Fig trees are an easy tree to add to any garden or homestead. With few pests, minimal fertilizing and reasonably hardiness, they are a great tree to consider growing at home.
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Picking your fig trees
There are lots of different fig tree cultivars. Louisiana State University has developed a few specifically for this region. They are a popular option for both food and landscaping. The best way to pick fig trees for your property is to find a reputable local nursery. They will carry ones best suited for your region and hardiness zone.
If you don’t have a nursery near by, there are some online distributors that are pretty good, including Stark Bro’s. In order to get the best cultivar for your area, compare what your local agriculture extension center says works in your area to what is available online.
Can I grow fig trees from seed?
While you can grow fig trees from seed, it is much, much more complicated and difficult than the alternatives. Luckily, fig trees are excellent candidates for propagating through cuttings. If you know of a tree someone will let you take a few twigs from, then definitely take a few and give it a shot.
If you are interested in other fun fruit trees to grow, check out more exotic options than the traditional apples! Everything from North American pawpaws to loquat can produce delicious fruit on your homestead.
Preparing the ground for planting fig trees
Once you’ve selected your fig trees, you’ll want to consider where to plant it and when. Like many deciduous fruit trees, fig trees go dormant in the late fall and early winter. During this time is the best time to plant most fruit trees, including fig trees. If you live in an area where the ground will freeze, definitely plan your fig tree in the fall before the ground is too hard to work.
Alternatively, fig trees make excellent container plants that can be brought inside or kept on an insulated porch or greenhouse. In fact, due to the self pollinating ability of fig trees, you can keep them indoors with enough light to grow delicious figs indoors.
You will want to dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball of the fig sapling. Dig deep enough to cover the roots without covering more than an inch or two of the trunk. Usually I dig it pretty deep and then back fill to the right level with finished compost, native soil and sod. All of that will break down and help the sapling out through the winter to develop roots.
Use a stake to hold the tree at 90 degrees to the ground and then fill in around the roots with the soil you removed to dig the hole. DO NOT mound the soil around the base of the tree. You can build it up a little bit but you definitely do not want the “volcano” look commonly seen in landscaping.
Then you will need to deep water the sapling. Let the tree soak up water for at least 30 minutes. During this time, the soil will settle lowering any build up around tree.
Sunlight and temperature
Fig trees prefer at least 8 hours of sun during the growing season. However, potted fig trees, may dry out or get burned so keep an eye on these. In general, you will want to plant your fruit trees south facing.
Most trees can be planted outdoors in hardiness zones 7-10 but some varieties can handle zones 5 and 6. Cold tolerant varieties include ‘Hardy Chicago’ and ‘Brown Turkey’. The roots will dye if they get too cold, generally below 20F. However, they can tolerate plenty of heat and a little drought before any significant damage, especially once established.
Pruning and fertilizing your fig trees
Generally speaking, fig trees are extremely easy to maintain. Especially in zones 7 to 10, they can easily take over and become a bit of a hassle if not managed. Particularly because, like tomato plants, they have suckers, sometimes near the roots that just take off.
If you keep your fig tree indoors, you should apply slow release granular organic fertilizer. Once a year in the spring should be fine but you may also want to in the summer. You can also add processed compost at a similar rate. Try not to over fertilize.
For outdoor fig trees, you can use the same fertilizer schedule. Remember to apply more often during the first couple of years. You can add compost at any time. However, if you just leave the fallen leaves from the fall, you’re tree will appreciate both the ground cover and the recycled nutrients.
Leaving the fallen leaves around the tree is a mixed bag. On the one hand, leaving the leaves will turn it into compost by the spring. This is especially true if buried by water elements such as snow and mud. On the other hand, leaving the leaves means that you are helping both beneficial and pest insects. Many of them will use fallen leaves as a home throughout the winter and burrow into the ground.
You do not have to prune fig trees. In fact, they will do just fine without any pruning and do not necessarily produce more fruit with any level of pruning. You can prune as soon as you transplant to shape it immediately but its generally safer to do the next fall.
Pruning in the fall and winter is easier on the tree than other times of the year. This way it can focus on growing fruit and leaves during spring and summer. Luckily, most figs can and should be pruned back hard. This is particularly important if you are trying shape it and keep the tree from growing out of control. If you prune back hard and leave only a few (maybe 5) strong old growth branches, those branches will be able to carry fruit better and withstand difficult weather better.
Maintenance and growth of fig trees
I opted for 2 year old fig tree saplings from a local nursery. I planted them in the fall and had fruit the next spring. It is generally a good idea to let fruit trees to focus on root and limb growth for the first year after transplant. I did not try to prune back the fig trees until the following fall.
To help the trees establish, I used a root stimulator and slow release fertilizer with regular watering. I kept an eye on the rain as the trees made it through the first hot southern summer. However, once that was over, the second spring was just a little fertilizer and compost during the fall. Otherwise, I do not do much with the fig tree.
Some fig tree varieties produce a “breba” crop or second crop in a given year that is usually smaller and less reliable. I have had this occur a few years but not every year and mostly the birds get those. There are too few for it to be worth harvesting so I leave them for birds and squirrels.
How big will the fig tree get?
Unpruned and not managed fig trees can get large but never too tall. Unlike trees such as oak and pecan, fig trees only ever get to about 10 to 15 feet tall. They also usually only get to be about 8 to 10 feet wide. In my experience, these trees that are not pruned back, tend to be more like large shrubs rather than trees.
If you want your fig to be more tree-like or if you growing it indoors, than focus on pruning both the lower sucker branches as well as the top to keep the tree from reaching 15 feet. The larger, older unmanaged trees I care for tend to have lots of large delicious fruit near the top but are almost impossible to get to because of all the small crowded branches at the bottom.
Final thoughts on growing fig trees
Depending on your region, fig trees are hardy, tolerant easy to grow fruit trees for you to grow on your homestead. While some varieties stay green, in general the fruit will turn different shades of purple when they are ready to pick. People like them best in jams, dehydrated or used as garnish with all sorts of dishes. However, in my opinion, they are best warm, right off the tree
All you need is a good, sunny spot with adequate soil and reasonable drainage and you are good to go. You do not need more males and female trees. You do not need certain pollinators. For most cultivated fig trees in the United States you only need a female tree or cutting.
Leave a comment below and let me know about your experience. Do you love figs too? Thanks!
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