Figs, Figs & More Figs
By Joe Michalek, Sonoma County Master Gardener
There are many varieties of figs which grow in Sonoma County. Those with the space should consider adding a fig tree to your selection of trees for your yard. Figs are attractive trees which provide shade and fruit. If one gets the right tree for their micro climate, it will provide an abundance of figs which can be eaten fresh from the tree, canned, made into jam, or dried.
Fig trees do best in well drained soil but here in Sonoma County they seem to thrive in most soils. Gophers can be a problem in the West County. Trapping the gophers or planting the tree in a wire basket is necessary if the tree is to survive. If left on their own and not pruned, fig trees will produce two crops a year. The breba, or first, crop of figs is very iffy in our county due to the spring frosts which kill the young fruit. The second crop, in the fall, generally does much better as figs need a lot of heat to mature and our Indian Summer in September and October brings up the sugar in the fruit.
A few words of caution. This tree can be quite messy if not given proper care and pruning. If left on their own, figs will grow to be large trees, thirty feet high by thirty feet wide and will send suckers from every root around the trunk. Suckers need to be removed each spring and throughout the growing season as they will take energy from the tree. Pruning should done in the
dormant season, as figs bleed a latex sap if pruned during the growing season. To keep the tree to a reasonable size one needs to know which variety they have and what pruning works best. Most of the light skinned varieties, and ‘Brown Turkey’, can be pruned back to three nodes on each branch after first thinning out undesirable branches. If one desires to keep the tree to a reasonable height, all varieties can be pruned to three nodes on each branch. The ‘Black Mission’ is usually left to grow as it desires; however, if one wished to keep it low this can be done but you will forfeit the breba crop of figs.
Figs grow on their own rootstock so it is not necessary to plant the tree in any special way, however the tree is susceptible to sunburning, so in the early years the trunk should be painted with white latex paint diluted 1:1 with water from two inches below the ground to the first set of branches.
Thin the fruit as follows: if a node produces “twins”, one should be removed. On each branch, remove any figs in excess of seven as the season is not long enough for them to mature. This allows the tree to put all of its energy into the existing fruit. There is a latex which oozes from the node where the fig has been removed. Be careful not to get any on your arms as it can be severely irritating to the skin if not removed promptly.