Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 4/22/2005 12:34:22 AM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
If you’re a fan of figs, you’ll be glad to know that fig trees are one of the easiest fruit trees to grow around your home. With little care, they will produce crops of juicy, sweet figs every year.
The fig, Ficus carica, is native to Asia Minor and is thought to be one of the earliest fruit trees cultivated by humans.
Numerous cultivars of figs grow well here.
One of the most popular and reliable is ‘Celeste,’ which produces small- to medium-size fruit that is resistant to splitting and souring. The fruit is violet to brown with a light strawberry-colored pulp.
‘LSU Purple’ has been out for a few years and has medium-size, dark-purple fruit and good resistance to foliage diseases. Its tendency to produce three distinct crops, a light crop in early spring, a heavy main crop in early July and a later crop sometimes lasting into December, make it popular.
‘Florentine,’ also known as ‘Kadota’ and Lemon Fig, produces large, yellow fruit a little later than ‘Celeste’ and sometimes follows up with a moderate crop in the fall.
Finally, ‘LSU Gold’ is a new yellow-fruited cultivar that may still be hard to find, but it is well worth growing.
The ‘LSU Purple’ and ‘LSU Gold’ cultivars were developed from crosses made by Dr. Ed O’Rourke in the 1950s. A number of promising figs derived from his work are being evaluated by the LSU AgCenter, and several new cultivars may be released in the next few years.
Now through mid-March is a good time to purchase fig trees from local nurseries and plant them. Plan for growth when choosing a spot for a fig tree. Although not huge, fig trees will grow 15 feet or more high and wide. Also, plant them in a sunny location away from large trees with overhanging branches. Figs will not produce well unless they receive at least six hours of direct sun daily, and more is better.
Fig trees ordinarily do not produce a good crop of fruit until the third or fourth year after planting. One- to four-year-old trees often try to produce fruit (You’ll see little green figs where the leaves join the stem.), but it usually fails to ripen and drops off. ‘LSU Purple’ is an exception, often producing small crops one year to two years after planting. Figs bear their main crop on new growth produced during the spring and summer.
You may train your fig into a large bush-like shape with several trunks or into a more typical tree shape with a single trunk. You won’t need to do much pruning the first few years after planting – other than beginning to shape it the way you want it to grow.
Pruning established figs is best done by late February. Yearly pruning helps to maintain vigor, create the desired shape of the tree and control its size (which makes harvesting easier).
It is better to cut a fig tree back a moderate amount every year or two than to let it get to the point where severe pruning is required. Most of the branches cut back should be no larger than 1 inch to 2 inches in diameter.
If significant cutting back is done to substantially reduce the size of or rejuvenate an older tree, fruit production the following summer generally will be reduced. The tree should, however, produce well thereafter.
Regular spraying with pesticides generally is not necessary. The only common problems are two fungus diseases that attack the foliage. Thread blight causes problems early in the season, and fig rust causes leaf spotting and scorch in the late summer and fall. Two spray applications of Bordeaux Mixture, one in May and another in August, generally will keep these diseases from being too destructive. Occasional problems with white, fuzzy mealybugs can be controlled with appropriate insecticides. In addition, old trees may develop rot in the trunk and major branches, but for this there is no treatment. It’s just part of the aging process.
Newly planted figs definitely will need to be watered their first summer as they become established. During dry spells in summer, water young trees weekly by letting a hose trickle water at the base of the trunk for 20 to 30 minutes. Also, water established trees for about 45 minutes with a sprinkler that covers the entire area under the tree during hot, dry summer weather. And repeat watering at five- to seven-day intervals as long as weather is dry.
Fig trees may drop fruit if they are drought stressed, and once the crop is damaged, supplemental watering will not correct the problem. Pay close attention to watering, since this is one of the few things figs are picky about. Fig trees have relatively shallow root systems, so a 2-inch to 4-inch layer of mulch, such as leaves or pine straw, spread over the soil under the canopy of the trees also is highly recommended to keep the roots moist.
The LSU AgCenter has an excellent free publication on growing fig trees and other fruit in your home orchard. If you are thinking about planting a fig tree, or if you want to know more about taking care of one you already have, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit www.lsuagcenter.com and check the publication titled "The Louisiana Home Orchard," AgCenter Pub. 1884.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.