Fig Tree

 Figs (Ficus carica)

Very few folks have enjoyed the sweet flavor of a juicy fresh fig because figs are very perishable. Consequently they cannot be harvested, shipped, and sold commercially in a store before rotting.  So most of us have only enjoyed figs that have been dried, especially during the Christmas holidays, and of course in the filling of the ever popular fig newton cookie.  The only way to enjoy a fresh fig is to grow your own fig tree. 

If you have well draining soil that is reasonably fertile and full sun the books will tell you that you can easily grow a fig, assuming you live in the South.  Fortunately, that is not entirely true.  Figs grow best in full sun, but can produce nice fruit in part shade in the deep south.  Technically, figs are hardy only to zone 7, which would mean areas south of Pennsylvania west to Nebraska.  Don’t tell the thousands of folks living as far north as Lansing Michigan or Boston Massachusets, that they can’t grow figs, because there are productive fig trees that far north that have been producing for generations.  Growing figs successfully in the north just takes a few more precautions than are needed in the south. 

The fig is one of the earliest fruits known to man. It is estimated that they have been around for at least 6,000 years. The Romans regarded Bacchus as the god who introduced the fig to mankind making the tree sacred. That’s why most images of the Roman Gods were often crowned with fig leaves. There was even a fig tree in the Garden of Eden, and in fact, the fig is the most talked about fruit in the Bible.

There are two types of figs, the "common fig" that produces fruit without pollination, and the "Smyrna fig" that requires pollination by a fig wasp (Blastophaga spp.), that lives in the "caprifig" (male fig), to set fruit. The "common-type" (self-pollinated) fig is more commonly grown in the backyard and is the one you will find in your local nursery. The “Smyrna fig” is found mostly in California in commercial production for dried figs. 


The fig is an attractive deciduous tree that can grow to be 50 feet tall.  However, most of the cultivars suitable for backyard production will grow from 10 to 30 feet.   Their branches have a  twisting form, spreading wider than they are tall. The sap contains copious milky latex that can be irritating to human skin. In the home landscape, fig trees are often grown as a multiple-branched shrubs, especially where subjected to frequent frost damage. Figs may be espaliered, but preferably where spreading roots may be restricted, as in containers.


Figs have huge bright green leaves compared to most shade trees.  They can be as long as 12 inches growing alternating along the stem.  They feel rough hairy on the upper surface and soft hairy on the underside.


Unlike other tree fruits or nuts, fig trees have no blossoms on their branches; the tiny flowers are inverted and actually develop inside the fruit. These many tiny flowers produce the crunchy little seeds which give figs their unique texture. While the figs growing in California need a tiny wasp (Blastophaga grossorum)to pollinate the flowers, the common fig grown in the backyard has flowers that are all female and need no pollination.


The common fig bears a first crop, called the “breba” crop, in the spring on last season's growth. The second crop is borne in the late summer or early fall on the new growth and is known as the main crop. In the colder climates the breba crop is often destroyed by spring frosts, but the main crop will come through fine. 

see all questions...

Do you have a gardening question? Ask Nancy