As an educator on everything related to the fig, I get this question all the time. “Why aren’t my figs ripening?”
Believe it or not, your figs are probably ripening. You just don’t know it.
But what about tricks that I might know to help speed up their ripening process? After all, that’s mainly why we’re growing fig trees. For the amazing eating experience, figs can offer.
In this article, I’m going to explain all of that and more. Check out my latest video on this very topic below!
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Understanding Fig Ripening: It's a Process
The excitement of watching your fig tree flourish can sometimes be met with puzzlement when those eagerly anticipated figs don't seem to be ripening. Here's the good news: Your figs are very likely on their journey to full maturity; it's just that the path they take might be a bit different than what you'd expect.
Let's use the photo below as our guide. This branch full of figs demonstrates some of the different ripening stages our figs may be in. When you first notice the formation of figs on your fig tree, it's typically a minuscule fig, pea-sized and barely noticeable (1). As days pass, this small fig experiences a growth spurt, expanding to a more prominent size (2).
However, here's where the curveball comes in: after this initial growth spurt, the fig takes a hiatus. It enters a 30-day stagnation period where there seems to be no visible growth. To the untrained eye, it might seem as though the fig has hit a standstill, but it's merely taking its time, and what I assume is gathering energy for the next leap in growth.
After this month-long pause, almost as if by magic, the fig suddenly quickly swells to a larger size almost overnight, taking on a more recognizable fig form (3). But the process isn't over yet. The fig then heads into another stagnation phase, where it once again halts in growth for another 30 days (4).
Patience, as they say, is a virtue. As the days continue, this fig finally embarks on its last stage of maturity. It begins its final ripening, marked by a change in color and size (see below). The once-hard exterior becomes softer to the touch, and as it increases in size, it also amps up its sugar content, promising a sweet, succulent bite for those who wait.
Now that we know how a fig ripens, let's talk about the factors that influence the ripening process.
Factors that Influence Fig Ripening
Growing Season Duration: Generally speaking, fig trees require a growing season that has at least 150 frost-free days for figs to mature fully.
Most varieties require 90 frost-free days to fully ripen a fig after it has formed on the branches.
Soil Temperature: This is the most critical factor. The soil temperature controls our tree’s metabolism. If the soil is cold around 30-50F, our trees will grow slowly and ripen their figs slowly. Instead of an average of 90 days to a ripe fig, it may take 120 or 150 in cooler soils. Aim for around 78 degrees Fahrenheit to facilitate optimal ripening. That’s the optimal metabolic rate for fig trees.
Sunlight: Diminishing sunlight and cooler temperatures in fall can disrupt the ripening process. With sunlight, warmth is brought with it, so for those of us growing in cloudy and mild places like the PNW or the UK, achieving the optimal soil temperature can be difficult.
Tree Positioning: Prioritize sunny, warm locations, like Southern, Western, or Southwestern exposures of your property. Plant near structures or other sources of thermodynamic heating.
Soil Temperature Control for Containers: Containers enable better soil temperature regulation. Adjusting their position or providing artificial warmth in the form of a greenhouse can be beneficial.
Ways to Achieve Earlier Ripening
Fig enthusiasts often seek ways to hasten the ripening process. Here are some methods:
Select Early Ripening Varieties: Varieties like Pastiliere, Celeste, and Hardy Chicago are genetically hardwired for earlier ripening. Instead of the typical 90 days till a ripe fig, they only require 65-75 days.
Increasing Heat Exposure: Elevate soil temperatures using methods like growing fig trees in black pots or placing or planting them near sources of thermodynamic heating. A greenhouse is another great way for fig trees to meet their heat unit requirement quickly.
Oiling: Applying olive oil on the fig's eye can potentially expedite ripening. Be sure to apply it before the final ripening stage (stage 4). Stage 4 is described in the beginning of the article.
Slashing: By simply poking unripe figs in stage 4 with a needle this also seems to speed up the ripening process significantly.
Choosing the Right Fig Variety for Early Ripening
For a timely harvest, especially in regions with a shorter growing season, selecting the right fig variety is crucial. While some figs take about 90 days to ripen, others mature in just 65-70 days. Early ripening varieties like Celeste, Hardy Chicago, Pastiliere, Campaniere, Barbillone, and Little Ruby are great choices that I would recommend to any fig grower.
The genetics of each fig variety determine so many observable factors to consider. Not just the amount of days that are required to ripen a fig, but also how long the harvest window is. Also, the time in between each fig ripens. Some varieties like Dottato seem to ripen a lot of their crop at one time. Others like Martinenca Blanca have a longer and more spread-out harvest window.
One more factor is how the fig tastes when underripe. Figs like Molla Vermella, Dottato, I258, and White Adriatic taste fantastic even in cooler weather. Why? Because they taste better than most varieties when underripe.
For a comprehensive list of early ripening figs and insights, refer to the Fig Boss blog's variety directory page.
Now let's talk about why earlier ripening figs typically have an advantage.