Fact Sheet from the Just Fruits and Exotics Nursery
by Brandy Cowley Gilbert

Choosing the Right Fig Variety

Choosing the right fig
Fig. 1

Figs (Ficus carica) are one of the easiest, most problem-free fruits you can grow. Not many people realize the range of varieties and the differences in textures and flavors among varieties. Some have a light, sweet, maple- syrup flavor while others are as thick and rich as strawberry jam. Most people are familiar with the summer ripening varieties but are unaware of the range of fall ripening figs. With proper variety selection it is possible to have tree-ripe figs from July through September. If birds are a problem choose a light skinned variety. Birds have a built-in notion that ripe figs are dark. They tend to leave the green skinned varieties alone.

We have selected and propagated over 20 self-fertile varieties suitable for home growing in the humid Southeast. Varieties requiring a fig wasp pollinator cannot be grown outside of commercial fig-growing areas in California because the fig wasp is absent. All figs suitable for the Southeast United States are self- pollinating. In addition, we suggest the group called closed eye figs. At the bottom of the fruit is an opening known as the eye. Water or insects can pass through this opening and cause fruit rot. Varieties with a long neck or peduncle allow the fruit to droop, preventing moisture or pests from entering the eye.

People in the far north that are subject to cold weather (zones 7) and they often are most successful with fig varieties that produce a breba crop. The breba crop is born on the last flush of growth of last year branches. These are the first figs of the year to ripen and in short summer season areas the ones that ripen before the first freeze.

Breba crop varieties are also good for southern climate gardeners as they will have a longer ripening season. The breba crop is early ripening in June and the main crop comes on in August and beyond.

Landscaping with Fig Trees…..

Landscaping with Fig Trees
Fig. 2

Fig TreeSmall by nature, the fig tree is ideal for use in the shrubbery border. Their distinctive leaves make an excellent accent or specimen tree. Try mingling the broad, deeply lobed leaves of the fig with the willowy pomegranate and fine- textured, misty blue tones of the blueberry. Tie it all together with a lush groundcover of strawberries for a never-ending cycle of flowers, fruit and fall color.
The smooth, limber trunk of the young fig is perfect for training into espalier or twisting into odd specimen trees. Lay the trunk flat against the ground and the new vertical shoots make an instant hedge. Small-space gardeners take note. The root restraint of container growing brings extra-bountiful crops from the fig.

Site selection and correct spacing for fig trees
Figs will grow on a wide range of soils when good drainage is provided. Figs grown in soils high in organic matter or clay content are less subject to nematode damage. Plant in full sun for vigorous growth and good fruit crops. Avoid frost pockets – and damage by unseasonable frosts.  Spacing for figs depends upon the desired use in the landscape. Bushes can be planted individually or in a hedgerow. Individual tree spacing is 15 to 20 feet. If planting a hedgerow, space 6-10 feet apart. All figs suitable for the Southeast are self-pollinating, so bushes may be planted as desired in the landscape.

Planting a fig tree
Fig. 3
magnifying glass

Figs prefer slightly acid soil (pH 5.5-6.5), but soils of up to moderate alkalinity are readily tolerated. If you are in doubt about the acidity of your soil, it is very easy to take a sample to the Cooperative Extension agent in your county for a soil test. Adjust soil pH as necessary. Dig a planting hole approximately three times the width of the pot and at the same depth as the root ball. Set that soil aside and mix it 50/50 with either aged mushroom compost, aged manure, or rotted pine bark & aged manure/compost. Remove the plant from the pot, gently loosen the root ball and place in the planting hole. To avoid burying too deep, make sure plant is positioned with the top most roots at the soil line. Fill the planting hole with the mix of soil and organic matter; gently tamp it in. Water thoroughly to settle the roots and eliminate air pockets. Do NOT put fertilizer in the planting hole. Only apply fertilizer if it is the correct time of year (see Fertilization section below).

Mulching fig trees
If desired, construct a water basin around the base of the fig approximately 36 inches in diameter. Mulch in spring and summer with approximately 6-8 inches of mulch. Pull mulch a couple of inches away from the trunk for good air circulation. Mushroom compost and rotted manure are excellent mulches for fighting off nematodes in figs. Keep the area under the tree canopy clear of grass and weeds to minimize competition for water and nutrients.

Fertilizing fig trees
The type of fertilizer you choose may be chemical or organic. Make sure that the fertilizer contains iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum, copper and boron. These minor elements are very important to plants and most soils are low in these elements. Application rates vary according to age of plant. See chart below.

10-10-10 or 10-0-10 with minerals 1 cup per each year of trees life
-Max out at 9 cups on Mature Trees
Espoma Citrus Tone
6 cups for 1 year old
10 cups for 2 year old (4-6ft)
18 cups for 7-9ft tree
24 cups for tree over 9ft

Spread the fertilizer evenly under the entire canopy of the plant avoiding a 5-inch area around the trunk. Water or rake in. For Zones 9-10, fertilize 3 times each year in late February,  late May and late July/early August. For plants further north (Zones 7-8b), fertilize in March or after bud break. Never fertilize after August (June in Zones 7-8b) as this will promote new growth late in the year which will be subject to freeze damage.

Watering fig trees
The first year is the critical time for the establishment of a new fig. Water thoroughly twice a week on light soils and once a week on clay soils. Soak the entire root system deeply – this usually takes 40-50 minutes. Figs should receive at least 1 inch of water each week for best growth and fruit production. Water regularly, especially during dry periods. Fruit may drop prematurely if insufficiently irrigated during dry spells.

Watering fig trees
The first year is the critical time for the establishment of a new fig. Water thoroughly twice a week on light soils and once a week on clay soils. Soak the entire root system deeply – this usually takes 40-50 minutes. Figs should receive at least 1 inch of water each week for best growth and fruit production. Water regularly, especially during dry periods. Fruit may drop prematurely if insufficiently irrigated during dry spells.

Insects and diseases
Root knot nematodes may be a problem on sandy soils. Trees weakened by nematodes do not grow well and may not fruit. You probably have nematodes if you find small knots on the roots. In our area, nematodes may be reduced or eliminated through the use of heavy mulches and incorporation of large amounts of organic matter in the soil at the time of planting.

Fig rust
Fig. 4
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Fig rust

Fig Rust can be a problem in rainy seasons. It shows up as rusty brown discoloration on the leaf, resulting in distorted leaves and early leaf fall. This fungus can be controlled with a copper spray applied every 2-3 weeks from June to August. In addition, rake and burn fallen leaves in the fall or apply a heavy layer of mulch in the spring, to remove the source of fungal spores that might re-infect the tree the following year.

Always remember that good disease resistance begins with the health of the plant. Plants stressed from lack of water, not enough sun or being under fed are more susceptible to disease and insects.

Maintaining good sanitation practices in the orchard is most important. The removal of diseased and dead wood, and picking up fallen or rotting fruit off the trees as it occurs, will go a long way in keeping disease and insects at a minimum. Spray at first sign of an issue, rather than waiting until the problem is out of hand will go a long way to keeping your plants healthy and fruiting properly.

Frost protection
Very young figs may be damaged or killed at temperatures below 25°F, they. For the first year after planting we suggest that trees be covered. This is especially important in trees that have not entered dormancy or which have begun growth in the spring. If an established tree sustains frost damage, wait until growth has resumed in the spring to assess injury and remove dead limbs. With age the tree will develop a certain degree of cold tolerance.

Older trees are less subject to colder weather, but can be damaged by sudden dips or temperatures below 20F. Some things to keep in mind when preparing your trees, is to stop fertilizing in after May in northern zones (7-8A) and after July in southern zones (8b-9). Slow you watering down in the fall to allow the tree to harden off. If you know you are going into a very cold spell and the tree still has leaves or grfeen tips cover it for the night.
For Zone 7 and above, figs must be protected from winter cold. We suggest that the plants be surrounded by a wire cage and mulched heavily with leaves. The cage should be topped with tarpaper or plastic to keep the branches dry in the winter. Remove the cage and mulch in the spring after it warms.
Figs grown as container plants are also subject to frost damage since roots are above ground in a pot. Container figs should be kept at or above 25°F during winter. The grower of container figs will be rewarded with a good crop, since root restriction in figs promotes heavy fruit.

Learn how to hasten your fig ripening in short season areas
People that live in areas with short seasons are often in a race to get their figs to ripen before cold weather sets in. To get the best success do a couple of things. First choose a variety that will ripen a good breba crop. Breba crops fig varieties that fruit on the growth of last years wood. This crop will ripen in early summer. The second crop is the main crop and it is born on the new growth that arises in the spring. Often this crop can be induced to ripen sooner by oiling the fruit. Oiling blocks the eye of the fig, inducing ethylene to form, that is what hastens the ripening. You’ve got to get the fig close to ripening before the oil will work. Usually the best ones to do, are ones that are good size and you can see some coloring around the eye. You can use olive oil or any other refined edible oil. Just use a dropper to place the oil in the eye of the fig.

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Cowley Gilbert, Brandy. "Choosing the Right Fig Variety." justfruitsandexotics.com. just Fruits and Exotics Nursery. Web. 128 Mar. 2017.


Fig. 1,2,3,4 Cowley Gilbert, Brandy. Choosing the Right Fig Variety. N.d. justfruitsandexotics.com. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.

Published 12 Mar. 2017 LR
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