Fig trees are large rambling deciduous plants with lush tropical looking leaves and sweet, highly sought after fruit. While heat loving, fig trees can grow exceptionally well in the Pacific Northwest. All varieties love warm summer climates and full sun, but I have even seen them growing well and producing fruit even near the seaside. With that said, a sheltered, south facing location is ideal.
When left alone, fig trees form a large, spreading, multi-branched shrub or tree. However, it will often produce leaves and branches at the expense of fruit. We recommend containing the roots either in the garden or a large pot. When the roots are constrained, the plant puts more energy into fruiting – which I think is what we all want!
When the fig is grown in a constrained location, it is essential to pay attention to its watering needs and fertilizer. This is especially true in the summer when fruit is swelling and the moisture is needed. I have mine in a large pot and I have been watering at least once every two-three days during the heat of the summer.
Fig fruit is incredibly sweet and somewhat ‘space-alien’ looking on the inside. Maybe it’s a great way to get kids to try it… hmmm. Figs require pollination in order for fruit to develop. This is where things get really interesting. Simplified, fig pollination occurs when tiny little wasps enter the base of the fruit and work their magic. You can find out more about this from sites like this.
Fig trees should be fertilized with a high potash fertilizer when the fruits begin to swell. You can use a liquid product for a quick feeding or a slow-release if you are more the leisurely type. Our Garden Pro Liquid Transplant fertilizer, Fruit tree and berry food or our Tomato fertilizer are ideal. Figs can be heavy feeders so multiple applications may be necessary depending on the product. Don’t feed after August as you do not want to encourage a lot of growth going into fall.
Most figs begin small, green and solid. As they mature, they may change colour depending on the variety, soften and begin to droop at the neck. At this point they are ready for harvest. If the skin cracks open the fruit is completely ripe. You may find the birds in your neighborhood volunteering to help harvest your crop. Cover your fig tree with a garden net to save some of the fruit for yourself.
Figs are supposed to produce two crops of fruit per year. One in the late spring or early summer (called the Breba crop), and the second in the late summer or early fall. However, unless we have an exceptionally warm summer, the second crop often does not ripen before fall rains and winter frosts set in.
Pruning & Caring for Figs
Established fig trees should be pruned in late spring or early summer. Shorten side shoots and deal with the 3 D’s – dead, damaged and diseased wood. To keep a clean and tidy tree, you may also want to remove branches that cross or generally grow in the wrong direction.
Remove leaf debris to reduce the likelihood of pests and disease. To increase next years crop, remove any fruit larger than pea-size in September. The remaining embryonic fruits should over-winter and given some protection over winter, will ripen the following year.
This is always a gamble as you are sacrificing a potential fall crop for the promise of a larger spring crop … it’s your choice…
As some winter protection is recommended, apply a 2-3 inch layer of mulch in the fall to provide extra comfort for the plant. This will serve to moderate temperature and protect the roots. Fig trees will usually survive our winters, but may die back to the ground level. If this occurs, new shoots will often emerge from the base.
Common Fig Varieties
While there are many varieties of figs available, these four are generally available at Art’s Nursery.
'Black Jack' Fig
Ficus carica 'Black Jack'
A handsome heat loving deciduous tree that produces a heavy crop of tasty brownish-purple fruit twice a year – in late spring and late summer, weather permitting. Its medium size works well for screening or background use. Prune lightly once a year to showcase its attractive structural form. Grows to a moderate size, 15-25ft tall and wide.
'Black Jack' Fig
Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey'
Brown Turkey is a cold hardy fig variety with attractive light-green leaves, smooth gray bark and a delicious edible purple-brown fruit that ripens in late August. Flesh is red when ripe. Grows 10-25 tall. Like other figs it is best grown in full sun in rich, well drained soils. Hardy in zones 6-9.
'Peter's Honey' Fig
Ficus carica 'Peters Honey'
Peters Honey produces sweet greenish-yellow fruit with wonderful dark amber flecks in summer for extra interest. It’s a mid-sized variety that needs a hot, south facing exposure for fruit to ripen in coastal or temperate areas. Grows 15-25ft in size. Originally from Sicily and is a must-have for Mediterranean style gardens.
Ficus carica 'Mission'
Also sometimes called ‘Black Mission’, this fig is one of the most popular in California. This is a large tree that bears especially sweet purplish-black fruit in summer. Mission adapts well to all areas but is best suited for a hot and dry, inland region. Grows 20-25ft tall and wide, but benefits from a light annual pruning. Deciduous. Hardy in zones 7-9
We've also found this helpful video from one of our fig suppliers that gives you even more information about growing figs.
Art’s Nursery carries a large and diverse selection of fig trees for your garden. As our selection is always changing, please call 604.882.1201 to confirm availability of specific varieties. If you have any questions about figs, talk to one of our expert horticulturists in-store or on the phone.