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Growing Fig Trees: Tips and Tricks for a Successful Harvest

Thinking about growing a fig tree? You’ve come to the right place. I'm Ross the "Fig Boss," and growing fig trees has been my passion since 2014.


Figs are among the best-tasting fruits you can grow right in your backyard. Trust me, I've tasted and grown them all, but don't just take my word for it. Many cultures have loved and fought over them for 1000s of years. Growing fig trees also has numerous other personal benefits that nurture a connection to nature, provide insights into personal growth, and offer continuous learning opportunities.

They are also relatively easy to grow, even for novice gardeners. They are drought-tolerant and can adapt to a wide range of soil types. Figs are also self-fertile, which means that a single tree can produce fruit without the need for another tree for pollination. Did you know you can grow new fig trees by sticking a cutting into the soil? Fig trees are truly fascinating.


But to successfully grow fig trees, one must understand their growing requirements, including soil type, water needs, and pruning techniques. This article will provide a comprehensive guide to growing fig trees, from selecting the right cultivar to harvesting the fruit.

As always if you want more fig-related content like this, feel free to subscribe to the monthly Fig Boss newsletter at the top of the page.



Understanding Fig Trees


Botanical Profile


Fig trees are deciduous trees that belong to the genus Ficus. That’s right, they’re related to everyone’s favorite Fiddle Leaf Fig. Almost as beautiful, the fig tree shows off its iconic, large, and ornamental leaves bringing history but also a Mediterranean feel to your garden.

They are native to Asia and the Middle East regions but are now widely grown in other parts of the world, including the United States and the Mediterranean. Fig trees can reach 70 feet in height, but don’t worry! You can easily maintain them at 6-10 feet. They’ll naturally grow as a bush with several trunks, and with proper training, you can shape them into a tree or an espalier. My personal favorite is a “fan” espalier.



Figs are unique in that they produce fruit without the need for pollination. Believe it or not, figs are an inverted flower that contains hundreds of tiny fruits called Achenes and because of this characteristic, the fig has a soft and melt-in-your-mouth texture. To me, the fig is nature's pastry. They're like eating a scoop of jam right off the tree wrapped in the perfect accompaniment, its skin. 


Varietal Differences



There are 1000s of different varieties of fig trees, each with unique characteristics that display different flavors, textures, colors, shapes, and sizes all determined by their genetics. Here’s the rundown on some of the most popular varieties:

Brown Turkey Fig (Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey') - This may seem harsh, but Brown Turkey is one of the worst fig varieties that you could choose. It is a poor performer in most locations in the US and is mostly grown for commercial purposes. As a home grower, there are many other better choices! Don’t be fooled if your local nursery carries it.

Black Mission Fig (Ficus carica 'Black Mission') - This fig variety is known as one of the most commonly grown varieties in the world. Specifically, for commercial production as it has above-average drying capabilities and thick skin. Again, I find that most growers can do better.

Kadota (Ficus carica 'Kadota') - Kadota was the first commercial fig grown during Roman times for its excellent drying abilities and thick skin. It’s very popular in Italy and among old-school Italian Americans for its classic nostalgic honey fig flavor. Also known as a “honey fig,” which is one of the 3 main flavor profiles found within figs. Check out a full breakdown of all of the flavor profiles here.

Celeste (Ficus carica 'Celeste') - Celeste is your classic “sugar fig” and is the standard fig variety that growers measure against all others when they’re growing in humid climates. In fact, LSU used Celeste in their breeding program with the goal of creating a number of other rain-tolerant varieties.

Violette de Bordeaux (Ficus carica 'Violette de Bordeaux') - As the name suggests, Violette de Bordeaux is originally from the Bordeaux region of France, and is now widespread all over the world. It's known for its reliable and complexly flavored main crop and breba production. I highly recommend growing this fig variety. It’s superior to Black Mission in almost every way.

Hardy Chicago (Ficus carica 'Hardy Chicago') - This is the most well-known hardy fig variety in the world. It can withstand an impressive 0F winter low. There are however a number of other hardy fig varieties. Check out this article for a full list.

Desert King (Ficus carica 'Desert King') - A great choice for growers in mild climates located in the UK, the PNW, or climates like it for its reliable & tasty crop of breba figs. The classic San Pedro type fig.

Keep in mind, I cannot stress enough how important it is to choose the right variety that fits well with your local climate and matches your taste preferences. That way, you can enjoy figs to their fullest.



Climatic Requirements


Fig trees can be grown in a variety of climates, but they prefer warm, dry summers and mild winters.

Temperature Tolerances


The fig tree or Ficus Carica is known to be one of the hardiest members within its species and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. However, they do have their limits. The ideal soil temperature for fig trees is 78°F while ambient temperatures above 110°F or below 10°F can be detrimental for extended periods.

Fig trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves during the winter months. During this time, they become dormant and can tolerate colder temperatures. While dormancy is not a requirement, nor are chill hours, I recommend forcing your fig tree into slumber through defoliation where frost is unreliable. For all other growers, frost and freezing temperatures help your fig tree go to sleep naturally.



Growing Fig Trees in Zones 5, 6, & 7


When growing fig trees in containers, move them into winter storage prior to the temperature dropping below 15°F to avoid root damage.
When experiencing temperatures below 10°F, choose a hardy fig variety. 
When growing fig trees in zones 5 or 6, choosing a hardy fig variety will not be enough. In addition, a method of winter protection like wrapping or covering is required to ensure regular harvests.



Sunlight and Shade Needs


Fig trees require a minimum of 4-6 hours of direct sunlight to produce an abundant harvest. Don’t be afraid to give your tree more sunlight. Fig trees will thrive in sunny spots. The more sun the better. However, they can tolerate some shade and may appreciate it in desert climates, especially during the hottest parts of the day. If the tree is planted in an area that receives too much shade, that might be the reason why your fig tree isn’t producing fruit!



It is important to note that fig trees can become sunburned if they are suddenly exposed to full sun after being in a shaded area. To prevent this, it is recommended to gradually increase the amount of sunlight the tree receives throughout a couple of weeks.



Soil Preparation


Fig trees require well-drained soil to thrive. Poorly drained soil can cause root rot, which can lead to the death of the tree. Another pro-tip: fig trees in soggy soil will produce lower quality and poorer tasting fruits.

The texture of the soil is also important for the growth of fig trees. Sandy soil drains quickly but does not retain moisture or nutrients. Clay soil, on the other hand, retains moisture and nutrients but drains poorly. A loamy soil with a mixture of sand, silt, and clay can make growing fig trees a breeze.

Planting Techniques


To ensure good drainage, I recommend planting fig trees on raised beds, berms, or mounds. Planting above grade can also create a metabolic advantage that mimics the warming of the soil in the springtime a fig tree receives when growing in a container.

When planting, dig a hole wider and deeper than the root ball. Contrary to some other fruiting plants, you can plant the rootball deeper than the soil surface. Even below the top of a raised bed or mound. This can provide extra winter protection in colder zones and the establishment of a larger root system at a faster pace than otherwise. Remove air pockets, water thoroughly after planting, and add a layer of mulch to help retain moisture and change the soil quality over time. Do not skip this critical step!



Timing and Spacing


Logically, fig trees should be planted in the early spring, fall, or winter when the soil is moist and temperatures are moderate. When growing in colder zones, stick with a spring planting to avoid unnecessary winter damage.

When planting, it is important to choose a location with lots of warmth, more sun exposure, and well-draining soil. After planting hundreds of fig trees, I’ve learned that you can plant them closer than you think. Even 2 to 4 feet apart. If you can afford more planting space, go with 6-10 foot spacing



Watering and Irrigation


  • When growing fig trees in containers, they require consistent watering to ensure healthy growth and fruit production. About a half gallon of water per day during hot days.

  • I use drip irrigation that’s hooked up to an automatic timer. No more missing critical watering!

  • 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.

  • Mulching around the base of the tree can also help retain moisture in the soil and reduce water loss through evaporation.




Fertilization and Feeding


Soil pH and Nutrients


Before feeding a fig tree, it is important to check the pH level of the soil. The ideal pH range for growing fig trees is between 6.0 and 7.5. If the soil pH is too low or too high, it can affect the growth and development of the tree. If the soil pH is not within the ideal range, it can be adjusted by adding lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower the pH.

In addition to checking the pH level, fig trees require certain nutrients to grow and produce fruit. A soil test can help determine the nutrient levels in the soil. Based on the results, it’s best to correct any deficiencies immediately.


Fertilizer Types


Fig trees require a balanced fertilizer with a 10-10-10 or 20-10-20 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). Organic fertilizers such as compost, well-rotted manure, and bone meal are good options for fig trees, but they may not be enough for container fig trees that are subjected to constant nutrient leaching.

Don’t forget about micronutrients like Silica, Magnesium, Sulfur, and Calcium! These are all critical nutrients that fig trees specifically enjoy in larger quantities. A soil supplement like Greensand or Rock Dust can cover a wider range of micronutrients that may also be missing from your soil.

Application Schedule


  • Fertilizer should be applied to fig trees in early spring as the new growth appears. I recommend 4-8 feedings or a one-time application of slow-release synthetic fertilizer.

  • It is important to note that over-fertilizing fig trees can lead to salt burning of the roots or poor fruit quality

  • Therefore, I would not overdo it! Healthy soil, warmer soil, and consistent watering are the keys to faster growth.




Pruning and Maintenance


Pruning Techniques


When it comes to pruning fig trees, excessive pruning can disrupt hormonal balance and may prevent your fig tree from producing fruits in the next growing season. Contrary to conventional wisdom, removing one-third of last year's growth won't help with tree size or fruiting; instead, my rule of thumb is to focus on thinning cuts. Remember to always wear gloves to avoid burns from the tree's sap.

Step-by-Step Guide


During dormancy, start by thinning out any excess growth at the tree’s base. Too many suckers growing from the soil line can create an overcrowded fig tree.
Now your vision is unobstructed. Remove 1-2 older or unhealthy trunks from the soil line each year. During the upcoming growing season, new growth will take its place. This is critical toward starting the recycling process your fig tree needs to remain small while also ensuring the right balance of hormones.
Next, remove any dead, diseased, or damaged wood. Then, prune any branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other. This will prevent damage and allow more sunlight and air to reach the interior of the tree.



Maximizing Fruit Production


To maximize fruit production, it is important to prune and train your fig tree properly. It’s all about maximizing the sunlight available to your tree. Not all of us have the luxury of moving our fig tree into more daily hours of sunlight.  

Instead, staking branches with bamboo stakes can guide them to create the desired form, resulting in a more open structure and increased light exposure, ultimately improving fruit yield. Instead of pruning, it’s best to stake branches to preserve the apical and lateral buds, maintaining the tree's form and maintaining the proper hormonal balance within the tree.



Pest and Disease Control


Fig trees are generally unbothered by common pests and diseases. However, it's still important to monitor them and take action if necessary.

One common pest is fruit flies, which lay larvae in fermenting fruits. To prevent this, use traps, dispose of any fallen fruits, and don’t plant more fig trees or other fruiting plants than you can handle. 

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Everyone struggles with birds, squirrels, deer, or some other animal. Generally, nets, traps, and fencing are your best bet. Even if you create a ring around your tree with chicken wire, that can keep out groundhogs and most animals that can’t climb who also love eating figs.

Lastly, watch out for fungal diseases such as rust, which can be prevented by pruning the tree to improve air circulation and avoid overhead watering. If necessary, fungicides can be used to preventatively control the spread of the disease.



Harvesting and Yield


Fig trees typically produce one crop of figs per year, but some can produce two. The first crop, known as the breba crop, grows on last year's wood and ripens in early summer. The second crop, known as the main crop, grows on the current year's wood and ripens in late summer or early fall. 

To determine when to harvest, it’s important to feel the softness of the fig’s neck. Because figs ripen from the bottom to the top, if the neck is soft and ripe, the rest of the fig will be. Secondary indicators that can help determine ripeness are a change in skin color, drooping of the fruit, cracking in the skin, a drop of honey at the eye, and an increase in fruit size. It is important to pick figs at the right time to prevent them from becoming overripe and falling off the tree.



Post-Harvest Storage


After harvesting figs, they should be stored in a cool, dry place such as a refrigerator. Figs can also be frozen for long-term storage. To freeze figs, cut off their stems, then place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Once frozen, transfer the figs to an airtight container or freezer bag and store them in the freezer.

Preservation Methods


Figs can be preserved through various methods such as drying, canning, or making preserves. Dried figs are a popular snack and can be made by slicing fresh figs and then drying them in a dehydrator or oven. Canned figs can be made by packing fresh figs in syrup or juice and then processing them in a water bath canner. Preserves can be made by cooking fresh figs with sugar and lemon juice until thickened, and then canning the mixture in jars.

Propagation Methods


Fig trees can be propagated through cuttings, layering, grafting, or division and are not typically grown from seed. Fig seeds won’t germinate without pollination, the seedlings can be male or require pollination in the future to fruit, and they’ll produce a fig genetically different than the parent fig tree.

Instead, rooting fig cuttings is the most common and reliable method for propagating fig trees.

Taking cuttings from a fig tree is the initial step in propagating and rooting a new tree. The optimal time for this is winter when the tree is dormant, allowing for hardwood cuttings that root more successfully. Next, score the cutting, use rooting hormone, and plant it in well-draining soil. 

Whether directly in the ground, in a raised bed, or a pot, make sure your fig cutting has the right rooting environment with a consistent soil temperature near 78F and adequate lighting.



Conclusion


Now you’ll be on your way toward successfully growing your own fig tree.

If you want additional information, feel free to check out my other Fig Tree Growing Guide: The Fig Commandments

Have you ever wondered what the basic rules of growing fig trees are or perhaps some expertly curated recommendations that cut through the noise? There is a lot of information out there. Let this be your sole guide to grow a great fig tree your neighbors can't help but envy. May I present to you, The Fig Commandments.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I'm Ross, the "Fig Boss." A YouTuber educating the world on the wonderful passion of growing fig trees. Apply my experiences to your own fig journey to grow the best tasting food possible.
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