How To Grow And Care For Fig Trees

Learn how to grow figs right in your backyard.

'Papa John' Fig Tree
Learn how to grow fig trees like this 'Papa John'. Photo: Ralph Lee Anderson

Every garden should have a fig tree. These iconic plants produce delicious fruit with flavors best experienced ripe from the tree. Unlike other fruits, figs ripen entirely on the branch, so planting your own allows you to harvest the freshest fruit. The common fig tree, thriving in warm climates, does not require pollination to bear new fruit. Depending on the variety, specific fig trees need pollinators, so check the type before planting your own to know its growing conditions.

Despite bearing delicious fruit, fig trees can be invasive depending on the variety, as the roots spread widely in optimal growing conditions. Additionally, fig trees are not safe for animals and are poisonous to dogs, cats, and horses. Symptoms include gastrointestinal issues and dermal irritation. The fruit from fig trees is generally considered safe for human consumption, but there is still an element of fig trees that is harmful to humans. The fig latex, or tree sap, can cause digestive tract issues, including bleeding. Also, some people may have a negative interaction with fig leaves. Rashes or skin irritation can occur in some individuals after extended exposure, so wear gloves when maintaining this tree. Here's a guide to growing your own delicious common fig tree and the growing conditions that will help it thrive.

Plant Attributes

  • Common Name: Common Fig, Edible Fig
  • Botanical Name: Ficus carica
  • Family: Moraceae
  • Plant Type: Perennial, Tree, Fruit
  • Mature Size: 10 ft.-30 ft. tall, 10 ft.-30 ft. wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full
  • Soil Type: Moist but Well-drained, Rich
  • Soil pH: Acidic to Neutral (6.0 to 7.5)
  • Bloom Time: Spring
  • Flower Color: Green
  • Hardiness Zones: Zones 8-10 (USDA)
  • Native Area: Asia
  • Toxicity: toxic to pets

Fig Tree Care

Figs are self-fruitful, so you need only one plant to produce fruit. Mature fig trees can be 10 to 30 feet tall. If you have more room, plant several. Choose early, mid and late-fruiting selections to extend your harvest from summer into early fall. Some figs will produce bonus fruit early in the season, called a "breba" crop and the main crop. Figs can vary in size, shape, flavor, texture, and harvest time and can be black, green, brown, violet, yellow, or purple. Figs trees are invasive in some regions because optimal growing conditions encourage the tree's roots to spread widely.


Full sun is essential for an abundant harvest and the sweetest fruit. It's ideal for planting fig trees in an area that receives six to eight hours of direct, daily sunlight. Less sunlight will prevent trees from producing as many figs compared to those planted with adequate light.

Fig trees thrive in the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South heat. Plant near a wall with southern exposure in the Middle South so they can benefit from reflected heat. In the Upper South, go with cold-hardy selections, such as 'Brown Turkey' and 'Celeste.'


Fig trees grow in various soil conditions, but slightly acidic and well-drained soils are best. Soil with rich, organic matter helps supplement growth. Regular potting mixes work well for fig trees as long as it retains moisture and is well-aerated. These plants grow well near coastal regions but also tolerate loamy, clay, or sandy conditions.


When fruit is developing, it's important to water regularly. Check daily, and pick just as the fruit ripens. During the first year, as plants become established, water regularly and mulch. Once established, figs can be very drought tolerant.

Temperature and Humidity

Figs trees need warm conditions and subtropical climates to thrive but will tolerate some low temperatures as long as it remains above 15°F. Areas with harsh winters are unsuitable for this species, but you can grow figs in big pots and protect them during the winter by storing them in a cool garage or basement. Since fig trees need well-drained soil, a dry climate is preferred. Water-logged environments can prevent proper fruit development as too much rain causes fruits to split and possibly spoil.


Fertilize with food such as Espoma Citrus-tone (5-2-6) in late winter and early spring. An all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer can also help promote new growth. After fig trees bear fruit, adding fertilizer near the roots can help encourage more fruit. Additionally, fertilizer can help get trees back to a normal appearance if the foliage is not vibrant. You want to fertilize fig trees at least twice a year.

Types of Fig Trees

Fig trees produce different colored fruits, flowers, and leaves depending on the variety. The pollination methods vary based on species, so there are several options to choose from when planting fig trees. Here are some specific types with beautiful foliage and some delicious bearing fruit.

  • Celeste (Ficus carica): This species produces medium, brown, or purple fruit on relatively large trees. These trees have an early ripening time and produce sweet fig fruits.
  • Alma Figs (Ficus carica): This species, ripening later in the season because of its extended spring dormancy, has rich, flavorful fruit. The fruit is yellow or tan and bears fruit on more compact trees.
  • Caprifigs (Ficus carica sylvestris): Wasps love this species that produces only male flowers. This species is typically not grown for its fruit.


Fig trees don't need a lot of pruning throughout the year but can benefit from pruning during their dormancy (late winter or early spring) because it promotes new growth. The new growth also produces healthier branches and tends to bear more fruit.

To keep fig trees healthy, prune them as soon as you plant them during the first year. (Pruning around half of the branches helps build a robust root system). After the first year of growth, keep the most substantial components in place and cut back smaller units, small leafy growth near the bottom of the plant, and fruiting branches. Prune away dead and diseased wood during the dormant season.

Propagating Fig Trees

The easiest way to propagate fig trees is through cuttings. Here's how to propagate fig trees:

  1. Take cuttings during the dormant season after the late chance of frost has passed. Cut at an angle and choose a branch that is a few years old and about eight to 12 inches long.
  2. Dip cuttings into a rooting hormone.
  3. Plant the cuttings in a container with a length twice as large as the width, so the roots have space to extend—around six inches wide and one foot tall is a good rule of thumb.
  4. Cover with a few inches of soil. Water cuttings and keep the soil moist, but don't water-log the cuttings. Keep in a sunny location.
  5. After establishing roots, move the new cuttings to a larger container before relocating them to a final planting location during the dormant season. The cuttings should be strong enough to move when you see three to four feet of growth.

How to Grow Fig Trees From Seed

Growing a fig tree from seed is possible, but it is more challenging than propagating from cuttings. Seed propagation does not produce a duplicate plant—this can only occur from cuttings. For more experienced gardeners, here is how to grow fig trees from seed:

  1. First, acquire seeds. Seed selection is essential to select a female species if you want trees that bear fruit, as male trees do not produce edible fruit.
  2. Use a fig, cut it in half, and remove the fleshy pulp and seeds.
  3. Soak fig seeds to check for viability. (Only seeds that float are viable).
  4. Plant the seeds in a potting mix or soil with an equal distribution of peat, perlite, and volcanic rock. Keep soil moist and add horticultural sand.
  5. Place soil mixture in a seed starting tray and place it in a sunny location—at least six hours of direct, daily sunlight.
  6. Expect to see germination within one or two weeks. Continue to keep the soil moist and in a sunny location.
  7. You will know it is time to move the seeds into a container when there are at least two sets of leaves and the tree stands a few inches tall.


Wait for fig trees to go dormant for the season. You'll know this has happened when all the leaves fall from the tree. If you live in a climate that experiences freezing conditions, move fig trees inside. Place the trees in a basement or garage that will protect them from freezing weather or strong winds. Keep watering dormant plants, but only about once a month.

If you plan to keep fig trees outside, wrap the trunk and roots in burlap or a tent to protect them from low temperatures. Before covering the tree, tie the branches with a rope or twine to help protect the primary growth. Also, add mulch around the roots, like hay, grasses, or wood chips.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

The nematode is a pest that can impact a fig tree's longevity by stunting growth and the amount of fruit. You can treat this pest with nematicides. Problems, including carpenter worm, sap beetle, and fig tree borer, can prevent a fig tree from growing properly. To avert a fig tree borer infestation, use a net around the base of the tree to stop this pest from laying eggs near the fig tree. Spoiled fruit also encourages pest infestations and even fungal diseases that can occur after the fruit ripens. Harvesting ripe fruit immediately can also help prevent pests from attacking the branches and leaves.

To deter birds from eating your fruit, hang reflective tape or plant figs that stay green when ripe such as 'Marseilles' or 'Green Ischia.' Finally, cleaning up fallen leaves and fruit in autumn helps discourage pests and disease.

Common Problems With Fig Trees

Curling Leaves

There are a few reasons why fig tree leaves might curl. The first is that underwatering can scorch or burn the leaves. It is time to water if the top two inches of soil are dry.

Also, certain fungal diseases cause leaves to curl. If brown spots are present on the leaves, treat the fig trees with a fungicide that contains copper.

Leaves Turning Yellow

In addition to leaves curling, if the leaves turn yellow or develop a coating resembling a white powder, this can signify powdery mildew. Powdery mildew usually occurs when a plant is overwatered. The soil should be moist but also well-draining. Wait until the soil can completely drain before watering again. You might need to move the fig tree to a new location if the soil is soggy.

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