Fig tree watering
The health and productivity of a fig tree can be greatly impacted by its watering regimen. Understanding how much water your fig tree needs and how to provide it correctly is crucial for growing high-quality, flavorful, and numerous figs.
Importance of proper watering for fig trees
Proper watering not only affects the growth and health of the tree but also the quality and taste of the figs it produces. Over-watering can lead to water-logged roots and reduced fruit quality while under-watering can result in stunted growth and sparse fruit.
Too much water leads to watered-down figs and drier soil results in better-tasting figs with a higher shelf life. This article will explore the ideal water requirements for fig trees and provide tips on how to water them effectively. It will also explain why drier soil results in figs with better flavor and shelf life.
It's my secret to ripening indescribably tasty figs. Check out the video below for how it's done!
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Do Fig Trees Need a Lot of Water?
Fig trees do not need a lot of water. They are native to warm, dry climates and are well-adapted to periods of drought. They generally do not need a lot of water and can tolerate periods of dry soil. However, their water needs can vary based on soil type, climate, and tree size.
The role of soil type, climate, and tree size in water needs
In heavy clay soils, fig trees need less water than in well-draining sandy soils because of the microscopic particle size in each soil type. Clay has smaller particles and they’re more densely spaced allowing clay soil to hold more water than sand or loam.
The climate in which the tree is grown can also affect its water requirements. A fig tree growing in a hot, dry climate will need more water than one growing in a humid climate due to more evaporation and typically having drier soils to begin with.
The size of the tree will also play a role in its water needs. Well-established fig trees have an incredible ability to find the water and nutrients that they need. Most of the fig tree’s root system is fibrous and on the top layer of the soil where nutrients and water can be abundant.
It's important to strike a balance between providing enough water to meet the tree's needs and avoiding over-watering, which can lead to anaerobic soil conditions, which increases the risk of root rot, a fungal imbalance that the fig tree is particularly prone to that leads to stunted growth or even death.
How Much Water Does a Fig Tree Need?
Large established fig trees need anywhere from 1-5 gallons of water per day during warm days and during times of drought. In general, fig trees need much less water during mild spring or fall days and very little water in the winter when they are dormant.
How much and how often to water a fig tree in a container?
Container fig trees should be watered daily or even 2 times a day in warm summer months. Depending on the size of the tree, the tree's amount of leaves, and the sunlight hours it receives, they need a fourth, a half, or one gallon of water every day per 5 gallons of soil in each pot.
Always adjust the amount of water in accordance with your amount of precipitation.
The importance of monitoring soil moisture levels
It is important to monitor soil moisture levels and adjust watering accordingly. The best way to determine if your fig tree needs water is to check the soil moisture level. There’s nothing like sticking your hand in the soil.
If the soil is dry several inches below the surface, it's time to water. If the soil is consistently wet, you may be over-watering and should reduce the frequency of watering.
How to Water a Fig Tree
The best way to water a fig tree is to provide a consistent amount of water every day rather than a deep, thorough watering once or twice a week. A consistent watering schedule that keeps the soil ‘moist’ is the key to improving fruit quality and reducing the occurrence of splitting.
To maintain consistent soil moisture, many fig tree growers use drip irrigation systems.
Drip irrigation delivers water directly to the roots in a controlled manner, reducing the risk of over-watering and promoting healthy growth.
The systems can be easily adjusted based on the tree's water requirements, making it an effective and efficient way to ensure that your fig tree receives the right amount of water.
When to water
The ideal time to water a fig tree is in the morning, allowing the foliage to dry in the sun and reducing the risk of fungal diseases like fig rust. Make sure to water consistently, especially during extended periods of drought. In hot, dry climates, it’s also helpful to provide shade and plenty of mulch to help regulate soil moisture.
For more on rust, check out the detailed article I wrote here:
Signs of underwatering
The most common reason why figs fall off a fig tree prematurely is not enough water. The first thing that a fig tree will do is stop growing during times of drought. Then the figs will fall off the tree and the leaves will follow.
You may notice that your tree is looking sad as the leaves are drooping. If only the newer leaves droop, that’s called humidity shock due to a drastic drop in humidity. If the whole tree is looking sad, that’s a sign of not enough soil moisture.
You could also have a fig tree that requires pollination to ripen edible fruit. That could be the case if you’re unsure of the fig variety that you’re growing, but in most cases, it’s a lack of water.
Signs of overwatering
Yellowing leaves are the most common sign of an overwatered fig tree. Particularly the lower leaves will turn yellow in color and fall first. This is almost always because your soil is waterlogged or your fig tree is being affected by root rot, which is very common in pots.
Why a Drier Soil Results in Better Tasting Figs & Higher Shelf Life
The quality and taste of figs can be influenced by the moisture levels in the soil. In general, figs grown in drier soil tend to be sweeter, with a more intense flavor. This happens for a couple of reasons:
How dry soil raises the brix of figs
Think of the fig like you would a cactus. The fig tree has an incredible ability to store large amounts of water in its roots, trunks, branches, and even fruits.
As the fig has excess water available to it, the fig tree does not hesitate to store water and if fruits are present on the branches, some of that water will be stored in the fruits themselves and that’s the last place you want excess water stored.
Why? The more water, the lower the concentration of sugars or brix within our fruits. If you took iced tea and added more water, wouldn’t the concentration of sugars be diluted? Figs and most fruits are no different. Grapes are grown this way, stone fruits, apples, pears, and so many other fruiting plants benefit from a dry year or something called ‘dry farming.’
With a higher brix, the longer shelf life our figs will have as well. They'll dry easier because fermentation, mold, and spoilage can't occur because sugar acts as a preservative.
The results of figs with a high brix content:
Stress and its effect on plant compounds
Stress, such as drought stress is another factor that helps improve fruit quality. As plants get stressed their plant compounds and antioxidants become higher in number. Take pepper plants for example, in drought conditions their levels of capsicum increase.
The more antioxidants a fruit or vegetable has, the more flavor and nutrients it potentially contains. Think about it. Why do we subconsciously pick the brightest and best-looking fruits at the grocery store?
This is why fig trees grown in drier climates, such as the Mediterranean, often produce fruit with the best flavor and texture and wild figs almost always taste better than commercially grown figs. It’s due to the difference in soil moisture and I can certainly corroborate that here with the many observations that I’ve paid attention to on the subject.
Read more about ripening REALLY tasty figs here:
My recommendations to dial in your watering of fig trees:
When checking your soil moisture, aim for soil moisture that’s consistently slightly drier than moist.
Dial back your water when your figs start to form to avoid the diluting of sugars and lowering of brix in your fruits.
Consistent soil moisture has plenty of benefits and so does slightly dry soil, but don’t let the soil get too dry! That’s where you can lose fruits, and leaves or even stop growth completely.