Native to the Mediterranean, the edible fig (Ficus carica) has been cultivated and enjoyed for centuries. Figs ripen on the tree and don't ship well, so the best way to truly enjoy a fresh fig is from your local market, or better yet, your own fig tree. Luckily, Florida offers the right growing conditions and figs are fairly easy to grow in north and central Florida.
Figs are members of the Mulberry family, Moraceae, which is one of the largest woody plant families. This family includes other fruit-bearing trees like jackfruit, breadfruit, and of course mulberry.
Edible fig is a deciduous plant that requires about 100 hours of chilling temperatures to grow and set fruit. Although the tree can reach 50 feet, it rarely grows that tall in Florida. The leaves are large, deeply lobed, and colored a bright dark green. Their upper surface is covered with a pubescence that gives them a rough, fuzzy feeling. Common fig produce small, insignificant flowers.
There are four types of fig, but only common figs are recommended for Florida, as these trees do not require pollination for fruit production. Common figs are parthenocarpic, meaning the fruits form without fertilization. The remaining three—Caprifigs, Smyrna, and San Pedro—rely on a specific wasp for cross-pollination, a wasp not found in Florida. When choosing your common fig tree, look for cold-hardy cultivars adapted for the south. Three recommended cultivars are 'Celeste', 'Brown Turkey', and 'Ischia'.
Planting and Care
Bare-root figs can be planted anytime during the dormant season, but late winter or early spring is best; container-grown plants can be planted any time of the year. Fruit ripens between July and October and their size and taste varies according to the variety.
When planting, choose a location that receives full sun all day. Be aware that fig trees will often shade out competing vegetation below the tree canopy. Figs will not tolerate excessively wet soil, but need plenty of water during the fruiting season. Using mulch will help retain soil moisture. It will also deter root-knot nematodes; this pest is a major threat to fig production in Florida. Fig rust disease can also be a problem.
Since the fruit forms on terminals of wood from the year before, prune your fig only to maintain the preferred size. If you choose to prune, do so only after the fruit ripens, early in the summer; a heavy winter pruning has the potential to eliminate the next year's crop.
Figs tolerate temperatures down to 18 degrees. If your tree suffers from freeze damage, it will regrow in bush form. Freeze-damaged wood should be pruned away once when regrowth begins.
For more information on growing figs in your landscape, contact your local county Extension office.
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Elsewhere on the Web
Texas AgriLife Extension has an excellent article that goes into further detail on fig propagation, "Figs" (PDF).