For foodies, tree ripened figs are a true delicacy. Most store bought figs do not come close to resembling the rich flavor of a tree ripened fig. Picked at their height in flavor, figs offer a rich, sweet blend of maple syrup, caramelized apple, and honey toned flavors. Some varieties, like Violette De Bordeaux are said to have a strong “raspberry” flavor, while others like Celeste are described as “honey ”, and Hardy Chicago as “fruity” . There are many, many varieties of figs. Over 1000 named types are shared, bought, sold or bartered, in a very active fig-growing community around the world. Growing and collecting figs has become a true passion for many northern growers, with the bulk of their coveted crop grown in containers and overwintered in basements, greenhouses and garages. This is one fruit that any gardener can grow, in any state, with just a little effort.
GROWING IN GROUND If you are blessed to be gardening in zone 7-10, or even in zone 6, figs are one of the few fruits that need little care, and fruit throughout the summer. Small growers, most fig varieties stay in the 10 foot range, which is perfect for a small yard or urban garden. Growers in warm, frost free climates are able to get two crops of figs, a main crop that ripens in May and June, and the second crop in December and January.
Look for a spot that gets a minimum of 6 hours of sun. Soils that have clay content need little amending and fertilizing; sandy soil may need to be amended with organic matter to keep nematodes at bay. To read more in-depth about growing figs in the ground read our “Fig Growing Guide”
CONTAINER GROWING FIGS
POTTING Although figs grow easily in ground in the south, they are wonderful container plants for northern gardens. It’s best to plant your figs in a large enough container to insure they are happy for the long run. Choose a pot at least 20-24 inches wide, and use a good well drained commercial potting soil. Fig trees need the soil well drained. If you need to put a catch pan under the pot, be sure to elevate the bottom of the pot, so the plant does not sit in water.
FERTILIZING Use a good time release fertilizer with balanced numbers (14-14-14) with plenty of micro nutrients. Fertilizers for container growing fruit trees now come in release periods of up to 9 months. With this type fertilizer, one application in spring is plenty.
PRUNING Figs most often fruit the on new growth, so the heavy pruning required to keep the plants small equates to good fruit harvests. While young, prune excessively vigorous new shoots, to help promote branching throughout the summer. After the first year, one good heavy pruning in midsummer should keep the trees growth in check, and insure a good crop next year.
REPOTTING TO KEEP HEALTHY Every 2 or 3 years, it’s a good idea to repot the fig tree. Do so by pulling it out of the pot and pruning a couple of inches off all sides of the root ball. Repot the tree with some fresh potting soil, and it will be fine for another couple of years.
OVERWINTERING FIGS If you have a greenhouse, then overwintering figs is a breeze. If you don’t, you’ll want to find a spot that stays between 60F and 25F, to over winter your fig trees. You are looking for an area that doesn’t get too warm, so the plant remains dormant, nor so cold that the plant will freeze. When fully dormant, most fig varieties can easily take a hard freeze down to 25F. Depending on your region it could be as simple as an unheated garage or barn or basement. Keep the plant watered, not too much, just moist. Ideally they need some light; near a window is best.
HARVEST It’s best to let your figs ripen on the tree. This is one fruit that does not continue to sweeten after picking. Pick when the fruit reaches maximum color for its type, and feels soft to the touch. Many varieties will be fragrant and sweet smelling when ready.
If you can’t eat all the figs that are ripening on your trees, think about adding some to your cookies and cakes. They will help moisten the texture. They are especially good served with warm cream, or mixed in fruit salads or smoothies.