The fig was one of the first fruits cultivated by ancient peoples. Archeological evidence has shown the fig has been in cultivation since 4000 B.C., almost 6,000 years.
The fig is a native of Asia Minor, and when taken to Greece and other Mediterranean countries, it became so widely used fresh and dried that it was known as the “poor man’s food.” The fig tree was imported to the United States sometime during the 16th century, and it grows well in the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast areas and in parts of California. Figs are one of the most popular fruits grown in Southern backyards.
Botanically, figs are one of the most interesting fruits you can grow. The fig is actually a fleshy, hollow branch, modified to bear numerous small flowers and fruit on the inside. At the tip of the fig is an opening called the eye, or ostiole. This small opening located at the end of the fig enables its pollinator, the fig wasp, to enter the fig fruit for pollination. The fig wasp does not exist in Louisiana; therefore, fruit is only produced by varieties that do not require pollination. Most figs in cultivation today are female plants only and do need pollination to produce an edible unit. Because pollination is no longer needed, this means the opening is not needed either for the fig wasp.
It has been possible to select for figs that have closed or plugged eye. A closed eye on the fruit is an important characteristic for the humid South. Having an opening in a fruits through our rains and humidity could cause major insects and disease problems. Figs with open eyes often sour during rainy weather. Some varieties with open eyes, however, are grown in the South and harvested before full maturity for use in making preserves. Cold hardiness of trees is also a valuable trait, especially in north Louisiana.
LSU has played a critical role in the breeding and development of many cultivars that you can find at nurseries and garden centers or plant sales throughout the state.
O’Rourke — A new LSU fig, is sometimes known as Improved Celeste. It is medium-sized and tan to brown, has a tan pulp and tapers slightly toward the stem end with a long neck. The eye is partially closed. The fruit ripens five to seven days before Celeste and continues over a 15-day period.
Champagne — This new LSU fig is sometimes known as Golden Celeste. The medium-sized fruit has a yellow skin, a tan to caramel-colored pulp and a partially closed eye. The fruit ripens about the same time as Celeste.
Tiger — A new LSU fig is sometimes known as Giant Celeste. It has a large brown fruit, yellow to gold pulp and a partially closed eye. Fruit ripens five to seven days after Celeste and continues over a 15-day period.
After selecting a fig to put in the yard, be sure to plant this tree 1 -2 inches above the soil line with a gentle slope down from the tree’s soil line to the native soil. Another way we describe this type of raised planting is “plant the tree on a pitcher’s mound.” This will help to repel a large amount of water away from the tree, keeping the roots slightly drier. Remember, these fruit trees were cultivated in the Mediterranean, which a fairly dry arid region.
A general fertilizer recommendation is 1 pound of 8-8- 8 per year of age of the tree up to 10 years old. This maximum of 10 pounds should be continued for trees 10 or more years old. Apply fertilizer in late winter or early spring. A good indication of the need for fertilizer is the amount of shoot growth. A satisfactory amount of shoot growth is 1 to 1 1/2 feet per year. One common cause of fruit not maturing on fig trees is over fertilization using nitrogen fertilizer. Four to 6 inches of mulch and regular watering will often produce adequate growth of trees without sacrificing yield and quality. Do not fertilize trees in late summer because succulent growth is more susceptible to cold injury.