With their sweet, juicy fruit and large, attractively shaped leaves, fig trees are a welcome addition to any yard or garden. Best of all, these unfussy trees are very easy to grow, making them a perfect choice if you’re exploring edible gardening for the first time.
Are you thinking of adding a fig tree to your landscape? Check out these easy tips to help it thrive:
1. Select the right variety.
Did you know that more than 200 different fig cultivars grow in North America? With such a range to choose from, it’s important to make sure you select a variety that is suited to your specific climate.
Most fig varieties will do just fine in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 10. In these regions, winter temperatures rarely (if ever) drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that fig trees can be grown outdoors and left unprotected. If you live in a cooler region (USDA Hardiness Zone 7 or lower), you’ll want to choose a variety that is better adapted to the cold, such as Celeste, Chicago Hardy, Brunswick, or Brown Turkey. You can also grow your fig tree in a pot or container, which you can then bring indoors when it gets too cold. Varieties that are well-suited to container growing include Brown Turkey, Celeste, Blanche, and Violette de Bordeaux.
2. Find a sunny spot.
The two most important things that figs need to thrive are sunshine and plenty of room to spread out. When you’re deciding on a planting spot for your new fig, choose a spot that gets at least six hours of sun exposure every day and is sheltered from winter winds. (If you live in a colder region, it can help to plant your fig near a south-facing wall, which will retain heat and provide the tree with a little extra warmth.) As for elbow room, double-check the mature size that your fig variety is expected to reach, and make sure there is enough clear area around the tree for it to grow comfortably.
3. Plant at the proper time.
New fig trees should be planted outside when they are dormant. Most experts cite late fall as the ideal planting time, but early spring is also an option. Plant your fig as you would plant any young tree, making sure you prepare a deep hole to accommodate the fig’s long taproot. In addition, many figs do best when their roots are slightly restricted; you can achieve this effect by partially filling the planting hole with rubble or by using paving slabs to make a kind of retaining wall around the roots.
4. Provide food and water.
Figs don’t tend to have large appetites, but it can still be a good idea to get your new fig off to a healthy start by providing it with food and water just after planting. Add some composted manure or rich compost to the planting area to give the tree some extra initial nutrients. If spring leaf development seems slow, you can also use balanced fertilizer to help kick off stronger leaf growth. (In the years following planting, it’s usually sufficient to spread a 2- or 3-inch-thick layer of compost around the base of the fig every spring.)
After planting and in early spring, make sure to water the tree well to help with fruit formation. Most figs are fairly drought-tolerant and can usually grow well on rainfall alone, but if you’re experiencing a particularly dry growing season, do water the tree regularly to prevent premature fruit drop.
5. To prune or not to prune?
Some experts say that figs require little to no pruning while others recommend pruning them vigorously every year to keep their strong growth in check. In other words, the decision about how much to prune is best made on a case-by-case basis depending on the health of your tree, its size, and the growing space available.
However, there are two generally agreed-upon rules when it comes to pruning. The first is to give your fig tree a good pruning—up to half its growth—when it’s newly planted. This might seem like an aggressive step, but it helps the young fig to focus on establishing strong roots. The second rule is never to prune figs in spring; this causes the tree to bleed sap, which can weaken and even kill it.
6. Harvest at the right time.
Some figs produce two crops per season, usually in June and again in late summer, while others produce just one harvest in late summer or early fall. In either case, you’ll know the figs are ready when the stems are bending or drooping and the fruit is soft to the touch and hanging down (depending on which variety you have, the skin of the fruit may or may not change color). Avoid harvesting figs before they are ripe—they will not ripen further once they’ve been picked. Also, don’t leave figs on the tree after they are ready, as you’ll likely lose much of your crop to birds and squirrels.