Gardening
in Tucson, Phoenix,
Arizona and California

Gardening in Tucson, Phoenix, Arizona and California

while line Back to Plant List

while line Back to Growing Fruit, Berries and Nuts

Growing Edible Figs: Ficus carica

Botanical Overview

A member of the Mulberry family, the Ficus genus 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 contain female flowers that do not require pollination and produce fruit automatically. They are the cultivars of choice for home gardens.

Description

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. 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 common type figs with tightly closed eyes can usually avoid the sour fruit problem. Some cultivars with open eyes produce a drop of 'honey' that blocks the eye and seals it from incursions unless 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 cultivars 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 plants are Common figs which produce fruit without pollination and without viable seeds. All figs 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 tip. 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 cultivars 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 Flavor
'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, sweet fig-berry jam-like flavor with strawberry overtones. Considered better tasting than 'Ischia Green', otherwise similar. This tree grows 10-15' high in USDA zones 7-10.
Tannin Berry Flavor
'Conadria' small eye, large fruit, greenish-yellow skin, pink flesh, tannin berry flavor, less sweet than Kadota. The tree grows 12-18' high in USDA zones 6-10 and does well in high-temperature regions. A vigorous, long-lived, very productive tree.
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.
Honey Flavor
'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.
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 Flavor
'Black Jack' open eye, large fruit, 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 container plant.
'Mission' / 'Black Mission' closed eye, medium to large fruit, purple to black skin, red flesh, resin berry flavor. The tree grows 25-30' tall and as wide in USDA zones 8b-11. This is a huge tree that demands lots of water. If it is severely trimmed every winter to keep it small, it only produces a fall crop. It is more susceptible to the fig mosaic virus than other figs and more seriously damaged by it.
'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 container plant.
'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.
Sugar Flavor
'Brown Turkey' open eye, medium to large fruit, brown to purple skin, red flesh, sugar flavor. This tree grows 15-25' tall and as wide in USDA zones 7-9. Needing a dry, hot summer to ripen properly, it is climate dependent and unreliable in producing quality fruit in regions with summer rains. Frequent insect penetration into the open eye results in sour figs. Becoming a very large tree that takes over a yard, its vigorous roots make it better suited as a rootstock for grafting other fig cultivars.
'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.
Caramel Flavor
'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.
'Osborn Prolific' partly open eye, medium-large fruit, reddish brown skin, light colored flesh, caramel honey flavor when fully ripe and fresh. This tree grows 10' tall in USDA zones 7-9. It makes a good container plant.
Wildlife: The fruit attracts birds, especially fruit that turns dark. Green and light-colored fruit 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 the edible 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 are poisonous.
Origin: Arabia and Mesopotamia. The edible fig was domesticated over 11,000 years ago.

social icons Facebook Twitter Pinterest Instagram

Edible Fig: Ficus carica 'Tiger Stripe' - fruit

Edible Fig: Ficus carica - leaf

Edible Fig: Ficus carica

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.
Drought tolerant: Yes, with loss of food crop.
Sun: Full sun.
Planting: Make sure the hole for trees to be planted in the ground is at least twice the diameter of the pot and drains well.
Do not plant a fig tree over caliché or decomposing granite unless a hole has been punched through the hard rock-like layer. If there is no drainage through the hard layer, water may accumulate underneath the tree and cause root rot.
Do not allow plants or grass to grow inside the drip line (under the branches) to avoid competition for water.
Planting fig trees closely together will cause competition for water, with the older/larger tree winning out. Such 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 locations where plants have exhibited these diseases.
Smaller fig plants can be grown in a container.
Soil: Figs are tolerant of soil types except that the soil must be well draining.
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 after becoming established: Deep water, every 7-10 days when fruiting starts, through 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 same time.
Small fruit staying green and not growing can be the result of too many fruit on a branch that need thinning. Otherwise, the tree needs more water. Some cultivars ripen later than others. Know the ripening time for your cultivar.
Reduce irrigation to once a month from late fall through late winter to avoid freeze damage.
Mulch: Place a deep layer of organic material such as straw or hay within the drip line and one foot away from the trunk to conserve moisture and reduce heat stress in summer.
First Year Care: Young fig trees in the ground 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.
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.
Cut off any suckers as they appear during the growing season.
Do not prune in the fall before the plant loses its leaves and becomes dormant, otherwise it will start new growth.
Some cultivars bear a heavy crop and young fruit must be thinned so the remainder can grow to full size. If two figs are growing from one node of a branch, remove one. Thin figs so that they will not be touching when they have grown to full size.
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: 2-3 year old hardwood cuttings, taken in late winter before bud break, and rooted in a nursery bed, is the propagation technique most often used. 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) which is often mistaken for the green June Beetle, and stink bugs. Some of these insects will even dig into a closed eye fig and ruin the crop of every fig cultivar planted.
Fig mosaic virus is introduced by mites or by cuttings. Some fig cultivars, such as 'Black Mission', are affected more than others. Symptoms resemble potassium deficiency and include the 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
[1] The plant is not mature. Fig plants do not produce fruit until they are 3-5 years old. [2] 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. [3] Winter pruning has reduced or eliminated the old wood on which the spring crop grows. New growth may produce a summer crop. [4] 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
[1] The plant is watered inconsistently, especially after fruit set. Water on a consistent basis. [2] 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. [3] 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. [4] Weather - rapid temperature fluctuations between hot and cold. [5] 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
[1] 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. [2] Insufficient water will cause the plant to go into survival mode and stop ripening its fruit.

Comments

Many fig trees sold under different names are the same cultivar. For example, 'Mt Etna', 'Hardy Chicago' and 'Marseilles Black' are identical. 'Panachée' is the same as 'Tiger Stripe'. When differences between similar cultivars 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?
Email gardenwinning@gmail.com. All contributions are welcome and appreciated.



copyright © GardenOracle.com
Latest update: January, 2021