Grow Your Own
Growing figs in your backyard has lots of benefits. Of course, the fresh figs themselves are first and foremost. It’s nearly impossible to buy fresh figs in some areas of the country, so growing your own may be the only way to get them. Then there’s all of the recipes in which not only the figs, but also the fig leaves can be used. Plus, figs grow well in difficult places (hot and dry in particular) providing a bit of shade and an attraction for wildlife. Although I’ve cultivated and sold fig trees for more than ten years, I don’t claim to be an expert in producing figs. I do, however, have some experience growing them.
The first fig tree I purchased, I had to transplant from one area of the yard to another after a year’s growth. It promptly died. Then it re-sprouted from the roots and grew well but did not produce fruit. Then it died again due to an extra cold winter, and re-sprouted; this time fruiting quite well but very late. Then a late freeze killed it again and it grew back without fruiting until the second year which was a fairly nice harvest. This spring, ambrosia beetles killed it as it was attempting to emerge; and it re-sprouted from the roots again. Now it is taller and fuller than it has ever been and is threatening to produce a decent late crop of figs. Over the years I’ve learned a lot, and still have a ways to go.
The repeated cold damage is a reminder that figs are not truly hardy for my zone 7 yard. They are particularly sensitive to early and late freezes during the transition into and out of dormancy. Though they have shown an amazing ability to bounce back from the damage, cold protection, such as wrapping the trunks, is in order during these difficult times.
Here are a few things to consider when growing figs:
- Cold sensitivity means that new fig trees should be planted in late spring to allow time during the long hot summer for them to establish a deep root system before winter. This breaks one of the cardinal rules of southern landscaping, where the generally accepted practice is to plant trees and shrubs in fall.
- The nearly indestructible fig has a few pest problems that growers should be aware of as well. Ambrosia beetles are preventable by minimizing stress (cold protection, irrigation during drought, etc) and using pyrethrum as a preventative when they are active. Birds can devour figs as quickly as they ripen, but can be stopped by covering the plant with bird netting. Ants, wasps and hornets love the ripe fruit as well, and losses may be avoided to a large extent by frequent harvesting.
- Figs require little pruning, although some training is helpful early on to ensure a strong branch structure. Tip pruning may be helpful in controlling rampant shoots, simply cut them back by 25-30% of the previous season’s new growth. Prune as needed in late winter or early spring before the leaves emerge.
- Propagation is easily done at pruning time. Six or ten inch sections of branch tip may be placed in a starter bed to root out for a year, then transplanted to a permanent site the following spring. Also side shoots, or suckers, when removed may be used to start new plants. Mound layering is also an effective way to create rooted shoots for eventual removal and transplant.
- If you are in a climate colder than zone 7, consider growing a fig bush in a container. ‘Celeste’ is reputed as the most cold hardy variety, and features a petite growth habit; making it a great choice for the north.
Figs are a great place to start into home fruit production. They are productive, resilient, and extremely rewarding.