Problems of Figs


Problems of Fig Trees

Homeowners are often upset when their fig bush fails to set or ripen fruit, or as often happens the fruit drops prematurely. There can be several cultural reasons for this. Figs have a long juvenile period and depending on the age of the tree when you bought it, it may be three to four years before a fig sets a crop. Excessive fertilization can cause a plant to remain vegetative instead of setting fruit. Hot, dry weather can cause poor fruit production and quality. If your fig tree dries out while trying to grow fruit, the figs will often (drop)or turn into unappealing hard little faux figs. But in the end, figs are tough plants, so insects and diseases are rarely a serious problem on figs. Use good growing practices to keep the trees vigorous and your problems will be minimal.

I need to point out that root-knot nematodes are a serious pest of fig trees in many areas across the South. This is going to be a problem if you have root knot nematodes in the soils in your area and if you wish to plant the fig tree directly into the ground.  Root knot nematodes are microscopic worms that attack the roots of the fig tree.  Infected roots are characterized by small galls or swellings on the roots. The presence of the galls on the roots interferes with the normal uptake of nutrients by the roots. Plants infested with root knot are stunted and have a general unhealthy appearance.

If your County Extension Service confirms you live in an area where the soil contains root knot nematodes you have two choices – you can try to deal with the nematodes because you really want to plant your tree directly into the soil, or you can plant your fig in a container in a soilless mix making the nematode problem irrelevant.  If you want to deal with the nematodes you need to prepare the soil properly BEFORE you plant your tree.  The enemy of nematodes are the soil microbes that inhabit a soil with a relatively high percentage of organic matter; 5 to 10%.  Dig up the area in which you will plant your tree, about five feet across, and mix in at least an inch of chopped leaves, Canadian sphagnum peat moss, hay or straw.  For best results you want to also add a nematode fighting product called “Clandosan” which is available in garden centers in most areas where nematodes are a problem.  Add the Clandosan to your soil according the to the label instructions and now you can plant your tree.  Clandosan speeds up the expansion of the population of beneficial microbes that will kill the nematodes.  In a month or two, there will be only a few nematodes left that will cause no harm to your tree.  If you keep the tree mulched with organic materials, which break down and feed the beneficial microbes in the soil around your tree, the nematode problem should not come back. 



Both in the North and in many parts of the upper South, fig trees can be injured by early or late frosts that kill younger twigs. A major freeze can kill the plant all the way to the ground. Although the death of many or few branches is not really related directly to any serious loss in production for next summer, if not pruned away they may serve as a site for secondary fungi to get started. At any time of the year, all dead twigs and limbs should be pruned from the tree.


Pest Animals

Birds may feed heavily on figs just as they become ripe. Picking early in the morning will decrease bird damage. Netting is available to protect fig bushes from feeding by birds but can become impractical if the tree is large.  Fig tree roots are a favorite food of gophers in the western part of the country. Those pesky critters can easily kill a large plant if allowed to munch away unharmed. Most garden centers will sell poison pellets designed to kill gophers. 


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