Get Figgy With It: How to Grow Figs
If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store in search of figs (dried or fresh), you’ve likely come away with not only sticker shock, but a bit of disappointment when you realize the lack of availability and the quality of what is available. Now, don’t get us wrong, you can often find perfectly lovely figs at your favorite grocer’s, but because figs are so highly perishable, that quest can become similar to searching for the needle in the proverbial haystack.
The good news? You can grow your own! And this is especially good news for those of you who live in colder climates who previously thought you couldn’t grow this Mediterranean tree. Now, while not all fig varieties can survive freezing winter temps, the Chicago Hardy Fig can and does! So let’s get figgy with it — the sooner you start growing your own delicious figs, the sooner you can start on those fig-goat cheese-honey appetizers.
How to Grow Figs
General Fig Tree Requirements
Fig trees are fairly easy to grow and require a low level of maintenance once they are established — just give them what they need!
- Sunlight: Full sun
- Water: Moderate
- Soil: Well drained
- Height: up to 30’
- Fruit: Small to large, and purplish to brown in color depending upon variety
- Harvest time: Summer to fall
- USDA Hardiness Zones: Typically 8-11
Chicago Hardy Additional Information
- Sunlight: Full sun to dappled shade
- Water: Moderate
- Soil: Well drained
- Height: 15 – 30’ in ground, up to 12’ in a container
- Fruit: Purple, medium-sized
- Harvest time: Depending upon growing zone and age of tree, summer or fall
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-11
Growing in A Container? No Problem!
What if you have a small yard, live in a colder climate, or simply love container gardening? You can still grow a fig tree, and the Chicago Hardy fig is an ideal candidate. Even more exciting, it’s possible your harvest will increase because of the root restriction inherent in a container-grown fig tree. Here’s what you need to know:
- Container: Use a container that accommodates the tree’s root ball, plus a little space around it.
- Location: Choose a full sun location, such as by a south-facing wall.
- Soil: Use a high-quality potting soil that is well drained — and feel free to mix in additional compost to up the nutrient level.
- Water: Water regularly as soil can dry out much more quickly in containers. In hot weather, that may be daily, but do monitor and water when the soil is dry about 1” below the surface.
- Fertilizer: Container-grown plants require more nutrition than those grown in-ground, so plan on a monthly feeding of compost tea or a diluted liquid seaweed mixture.
- Overwintering: Refer to the last question in the FAQ section below.
Q: Does my fig tree need a pollinator in order to set fruit?
A: Most commercial, common fig trees like Chicago Hardy, Celeste, Brown Turkey, and Kadota are self-pollinating and do not need the presence of a pollinating insect to set fruit. There are a few other varieties such as Smyrna and San Pedro that require the pollination of a specific wasp in order to set fruit, and because of that, are not typically used by the home gardener.
Q: When are figs ready to harvest?
A: Depending upon the variety and where you live, figs can ripen in summer through fall. Pick them when they are already ripe, as they will not continue to ripen after they are harvested.
Q: Can I keep it a little smaller by pruning it?
A: Yes, you can. The trick is knowing when to prune. During the first dormant period after planting, prune the tree to half its size (this is typically in late winter/early spring before new growth emerges). This encourages the tree to grow vigorous roots and a bushier above-ground growth pattern. During the second dormant season, choose the 4-6 strongest limbs that are evenly spaced around the tree as your “fruiting limbs” and prune away all the rest. The remaining 4-6 limbs should be pruned to 1/3 to ¼ of their size. After that, prune only to remove dead, or diseased limbs, and only when it’s dormant in late winter.
Q: How long will ripe figs keep?
A: Once harvested, figs will keep in the coldest part of your refrigerator for 2-3 days. If you want to freeze them, place them in a freezer-safe container (peeled, sliced, or whole) for 10-12 months.
Q: How long does it take for a fig tree to produce figs?
A: More good news! The fig tree is one of the most rewarding fruit trees to grow, because it usually only takes 1-2 years after planting for fruit to make an appearance. When you buy a Chicago Hardy Fig tree from Easy to Grow Bulbs, it comes safely shipped to you, fully rooted, in a 2.5” pot ready to plant, and will begin setting fruit within two years.
Q: Can I overwinter my potted fig tree?
A: Absolutely. Sometime in the fall when other trees start losing their leaves, your potted fig tree will lose its leaves as well. Then move it to a cool, dry place like a basement or garage and water once per month. In springtime, your potted fig tree will begin to leaf out again, but don’t bring it outside until nighttime temperatures are consistently over 35F.
- Katie Elzer-Peters