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Growing Edible Figs: Ficus carica

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A member of the Mulberry family, the genus ficus has 850 species, of which one, ficus carica, is commercially grown for edible fruit. Ficus carica has thousands of cultivars and is grown throughout the temperate world.
Fig trees fall into four types named Caprifig, Smyrna, San Pedro, and Common. Caprifigs produce inedible fruit which provide pollen for the other types. Smyrna trees require the specialized fig wasp Blastophaga psenes for pollination to produce fruit. Common figs produce fruit without pollination and are the cultivars of choice for home gardens. San Pedro figs produce their first (breba) fruit crop in the spring without pollination, but need the fig wasp to pollinate the second (main) crop, so often produce only one crop a year.

Form: 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: A hollow fleshy structure (the fig) is lined on the inside with numerous female flowers facing toward the center. A small hole ('eye') visible on the end of the fruit allows the 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, near the eye, and provide pollen for other fig types.
Bloom: Normally twice, winter and summer. In very warm regions, a third crop is possible in the fall. 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 crop grows on new wood. The third crop may not have enough warmth to mature.
Self-fruitful: Yes. Common figs can produce fruit without pollination and without seeds developing inside the fruit.
Years before fruiting: 4-5 years after grafting.
Fruit: Although referred to as a fruit, the fig is actually a false fruit or multiple fruit in which the flowers and seeds are borne.
Insect, especially beetle, 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.
Months for fruit to ripen: 2-4, depending on cultivar and growing environment. Figs are ripe when they change color, when they droop at attachment point, when they become soft, and in some cases, when they become fragrant. 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 continue to ripen once picked.
Storage after harvest: Immediately after harvesting, place in refrigerator for up to 5 days. Drying, or cooking in a sugar solution and then canning or freezing are other ways of preserving figs.
Leaves: Green, large, deeply lobed with 3-5 lobes.
Stems: No thorns.
Roots: Deep, aggressive. Keep this tree 20-30' from any structure to avoid root damage. Invasive in moist areas.
Cultivars of Note:
(There is often little difference in flavor between figs in the same flavor category)
Berry-Citric / Adriatic Flavor
'Ischia Green' closed eye, small to medium fruit, pale green skin, strawberry red flesh, citric berry flavor, tree grows 10-15' high, USDA 7-10.
'Panachee' closed eye, small to medium fruit, yellow and green striped skin, red flesh, citric berry flavor, vigorous tree grows 12' high, USDA 8-9. This cultivar has become popular because of its flavor and reliability.
Berry-Resin / Bordeaux Flavor
'Black Mission' closed eye, purple to black skin, red flesh, resin berry flavor, tree grows 25-30' tall and as wide, USDA 8b-11. A very reliable, huge tree.
'Petite Negra' small eye, medium fruit with purple-black skin, red flesh, resin berry flavor, dwarf tree grows 4-8' tall, USDA 7-10. A good container plant.
'Violette de Bordeaux' medium open eye, small fruit with purple-black skin, red flesh, resin berry flavor, dwarf tree grows 6-10' tall, 4-5' wide, USDA 5-10. A good container plant.
Berry-Tannin Flavor
'Conadria' closed eye, large fruit, green-yellow skin, pink to red flesh, tannin berry flavor, vigorous tree grows 15-20' tall and as wide, USDA 7-10.
Honey Flavor
'Kadota' open eye filled with honey drop, medium fruit, yellow-green skin, amber flesh, honey flavor, tree grows 15-25' high, USDA 7-10.
'Peter's Honey' open eye filled with honey drop, yellow-green skin, dark amber flesh, light honey flavor. Tree grows 15-25' high and wide, USDA 7-10.
Sugar Flavor
'Celeste' closed eye, small to medium fruit, purple skin, red flesh, light sugar flavor, tree grows 5-10' tall and as wide, USDA 7-11. A good container plant.
'Black Jack' closed eye, large to very large fruit with purplish-brown skin, red flesh, dark sugar flavor, tree grows 15' tall and as wide, USDA 7-10. A good container plant.
'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. Tree grows 15-25' tall and as wide, USDA 7-9.
Wildlife: Attracts birds, and in some regions, the fig wasp. Birds are particularly attracted to figs that turn dark. Green and light-colored figs attract less attention. Rats, gophers, deer and javelina can also be a problem.
Toxic / Danger: Sap is a skin and eye irritant. Unripe fruit are poisonous.
Origin: Western Asia. Domesticated over 10,000 years ago.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 5-11, depending on cultivar.
Chill hours: Less than 300 hours.
Heat tolerant: Yes, depending on cultivar.
Sun: Full sun.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Water after becoming established: Once or twice a week when fruiting starts, to every 2-3 days during the hottest months of the year. Yellow and dropped leaves are a sign of insufficient water. Once or twice a month when not fruiting. Reduce irrigation mid-fall to avoid frost damage. Fig trees use 6.5 times more water than orange trees to produce a pound of ripe fruit.
Soil: Well drained, tolerant otherwise, pH 6.6-7.5 (neutral).
Fertilize: Fertilize only if the tree has not grown 12" in the past year. Use 8-8-8 fertilizer, three times in the year, early March, mid April, and late June. Fertilize at the rate of one-quarter pound for every year of age until a maximum of 3 pounds is reached. Spread evenly out to the drip line, staying one foot away from the trunk. Water immediately. Over fertilizing causes rank growth or fruit drop.
Mulch: Heavily with organic material to conserve moisture and reduce heat stress in summer.
First Year Care: Young fig trees are not drought tolerant and should be watered at least twice a week during the growing season. Wilting leaves are a signal to irrigate. Do not fertilize the first year. They should be under 50% shade cloth when temperatures are over 100°F.
Planting: 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 first four years. The first crop is reduced by pruning because it 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.
Litter: Leaf drop. Fig drop if not harvested. Remove fallen fruit immediately to prevent fungal disease, wild animals 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 fruit.
Insect pests include Cotinis mutabilis, the Green Fig Beetle (Figeater Beetle), and stink bugs. The Green Fig Beetle is often mistaken for green June Beetles.
Fig mosaic virus is introduced by mites or by cuttings and grafting. Affected trees must be removed and destroyed, not composted. Make sure your plants and vegetative cuttings are from a disease-free source.
Mites can be controlled with horticultural oils. Beetles are best controlled by removing mulch, organic material, and leaf litter from the top of the soil to starve and expose the larvae. Nematodes are also used to attack beetle larvae. There are no chemical treatments.
Uses: Edible fruit, ornamental.

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Edible Fig: Ficus carica - fruit

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Edible Fig: Ficus carica

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