-9. There was a story of a fig growing in a zone 5, but it was growing next to a greenhouse and was fairly sheltered. If you want to grow a fig any further north, you will need a large container and some strong friends to move it inside each Winter.
Fig plants are usual propagated by cuttings. Take an 8 to 10 inch cutting of year-old wood in early spring. Dip the end of the cuttings in a rooting hormone and allow them to callus one week. Then place them in equal parts of Sand, Peat and Perlite. Keep them in bright light with lots of humidity and heat. When the roots appear, repot in growing medium and slowly acclimate them to their final growing place.
Figs must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before they are picked. They will not ripen if picked when immature. A ripe fruit will be slightly soft and starting to bend at the neck. Birds may feed heavily on figs. Picking early in the morning will decrease bird damage. Netting can be used if this becomes a major problem.
Insects and diseases are rarely a serious problem on figs. Various wood boring insects may attack weak or dying trees. Root knot nematodes are the primary pest, particularly in sandy soils. They attack the roots, forming galls and stunting the trees. Nematode problems may go unnoticed for several years. As a heavy population builds up, the tree loses vigor and declines gradually. The nematodes are not readily noticed by the average person. To prevent root knot nematodes in figs, obtain nematode free plants and plant in nematode free soil. That is why I prefer growing mine in containers, I never have to worry about these.
There are many people out there that say figs can not be grown well in containers. Here is a picture of mine, In A Container!

Happy Growing!


  1. I really wish I could grow them here. You never see figs in the stores up here.

  2. I'm hoping to grow figs. I've got to find out what grows in my region.

  3. I had a small one that died over winter, so I'm trying again with a larger and more robust one. I've planted it amongst spiky stuff like dyckias and aloes since that's the only really sunny bed that doesn't already have a tree, but I'm starting to wonder if it will shade out the succulents too much. Is it possible for me to simply train it to have an open growth pattern? This would also help with the rampant humidity provided by the swamp behind the back yard.

  4. my dogs eat the fig leaves, is this ok?

  5. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!
    Growing Plants