We have all benefited from trees since the beginning of time. We get our food, shelter, clothes, medicines – our basic needs – daily from trees. One particular tree is so spectacularly resilient that it can withstand even the harshest conditions and thrive with very minimal care. If you are asking if I am referring to the Fig tree, yes I am!
The common Fig tree or Ficus carica is a deciduous flowering shrub or tree in the Moraceae family that is indigenous to western Asia and the Middle East. They were said to be one of the first plants domesticated and propagated by humans, even earlier than the domestication of barley, wheat, and legumes, for agricultural purposes. In modern times, Figs are cultivated in warm climates for their tasty fruits and ornamental use.
Figs were brought to North America in the early sixteenth century by Spanish missionaries. They are typically about 10 to 30 feet tall with some cultivars growing as high as 50 feet and living as long as 100 years or more. They flourish in areas with long hot summers but can also be grown in colder regions with the employment of proper protection from freezing temperatures. They produce broad, hairy palmate leaves that look like human hands which can provide a generous amount of shade during hot weather. Their blooms are never seen since they grow inside the fruit bud.
How to Grow Figs
There are two ways to grow Figs: (a) seeds which won’t be identical to the parent plant, and (b) stem cuttings of dormant hardwood taken in winter or softwood cuttings in summer. Nurseries generally use dormant hardwood taken in February then plant them in nursery rows until they grow in one season to a height of 3 feet.
If you are a home gardener who wants to try growing a Fig tree make sure that you have prepared the area where you will be planting the tree. If you live in USDA plant hardiness zone 8 or warmer, you may directly plant your Fig tree in the ground. On the other hand, if you live in an area with freezing winters, it is best to plant your Fig tree in a container and keep it inside during the cold winter months.
Fig trees are sun-loving trees that can grow in any type of soil that drains well. Unlike other trees, Figs are drought tolerant. However, until they are established, make sure that your Fig trees get deeply watered at least once a week.
Container grown Figs need more fertilization than Figs planted directly into the ground. They need half a pound of balanced fertilizer that contains 10% nitrogen, 10% potassium, and 10% phosphate to encourage healthy growth. Divide the fertilizer into 4 feedings and start the application in late winter and end it in midsummer.
Other tree care that should be employed with Fig trees includes providing cold protection during cold months, application of mulch around the tree to prevent weeds and at the same time retain moisture for the roots, and pruning when necessary.