How To Grow a Fig Tree
You have mastered growing tomatoes and squash, and every corner of your porch is covered with pots of colorful peppers and aromatic herbs. It is now time to turn your attention to growing fruit trees. You say you don't (yet) have acreage for an entire orchard? No need for a lot of room when you plant a fig tree; one single tree will produce enough sweet fruit that you will be gifting friends and neighbors with refrigerator fig jam all season long. Here are three reasons why the fig tree is the easiest fruit tree to grow at home.
You Only Need One
Many fruit crops, such as most apple varieties, have to be cross-pollinated, meaning you need to grow more than one apple tree in order for them to bear fruit. Pollen from a different variety of apple tree has to transfer to the stigma of a given flower. If pollen from the same variety or the same plant lands on the stigma, the flower will not set fruit. However, some fruit varieties, such as the common fig (Ficus carica) the most popular species of fig for home gardeners, can set fruit with pollen from the same tree or with pollen from the same variety. These are called self-fertile or self-fruitful varieties. In small home gardens where space is limited, you can plant just one self-fruitful fig tree and still get a good harvest.
There Are Many Varieties to Choose From
Mature fig trees can reach anywhere from 15 to 30 feet tall. If you have room, plant several varieties, because you can choose early-, mid-, and late-fruiting selections to ensure a fig harvest from summer into early fall. Some figs will even produce bonus fruit early in the season, called a "breba" crop, as well as the main crop. Along with time of harvest, figs can vary in size, shape, flavor, texture, and color, ranging from yellow to green to purple, to black.
They Love the Sun and Heat
You have to love the plant that loves the summers in the South. Full sun is key for an abundant fig harvest of sweet fruit. Fig trees thrive in the heat of the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South. If you live in the Middle South, plant near a wall with southern exposure (as did Thomas Jefferson) so the tree can benefit from reflected heat. In the Upper South, choose cold-hardy selections, such as ‘Brown Turkey' and ‘Celeste.' You can also grow figs in big pots and protect them during the winter by storing them in a cool garage or basement. During the first year, as plants become established, water regularly and mulch. Once established, figs can be very drought tolerant.
What To Know About Harvesting
Unlike some fruits, such as peaches, figs will not continue to ripen after they are picked, so watch your tree and wait until the figs are ripe before you pick them. You can tell it is time for harvest when the fruit necks wilt and the fruits hang down. As long as the fruit is still perpendicular to the stem, it is not ready to be picked. A perfectly ripe fig will also emit its nectar at its peak and be soft to touch. You can also watch for fruit color changes as the season progresses; do the research on your fig variety and know what color the figs should be when fully ripened. Handle the ripe fruit as little as possible to avoid bruising. Pull or cut the fruit gently from the stem, leaving some of the stem attached to the fig to help delay fruit spoilage. Place the figs in a shallow dish and do not pack them tightly on top of each other, as they bruise easily. It is best to use figs (whether you eat, preserve, or freeze) as soon as possible after harvest.