By Julie Christensen
Fig trees are heat-loving plants and most of them are hardy only in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11. Brown turkey fig tree (Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’) is a cold-hardy variety that grows as far north as zone 6.
Growing a Brown Turkey Fig Tree
Besides its cold hardiness, brown turkey fig tree is an easy tree to grow in almost all aspects. Like most fruit trees, it grows best in full sun. It prefers loose, well-draining soils and is often found in the sandy soils of coastal areas. Brown turkey fig can reach heights of 20 feet or more, but the tree responds well to pruning, so there’s no need to let it get so large. Instead, prune it back in winter so it stands about 8 feet tall. At this height, you can easily harvest the figs without a ladder. Brown turkey fig can be grown as a single-trunk tree or as a multi-branched shrub. You might notice suckers emerging near the trunk of the tree in the summer. Prune these back to the ground or clip them and propagate them to make new trees.
Brown turkey fig trees are easy to propagate. Simply stick the end of a young sucker into some rooting hormone and then place it in lightweight potting mix, perlite or sand. Keep the potting mixture moist and place the sucker in full sun. Within a few weeks, you’ll notice new leafy growth, as well as new root formation. The cutting can now be planted in a pot and later planted directly in the ground. Brown turkey fig trees have shallow, invasive roots. Avoid planting them near plumbing pipes or a septic system.
Care and Maintenance
Brown turkey fig trees need a rich soil and regular fertilizing. Amend the soil with compost and manure before planting. You probably won’t need to fertilize the tree its first year after planting. Fertilize established trees with 1 cup 10-10-10 fertilizer spread in a 6 foot circle around the base of the tree. If the tree is in a fertilized lawn, it might not need additional fertilizer. Slow growth, pale leaves and inadequate fruit are signs that the tree needs more fertilizer.
These adaptable trees can tolerate some drought, but they’ll grow better with slightly moist conditions. Mulch the trees with wood chips or bark and water them every week or so during dry conditions. Plant brown turkey fig trees near a south-facing wall if you live at the top of zone 6. This protected planting ensures the tree’s survival during cold winter conditions.
Harvesting Your Brown Turkey Fig
Young figs are green and small, but the figs ripen in summer to a purplish brown hue. One brown turkey fig tree provides more figs than your family can probably eat. Fortunately, the birds are only too happy to help. As the figs mature, you’ll need to harvest them daily by clipping them from their stems. Overripe figs drop to the ground where they can stain hard surfaces. The overripe fruit also attracts flies, so stay on top of picking.
Pests and Diseases
Brown turkey fig trees, like most trees in the ficus family, have several insect pests and diseases that might affect them. Fortunately, healthy trees can usually fend for themselves. The most common insect pests you’ll observe are the leaf-sucking variety, including aphids, scale insects and spider mites. You might notice spidery stipling on the leaves or honeydew, a sticky substance secreted by aphids on the trunk and ground. Ants are attracted to honeydew, so you might notice those, as well. A steady stream of water is often enough to dispatch these enemies, but try spraying both the tops and bottoms of the leaves with insecticidal oil if the problem gets out of control.
Rust, leaf spots and blight disfigure the attractive green leaves, but they rarely cause serious harm. Clean up leaf debris immediately to minimize these problems.
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Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.