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Growing Figs In Your Backyard

Posted June 15, 2018

If you are looking to growing an unusual fruit crop that is nearly trouble free, consider figs.  These trees will grow well unprotected in Zones 8 - 10.  In colder areas choose hardier cultivars or give your fig tree winter protection such as planting them on the south side of a house to be better protected from cold north winds and benefit from the sunlight year round.  

There are more than 200 fig cultivars grown in North America, with a broad range of fruit shapes and colors.  It’s important to select a cultivar adapted to your area climate.  I have tried many varieties.  Some did not adapt to our growing climate.  Cold winters either froze them completely, while others just didn’t taste very good.  Some of my favorites that I grow with success are, Improved Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Celeste, Peters Honey, Kadota and Desert King.  To be honest, I couldn’t pick one of these out to be my favorite.  They all have excellent qualities.  Celeste and Peters Honey are smaller than the rest, but have what I would call a perfect honey fig taste.  Improved Brown Turkey has a smoother skin than the original brown turkey.  Desert King is a huge greenish-yellow skin with a beautiful pink flesh.  Black Mission is common for our area, but always a good producer and very versatile.

When planting my fig first fig tree I had a friend fig grower that instructed me the “proper” method of planting figs.  He instructed I dig a large hole, deep enough that I should pack the bottom with composted manure and wide enough that the tree’s roots abundant system could spread like octopus tentacles.  Cover the roots with good soil and tamp, then water, water, water.  He also suggested I spread a 1 inch layer of pulverized agriculture lime around the base of the tree.  It seemed like a lot of lime so I questioned the alkalinity it might add to our already alkaline soil, but he reminded me figs in Italy grew best along the base of volcanoes.  I have to admit, I avoid lime except when it come to figs.  The seem to love it and it works perfectly.  During the growing season, mulch trees with compost, and apply foliar sprays of seaweed extract once a month during the growing season.  

Early spring, I remove the suckers that form at the base of the tree.  Figs look great with multi-trunks, but four or five is more than enough, otherwise figs do not ripen as well and to many branches make it hard to harvest.  Cut out any crossing branches as well.

Each spring I make applications of lime and compost.  Literally, this is all I do.

Remarkably, I have never had any insect infestation.  That says a lot for figs!  It seems like everything in Southern Utah gets some kind of insect issues sometime during its life cycle.  

In warm climates as ours, you can get two harvests.  One in June and again, in late summer.  On a rare occasions a late third harvest in late October, but this I have only seen this once here in Southern Utah.  Make sure you know the color of your fig’s  fruit when it’s ripe.  Some figs turn brown when ripe, while others are gold or even green.  Check trees daily for ripe fruit in season.  Ripe fruits are soft to the touch; skin may begin to spilt.  I may suggest that when picking figs, you may want to wear a long sleeve shirt because fig trees can irritate bare skin and cause you to itch.  

Figs will keep up to 1 week in the refrigerator, but spoil easily.  Cook figs by simmering them with a dash of lemon and honey for about 20 minutes, mashing them as they cook.  Then purée in a food processor, blender or food mill.  The purée freezes well and makes an excellent cookie filling, sauce for ice cream or poached pears, or spread for toast.  You can also dry figs in a food dehydrator for nutritious snacks.   

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