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Growing Figs At Home, The Basics By GardenPlantCare.com
Believe it or not, I didn’t eat my first fresh fig until I was well into my twenties! I had always loved dried figs and preserves, but didn’t know anyone who actually grew them fresh in their gardens. I live in the desert of the southwestern U.S. and didn’t even know you can grow them here! Through the years I have become more interested in gardening and have been fortunate enough to meet a few intrepid gardeners who have successfully grown figs in my home town. I was pleased to learn that figs are not as hard to grow in this region as I imagined, although they seem to grow best in areas with a Mediterranean-type climate, such as southern California.
In addition to being delicious, figs make an attractive addition to your landscaping and an interesting conversation piece. For example, figs are a curious plant because the flowers actually grow inside the fruit! Technically the “fruit” is called a synconium. Also, some figs have rather unusual pollinators such as tiny wasps. You can impress your friends with more botanical trivia about figs at this site provided by the California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
While they are more or less sensitive to climate, figs tolerate lots of different soil types. Of course, the addition of a little organic compost to your soil is always a good idea and will help with drainage, add nutrients, and improve sandy soils that don’t retain water well. Also, a pH test for your soil can help determine if there will be problems growing your figs. Around 5.5 to 6.5 is the recommended soil pH for figs. Dolomitic limestone spread out over the soil around your fig and tilled into the soil around 8 inches deep will help bring highly acidic soils to this level. They are very sensitive to root-knot nematodes, so you may want to test your soil if you think there might be a problem with these pests. Figs should be grown in a site where they will get plenty of sun, especially in the early morning. A south-facing location is ideal if your winters get a bit cold.
Special Care For Young Trees
Young trees are especially susceptible to the temperature changes that come with winter in cold climates. They are usually not developed enough to withstand the constant freezing and thawing that may occur. One way to help combat this is with a thick (3-6")mulch layer. Do not put it right up against the trunk - this can cause moisture buildup that attracts fungus. You can use bark chips or leaves. Put this mulch layer down once the ground has frozen. Another way is to wrap the trunk with burlap or tree wrap up to the lowest branch. This will also help protect the tree from salt spray from roads. Be fairly careful about picking out your figs from the nursery. There are varieties that are only adapted to certain regions of the country and may freeze or won’t produce fruit where you live. Hardy Chicago is a cultivar you can try if you live a region with cold winters. Limiting the application of fertilizer will also help your figs to become more winter hardy. During the summer, about eight hours of sun will keep them happy.
At the beginning of autumn, stop watering until the leaves fall from the trees. Once they fall, water your trees until the ground freezes so they will have enough water to live through the winter drought.
Get as much info from a respectable local nursery about the figs that are hardy in your state. Big chain nurseries may end up selling you the wrong kind of plant. Not to mention any names, but you should avoid any stores that have “Mart” in the title. Stick to the small, family owned nurseries that actually know and care about gardening.
Be aware that figs are not really a plant for small spaces. The roots can get quite large and extend out and suck up large quantities of water. Depending on where you live, they will grow fast, and have the propensity to shade out other parts of your garden. Unfortunately, too much pruning may reduce yields, so be careful about your pruning practices. It’s best to start your fig in a good spot to avoid these problems.
An option for some gardeners with limited space is to plant your figs in containers. Select a slow-growing cultivar and replace most of the soil in the container about every three years. Shade and keep the sides of the container cool as the soil may overheat and damage the roots if the pot gets to hot. As far as watering goes, regular watering from late spring to early fall is necessary for your figs to produce a good crop of fruit. 1 ½ inches of water a week works well. If you’ve got a meter to measure rainfall, you can see if your figs are getting enough water from the rain. Otherwise, you’ll need to supplement with irrigation. If you add organic mulch around your fig, you’ll help the soil to stay moist after waterings. Moreover, mulch can abate problems with nematodes.
There are a few other common problems with figs that you’ll need to be aware of, but don’t worry, once you learn to recognize them, they are easily treated. If you’ve just recently planted a fig and it’s still immature, frequent fertilizing may cause the fruits to fall off before they’re ripe. Wait about three years and your tree will be ready for regular fertilizing.
If your plant simply doesn’t produce fruit, you may have purchased a fig that needs a special wasp to fertilize it. Unfortunately, you’ll probably need to start from scratch with a new fig tree that is adapted to your area.
Occasionally, you’ll need to carefully monitor the weather for periods of excessive heat and dryness. Give your figs more water during these times and remember to add a layer of mulch to retain soil moisture.
There are a lot of varieties of figs out there to try. Your local nursery should be able to recommend a fig that’s right for your area. However, a good overall fig to try is the cultivar Celeste which produces tasty fruits that are equally delicious fresh or in preserves. Kadota is a nice cultivar that has green figs that are tasty fresh, but more suitable for preserves. As mentioned above, Hardy Chicago is a good choice for colder climates.
Paul, The Wise Gardener!
Another good source of information for fans of the fig is the North American Fruit Explorers .
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