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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.

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 separate male and female flowers facing toward the center. A small hole ('eye') visible on the end of the fruit allows the fig wasp, Blastophaga psenes, to enter the fruit and pollinate the flowers. Some cultivars have a closed 'eye' and reduced insect access.
Bloom: Twice, early spring and late summer. 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, which grows on new wood, may not have enough warmth to mature.
Self-fruitful: When the fig wasp is not present, most cultivars will self-pollinate, without seeds developing inside the fruit. Other cultivars, such as Smyrna, need the fig wasp to pollinate and will not develop fruit for one or both crops.
Years before fruiting: 4-5 years after grafting.
Fruit: Although commonly 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 closed eye cultivars avoid the sour fruit problem entirely. Some cultivars have open eyes for the first crop and closed eyes for the second crop.
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. 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 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:
'Black Mission' closed eye, no insect penetration, purple to black skin, red flesh, tree grows 25-30' tall and as wide, USDA 8b-11.
'Brown Turkey' open eye, frequent insect penetration resulting in sour figs, reddish-brown with purple skin, pinkish-red flesh, tree grows 15-25' tall and as wide, USDA 7-9.
'Celeste' closed eye, small to medium fruit, purple skin, red flesh, sweet, tree grows 5-10' tall and as wide, USDA 7-11.
'Desert King' medium open eye on first crop, closed eye on second crop, yellow skin, sweet red flesh, excellent flavor, tree grows 10-15' high and wide, USDA 7-10. The first crop is larger than the second in hot climates.
'Ischia Green' small to medium fruit, closed eye, pale green skin, strawberry red flesh, good flavor, tree grows 10-15' high, USDA 7-10.
'Peter's Honey' eye closed with honey drop, greenish-yellow skin, dark amber flesh, sweet, excellent flavor when fresh. Tree grows 15-25' high and wide, USDA 7-9.
'Violette de Bordeaux' small fruit with purple-black skin, red flesh, excellent sweet flavor, medium open eye, dwarf tree grows 6-10' tall, 4-5' wide, good container plant, USDA 5-10.
Wildlife: Attracts birds, and in Africa and Asia, the fig wasp. Birds are particularly attracted to figs that turn dark. Green and light-colored fruit attracts less attention.
Toxic / Danger: Sap is a skin and eye irritant. Unripe fruit are poisonous.
Origin: Western Asia. Most likely domesticated over 4000 years ago.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 5-11, depending on cultivar.
Sunset climate zones: 4-9, 12-24.
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 month. Every 3-5 days during the hottest months of the year. Yellow and dropped leaves are a sign of insufficient water.
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. The most common insect pest is the green fig beetle (Cotinis mutabilis). Gophers may attack roots.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit.

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Edible Fig: Ficus carica - fruit

Edible Fig: Ficus carica - leaf

Edible Fig: Ficus carica

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