Growing Fig Trees & Pruning Fig Trees Organically

Growing fig trees, one of the oldest fruit trees to be grown by humans, will give you impressive displays and provide tasty treats that can be dried or frozen for year-round fruit.

While their Mediterranean origin requires warmer weather, container-grown fig trees can be moved indoors to overcome un-Mediterranean harsh winters.

Growing Figs (ficus carica): Plant Snapshot

Growing Fig Trees
  • Recommended Varieties:
    • Alma (frost sensitive)
    • Black Ischia (excellent flavor)
    • Brown Turkey (excellent for home preserves)
    • Celeste (cold hardy)
    • Hunt (small to medium fruit)
    • Kadota (better as preserved fruit than fresh)
    • Magnolia (excellent for home preserves)
    • Tena (does well in dry climates)
    • White Marseilles (excellent flavor)
  • Group with crops from: n/a (perennial)
  • Low winter temperatures that damage fruit plants: 20 F (-6 C)
  • Time until plant bears fruit after planting: 4 to 5 years from planting a young container plant
  • Approximate yield per plant: 25 lbs
  • Life of plant: 30 to 40 years

Before you continue reading below, check out the following overview pages if you haven't done so already. They contain important general instructions that apply to most types of fruit trees...

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Growing Fig Trees: Planting Time

Where to Find Planting Supplies...

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Most fig trees are suitable for growing in containers. They like to have confined roots which actually encourage them to bear more fruit. This is particularly useful if you live in a cooler area. Fig trees brought indoors during the winter months should be positioned in the sunniest spot from spring to fall.

Rather than starting from seed, figs are best bought as a two year old container tree. They grow on their own rootstock and most are self-fertile.

Plant them in the ground in winter (they need 20 to 25 ft / 6 to 8 meter spacing) when the tree is dormant so that they can settle before the growing season. If you live in a colder area, it’s important that the ground isn’t frozen during planting. Once established your tree will be able to withstand freezing temperatures of between 15-20 F (-9 to -6 C) without serious damage.

You can replant in containers throughout the year as this won’t affect the growing season significantly. Although figs like to have confined roots, nursery pots are usually not sturdy enough to prevent your tree from falling over. Your tree will also need to establish larger roots to become fully mature.

In order to transplant your fig trees, gently loosen the roots once you’ve removed the plant from its container. Either dig a hole that allows you to keep the tree at the same level it’s been in the pot or choose a container two to three times larger than the tree’s current container.

In the spring apply a mulch of well-rotted organic farmyard manure.

The ideal shape for your fig tree depends on the climate where you live. If you live in a warm area, most gardeners grow figs as a bush. This requires little pruning and will result in two crops of figs per year.

If you live in a cooler area, your fig tree will only fruit once a year. It’s best to prune to a more open bush or to grow as a fan. It’s important to decide this when you’re planting your tree so that you can add the appropriate supports.

Snapshot: Planting Figs

  • Easiest to grow from: 2 year old container plant
  • Planting timeframe range (varies by climate): From early to late winter
  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 5.5 to 8
  • Spacing in rows: about 20 feet (6 metres)
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Care for & Pruning Fig Trees

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Once your two year old fig tree begins to grow, pinch out branch tips when five or six leaves have grown. This will encourage a bushy form to emerge. In early spring prune out any winter damage or signs of disease.

If you’re growing a fan, you’ll need to encourage sideways growth by tying in branches laterally to supports. Leave a space of at least 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) between sections to allow space for the maturing figs to hang freely.

Care and pruning guidelines also depend on your climate and whether you’ve planted your fig tree in the ground or in a container:

  • Watering: Fig trees must remain moist, so their water supply should be steady. This is particularly important for container-grown plants. Suddenly flooding an overly dry fig tree can result in the fruit splitting. Reduce watering as fruits ripen to avoid this.
  • Warmer climates: Fig trees growing as bushes in warm climates will only need light pruning. Do this in late spring. As the previous fall’s figs ripen, another set will grow and ripen during the summer of the same year.
  • Cooler climates: In cooler areas, your fig tree will only fruit once a year. These figs will grow from small embryo figs that start to form in the fall. You’ll need to protect these fruits from severe weather, as they will continue to grow during the spring when the weather warms and the days are longer.

    To protect them, wrap bundles of straw around each fruiting section and tie in place with garden twine. Remove figs that haven’t ripened the following summer to encourage new growth.

All fig trees will benefit from an annual mulch of organic well-rotted farmyard manure each winter. You can also use an organic liquid tomato fertilizer once a fortnight (every two weeks or so) as the fruits are forming to help them develop.

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Growing Fig Trees: Harvesting Time

Fig trees leak a milky latex that some people are allergic to, so anyone picking figs should wear protective gardening gloves.

Ripe figs will be soft to the touch, similar to a peach. Each variety will mature to a particular color which could be yellow, brown or red (check your variety’s growing information).

Since figs hang on low branches, it’s easy to pick them by hand. Don’t worry if they have some splits on the skin, but they should still have some firmness. If they begin to fall apart upon picking, they are beginning to rot and should be disposed of.

Pick figs early in the morning to reduce the chance of birds feeding on them throughout the day.

Snapshot: Harvesting Figs

  • Time to harvest: 6 months to a year depending on climate and variety
  • Yield per plant/tree: 25lb
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Storing Figs and Freezing Figs

Figs will only last for a day or two after picking if they’re not refrigerated. If refrigerated immediately, they can last up to a month. If frozen whole or dried, they can last for 3 months or more.

If you’d like to dry your figs:

  1. Choose perfect figs for drying.
  2. Cut them in half and lay them on a baking sheet with the cut side facing upwards.
  3. Have your oven on the lowest setting possible insert the baking sheet.
  4. As the moisture leaves the figs, they will begin to shrink. This can take around six to eight hours.
  5. Once they’re dry and cooled, pop them into a bag and put them in the freezer for a few days.
  6. Remove them from the freezer store them for up to three months in an airtight container.

Snapshot: Storing Figs & Freezing Figs

  • Storage temperature: Refrigerate at 32-36 F (0-2 C) or Freeze at 0 F (-17 C) or below
  • Storage life (refrigerator): 30 days
  • Storage life (frozen): 3 months
  • Storage humidity: 90 – 95%
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Growing Fig Trees: Pests & Diseases

Fig trees have a long life (up to 30 or 40 years), so it’s important not to let diseases or pests take hold as they can be hard to overcome. Keeping all pruning equipment clean is essential. Disinfect pruning tools before you begin to use them and after you prune away any diseased branches.

Birds can also present a problem, as they are good at spotting exactly when figs are ripe. You can net your trees although this may not be practical, depending on the tree’s shape.

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Figs. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.

Pests

  • Ants
  • Carpenterworm
  • Darkling beetles
  • Driedfruit and sap beetles
  • Earwigs
  • Fig scale
  • Green fruit beetle
  • Navel orangeworm
  • Nematodes
  • Spider mites
  • Vinegar flies

Common Diseases

  • Fig mosaic
  • Phomopsis canker
  • Souring
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