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Fig Tree Care
Fig trees are easy to grow! The fruit can be eaten fresh or used for cooking and baking. Fig trees do well in containers and in almost all types of soil. They can be kept as small as 6' with regular pruning.
Dig a hole deeper and wider than necessary for the root system. Amend with planting mix if the soil is very heavy and dense. Inspect the roots and remove any broken or dried roots. Place the tree upright at the proper depth. Fig trees survive better if set 2 to 4 inches deeper than they were grown in the nursery. Crumble the soil around the roots, and pack it down several times during the filling operation to avoid air pockets. After planting, water the tree to settle the soil firmly around the roots. Make a basin for future watering. Do not apply fertilizer at planting time.
If the tree has not been recently pruned, head back (shorten limb or shoot by removing a portion off the end) to develop lateral branches and reduce stress. Try to keep the root ball intact to minimize root disturbance. If the root system is damaged during transplanting, water uptake may be reduced.
Caution: Fig trees planted at the beginning of the dormant season often develop root systems before leafing out in the spring. This can be advantageous, but young trees are more susceptible to cold injury. In areas where cold damage may occur, it is often advisable to delay planting until just before dormancy is broken in late winter.
Note: Fig trees grow great in containers, so planting is not necessary for the plant to thrive.
Give special attention to soil moisture management in fig culture. Most fig tree roots are close to the soil surface and can easily dry out. For these reasons, apply water to the trees as drying develops. Slight leaf wilting in the afternoon is an indication of water stress. If stress is observed, water more frequently during hot weather. Mulching helps maintain uniform soil moisture and reduces weed competition.
Do not overwater in areas of heavy soil with poor drainage. This forces oxygen out of the soil and can cause injury to the tree. Good water management, including regular irrigation and mulching, helps maintain tree health and vigor and reduces fruit drop.
Prune figs trees annually during the first three growing seasons in order to establish desired shape and size. In subsequent growing seasons prune only to stimulate new growth or to control size. Unpruned fig trees can spread 25’ or more. Figs do not require regular pruning once defined and established.
Figs can bear fruit in the fall on the previous year's growth, so heavy pruning will result in lighter crops the following season. It is best to prune immediately after the main crop is harvested in early fall. Heavily pruned fig trees can be susceptible to sun burn, so it is a good idea to whitewash trees after heavy summer pruning with interior white latex paint, diluted 50-50 with water. Remove all weak, diseased or dead limbs each dormant season.
Where winters are mild, train fig trees to a single trunk, open vase-type tree. Figs can be easily trained as espaliers. In areas where freezes occasionally kill the upper part of the tree, a multi-trunk system with a bush shape may be a more advantageous pruning method.
Generally, fig trees do not require regular fertilizing. Excessive applications of nitrogen can have a negative effect on fruit quality. The one exception is for figs grown in containers, which should be fed three or four times a year with a balanced fruit tree fertilizer.
Cold Weather Protection
Factors influencing a fig tree's susceptibility to cold injury are related to the tree's entrance into dormancy. A mature tree which has lost all of its leaves and becomes totally dormant can withstand much cooler temperatures than a rapidly growing tree at the time of first frost. Reduce watering in the fall of the year to reduce growth and encourage the onset of dormancy. A fully dormant fig tree can withstand temperatures as low as 10 degrees F.
In areas where temperatures drop into the teens or twenties, additional cold protection is important for young trees. Placing mulch over the base of the tree in winter can protect the crown from killing frosts. Planting along the south side of a building can also help reduce freeze damage in cold areas. Utilizing old fashioned Christmas lights that produce heat and polyester frost blankets can be used when the tree is young.
When trees or limbs freeze, give the tree ample time to grow before removing the frozen limbs. Prune frost damaged branches in the spring once the threat of heavy frost has passed.
In areas without heavy spring frosts, figs can bear two crops per year. The first crop, known as the breba crop, is produced in the spring on the previous year's growth. The second, main crop is produced in the fall on that year's growth. Thinning heavy crops will increase fruit size.
For best quality, allow figs to ripen on the tree, and pick as they ripen. Ripe fruit left on the tree will be vulnerable to dried fruit beetle predation and spoilage. On-the-tree spoilage or souring is caused by microorganisms in the fully ripe fruit. These organisms are usually carried into the open eye of the fig by insects, particularly the dried fruit beetle. Frequent harvest and the removal of overripe, spoiled figs can greatly reduce spoilage problems.
Use gloves and long sleeves when harvesting figs to prevent skin irritation from the fig latex which is exposed where the fruit is removed from the tree.
Note on Dormancy:
Dormant trees still need to be protected (winterized) to remain healthy and free from diseases and insects. Prune dead branches in the later part of fall. Foliage and branches that are in contact with soil invite undesirable pests. Therefore it is best to keep the winterized potted dormant tree clean of debris. Set it in an unheated garage or basement and allow it to go dormant for the winter months. Water the tree as you would normally would through dormancy. It helps to have a moisture meter because in cooler climates the tree will not need to be watered as often. Water the dormant tree when meter reads 40%. Fertilize dormant trees in February.
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