A member of the Mulberry family, the genus ficus has 850 species, of which one, Ficus carica:
the Edible Fig, is commercially grown for its fruit. This species has cultivars with thousands of names
and is grown throughout the temperate world.
Edible fig trees fall into four types named Caprifig, Smyrna, San Pedro, and Common.
Caprifigs are the only fig type having male flowers and host a specialized fig wasp for all Ficus carica trees.
They produce three crops of inedible fruit a year.
Smyrna fig trees produce one crop a year if pollinated by the fig wasp with Caprifig pollen. Commercial
growers may grow three to five Caprifigs for every 100 Smyrna figs in an orchard.
San Pedro figs produce their first (breba) fruit crop in the spring without pollination, but need
pollination for the second (main) crop.
Common figs do not require pollination and are the cultivars of choice for home gardens.
Form: Multi-branched shrub or tree.
Lifespan: Over 40 years. Productivity is highest in the first 12-15
years, then slowly declines.
Leaf retention: Deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate to rapid.
Mature Size: 10-30' high and as wide.
Flowers and Fruit:
A hollow, flask-shaped, modified stem, called a synconium (the fig fruit), is lined on the inside with
numerous female flowers facing toward the center. A small hole (ostiole or 'eye') visible on the end
of the fruit, opposite the stem, allows a fig wasp to enter the fruit and pollinate the flowers.
Some cultivars have a closed 'eye' and reduced insect access. Caprifig types also have male flowers inside,
next to the eye, and provide pollen for other fig types that need it.
Insect and fungal penetration of the fruit is a frequent problem that results in sour fruit and can
ruin an entire crop. Only some closed eye cultivars avoid the sour fruit problem entirely. Some cultivars
with open eyes produce a drop of 'honey' that blocks the eye and seals it from incursions until washed
away by rain.
Bloom: Fig production is climate dependant, often twice a year in
spring and summer, in successive waves.
In warm climates, a third crop is produced. The next crop starts before the current crop has finished
ripening. Some varieties with "everbearing" in the name produce almost continuously, although with peaks
and valleys of production.
Depending on the region grown and the cultivar, the first (breba) crop, which grows on old wood from
the year before, can be susceptible to late frost.
The second (main) crop grows on new wood. A third crop may not have enough warmth to mature.
Self-fruitful: Yes. Most fig varieties are common figs which can
produce fruit without pollination and without viable seeds. All fig varieties described below are common figs
unless otherwise noted.
Years before fruiting: 3-5 years.
Months for fruit to ripen: 2-4, depending on cultivar and growing
environment. Figs need high temperatures to ripen properly. They are ripe when they become larger and change
color, when they become soft, and when they droop at the attachment point. The stem of an unripe fig will ooze
milky sap when the fig is picked. No sap appears when a ripe fig is harvested.
Figs do not ripen all at once on a tree; main crop figs often ripen in succession from the base of a branch
to the top. Figs do not ripen further once picked.
Storage after harvest: Immediately after harvesting, place the figs
in a refrigerator for up to 5 days. Drying, or cooking in a sugar solution and then canning or freezing are
other ways of preserving figs.
Some fig varieties cannot be dried because they spoil soon after harvest, others are very resistant to
spoilage and dry well.
Leaves: Green, large, deeply lobed with 3-5 lobes.
Stems: No thorns, weak. The trunk and branches are sensitive to heat
and sun damage and should be painted with tree trunk paint if exposed to summer sun.
Roots: Aggressive, growing far beyond the tree canopy, sometimes deep.
For larger and more vigorous cultivars, keep this tree away from any structure to avoid root damage.
These trees are invasive in moist areas.
The roots of this tree tend to rob water from other areas and plants in a yard because of their long reach.
Occasionally a cultivar is grafted onto the rootstock of a more vigorous fig cultivar.
Cultivars by Flavor Category:
Notes: The figs listed below are common figs except where noted. There is often little
difference in flavor between figs in the same flavor category. Climate and soil also affect flavor.
Citrus Berry / Adriatic
'Ischia Green' closed eye, small to medium fruit, pale green skin,
strawberry red flesh, citrus berry flavor. This tree grows 10-15' high in USDA zones 7-10.
'Panachée' / 'Panache' / 'Tiger Stripe' closed eye, small
to medium fruit, yellow and green striped skin, red flesh, raspberry citrus flavor. It does not produce
a Breba crop, but does produce a main crop and fall crop on new wood. This vigorous tree grows 12' high
in USDA zones 8-9. It is popular in home gardens because of its excellent flavor. It must be eaten fresh
or processed immediately because it deteriorates too rapidly for drying.
'Strawberry Verte' closed eye, small to medium fruit, pale green
skin, strawberry red flesh, citrus berry flavor. Considered better tasting than 'Ischia Green', otherwise
similar. This tree grows 10-15' high in USDA zones 7-10.
Honey Berry Flavor
'Desert King' medium open eye, small fruit, yellow skin,
strawberry red flesh, honey berry flavor. This San Pedro type fig produces a large Breba crop but no
main crop without caprification (pollination by the fig wasp). The tree grows 8-10' high in
USDA zones 6-10.
Punch Berry Flavor
'Mt Etna' / 'Hardy Chicago' / 'Marseilles Black' small eye, small
fruit, dark purple skin, strawberry red flesh, punch berry flavor.
This tree grows 15-30' high and as wide in USDA zones 5-10. It may be trimmed yearly to be kept at a
6' height. It is well adapted to cold, wet, northern climates.
Resin Berry / Bordeaux Flavor
'Black Jack' closed eye, purple to black skin, red flesh,
resin berry flavor. The tree grows 15' tall and as wide in USDA zones 8b-11. It makes a good
'Black Mission' closed eye, purple to black skin, red flesh,
resin berry flavor. The tree grows 25-30' tall and as wide in USDA zones 8b-11. A very reliable,
'Petite Negra' small eye, medium fruit with purple-black skin,
red flesh, resin berry flavor. This dwarf tree grows 4-8' tall in USDA zones 7-10. It makes a good
'Violette de Bordeaux' medium open eye, small fruit with
purple-black skin, red flesh, resin berry flavor. This dwarf tree grows 6-10' tall and 4-5' wide
in USDA zones 5-10. It makes a good container plant.
'Kadota' open eye filled with honey drop, medium fruit,
yellow-green skin, amber flesh, faint honey flavor. This tree grows 15-25' high in USDA zones 7-10.
'Peter's Honey' open eye filled with honey drop, yellow-green
skin, dark amber flesh, light honey flavor. This tree grows 15-25' high and wide in USDA zones 7-10.
'Brown Turkey' open eye, frequent insect penetration resulting
in sour figs, small to medium fruit, brown to purple skin, red flesh, sugar flavor. Needing a dry,
hot summer to ripen properly, it is climate dependent and unreliable in producing quality fruit in
regions with summer rains. Vigorous roots make it suitable as a rootstock for grafting other fig
cultivars. This tree grows 15-25' tall and as wide in USDA zones 7-9.
'Improved Celeste' / 'Celestial' partially open eye, medium
fruit, light brown to purple skin, caramel pink flesh, sugar flavor. This tree grows 5-10' tall and
as wide in USDA zones 7-11. It makes a good container plant.
'LSU Purple' closed eye, medium fruit, purple skin shows
shallow splits as fruit matures, light red flesh, caramel to maple sugar flavor. This tree grows
8-10' tall and as wide in USDA zones 7-10. It makes a good container plant.
'Texas Everbearing' partially open eye, medium to very large
fruit, red-brown to purple skin, amber flesh, sugar flavor. This tree grows 10' tall and as wide in
USDA zones 6-11. It makes a good container plant.
Wildlife: The fruit attracts birds, especially figs that turn dark.
Green and light-colored figs attract less attention.
In some regions, the fig wasp, Blastophaga psenes, will visit. Each fig species has its own species
of fig wasp, so native fig wasps are not attracted to the Edible Fig. When this fig wasp is present,
it is being sustained by Caprifig type fig trees growing somewhere in the area.
Toxic / Danger: The sap is a skin and eye irritant. Unripe fruit
Origin: Arabia and Mesopotamia. Domesticated over 11,000 years ago.
Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 5-11, depending on cultivar. Fully dormant trees
are hardy to 12-15°F. Trees in active growth can be injured at 30°F.
Chill hours: Most cultivars need 100 hours or less.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun.
Drought tolerant: Yes, with loss of food crop.
Water after becoming established: Deeply, once a week when fruiting
starts, to twice a week during the hottest months of the year. Yellow and dropped leaves, fruit drop, and
fruit shriveling before becoming ripe are signs of insufficient water. Trees receiving insufficient water
are more prone to root nematodes. Overwatering can cause all of the leaves of the tree to turn yellow at the
Reduce irrigation to once a month from late fall through late winter to avoid freeze damage.
Soil: Well drained, tolerant otherwise.
Fertilize: Fertilize only if the tree has not grown 12" in the past
year. Use organic fertilizer, three times in the year, early March, mid April, and late June.
Spread evenly out to the drip line, staying one foot away from the trunk. Water immediately.
Mulch: Heavily with organic material such as straw or hay to conserve
moisture and reduce heat stress in summer.
First Year Care: Young fig trees are not drought tolerant and should
be watered every two days during the growing season. A tree from a 5-gallon container will need only one
gallon of water every other day. Wilting leaves are a signal to irrigate. Do not overwater. Do not fertilize
in the first year.
Planting: Smaller fig plants can be grown in a container.
Make sure the hole for trees planted in the ground is at least twice the diameter of the pot and drains well.
Do not plant anything under a fig tree to avoid water competition.
Planting fig trees closely together will cause competition for water, with the older/larger tree
winning out. These trees will need more water in their vicinity to grow fruit properly to maturity.
Two soil diseases that attack figs are Crown Gall (Agrobacterium tumefaciens) and Cotton or Texas Root
Rot (Phymatotrichopsis). Avoid soils where plants have exhibited these diseases.
Prune: When dormant, prune to shape in the first four years.
Pruning branches will reduce the first (breba / spring) crop because that crop grows on old wood. Cultivars
such as 'Kadota' bear a heavy crop and young fruit must be thinned so the remainder can grow to full size.
Do not prune in the fall before the plant loses its leaves and becomes dormant, otherwise it will start
new growth. If a third crop is produced, twist off the fruit on the first day of winter because the colder
weather will not allow the figs to properly ripen. Leaving the figs on the stem may make it more prone to
frost damage if a freeze does occur.
Litter: Leaf drop in fall or winter. Fig drop if not harvested.
Remove fallen fruit immediately to prevent fungal disease, wild animal visits, and breeding insects.
Propagation: Cuttings or layering. Seed does not breed true.
Pests: Open 'eye' cultivars sometimes experience insect and/or fungus
intrusion, causing a sour taste to the fruit. Heavy summer rains can cause fruit to swell and open a closed
eye, leading to sour fruit.
Insect pests include Cotinis mutabilis, the Green Fig Beetle (Figeater Beetle), often mistaken
for the green June Beetle, and stink bugs.
Fig mosaic virus is introduced by mites or by cuttings. Some fig varieties, such as 'Black Mission',
are affected more than others. Symptoms resemble potassium deficiency and include appearance of a leaf
mosaic pattern, defoliation, distortion and chlorosis of leaves, decreased fruit yield and yellow spotting
on the fruit. The best defense is to be choosy about where your cuttings, seedlings, and potted plants come
from, and to provide the tree with a proper microclimate and sufficient water. Otherwise healthy trees
will often recover from symptoms the following year.
Mites can be controlled with horticultural oils.
Beetles can be controlled by removing mulch, organic material, and leaf litter from the top of the soil
to starve and expose the larvae, but fig beetles can travel across a yard to lay eggs away from the fig tree.
Traps made of containers with water and cut fruit at the bottom can be placed under trees to attract the
beetles. A neem seed extract such as Azamax can be used to kill beetles. Neem seed meal or neem seed cake,
can be spread on the ground in the vicinity of the fig tree to act as a beetle deterrent.
Rats, gophers, deer and javelina can also be a problem. Gophers can be partly handled by growing the
fig in a very large, underground, metal basket.
Uses: Edible fruit, ornamental.
Fig Plant Problems
No figs are produced
 The plant is not mature. Fig plants do not produce fruit until they are 3-5 years old.
 The plant may have been fertilized with too much nitrogen. Growing in the ground, fig trees do not
need to be fertilized unless they grow less than 12" in one year.
 Winter pruning has reduced or eliminated the old wood on which the spring crop grows. New growth
may produce a fall crop.
 The plant is growing in a container and has run out of nutrients after several years with regular
fertilization. It should be repotted with new soil.
Figs drop off before ripening
 The plant is watered inconsistently, especially after fruit set. Water on a consistent basis.
 The tree is being watered only at the trunk and not over the entire root area. A fig tree's roots
can spread beyond the tip of its branches (drip line). Water at least the entire area inside the drip line.
 The plant may be a Smyrna or San Pedro type which needs pollination by the fig wasp. If the fig wasp
is not present in your area, its figs will drop off when small. Grow a common type fig to avoid this.
 Weather - rapid temperature fluctuations between hot and cold.
 Plant diseases such as Fig Mosaic Virus can cause fruit drop. Various fungal diseases may occur if
the tree receives too much rain or is overwatered, also leading to fruit drop.
Figs do not ripen
 Figs need a hot summer to ripen. If temperatures are too low, ripening may not occur. This is
especially true of a third crop. Any third crop figs should be twisted off on the first day of winter
or just before a predicted freeze because they will not ripen properly and their presence makes the
branch more susceptible to freezing.
 Insufficient water will cause the plant to go into survival mode and stop ripening its fruit.
Many fig tree varieties sold under different names appear to be the same variety. For example,
'Mt Etna', 'Hardy Chicago' and 'Marseilles Black' are very similar. So are 'Panachée' and 'Tiger Stripe'.
When differences between similar varieties are reported, it is often due to growing in different
microclimates. Also, pot-grown figs show more variability from year to year than those grown in the ground.
Do you have additional information or a different
experience for this plant that you would like to share?
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are welcome and appreciated.