Looking for a fantastic backyard fruit tree? Look no further than the humble fig. Figs are an excellent choice for a backyard tree because they are hardy, easy to grow, and have no serious disease problems beside nematodes. And did I mention the fruit is absolutely delicious? Yes! My Granny always had a fig tree in her yard, and there was no greater joy that seeing her turn those soft fruits into homemade preserves or just eating them right off the tree! Learning how to grow figs at home isn’t difficult, so let’s get started.
Should I grow a fig tree?
Before planting any type of tree or plant, you should always assess whether it’s a good fit for your yard or garden. This includes your climate as well as space that you have available.
The size of a fig tree
Fig trees can grow up to 20 feet tall and wide if you allow them. As the gardener, you have control over the size and shape of your tree by making pruning cuts (see my article on pruning fruit trees). It is recommended to prune fig trees into a bush shape, keeping the height of the tree manageable and the fruit within reach. Because who wants fruit that we can’t reach, right?
Where fig trees grow best
Fig trees enjoy warm weather (don’t we all??), and grow well in zone 8-10. However, all is not lost! There are some cold hardy varieties that can be grown outdoors in zone 6 and 7 as well. In zones where temperatures go below 10 degrees, figs are best grown in containers and brought inside for the winter.
Popular fig tree varieties for home growing
Of the four main types of figs, you want to make sure that you buy a variety of the common fig because the fruit will form without pollination. This means you can grow with just one tree. As with all fruit tree purchases, always check your growing zone and make sure what you purchase is compatible. Your local cooperative extension office is a great resource for this.
- Celeste– Able to withstand the high heat of the south, the celeste fig is a beautiful tree that bears delicious fruit!
- Brown Turkey Fig– A southern classic, this fig variety tends to be more compact and can give both a summer and a fall harvest.
- Chicago Hardy– This fig variety produces beautiful fruit with bright red interiors. A great choice for northern gardeners who want to grow figs as this tree can withstand some frost.
- Black Mission Fig– This popular fig variety is drought-tolerant and produces beautiful and delicious fruit. Hardy in zones 7-10.
- LSU Purple Fig– Are you a big LSU fan? This may be the fig for you. This fig variety loves the hot weather and has a unique leaf shape as well as disease resistance.
Where to plant a fig tree
- Light Requirements– Fig trees love sun and warmth, so make sure you find a sunny spot to plant where the tree will receive a minimum of 8 hours of sun during the growing season. Consider the south side of your lawn or garden. In colder areas, it’s a good idea to plant along the south side of a building to give added heat.
- Soil Conditions– Figs generally grow well in a wide range of soil conditions. It is a good idea to have your soil tested at your local cooperative extension to make sure the ph is in the 6.0 to 6.5 range. Our current fig tree is growing where old azaleas had been, which love acidic soil, and it’s doing well.
- Other Growing Factors– As with planting any tree, make sure the planting site has well draining soil. If not, simply build up a mound or raised bed to plant in. Also, remember this very small plant can grow very large, so plant far enough away from buildings, wires, sidewalks, etc. Especially if you don’t plan to prune it back to a bush size. My Granny always told me that you want to protect the roots of a fig tree by planting in near a structure, so our tree is about four feet away from the house. I can’t back this suggestion up with hard proof, but if Granny recommends it…
How to Plant a Fig Tree
I alway say, start out like you can hold out, and that’s especially true for fruit trees. Make sure you purchase your fig tree from a reputable nursery, so you come home with a healthy tree that will grow well in your area. If you go with an online company, check to see if they have a money back guarantee to insure you don’t just throw away your money if something goes wrong.
Figs are warm climate trees, so also make sure you choose one that will grow in your zone, especially if you live in colder climates. Celeste, Brown Turkey, Hardy Chicago, Brunswick, Marseilles, and Osborne are some of the most winter hardy cultivars.
- When to plant fig trees- The best time to plant your fig tree is when it is dormant, in the early spring (after the danger of a hard freeze) or late fall.
- Fig tree spacing- Figs don’t need to be planted together for pollination like other fruit trees, but if you decide to plant more than one tree, space them at least 6 feet apart.
- Ideal location– Remember that figs can grow very large if you allow them to, so plant in a place where they have plenty of room to spread out. Planting in full sun, along a south facing wall is ideal for maximum heat exposure.
- Preparing soil for planting– When you dig your planting hole, amend the soil with some compost or well rotted manure to give your plant a good boost. (Create your own compost at home!)
- Water requirements for figs– After planting your fig tree, make sure to water it in, meaning give the roots a good soak. This removes air pockets and settles the dirt as well as hydrates the roots.
- How long until fruit can be harvested? A young fig tree needs time to develop its root system, so it may be 3-5 years before the fruit will be ready to harvest. Consider buying an older tree if you’d like to have fruit more quickly. Your local nursery should be able to help you with this.
Caring for fig trees
Once your fig tree is planted, how do you need to care for it? What about watering, fertilizing, and pruning?
Watering a fig tree
For highest fruit yields, figs should be watered throughout the summer. The water requirements are different depending on soil type, but generally 1 to 1½ inches of water a week from rain or irrigation should suffice. Mulching around the tree is a good idea to help retain water, and may reduce the effects of nematode problems. Figs are very shallow rooted so a good layer of mulch can also add some needed protection to the root system. If nematodes have been an issue for you in the past, consider planting marigolds near your fig tree in the spring and summer.
In healthy soil, fig trees grow well without added fertilizer. Compost is always a good idea to enrich your soil, so you could consider a top dressing of compost in the spring. However, fertilizer may be needed in soils with low fertility or where there is high competition from other plants. Your soil test results from your local extension office can help diagnose any soil issues you may have.
Pruning fig trees
At planting, prune about ⅓ of your fig tree’s top to encourage low growing branches. Figs are heavy bleeders, so it is best to prune when the tree is dormant or in early spring. Remove any diseased, weak, or dead branches when you prune. In the image of my fig tree above, you can clearly see a few branches that need to be pruned back because they have no leaves. Keep your tree manageable and well shaped.
Are you accustomed to seeing blooms on fruit trees to indicate where the fruit will grow? Don’t be surprised if you can’t find any blossoms on your fig tree. The flower is actually inside this unusual fruit!
- What season? Most fig trees will produce two crops. The current season’s wood will produce the main crop of figs if the bush is mature. Some everbearing varieties will produce a Breba (or bonus) crop on last year’s growth. The time of year for harvesting may differ slightly depending on the your climate, but typically you can expect to harvest in the summer.
- How to tell when figs are ready- When the figs are ripe for picking, they will be fully colored and soft to the touch. They will not continue to ripen off the tree so try not to jump the gun on harvesting. You may need to protect the fruit from birds and squirrels with wildlife netting because they will try to get to them before you do. If your tree is smaller, you can build our DIY blueberry bush covers as good protection.
- Storing fresh figs– Figs are very perishable, but also very delicious, so you might not even need to store them. They will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Other storage options are freezing, dehydrating, or canning.
Growing Figs FAQ’s
- Can fig trees be grown in containers?
Yes, it is even recommended to grow your fig tree in a container and bring it indoors for the winter if you live in a colder climate. Make sure you plant in a large pot and water frequently. It is also a good idea to add some fertilizer to your container plants.
- Can you grow a fig tree from a fig?
Unfortunately, the common fig is seedless so you won’t be able to grow a fig from its seed. The good news is that fig trees propagate easily from cuttings. Check back for a follow up post about some different ways to propagate figs from cuttings. In the meantime, check out this helpful resource on how to propagate figs.
I hope you’ll take the leap and add figs to your home garden. The trees themselves are beautiful and give off a lovely aroma when you’re close up. They are a favorite of birds, so be on the lookout. For those who live out in the country, deer could possibly be an issue as well, so be prepared to protect your precious figs.
Have more suggestions for growing figs? Leave a comment below and share with the group; your input is always valuable! Have a great week and happy gardening!