Figs are one of the oldest fruits consumed by humans, and they have a fascinating history. Before sugar became widespread, they were a go-to for sweetening meals. In the Mediterranean, both the Greeks and Romans savored this sweet fruit, and it remained popular in the Mediterranean throughout ancient times.
Fig trees appear throughout the Bible, and remains have even been found in Neolithic sites dating back to 5,000 BC. In the early 1500s, figs were introduced to the Americas by Franciscan missionaries, which is how the popular Mission fig variety got its name.
Figs can be grown successfully both outdoors and indoors, as a houseplant. They thrive best in hot climates, in U.S. hardiness zones 8 to 10, which include the southern east coast, the Pacific Northwest, Texas, Hawaii, California, and the southwestern high desert region.
Hardy varieties perform well in slightly colder climates, including zones 6 and 7. These zones add more states in the Midwest and east. Regardless of where fig trees are grown, the soil should be slightly acidic, with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.5.
Mature fig trees can reach a height of 15 to 30 feet tall, so keep that in mind. If you're growing multiple plants outdoors, they should be spaced at least 20 feet from other trees. Roots can stretch deep into the soil, sometimes up to 20 feet, so this should also factor into where you plant your sapling.
Long, hot summers are a fig tree's best friend, so choose a planting spot with plenty of direct sunlight. Trees require as much sun as possible to yield large fruit crops, so aim for a minimum exposure of eight hours each day.
If planting indoors, place plants a few feet from a large window, ideally one with a floor-to-ceiling shade or overhang. This way, you can protect them from extra-strong sunlight; the strongest rays in the heart of summer do have the potential to burn leaves. Be mindful of which direction plants face, as well, so that they get optimum levels of sunlight throughout the day.
When fig trees are young, water them regularly to encourage strong growth. If you live in a dry climate, aim for a deep watering at least weekly. Plants should remain moist without getting drenched, so avoid overwatering.
Once plants become established, they don't require as much watering. Spray them slowly and deeply every 10 to 14 days, letting them dry out between waterings.
Thrips are sucking insects that can destroy your crop quickly. They target the leaves, leaving behind silver speckles, streaks, and white patches. Spraying dormant oil or using yellow or blue sticky traps can get rid of these pests for good.
Root-knot nematodes are microscopic roundworms that target the roots, and the damage can spread throughout the system and kill off the entire plant. If you notice root galls, lesions, knots, or excessive branching, take action immediately.
High-nitrogen fertilizers do an excellent job of killing off pests. For prevention, keep soil rich with high levels of organic matter, including compost, grass, and manure.
Twig dieback is caused by fungi, and it progressively kills off twigs, branches, and roots. Many of its causes are preventable, however. Avoid overpaving roots, overwatering, underwatering, or planting in a spot that's too cold. If dieback does become a problem, prune off any dead or dying branches and disinfect the pruning tool.
Figs flourish with proper nutrition, so if your trees are growing less than one foot every growing season, take note. Nitrogen boosts growth, and all you need is ½ to one pound of nitrogen supplement per plant. Divide it among a few feedings between late winter and midsummer.
Mulch is another helpful addition; apply a layer around every tree to lock in moisture and prevent weeds from working their magic.
Figs can be propagated through ground layering and rooting. To ground layer, bury a portion of the lowest-growing branch about six inches into the soil. Let it root, then remove it from its parent tree. This is the easiest and most common method among home gardeners, ensuring fresh crops season after season.
Rooting uses cuttings. During the dormant season, take fig cuttings from small branches. They should be 8 to 12 inches long and about ½ to ¾ inches thick. Cut the end on a slant and add rooting hormone to aid growth, then go about planting as usual.
Wait until figs are ripe to harvest them; they will not ripen off the tree. The fruit should feel slightly soft, with a dark, rich color. Pick them directly off the tree, but wear gloves to prevent sap from irritating your skin. Once they've been picked, figs highly perishable, so keep them in the refrigerator. Generally, they will retain their taste for about three days.
Figs offer more than sweet flavor; they are a nutrient-rich fruit brimming with calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber. Calcium keeps your bones strong and healthy, but it also aids heart health. Muscles and nerves also benefit from calcium, and it can help ward off diabetes and high blood pressure.
Potassium helps your muscles contract and your heartbeat stay regular, effectively moving nutrients through your cells. Dietary fiber keeps the digestive system strong, helps control weight, and can prevent constipation. With so many healthy nutrients, figs make an excellent addition to any garden.