The Q&A Archives: fig tree

Question: I bought a black Mission fig tree (Ficus carica). I've been told that they dont give fruit if a certain bug is introduced, but i was told that it was self fertile. Secondly how much am I suppose to water it. I planted it on 5/04/08. I live in Las Vegas. Also am I suppose to prune.

Answer: More than many common fruit trees, figs require good drainage. In wet clay or poorly drained soils, fig trees produce mostly vegetative, viny growth with few fruits. They tend to be short-lived.

Fig trees grow well in sandy loam to clay loam soil and seem to thrive in soils rocky enough to defy many plants, not to mention gardeners. In the Mediterranean, I've seen large, robust fig trees sprouting from craggy slopes and fractured rock cliffs. Rocky soils have another advantage: Gophers don't like them. This is important in the West, where the tunneling rodents are a worrisome pest of fig roots.

Figs tolerate soil pH between 6.0 and 7.8 and don't need as much fertility as most fruit trees. For instance, there is no need to fertilize a fig tree if new growth is longer than 6 inches. If growth is less than that, fertilize with 1 1/2 pounds of actual nitrogen per mature tree (7 to 8 pounds of blood meal or 10 pounds of 10-10-10). The best time to apply fertilizer is spring.

Common garden figs are self-fruiting, meaning they require no pollination. One exception to this pattern is the 'Calimyrna' fig, a commercial variety that requires a tiny wasp to crawl inside the undeveloped fruit and leave behind the pollen from another type of fig tree called a caprifig. Without pollen from the caprifig, the fruits of 'Calimyrna' do not mature.

The most widespread pest of figs is birds. You can either beat the birds to the ripe fruit by harvesting early each morning or cover the tree with netting. Gophers love to gnaw on fig roots. If they're common in your area, plant young trees in large wire baskets, leaving 12 inches of wire above the soil. Use traps to minimize gopher damage to mature trees.

Fruit "souring" is caused by bacteria and fungi entering the maturing fruit, usually via ants, beetles, and other small insects able to crawl into the fig's basal opening or "eye." Souring is most common in areas of high humidity. Varieties of figs are more or less prone to souring according to the size of their basal opening.

Most figs can produce fruit on both the previous season's growth (1-year-old wood) and the growth of the current season. The crop from last year's growth matures in summer; the crop from the current season matures in fall.

What this means to the pruner is simple: 1) Prune in late fall or winter (spring in cold-winter regions) and you'll just get the fall crop; 2) never prune and you'll harvest two crops; and 3) judicious pruning in both winter and summer will allow some of both crops - summer and fall.

Most often prune by making "thinning" cuts, not "heading" cuts. Thinning means cutting stems or shoots completely to their bases; heading cuts leave some portion of the stem or shoot. Prune by thinning to whatever shape you desire and some fruit will follow.

Old, mature fig trees can grow at least 40 feet tall in favorable climates. Many yards can't accommodate such large trees. To control the tree for a harvest without a ladder, simply cut back - to two or three buds on last year's growth - all the shoots you want to save.

Hope this information answers all your questions! Best wishes with your fig tree!

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