Richard Bogren, Huffstickler, Kyle, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.
Home gardeners around Louisiana frequently have fruit trees in their landscapes, and the fig is certainly one of the most popular. Ficus carica is a native of Asia and was imported into the United States in the 16th century. The fruit is tasty and can be eaten fresh, made into preserves and jams, or used in baking. Figs make nice additions to landscape plantings.
Figs are commonly grown in all of Louisiana and have the potential to produce an early crop, called the breba crop, on last year’s wood in the spring, a main crop on the current-season wood during the summer and a third crop in the fall. These different crop productions vary from one variety to another.
Proper variety selection is important. Frequent rainfall and high humidity in Louisiana make many varieties unsuitable because of fruit splitting and souring. Varieties with “closed eyes” have fewer problems with fruit souring. The eye is the opening at the end of the fig opposite the stem. Figs are either open-eyed, less-open-eyed or closed-eyed. We prefer a closed eye because bacteria, fungi and moisture are less prone to enter the fig.
Winter injury has killed plants of the cold-sensitive varieties in some years. Selecting varieties with cold tolerance is critical in north and central Louisiana.
Figs are one of the easiest fruit trees to care for in the home orchard or home landscape. With little care, they will produce crops of juicy, sweet figs every year.
Popular fig varieties in Louisiana include Celeste, LSU Purple, LSU Gold and Brown Turkey. Celeste 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 – makes it popular.
LSU Gold is a new yellow-fruited variety 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 Ed O’Rourke in the 1950s. New figs released by the LSU AgCenter recently include Tiger, O’Rourke and Champagne.
Fig trees need room. They can reach heights of 10-15 feet with an equal spread. 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.
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.
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. Also, mature, fruit-bearing-age trees need irrigation regularly during dry spells. Fig trees may drop fruit if they are drought-stressed. And once the crop is damaged, supplemental watering will not correct the problem. Mulch with pine straw or leaves to conserve soil moisture.
Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.lsuagcenter.com/lahouse or www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.