Growing Fig (Ficus carica)

Latin Name Pronunciation: fy'kus kare'ih-kuh

Gardeners in Zone 7 (0°F) and warmer can grow Figs outdoors in the ground year-round. Where winter temperatures drop below 10°F Figs may suffer cold injury or even die back to the ground (they usually resprout from the roots). To help your plant overwinter in Zone 7, choose a site against a south or west wall, sheltered from cold, drying winds, and wrap the plants with burlap in late fall.

Figs grow and fruit best in full sun (they'll tolerate partial shade in hot summer climates) and well-drained garden soil.

Planting

Before planting, check the potting mix in the pot and water thoroughly if it's dry. Dig a hole slightly larger than the pot. Remove the plant from the pot by grasping the rim, turning the pot upside down, and tapping it against the heel of your hand. If the plant is root-bound (the root ball matted with roots to the point that they obscure the potting mix), gently break up the sides of the ball with your thumbs and tease apart roots that are circling at the bottom. This encourages roots to grow into the surrounding soil. Set the root ball in the hole so that the top of the ball is level with the surface of the soil. Then push soil around and just over the top of the root ball, firm the soil, and give the plant a thorough soaking to settle the soil.

Figs require extra water only during dry spells; a 2-4in layer of an organic mulch keeps the need for watering at a minimum. Do not water once the fruits have started to enlarge, or they may split. Fertilize in spring or early summer with a fertilizer low in nitrogen; composted manure or an organic fertilizer are ideal.

Planting in a container

Where winter temperatures dip below 0°F, Figs should be grown in containers and brought indoors for winter. Transplant your Fig promptly into a 16in pot with a drainage hole in the bottom (transfer to larger pots as the roots become crowded). Before transplanting, check the potting mix around your Fig and water thoroughly if it's dry. Fill the new container about half-full with a fast-draining potting mix moistened to the consistency of a wrung out sponge. Remove the plant from its pot and gently break up the sides of the root ball with your thumbs, then set it in the center of the hole. Hold the root ball on top of the mix so that the crown (the point where the stem meets the roots) will be about 1in below the rim. Fill in around the roots with mix to bring the level to about 1in below the rim, and firm lightly. Finally, water thoroughly.

The best way to overwinter a Fig tree is to leave it outside until a hard frost forces it to drop its leaves and go dormant. Then put it in an unheated basement or garage where the temperature stays about 32-45°F in winter. Check the pot's soil periodically -- do not let it become absolutely dry. Set the plant back outdoors in spring. During the growing season, water as needed and fertilize just twice -- once in spring and a second time in summer -- with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer mixed as directed. Repot as necessary in spring.

Pruning

'Peter's Honey' produces the first fruit of the season on old wood, so it's best to prune young plants lightly, and then only after fruiting has finished in June or early July. Maintain a single trunk for the first 2-3 years after planting, then allow the tree to grow naturally into a vase shape. Figs often produce suckers (shoots that come up from the base of the tree). Remove them as soon as they appear. Unpruned, a Fig tree may grow to 15ft tall. By pruning older trees in early spring before new growth emerges, you can limit their growth to 10ft or less.

Pests

Few pests bother Figs. If your tree is ailing, contact your county USDA Cooperative Extension Service for advice on possible problems and solutions. Birds do love ripe figs. If they find your tree, you may need to put up bird netting to protect the fruit.

Harvesting

Figs usually bear their first crop the year after planting. Those grown in Zone 7 (0°F) and warmer typically produce two crops, the first (on the previous year's growth) in early summer, the second (on the current year's growth) in the fall. Figs grown in containers in cold-winter climates may only have one crop, in late summer. Harvest figs when they droop and are soft to the touch. If they exude a white sap, they are not yet ripe.

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