The fig tree originated in Mediterranean. This beautiful, productive fruit tree may or may not be the tree that got Adam and Eve in trouble in the Garden of Eden, but the tale shows that the fig tree has been grown and used for its beauty and fruit for a very long time.
The Spaniards brought the fig tree to the New World by ship, establishing the species in the Americas in about 1560. Missionaries later brought the fig tree to the San Diego area of California, where the fast-growing tree then spread up the West coast to temperate areas as an important fruit crop.
The fig tree is not particular about the type of soil it is grown in, as long as temperatures are warm enough and it receives full sunshine. For this reason, the tree survives and thrives in nearly any place it is planted if the climate is warm enough.
The sturdy fig tree grows well outdoors in semi-arid conditions. In fact, cultivated fig trees have naturalized in many locations. In the United States, fig trees can be found in California, Utah, Texas, Washington and Utah. Some varieties of fig trees can only be pollinated by the fig wasp. Thankfully, most fig trees purchased from reputable nurseries are self-pollinating. The fruit of the fig is soft like a pear and contains a plethora of tiny seeds.
How Big is a Fig Tree and What it Looks Like?
Fig trees grow to be about 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide if allowed to grow full sized and unpruned. Most fig trees don’t reach that size or height because they are pruned to make the tree more productive and the fruit easier to pick. The soft wood of the fig makes the tree easy to prune. The tree sheds its foliage in the fall, leaving the attractive trunk and limbs as decoration.
Many fig trees have light to medium green leaves with silvery or white bark on the branches and trunks. So not only is the tree productive, but it is beautiful as well, making it a good looking houseplant or outdoor tree. Also, some fig tree growers like to protect the tree’s bark by painting it with diluted white paint to keep the trunk from burning in the sun.
How to Care for a Fig Tree Outdoors
When purchasing your fruit tree, be aware of your USDA zone. If you live in an area cooler than zone 8, you’ll need to choose a cultivar that can tolerate cooler climates, or provide protection in the winter for your fig tree.
Choosing your Fig Tree
200 varieties of fig tree cultivars exist in today’s market in North America. More than likely, unless you live in cold areas of North America, you can find a fig tree that works for your needs. If you are looking for an extra hardy variety of fig tree, choose Brown Turkey (Zone 5-9), Celeste (Zones 6-9) or Chicago (Zones 5-10). Be sure, however, that you purchase a self-pollinating variety of fig tree. Self-pollinating fig trees are the only type most nurseries provide, but it’s good to double check before you buy, or you won’t get a tree that produces fruit.
When to Plant your Fig Tree
- Choose a sunny spot. Select a spot that offers protection from cold, seasonal winds.
- Trees usually grow from 10 to 20 feet when mature, so allow plenty of growing room in between trees.
- Once the tree is planted and thoroughly watered, mulch the base of the tree to hold in moisture and protect the tree’s roots.
- Once you’ve chosen a sunny, warm spot for your fig tree, dig a hole 1 ½ times the size of the root ball both wide and deep.
- Enrich the soil removed from the hole with mulch and fertilizer. Place about 2 inches of soil back into the hole.
- Next, place the tree back into the hole and place the enriched soil firmly around the tree. Be sure your tree remains pointing straight up and is not crooked.
- Water your tree in the hole. Let the water absorb. Then water again. Continue to repeat watering until no more water is absorbed into the hole.
- Mulch the area around the tree to hold in moisture and protect the tree’s roots.
- Water the tree when the area around it becomes dry. Do not overwater to the point where the water is standing around the tree.
Pruning your Fig Tree
Fig trees are usually pruned in late winter before the first signs of growth are seen. While you can prune a fig tree to shape it, the tough trees need little pruning. At a minimum, you’ll need to prune away dead or diseased branches.
Sometimes sucker trees form at the bottom of a fig tree. These suckers should be removed to keep the parent tree healthy and productive. It is not difficult to remove suckers from the base of your tree. Suckers are tiny, unwanted growth coming from the roots of a fig tree. If your fig tree was grafted to a root stock, you might have to deal with suckers that come from the base of a tree and rob nutrients from the main tree. Just dig into the dirt and cut off the suckers with a shovel or sharp pruners.
When to Harvest Figs
Figs don’t taste their best until they are fully ripe.
They don’t tend to ripen well off the tree as do some fruit. So be sure to leave the figs unpicked until they are completely mature and ripe for the best flavor.
How to Grow a Fig Tree Indoors
If you live in a cooler climate, you can still grow fig trees. Simply put them in containers and grow the trees outside in the warm weather. Once the weather becomes cooler, you can bring the trees indoors and place the pots in a sunny area in your home.
Amazingly enough, fig trees make lovely houseplants. If space is a consideration, the trees can be easily trimmed to grow in an indoor space. You’ll need to purchase increasingly larger pots. Using commercial potting soil will work fine for your indoor fig tree, as long as the tree is fed routinely. An easy way to give your indoor fig tree enough nourishment is to use a water soluble food every time the plant is watered.
Fig trees grow quickly, so start with a small tree when growing it indoors. As long as the tree has a sunny place in your home, is occasionally pruned for shaping purposes, is fed routinely and is in a big enough pot, your fig tree will grow quickly and be a beautiful addition to your home décor.
Whether you decide to grow figs indoors or outdoors, this sturdy, fruitful tree will give you years of color and tasty fruit for you to enjoy if you follow these easy instructions.
The Queen of Trees
There is an excellent documentary called ‘The Queen of Trees’ that showcases all of the life that surrounds fig trees in the wild. We recommend watching it when you have the time and desire to truly appreciate this wonderful tree.