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‘Brown Turkey’ figs (photo courtesy of Monrovia)
‘Brown Turkey’ figs (photo courtesy of Monrovia)

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Zone
Zones 4-9, 12-31, H1, H2
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate

Fig

Moraceae
Deciduous, Edible fruit, Trees

Native to western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean, Ficus carica is grown for its edible fruit; for ornamental relatives, see Ficus. Grows fairly fast to 15–30 ft. tall; generally low branched, spreading at least as wide as high. Where hard freezes (below 10° to 15°F/–12° to –9°C) are common, fig wood freezes back severely and plants act like big shrubs. Can be held to 10 ft. in a large container; can also be trained as an espalier along a fence or wall.

Heavy, smooth, gray trunks are gnarled in really old trees, picturesque in silhouette. Rough bright green leaves with three to five lobes are 4–9 in. long and nearly as wide. Casts dense shade. Winter framework, tropical-looking foliage, and strong trunk and branch pattern make fig a top-notch ornamental tree, especially near a patio where it can be illuminated from beneath. But fruit drop can be a problem immediately above a deck or paving; overripe fruit is messy and draws yellow-jackets. Protect container plants in winter.

Not particular about soil. In the colder part of its range, trees planted near south walls or trained against them benefit from reflected heat. Cut back tops hard at planting. As the tree grows, prune lightly each winter, cutting out dead wood, crossing branches, and low hanging branches that interfere with traffic. Pinch back runaway shoots in any season. Avoid deep cultivation (which may damage surface roots) and high-nitrogen fertilizers (which stimulate leafy growth at the expense of fruit). Gophers love fig roots; if they or other burrowing animals are a problem in your garden, plant fig trees in ample wire baskets. Ripe fruit may need protection from birds.

Home-garden figs do not need pollinating, and most varieties bear two crops a year. The first comes in early summer on last year’s wood; the second, more important one comes in late summer or early fall from the current year’s growth. When figs are ripe, they detach easily when lifted and bent back toward the branch. Keep fruit picked as it ripens; protect from birds if you can. In late fall, pick off any remaining ripe figs and clean up fallen fruit.

Varieties differ in climate adaptability. Most need prolonged high temperatures to bear good fruit, while some thrive in cooler conditions. Familiar dried figs from the market are usually ‘Calimyrna’ or imported Smyrna figs. These require special pollenizers (male trees called caprifigs) and a special pollinating insect, so they aren’t recommended for home gardens.

‘Black Jack’. Purple skin with sweet pink flesh. Similar to ‘Mission’. Widely adapted to warm climates. Easily kept small by pruning.

‘Brown Turkey’ (‘Black Spanish’, ‘San Pedro’). Brownish purple fruit. Adaptable to most fig growing climates. Good, small garden tree.

‘Celeste’ (
Blue CelesteCelestial). Violet-tinged bronzy skin, rosy amber flesh. Good fresh; resists spoilage. Dries well on the tree in warm, dry climates.

Conadria’. Choice thin-skinned white fig blushed violet; white to red flesh with fine flavor. Best in hot areas; takes intense heat without splitting.

‘Desert King’. One late-summer crop of green-skinned, red-fleshed fruit. Adapted to all fig climates but better in cooler areas like the Northwest.

‘Genoa’ (‘White Genoa’). Greenish yellow skin, strawberry-colored to yellow flesh. Good quality; good in coastal valleys.

‘Italian Everbearing’. Resembles ‘Brown Turkey’ but has somewhat larger fruit with reddish brown skin. Good fresh or dried.

‘Kadota’ (‘White Kadota’). Tough-skinned fruit is greenish yellow. One of the best figs for Hawaii; on the mainland, grows best in hot interior valleys.

‘Lattarula’. Also known as Italian honey fig. Green skin, amber flesh. Grown in the Northwest, where it can ripen in summer and produce fall crops in good seasons.

‘Mission’ (‘Black Mission’). Large tree; purple-black figs with pink flesh; good fresh or dried. Widely adapted.

‘Osborn Prolific’ (‘Neveralla’). Dark reddish brown skin; amber flesh, often tinged pink. Very sweet; best eaten fresh. Best in Northern California coastal areas and the Pacific Northwest. Light bearing in warm climates.

‘Panaché’ (‘Striped Tiger’, ‘Tiger’). Greenish yellow skin with dark green stripes. Strawberry-colored flesh is sweet but dry. Best eaten fresh. Requires a long, warm growing season. One crop late in summer.

‘Peter’s Honey’ (‘Rutara’). Greenish yellow skin, amber flesh. Needs hot exposure in mild climates.

‘Texas Everbearing’. Mahogany to purple skin, strawberry-colored flesh. Bears at a young age. Produces well in short-season areas of the Southwest.

 

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