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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Fruit & Nut Trees

Fabulous Figs (page 3 of 5)

by Robert Kourik

How to Plant and Care for Figs

How to Plant and Care for Figs
Smaller, bush-like fig trees are easiest for northern gardeners to manage.

You can buy fig trees in containers or bare root. Bare-root trees are much cheaper and the only way to buy from a mail-order nursery, but they are also prone to dehydration during shipping.

Fig trees are not available on dwarfing rootstocks, so they grow to be full-sized. But full size varies according to climate and variety. Commercial fig trees in California, such as 'Mission', often grow to be 30 to 40 feet wide and nearly as tall. Others, such as 'Black Jack' are only 8 feet high and wide when mature, even in California. In cold-winter climates, fig trees are naturally smaller because of the necessity of heavy pruning for winter protection.

To ensure superior drainage, plant your fig tree in a raised bed or mound of soil elevated 18 to 24 inches high by 3 to 5 feet wide. Water to settle it and eliminate air pockets, and after planting, mulch.

The tender bark of a bare-root fig tree is susceptible to sunscald. Wash the trunk with water from the lower limbs to an inch below soil level, let it dry, then paint with white latex paint (interior or exterior) that's diluted 50 percent with water.


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. If souring is a problem in your area, select varieties with a closed or nearly closed eye. Several are noted in the listing of varieties that follows.

Nematodes will parasitize fig roots and reduce your harvest. Minimize their damage by buying healthy, clean nursery trees and by maintaining an organic mulch over the root area of mature trees.


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.

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