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How to Grow: Figs
There is nothing like the taste of fresh figs. They put Fig Newtons to shame. Those gardeners in USDA hardiness zones 7 and warmer know the pleasures and ease of growing fig trees outdoors. But even gardeners in colder climates can include this fruit in their foodscape. Figs can grow into medium-sized trees (30 feet tall) so you’ll need space for them. You can also grow dwarf varieties or grow them in containers. Fresh figs are tasty eaten raw or cooked into pies, puddings, cakes, bread or other bakery products.
How to Use in Foodscaping
Grow full-sized fig trees in an open yard or meadow. Dwarf trees fit in well in a mixed shrub border. Plant figs in containers to keep their size manageable and use them as focal points in the garden.
Grow fig varieties that don’t need cross-pollination so you can plant just one fig tree and get fruit. Try ‘Brown Turkey’, ‘Hardy Chicago’, and ‘Celeste’. ‘Petite Negri’ is a dwarf variety that only grows 10 feet tall. All of these varieties grow well in containers.
Use individual fig trees as specimen plants in your yard. Figs respond well to pruning and can be used to create a fig hedge or espaliered on a wall. Place container figs to mark the edges of formal gardens or as a decorative element on a deck or patio.
Plant figs in spring in a full sun location on well-drained, compost-amended soil. Space trees 10 to 30 feet apart depending on the variety. If growing figs in hedges plant them closer together.
Figs are vigorous growers. Fertilize in spring with compost and an organic plant food. Keep these shallow rooted trees mulched to maintain soil moisture conditions and keep weeds away. Keep trees well watered, especially during fruiting. When grown in containers, keep trees well watered, add an all purpose fertilizer with each watering and add calcium to the potting medium for best growth. Consider burying the container in the garden with the lip of the pot above ground. The fig will send roots out the drainage holes and grow better. In fall in cold areas, sever the roots and bring the pot indoors into a cold, dark area that doesn’t dip below 20F. Let the tree go dormant until spring when it can be moved outdoors again.
You can prune figs vigorously and still get a good crop. In winter remove dead, diseased, or broken branches and any branches with narrow crotch angles or growing in errant directions. Cut back the main branches by 1/4 to keep the tree in bounds and create fewer, but larger and better tasting fruit. Wear gloves where pruning and harvesting figs since the tree has a milky sap that can irritate the skin.
Harvest figs when they have turned the mature color for that variety and the fruit is slightly soft to the touch. Figs are highly perishable, so eat up or freeze, can or dry them for future use.
Excerpted from the book, Foodscaping, (CSP, 2015)