Fig tree is an important flowering plant grown commercially for its fruits and for decorative purposes around homes and gardens. Figs generally flourish better in warm climate with minimal care, but can also be grown in more temperate regions with a bit of extra care.
In cold zones, figs can be protected from freezing temperatures with an insulator (straw-like in cylindrical shape or horticultural fleece) or moved indoors or garage if in a container (be mindful of the fig wasps).
In spring, remove the protection and give it good feed, mulch with well-rotted manure. Figs have several varieties, which are easy to grow with less maintenance. They come in different colours –green, purple and yellow with edible gold, pink and reddish flesh.
Interestingly, figs naturally attract a special type of insect called wasp, which help in pollination so that they can produce fruits and flowers. However, home growers may find it challenging to bring them into their homes because of these insects.
General Maintenance -Figs Care
Watering -Fig trees need to be watered regularly most especially the young ones as their roots are not well established in the ground for adequate mineral and water absorption.
For pot-bound ones, over-watering could result to death when they are young, ensure pots have holes for effective drainage, and water when soil or compost is loose and feels dry.
Give them a good soak when watering rather than little at a time. Sit them in trays if possible and allow drained water to be soaked up and discard excess water after about half an hour. If pot cannot sit in a tray, collect drained water and recycle once or twice until it is well watered.
Feeding – Feed figs with balanced fertilizer in early spring. Firstly, know what nutrients your soil is lacking by having it tested. When nutrients are noticeably missing (observed from tested soil or by physically examining the figs), you can choose the right fertilizer and feeding to replenish the soil.
Normally, you water thoroughly after feeding with fertilizer or feeding compost but follow the fertilizer’s instructions carefully as to when it should be applied, whether watering is necessary, amounts to spread on different ground sizes.
The best way to feed your figs depend on the size, age and general health, as well as your local climate and moisture levels. Make adjustments as necessary to help the fertilizer do its best.
You can as well feed figs with diluted fish emulsions each week during the growing season. It is relevant to note that peat moss, dry leaves or pine bark and stable manure can improve the soil while adding nutrients.
These increase the fertilizer efficiency and water-holding capacity of your soil. Mulching with these amendments help to prevent weeds, conserve the soil moisture and aids root development.
Figs need lots of root development to bear more fruits.
Pruning – Good fig tree care requires some pruning as well. It encourages more growth but this must be well controlled in containers to ensure that your figs do not suffer.
When you notice excessive growth of new shoots some weeks after pruning or feeding or some old branches growing inwards, it is recommended that you thin or prune, so that your figs are not over-burdened.
By removing the surplus branches, you will expose the remaining branches to more air and sunlight. You should prune in late winter just before growth begins.
After pruning, if you must feed your figs, wait for some weeks before applying fertilizer to avoid excessive young shoots shooting out in clusters.
Be sure to remove all dead, diseased, or weak branches to encourage growth.
Growing and Planting
Plant early enough in spring or fall so roots have enough time to adjust and settle before temperatures start to warm up. Figs grow best in full sun and well-drained soil. Dig a planting hole at least twice as wide as the root ball to allow plenty of rapid root growth and establishment.
De-root the planting hole and loosen the soil with trowel or garden shovel (these make it easier for the shrub’s roots to penetrate the soil easily). After de-rooting, work-in some planting compost or native soil and water. Allow to settle for about a week before planting.
Once the fig is out of its container, look at the roots, If they are densely bound in a circular pattern (having the shape of the container), break up the pattern to loosen the roots with a sharp trowel, knife or pruner (you can as well loosen the roots with your hands for young figs).
Once you’ve loosened the roots, place the root ball into the hole. If necessary, straighten to stabilize the fig by adjusting or filling beneath the root ball with the planting compost or native soil.
Plant the fig and fill the hole with the loosened native soil that was removed from the hole and firmly press the soil in place. Plant the fig so that the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil.
Figs generally are easy to propagate but a bit of your time is required. Figs can be propagated by seeding or stem cuttings. Seeding fig is time consuming and less efficient compared to stem cuttings, which is fast, efficient and reliable.
To propagate fig by stem cuttings, start with the “mother” fig that is in good health and has plenty of stems, so that if cuttings are removed, it will not harm the plant. The stem should have no flower, no flower-buds, no disease and no insects.
Use a sharp sterile knife or secateurs to cut the stem from the ‘mother’ just above the leaf joint or node (usually half way down the length of the stem). The cutting should be about 3-5 inches long, with at least two or three sets of leaves attached. It’s important to ensure that knives and secateurs are sterile and sharp to avoid diseases and wounding the stems.
Place the cuttings in a container with clean water. Before planting, make a clean cut of the stem at an angle of 45°below a node. Then remove the lower. Pinch out the soft tip of the cutting. The final length of the cutting should be about 5-10cm (2-4in) long.
Dip the base of the cutting in hormone rooting powder or gel to promote new root growth. Then make a hole for the cutting in a suitable container of damp (but not wet) rooting compost using a dibber (a clean blunt stick).
The depth of the hole should be equivalent to the length of the part of cutting to be inserted. Then insert the base of the cutting. This way the rooting solution or powder will remain on the cutting when planted. Firm down the cutting. The container should have holes for drainage.
Keep your new plants in a cool place with direct sunlight. Until the new plants have become fully established, carefully monitor the amount of moisture and light they get.
To ensure compost is moist until the cuttings are well rooted, use a light spray effect to water from above so the cuttings are not disturbed. Also water by putting water in the tray, up to 1inch depth when it is needed.
The water in the tray should be soaked within an hour and not longer. Remove dropped leaves and unsuccessful plants from the area as soon as they are noticed to keep fungus from spreading to healthy plants. Fig cuttings will root in about 6-10 weeks, but some can take few months.
Once rooted, harden off the cuttings for about two weeks by gradually increasing the amount of light they are receiving. You can also introduce quarter strength feed once a week. Then transplant into a bigger container with moist but not wet, potting mix. Use a mild compost mix for this first stage of transplanting to avoid death of the young plants.
To identify whether roots have formed or not, pull lightly on the plants. If they pop right out, they are not ready. If you feel some resistance, the plant has rooted. Check the health and strength of the plant before transplanting.
Edible Varieties of figs
Kodata is also known as honey fig. The ripe fruit is sweet, green to yellow on the outside, and pink on the inside. It does not require pollination for fruiting. Harvest period is from early July to October. It bears steady fresh fruits. The fruits can be eaten fresh or dried. Cold hardy to 15 degree Fahrenheit. They are not easily infested with pest and diseases but watch out for birds and squirrels.
Black Mission is a desirable plant, the fruits are sweet and have nice skin texture. It does not require much feeding and pruning. The fruit is purple black, good for cooking. It does not require pollination for fruiting by insects (wasp basically). Harvest period with its robust fruit is from spring to early fall (August to November). The fruits can be eaten fresh or dried. It is a good indoor plant.
Brown Turkey is a delicious fruit, red to purple on the outside, and pink on the inside. It is easy to maintain and common in the US. It produces lots of fruits, the fruits can be harvested between late summer to early fall (birds are not left out). It is self-pollinated and needs protection in the winter. They can grow up to 6 to 7 metres high.
Brunswick is a sweet fruit, green to yellow on the outside, yellow to red on the inside. It is easy to maintain. It does not require pollination for fruiting. Harvest period is between August to November. It is cold hardy, suitable in pots and sun loving.
King is a fast growing fig tree with long and erected branches. Each branch bears 6 to 8 fruits. It produces two crops in a year -the main crop and the brebas. The main crop require pollination for fruiting while the brebas required no pollination. Harvest period for brebas is from August to November. The fruits are green to yellow on the outside.
Celeste is also referred to as the sugar fig. The ripe fruit is sweet and delicious. It produces huge quantities of medium sized fruits, brown or purple on the outside and fleshy pink on the inside. Celeste is resistant to most pests and diseases, cold hardy, self-pollinated, resistant to souring as well (fruit also dries perfectly for long-term storage).
Diseases associated with figs and treatments
Root knot nematodes are microscopic, they attack the roots. Usually, not all of your figs will be affected to the same degree. To tell if root knot nematodes is causing some damage to your figs, you will first look for figs that are not “looking happy.” Observe for stunted growth, yellowing and wilting during the day under bright sunlight. In addition if you notice your fig is producing fewer and smaller fruits with general decline, then it is a sign that your figs are being attacked by root knot nematodes.
Nematicide can be use to control root-knot nematodes but it is not suitable for home garden use.
Always grow resistant varieties.
Leafspot is most often introduced through infected seed or transplants. Make sure your seeds and transplants are from leaf spot-free stock. Infected leaves have brown or black sometimes with a yellow halo. The spots enlarge gradually and spread to the entire leaves, which may become yellow, wither and drop. To control leaf spot, trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight then apply neem oil or sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of disease to prevent its spread. These organic fungicides will not kill leaf spot, but prevent the spores from germinating. It is always recommended to Keep the soil under the figs clean and rake up fallen fruit to prevent the disease pathogen.
Leaf blight rust is found on the leaves. To tell if leaf blight rust is causing some damage to your figs, you will first look for figs that are not “looking happy.” Observe for yellow or white spots forming on the upper leaves of your fig, reddish to orange pustules (blister-like swellings) on the undersides of leaves. Apply fungicide
Thrips are translucent white or yellowish to dark brown or black or brightly colored in some species. They are minute, elongate and slender. They feed by piercing the leaf tissue and sucking out the cell content. . To control thrips, trim affected areas, spray mildly using pesticides or neem oil.
Harvest and Storage
Harvest -Figs are usually harvested during summer (from July to November). However, some species will produce two crops in a year. The first crop, called a “breba” crop, ripens around May, and a second will be ready in late September. Ripe fresh figs hang downwards from the tree. Once picked, you have within 6 to 10 days before they start to ferment (sour). Over-ripe figs collapse inwards and become flattened, losing their round shape.
Storage -For proper storage, store the fresh fig fruits in the refrigerator on a flat single layer rather than using bowl. Refrigerated fresh figs could last up to 10 days. If frozen they can last for 6 to 12 months, if packed in an airtight container or sealable plastic bags. They can be packed whole, sliced or peeled if frozen. You can as well dry your figs under the sun or by using a fruit or food dehydrator (a device that removes moisture from fruits or food to aid in its preservation process). Dried figs can last up to a year if packaged in sealable plastic bags and stored in the refrigerator.
Frequently asked questions-Answered
How often should I water?
Container fig – Ensure pot have holes for effective drainage, and water when compost or soil is loose and feels dry. Give them a good soak when watering rather than little at a time. Sit them in trays if possible and allow drained water to be soaked up and discard excess water after about half an hour. If pot cannot sit in a tray, collect drained water and recycle once or twice until it is well watered.
Ground fig – How often depends on your local climate. It is advisable to keep your fig moist or damp by watering regularly in the morning or evening time.
Why are my leaves turning yellow and falling off?
Bear in mind that figs are deciduous -they shed their leaves annually (they turn yellow and drop). That said, you can observe for stunted growth, If no stunted growth, you can then feed your fig with nitrogen rich feeding compost or fertilizer. And if you observe stunted growth followed by wilting then your fig has pest problems. Apply neem oil. It might also be that your fig is not well watered
Do fig tree like Sun or shade?
Figs are sun loving plants. Figs can do well as patio plants (position around your veranda) or under partial sunlight.
Can I remove leaves from my fig tree during summer?
You would notice several shoots developed from the branch few weeks after pruning. Pinch off some shoots and leave about 4 shoots on each branch. Having many shoots will cause your figs to have nutrient shortage. Consequently, the fruits get smaller and fewer.
How big does a fig tree grow?
Fig tree can grow up to 6 to 8ft in the ground and 3 to 4ft in containers.
How do I prepare my fig tree for winter?
Figs can be protected from freezing temperatures. Use an insulator (straw-like in cylindrical shape or horticultural fleece) for ground ones. For pot-bound ones, move indoors or garage or basements where it can absorb heat (be mindful of the wasps).
Are fig trees easy to take care of?
Figs have several varieties, which are easy to grow with less maintenance. All you need to do is water, prune and keep the ground tidy. It is recommended to always keep the soil under the figs clean and rake up fallen fruit to prevent the disease pathogen.
When do fig trees bloom?
Fruits form annually, from summer to fall. The first fruiting is from 1 to 2 years.
How to get more figs from your tree?
Expose your fig to adequate sunlight. Water, prune and feed adequately and at proper timing. Check your soil to replenish missing nutrients. Few weeks after pruning, pinch off some shoots and leave about 4 shoots on each branch.
My figs are not ripening?
It might be under-watering, nutrient shortage, pest problems or winter stress. Prune, apply pesticides, wait for 2 weeks after pruning before applying feeding compost or fertilize. Do well to follow the feeding and the pesticide instructions.
How to treat fig rust?
Trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight then apply neem oil or sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of disease to prevent its spread. These organic fungicides will not kill the Fig rust, but prevent the spores from germinating. It is always recommended to keep the soil under the figs clean and rake up fallen fruit to prevent the disease pathogen.
Having challenges with your fig tree? Leave a comment and we will get back to you.