by Bethany Hayes
Growing fruit trees feels like a daunting task, but one of the easiest fruit trees for beginners to grow is figs. Figuring out how to grow fig trees is a lot easier than you imagine.
These trees grow in warm locations and some cooler regions, depending on the cultivar you select. These trees are large, beautifully shaped, and provide plenty of shade. They look lovely on your property.
If you’re ready for homegrown fruits in your backyard, here’s what you need to know about planting and growing figs.
All About Fig Trees
Fig trees are fruit trees known for growing in areas with long, hot summers. Backyard gardeners love to grow fig trees because these trees are known for being easy to grow, and the flowers don’t require pollination to yield fruit.
Figs – Ficus carica – are members of the mulberry family, and they originate in Turkey, India, and warm Mediterranean climates. The trees grow relatively fast, reaching up to 20 to 30 feet and almost that wide. The leaves are deeply lobed and four to eight inches wide.
So, unlike many other fruit trees, you only have to grow one fig tree to enjoy the fruits of your work. These fruits may be eaten fresh, right off the tree, preserved, or baked.
Fig Tree Varieties
There are four types of figs, but three – Caprifigs, Smyrna, and San Pedro – are reserved most often for commercial growers because they have different and often complex pollination requirements.
Common figs, the fourth type, are parthenocarpic, so the fruit forms without fertilization. These are the varieties most home gardeners grow. Most nurseries sell several fig tree varieties, so you want to learn all of the popular cultivars to pick the one that grows best in your area.
1. Brown Turkey
This fig tree variety produces medium to large figs. It grows best in warm climates but tolerates some cooler temperatures. These fruits are known for being not as richly flavored as others, but the tree often produces a breba crop.
It’s best to grow Brown Turkey figs in zones seven to nine.
Celeste produces small purplish figs that have a sweet flavor. It’s known for being one of the winter-hardy varieties. The fruits are ready to harvest in July; it doesn’t produce a breba crop. Celeste fig trees are hardy to zone six.
3. Hardy Chicago
If you live in a colder region, the best fig tree variety to grow is Hardy Chicago. This cultivar produces medium-sized, purple figs.
King figs grow the best in the northwest, producing medium figs with a delicious sweet and rich flavor.
Another one of the best fig tree cultivars you can grow is Kadota, which produces small to medium fruit. These fruits are rich and sweet, and if you want to can figs, Kadota is the best variety for it.
Where Do Fig Trees Grow?
Fig trees grow places where they have long, hot summers. Most cultivars thrive in zones eight and warmer, but it’s possible to grow fig trees in cooler regions. Some hardy cultivars grow in zones six and seven, especially if they are protected from cold temperatures.
Most cultivars prefer to grow in regions where the temperatures rarely, if ever, dip below 15-20℉. In these areas, the trees need additional protection for the trees to survive.
How to Grow Fig Trees
Once you know your zone and pick the suitable cultivar of fig trees to grow, it’s time to get planting!
1. When to Plant Fig Trees
The best time to plant fig trees outdoors is in the early spring or late fall. At this time, the tree is still dormant, and it gives the roots plenty of time to get established before cold or hot weather begins.
2. Where to Plant Fig Trees
If you live in USDA zone eight and warmer, it’s safe to plant your figs outdoors; make sure you research the variety you grow. Some grow in cooler regions.
If you live in colder regions, you need to offer protection from the elements or grow the tree in containers. You can bring container-grown fig trees inside for the winter.
Whether you grow your fig trees outdoors in the ground or containers, they always need full sunlight. As a result, these trees are happiest, with seven to eight hours of full sunlight throughout their entire growing season.
3. Prepping the Soil
Fig trees aren’t known for being picky about their soil. It’s possible to grow them in most types of soil, as long as it’s well-draining and has plenty of rich, organic matter. Adding compost is a must when you prep the ground for fig trees.
Typically, the more fertile the soil, the better a tree grows and produces. One thing you should do is test the soil pH before planting your tree. Fig trees grow best in a pH range between 6.0 and 6.5. Alkaline soil isn’t the friend of a fig tree.
4. Planting Figs
Planting fig trees is so easy! If you grow more than one tree, make sure you space them at least 20 feet apart and the same distance away from buildings or other trees. Not only do they have large canopies, but these trees have deep roots, so roots might disrupt buildings or other structures nearby.
Now that you know the correct spacing, here is how you plant fig trees!
Remove your fig tree from the pot it came in and remove any circling roots; shears easily cut through these roots. Next, find your perfect full-sunlight spot and dig a hole a few inches wider and deeper than the root ball.
Place compost at the bottom of the hole.
Place the tree in the hole and spread the roots away from the trunk. Don’t bend them too much. Keep in mind that you should plant fig trees two to four inches deeper than in the original container. You’ll be able to determine this by looking at the color of the trunk to find the original soil line.
Hold the tree in place in the hole and fill it back in with a mixture of compost and soil. Pressing the soil in place keeps the tree firmly in its place.
Growing Figs in Containers
If you feel your climate won’t support growing fig trees outdoors, it’s still possible to grow figs in containers. These trees are prolific and produce plenty of delicious fruits, even if they aren’t planted outside.
Here is what you need to do.
First, find a container that works for fig trees. When you plant a small fig tree or cutting, pick a container at least 12 to 14 inches deep. Small pots work best for the first few years; some research shows that figs grow best when their roots are slightly restricted. Over time, you’ll need to transplant into larger pots.
Then, fill your container with a soil-based potting mix, adding fine bark chips to improve drainage. Fig trees don’t like soggy, wet feet, so the soil needs to release the water.
Make sure you keep the fig trees in an area with full sunlight throughout the summer, fertilizing every four weeks with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Water regularly.
In the winter, bring your container-grown fig tree indoors; a shed or an unheated garage works perfectly. Keep an eye on the growth; as your tree gets larger, you will need to upgrade to a ten or 20-gallon container!
How to Care for Fig Trees
Taking care of fig trees is relatively easy. Let’s take a look at the regular care you need to offer throughout the year.
1. Watering Needs
Fig trees need to be watered regularly, especially in the first few years after planting. Frequent waterings help the trees become established. If you live somewhere dry, make sure you water deeply at least once a week.
2. Fertilize Occasionally
Fig trees don’t require regular fertilization unless you grow the trees in containers. The exception to this is if you notice your trees aren’t growing as much as they should. In that case, give the trees ½ to 1 pound of nitrogen supplement, dividing the feedings into three to four applications.
The best time to fertilize fig trees is in late winter and mid to the end of summer.
3. Mulch Around the Trees
It’s best to apply a thick layer of mulch around the tree’s base to prevent weeds from going around your tree. Weeds compete with the tree for nutrients in the soil, and applying mulch retains the moisture in the soil around the roots.
4. Prune During Dormancy
Fig trees don’t grow to unruly sizes, so they require little pruning. However, when your tree goes into dormancy, you should remove all dead, diseased, dying, or weak branches. This encourages better growth and prevents the spread of diseases.
Keep an eye on the growth. If the tree gets too large, prune it back, but remember that hard prunes will cause you to lose fruit for a short time.
Make sure you never prune fig trees in the spring. Doing so will cause them to bleed sap, weakening and potentially killing your fig tree.
5. Bring the Trees Indoors
If you live in a colder region, make sure to bring your container-grown trees indoors for the winter. The soil needs to stay moist, so water every week or so, and keep it in an unheated area of your home.
Common Pests & Diseases
All fruit trees are at risk for a few diseases or pests. Therefore, it’s always best to plant disease-resistant trees, if possible, and pay attention to all proper maintenance suggestions, like pruning, watering, weeding, cleaning debris, and more.
However, even if you do everything “right,” it’s possible for pests and diseases to find your trees. Here are a few of the most common problems you might face.
Anthracnose is a disease that first appears as small black, yellow, or brown spots on the leaves. Over time, these leaves enlarge and merge to affect the entire plant.
This disease causes large yellow spots to develop on the leaves, and a rust-colored ring gradually surrounds the site. Fig mosaic will destroy your trees, so the recommended route is to remove and destroy all infested trees before it spreads further in your home.
Fig rust is a disease that causes small, yellow to orange spots to appear on the leaves. These spots gradually enlarge and spread as the season progresses. Over time, the leaves drop off the plant.
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many treatment options for fig rust.
Mealybug bugs are frustrating little pests that are only ¼ inch long and oval-shaped. They lay yellow to orange eggs, and they overwinter on the trees inside loose bark and branch crotches. Mealybugs damage the fruit and encourage the growth of black sooty mold.
Dealing with root-knot nematodes feels impossible because, by the time these pests take over your plants, controlling them is impossible.
Root-knot nematodes are small, microscopic worms that feed on the roots of your plants, burrowing into the root system. If you would pull up the plant, you’d find reddish to brown lesions on the plants. So it’s best to remove and destroy all infected plants.
Scale infects the bark of the young twigs and branches. You’ll find them encrusted with small, hard, scaly raised bumps with yellow centers. The spots also might be on the fruit. Scales feed on the sap of the tree, gradually weakening the tree.
It’s possible to control scale by using insecticidal soap and neem oil.
Unlike other fruits, figs won’t continue to ripen when they come off the tree. So, you have to harvest when they’re fully ripe. You’ll know that your figs are ripe and ready to harvest when they’re fully colored and slightly soft to the touch.
Make sure you research the type of figs you grow. Some species have two crops per year. The first harvest is called a “breba” crop, typically in late May to early June. Then, the second harvest arrives in late September to early November.
If you notice birds going after your ripe fruit, it’s a good idea to spread netting over the top to protect your fruits. They think figs are a delicious snack – because they are!
One problem with figs is that they are very perishable, so they only store in the refrigerator for two to three days. You need to have a plan for how you want to use your harvest.
It’s possible to freeze figs whole for later use, and they also taste delicious when dehydrated. Canning figs is another possibility.
Try Growing Fig Trees
If you’re looking for new fruits to grow in your backyard, learn how to grow fig trees. These trees self pollinate and grow well in containers, making them a perfect choice for any home gardener.