Maligned No More: Enjoy the Bounty of the Generous Fig

The occasional pejorative use of the term “fig leaf” is wholly undeserved.

A close up of a purple blue fresh fig hanging on a branch.

The leaves of the fig tree (Ficus carica) are quite lovely — large, beautifully shaped, and generous in their provision of shade.

It is entirely unjust that the leaves of this lovely tree have been so maligned throughout history, likely due to their part in the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

Grow a plethora of figs on fast-growing, large trees that offer generous shade in addition to delicious fruit: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/fruit-trees/how-to-grow-fig-tree/
Photo by Ralph Barrera

Any plant that gives us food, beauty, and shelter surely deserves our respect and admiration, rather than our scorn.

Let’s see why!

Origins

Native to the Middle East and northwestern Asia, the tree was brought to North America by Spanish missionaries in the early sixteenth century.

Easy-to-grow figs are among the oldest fruits known to humankind and are members of the Moraceae family, which includes the mulberry.

Figs are easy to grow and even easier to eat in many delicious ways | GardnersPath.com
Photo by Ralph Barrera

These trees can be left unprotected in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10. Gardeners in northern zones can grow these plants in containers and bring them indoors when temps drop below 10°F.

These trees are relatively fast growing and can grow to 20 or even 30 feet tall, and almost as wide. The deeply-lobed leaves can be four to eight inches wide and as long as 10 inches.

The shade provided by their girth and large leaves is well-appreciated. In fact, the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, is said to have found enlightenment while sitting under a fig tree.

Carefree fig trees are easy to grow and maintain | GardenersPath.com
Photo by Gretchen Heber

In the right conditions, some species will produce two crops in a year. The first crop, called a “breba” crop, ripens in late May or early June, and a second will be ready in late September to early November.

The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves

“Breba” or “breva” is a Spanish word that comes from the Latin “bifera,” which means twice-producing, according to Linda Ziedrich, author of “Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves.” Want to check it out for yourself? This book is available on Amazon. 

What to Buy?

Of the four main types of figs, three — Caprifigs, Smyrna, and San Pedro — are not usually grown by home gardeners, because they have complex pollination requirements.

The fourth type, the common fig, is parthenocarpic, meaning the fruit forms without fertilization. Let’s look at a few varieties of this type.

Grow a fig tree in your own back yard for delicious summer fruit: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/fruit-trees/how-to-grow-fig-tree/ ‎
Photo by Ralph Barrera

One of the most commonly planted fig trees in North America is ‘Celeste,’ available from Nature Hills Nursery. This large beauty is fast growing and produces medium-sized, sweet, juicy fruits that are brownish-purple and ready to harvest in July.

Celeste Cultivar | GardenersPath.com

Celeste

Celeste does not produce a breba crop. The fruit is good both for eating fresh and for preserving. Also known as the sugar fig, it’s hardy to zone 6.

‘Brown Turkey’ is another favorite, especially for more northern gardeners as it’s more cold-hardy than some other varieties. Get Brown Turkey at Nature Hills.

Brown Turkey | GardenersPath.com

Brown Turkey

This tree produces a smaller fruit that is not quite as richly flavored as Celeste, but it does often produce a breba crop. And that means figs for everyone! Thrives in zones 7-9.

Super-Southern growers might want to try ‘Black Mission’ — it’s a vigorous grower, but not particularly cold hardy. Nature Hills also sells this tree.

Black Mission | GardenersPath.com

Black Mission

This variety produces two crops of large, rich-tasting, purple-black fruits that are good fresh or dried.

‘Ischia’ is said to do particularly well in coastal California, whereas the related ‘Green Ischia’ is more suited for the South.

Ischia (Ficus carica), 4″ Pot

Ischia are smaller, lighter-colored fruits with excellent flavor. You can purchase ischia from Hirts, via Amazon.

A Sun Loving Tree

Like college kids on spring break, figs like sun. They are happiest with seven to eight hours of full sun during the growing season.

When choosing a site for your tree, don’t underestimate its ability and desire to spread out. It might feel a bit crowded if it’s too close to a wall or fence.

These trees aren’t too picky about their soil, although they prefer well-drained loam with lots of organic matter.

Propagation

This species is astonishingly easy to propagate. Simply sneak into your neighbor’s yard in the dead of night, pruners in hand

We jest. Ask permission and take an eight- to 10-inch cutting of wood in early spring.

Fig trees are easy to propagate and grow | GardenersPath.com
Photo by Gretchen Heber

Stick it in a pot of good dirt, with several inches below the surface and one or two buds above the dirt line. Let the cutting grow in the container for a season before transplanting.

Learn how to propagate, care for and enjoy fig trees: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/fruit-trees/how-to-grow-fig-tree/
Photo by Gretchen Heber

My own huge tree is the result of my dear neighbor Louie sharing a potted plant he’d propagated from a cutting he snipped from a tree at the side of a road somewhere.

When he lost his own tree during the construction of his backyard pool, he came back to our big beauty to take a cutting to propagate.

Planting Tips

Plant figs when they are dormant, in spring. Set container plants three inches deeper than their container depth.

If you’re planting bare root plants, cut back the tops to about one-half of their original length.

Grow a big, broad fig tree for food and shade | GardenersPath.com

These plants are fairly drought tolerant, but if things get too dry, you’ll want to give them a drink.

These trees generally do just fine without any fertilizing. If it seems your tree is being stingy with its spring leaf development, give it a half pound of a balanced fertilizer such as 10 nitrogen, 10 phosphate, and 10 potash to jumpstart it.

These plants require little or no pruning. An ill-placed branch can certainly be removed to unblock a path if needed, of course, in winter. And you’ll want to remove any deadwood.

Pests and Diseases

Squirrels. Grrrrrrrr. We’ll come back to this in a minute.

Fig trees are easy to grow in zones 8-10, but watch out for wildlife who enjoy the fruit as much as we do | GardenersPath.com

Other plagues to look for include root-knot nematodes, which are a serious threat to fig trees in parts of the South.

The larvae of these destructive pests infect plant roots, inhibiting their ability to absorb nutrients.

According to G.W. Krewer, Extension Horticulturist, and Floyd Hendrix, Plant Pathologist, both of University of Georgia Extension Service, trees infected by root-knot nematodes cannot be cured with chemical treatment.

Krewer and Hendrix suggest pruning the tops to balance the weakened root system, which may prolong the tree’s life. Usually, however, infected plants eventually die.

Rust is another blight to be aware of. It’s a fungus that shows up on the underside of leaves as raised, reddish-brown spots.

Rust is not usually fatal, and unless it’s an annual problem, spraying with a fungicide is not necessary.

Figs are also susceptible to various blights. Avoid these by using sanitary gardening practices such as applying mulch, cleaning away dead plant material, and disinfecting tools.

Avoiding Fig-Fattened Wildlife

Figs are ready to harvest when the neck weakens and the fruit droops.

The ripe fruits will be soft to the touch and the skin may begin to split. And most varieties darken to a brownish-purple color just before harvest time.

Easy to grow and easy to care for, figs reward with delicious and copious fruit | GardenersPath.com

You’ll want to grab them at just the right time. Picked too soon, they aren’t yummy — and they won’t ripen once removed from the plant.

Here’s the tricky part: You have to time the harvest of the fruit perfectly, so you get them when they’re just ripe, but before the $#&%@#! squirrels get them! Or the birds.

Some gardeners cover smaller trees with netting to dissuade wildlife, but this is impractical with large trees. You simply have to be diligent about watching for ripeness and then beating the crafty creatures to the goods.

Fruit Storage

Harvested figs have a fairly short shelf life; store them in the refrigerator for two or three days, tops.

To dry these fruits, wash them thoroughly and then dry them with a towel. Place them whole or halved on a wire rack. Place the wire rack on a baking sheet.

Put the baking sheet in a 140°F oven for eight to 24 hours.

You can also use dehydrator, following the same instructions. Learn more about dehydrators from this article on our sister site, Foodal.

You’ll know they’re dry when the outsides become leathery and you don’t see any juice on the inside. They should still be slightly pliable.

Store the dried fruit in the refrigerator or freezer in airtight containers for 18 to 24 months.

Recipe Ideas

If eating them like candy somehow gets tiresome, you can preserve the fruits or add them to any number of recipes.

Tahini, Honey-Roasted Fig, and Banana Popsicles

Grow figs in your garden and use them to make delicious recipes | GardenersPath.com
Photo by Kendall Vanderslice. © Ask the Experts, LLC.

These frozen treats are filling and not too sweet.

Packed with figs, banana, and tahini, they do double duty as breakfast and dessert.

Get the recipe on our sister site, Foodal.

Fig and Goat Cheese Tarts

Grow backyard figs and create delicious treats with your bounty: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/fruit-trees/how-to-grow-fig-tree/
Photo by Jordan Cord © The Fitchen. Used with permission.

Just five ingredients come together in this dessert that’s easy to create, yet elegant and delicious.

And talk about a showstopper! Guests will definitely oooooh and ahhhh at this beauty.

Get the recipe at The Fitchen.

Prosciutto and Gorgonzola Wrapped Figs

Get growing tips and recipes for delicious figs from our gardening experts: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/fruit-trees/how-to-grow-fig-tree/
Photo by Lauren Pariseau © Hunger Thirst Play. Used with permission.

With just four ingredients, this dazzler is a terrific last-minute appetizer for unexpected guests or that party you forgot you said you’d bring something for.

Find the recipe and more lovely photos at Hunger Thirst Play.

Aspersions Aside

Clearly, we are wholly in favor of dismissing any negative connotations of the use of the fig leaf as a cover for things disagreeable.

Indeed, the fig is a most agreeable and generous specimen of a plant whose fruit is more than 50% sugar. We dare you to cast aspersions on this benevolent beauty.

Enjoy bountiful harvests of sweet and delicious figs when you plant fig trees in your garden: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/fruit-trees/how-to-grow-fig-tree/
In fact, we ask: Why wouldn’t you plant this species? Northern friends, buy a big pot. Southern gardeners, select a wide spot. Soon you’ll all be members of the fig fanatics club!

Do you have fantastic figs in your yard? Planning your late-night neighborhood escapade to “borrow” from the neighbors? Tell us more in the comments section below.

And if you’re looking to expand your homegrown fruit repertoire even more, read our article on how to grow mulberry trees.


Don’t forget to Pin It!

Different photos of fig fruits growing on trees.

Recipe photos used with permission. Fig photos by Gretchen Heber and Ralph Barrera, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Harvard Common Press, Hirts, and Nature Hills Nursery. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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Robin
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Robin

We live in Camino, CA, 1 hr east of Sacramento and 1 hr west of Tahoe. We have only been here a year and there is a fig tree in the yard that produces nothing. I would appreciate some advice about what we should do to get production from this beautiful little tree.

Charles Polance
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Charles Polance

Yes. May still need a couple years to mature. Try pinching the tips of the branches when 4-6 leaves form to direct energy into the fruits. Continue this monthly.

Linda Dietzel
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Linda Dietzel

My fig tree is about 15 years old , started from a very old tree. It has been producing fruit for several years. However it always falls off before it can rippen? I’m in zone 9with watering restrictions. The mother tree was almost neglected and produced 3 harvests a year.
Any ideas ?
Thank you, Linda

heberg
Guest
heberg

Hi Linda…. thanks so much for reading my article! I’m sorry about your uncooperative tree — frustrating, isn’t it? I wonder if your watering restrictions are the cause. While figs can tolerate a dry spell, you might have better luck ensuring your tree gets about two inches of water per week while it’s fruiting. Also, put down a thick layer of mulch to retain the precious moisture you’ve given your tree. If your fruits are dropping when they’re very small, they may not have been pollinated. The tree won’t use resources to fully develop fruit that wasn’t pollinated. Hopefully you… Read more »

Sandy A
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Sandy A

My 3 fig trees are in pots on my screened in porch. They are covered with ants. How can I treat this? They are beginning to fruit.

Loida Cervantes
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Loida Cervantes

My fig tree is already 4 years old, healthy and bears fruits every year in the summer. The problem is that the fruits don’t get ripe for harvest at all. I live in Vancouver, Canada. I know they can survive the weather here since I’ve seen them in other houses’ yards. Please help!

Charles Polance
Guest
Charles Polance

Grow Desert King! 95% of fig cultivars don’t like Pacific NW weather. There is a nice one growing at the entrance to Stanley Park.

Mary
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Mary

I was given a potted fig tree that spread leaves and developed fruit. However, the fruit is dropping and many leaves have dropped. I figure it is probably stressed as we have had some pretty severe summer weather and inconsistent watering. What concerns me is there is a yellow mushroom that keeps popping up on the surface ground and out of a crack in the pot. I am afraid this fungus is going to kill the tree. I know this is not the time to transplant anything, but I wonder if it wouldn’t benefit my fig tree to put it… Read more »

Jan Appleby
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Jan Appleby

My fig tree dies back every winter and comes back in spring. Is there anything I can do to protect it? It is on the south side out by the barn but is out in the open.

patricia
Guest
patricia

I am in Zone 6B (Chicago) and planted a fig tree several years ago. I bought a fairly mature plant that was about 5 feet tall. I have gotten fruit every year. In the winter I wrap it up: burlap, then lots of leaves and hay or straw, then bubble wrap. Then I top it off with a plastic trash can lid which keeps most of the rain and snow out but allows ventilation. So far so good. Friends of mine who live on Cape Cod use a different method: they dig a trench beside their tree, partially uproot it… Read more »

Frank DiNatale
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Frank DiNatale

That’s amazing. I also live in the Chicago area and I can’t imagine it surviving outside when the temps drop to -20. I wheel mine into the garage and cover them every winter. I bet you get more figs, having it in the ground versus a larger pot.

Sharenzaa Baldeh
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Sharenzaa Baldeh

As far as the Adam and Eve part (may Allah be pleased with them both of them). Allah commanded them to use those leaves. So therefore they are not treated unjustly. Moreover, humans have a higher status than any other creatures on this earth. Allah created Everything.

Allison Sidhu
Admin
Trusted Member
Allison Sidhu

Thanks for your comment, Sharenzaa. The writer is referring here to the derivation of the term “fig leaf” in its secondary definition, explained by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “something that conceals or camouflages usually inadequately or dishonestly.” When used in a more secular and modern context, there’s a negative connotation here, one that the plant perhaps does not deserve.

Thanks for reading!

Michael Liberto
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Michael Liberto

I have had a fig tree for 10 years or more. Lots of green edible figs. This year, loaded as usual. Green, hard as rocks, never ripened yet. I live in Punta Gorda, Florida.

hosein
Guest
hosein

I had a three-year-old fig tree.but fig does not give

Pam
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Pam

I have 3 fig trees which are outgrowing their containers. I want to plant them out but am worried about animals eating the leaves. Are they poisonous.

Catherine Janakiraman
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Catherine Janakiraman

Just purchased 3 fig trees this spring. They’re in pots for now. Two are supposed to be cold hardy to zone 7 while the third can be if provided a warm southern wall. We’ll see. They’re quite content, for now, being babied in their pots.

Diane A Durham
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Diane A Durham

Thanks for the in-depth and very helpful article! I recently purchased a fig tree in a 10″ pot. It is already about 3-1/2′ tall so should I re-pot it now or wait until late fall? I plan to keep it containerized because I do not think it will survive the harsh winters we have here in Western New York. Also, the tree was only labeled as “fig tree” so how do I know what variety I have? I was drawn to the plant because of it’s gorgeous HUGE leaves and I have read that they are edible too. So fragrant…… Read more »

Charles Polance
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Charles Polance

Keep growing in a larger pot until you can ID the variety. Store in an unheated location over winter. Hopefully the plant is fruit bearing not ornamental. Pinch the growing tips to get figs to develop. Buy a Hardy Chicago next. OH! I’m from Buffalo originally, so I know what winter means!

Mary
Guest
Mary

I just got a Hardy Chicago. Hoping to keep in a container. How tall do they get? Will have to come inside for winter. Thanks!

Allison Sidhu
Admin
Trusted Member
Allison Sidhu

‘Hardy Chicago’ will grow to about 15-30 feet tall and 15-35 feet wide at maturity, and it’s an excellent choice for growing in containers. Over the years, you should be able to prune it back if you like without interfering with production of a good harvest. Good luck!

Erin
Guest
Erin

Fabulous article, thank you. I purchased an 8 inch tall fig tree with a couple of small leaves out of fascination at my local garden shop in a tiny 3 inch pot. I transplanted it into a roughly 1 gallon decorative ceramic pot because the garden shop suggested I put it in the house as a houseplant for the winter. USDA says my NH home is Zone 5b (-15 to -10 F). What is the best approach to enjoying this lovely plant? Also, I have a low branch growing off the main brunch that I’d like to clip and replant.… Read more »

Sam
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Sam

Have a fig tree given to us last year. Cut back and it has grown four foot high, with over 2 dozen fruit on it. Should I put in a pot as worried it overtakes garden or leave it? I live in Wales.

The fruit is about an inch big and green. Can’t believe I have so much fruit!!!

Bernard
Guest
Bernard

I have had my fig tree for about 6 years. We’ve been through a lot together.

This year I got about 20 to 30 figs off of the tree.

My question: The tree is about 4 feet tall and has not grown a bit in all of these years. Is this unusual? Is there anything I can do to help it grow bigger?

Phyllis
Guest
Phyllis

I am so glad that I found your article. It has answered several questions I have had about growing my Celeste fig tree in Piedmont, NC which I believe is Zone 7b. This is the third year I have had “Celeste.” The first year I planted this wonderful beauty from the pot and got 3 ripe, deliciously sweet figs. She has grown to about 6-7 feet over the past two years and produces the little green beginnings of figs, but so far no ripened fruit. After her first year, I have really done nothing to help with growth, in fact… Read more »

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Thank you for this article Gretchen! This is a great read. I love how you break down everything about how to grow the tree, but then provide great recipe ideas too! I recently tried the prosciutto and gorgonzola wrapped figs, and they were incredible. Thanks!

Tran
Guest
Tran

Hi.. we leave in Connecticut so can we plant the fig tree here? Thank you

Libby
Guest
Libby

I just cut down my fig tree. I live in VA and the last 5 years or so we’ve had very rainy summers and the tree produced fruit late that never really matured. Or never produced any fruit at all. The tree was planted in a sunny spot over 10 years ago.

Pat Motley
Guest
Pat Motley

I have a 5 year old Celeste Fig tree. The tree has been producing figs the last 2 years. Last year we had a wonderful harvest that began in early July. This year the tree is loaded with small green figs showing no sign of ripening. Last year I had to pick twice a day to stay ahead of the critters. I just do not recall having green figs for as long last year. This tree has had green figs for at least 2 months, maybe closer to 3. Is there anything I can do to encourage them to start… Read more »

Nancy gibney
Guest
Nancy gibney

My aunt had a mulberry tree with bugs inside the mulberries. Are figs prone to this,too? We never ate her mulberry pies.

Frank DiNatale
Guest
Frank DiNatale

We live in the Chicago suburbs. I have one fig tree which came from a cutting from my Uncle Vito’s massive fig tree from the old country and another from my parents’ neighbors. Fig trees are for sharing! (and so are the figs). We take dried figs and place an almond in them, then roast them in the oven — sweet and crunchy… Oh, and they are in very large pots that get wheeled into the garage and covered every winter. Figs are a family tradition, along with preparing raw olives and making homemade wine (olives and grapes usually shipped… Read more »

K Farmer
Guest
K Farmer

I have a fig tree that is at least 15 yrs old. The last 7 or 8 yrs it has produced no figs. Before it stopped producing the last yr it only gave 5 or 6 figs. Before that we had enough to eat a few each day for about 2 wks and that’s it. From your blog I have the idea conditions for it to produce beautifully. However I only get beautiful leaves and no fruit. Can you tell what maybe wrong?

Kay
Guest
Kay

I was just given a fig seedling from a friend’s large and productive fig tree. She doesn’t know what kind it is. The ripe figs are green on the outside with a medium pink interior. Lighter than a brown turkey interior. Do you know what kind it is?

It’s doing very well in a pot outside, but the leaves smell enough that I don’t want to take it in over winter. It’s early October in southwest Virginia, will it survive the winter outside in the ground?

Allison Sidhu
Admin
Trusted Member
Allison Sidhu

How big are the figs when they are mature, Kay? Are they a little sweet, very sweet, or maybe kind of nutty? Are they solid green, or green with a blush or tinge of purple? Can you send a picture of a ripe one, cut in half?

Based on your description, it sounds like these may be Calimyrna figs, or perhaps Adriatic figs. Green Ischias (aka Strawberry) and Smiths also fit this description (there are so many different varieties!).

Anh Le
Guest
Anh Le

My sister gave me a fig tree (see the attachment). The tiny fruits on the tree have a brown color. I hope it can survive Seattle winter weather.

Do you know the kind of fig for this?

fig1.jpg
fig2.jpg
fig3.jpg
Allison Sidhu
Admin
Trusted Member
Allison Sidhu

These look like they may be ‘Brown Turkey’ figs, or perhaps ‘Celeste’ figs, but it’s hard to say while they’re still developing. And the leaves seem to have a rougher edge than many of the images that I was able to find for the ‘Brown Turkey’ type. Maybe Chicago Hardy, aka Bensonhurst Purple. As the figs continue to grow and ripen, do they become more bulbous and stay brown? Or do they darken, or retain their elongated shape? Do you plan to keep your tree in a container, or plant it in the ground? Figs do best growing outdoors year-round… Read more »