Many varieties of figs grow readily in Sonoma County gardens, most have pink-toned flesh but skin color—purple, brown, green, nearly yellow or white—varies with different varieties. The attractive trees provide shade and an abundance of fruit when planted in the most suitable microclimate. Fruits may be stored up to a week after harvest when given ample air circulation in the refrigerator, but only for a few days on the counter at room temperature.
Choose a Fig
- Select a variety suited to your microclimate; most need hot summers to produce a crop.
- ‘Mission’ (or ‘Black Mission’) is a large tree and one of the most popular for adapting in most areas but is best in hot microclimates. ‘Black Jack’ is similar.
- ‘Kadota’ needs little pruning and grows best in hot regions.
- ‘Desert King’ adapts to all growing regions, including cooler ones.
- ‘Brown Turkey’ adapts easily and is generally smaller than other varieties.
Growing a Fig Tree
- Fig trees do best in well-drained soil but they seem to thrive in most conditions.
- Trees develop a shrubby , open-branched habit 15-30 ft. high and wide.
- Beginning with very young trees, branches may be espaliered.
- Trees grown in containers reach a smaller size. For best growth, use a light, porous soil mix. Unpot every 2-3 years, trim off 1 in. all around the root ball, and repot.
- Figs grow on their own rootstock, often from rooted cuttings. Young bark is susceptible to sunburning, preventable by using white latex paint diluted 1:1 with water to paint the trunk from the ground up to the first set of branches.
- Trees become drought tolerant once established and are not bothered by pests. Fruits split with too much water.
- Young trees may be slow to produce edible fruit, often not until 3-5 years after planting.
- The breba, or first crop of figs, may be damaged by spring frosts. Pruning may reduce the number of figs in the first crop.
- A second crop in the fall sweetens and ripens after exposure to months of heat.
- Heavy crops may be thinned by reducing clusters to one fruit. Remove all but 6-7 on any single branch to maximize ripening of all fruit .
- Figs ripen only on the tree, softening slightly when ripe.
- Harvest ranges from June to November, depending on variety and exposure to heat.
- Avoid skin contact with irritating latex that may ooze from the node where a fig is removed or from an open cut when a branch is pruned. Pruning lower branches first then moving up the tree may reduce exposure. It is advisable to wear protection when pruning.
- A few words of caution: Fig trees can be quite messy if not given proper care and pruning. Some have aggressive suckers that rise from the base and must be removed regularly to prevent bushy growth and taking energy from the tree.
- Pruning should be done in the dormant season; figs bleed a latex sap if pruned earlier.
- If left unpruned, trees may become larger than expected and outgrow their allotted space.
- Reduce undesirable density by removing entire branches to their base.
- To maintain a reasonable height, all varieties can be pruned to three nodes on each branch. (A node is the point where a leaf is or was attached.) Figs grow on new and 1-year-old twigs.