Growing Edible Fig Trees: Variety Selection and Care Tips

Close up of brown figs ripening on a fig tree branch.
My Garden Life
December 4, 2023
Table of Contents

By Kelly Miller

Fresh figs are marvelous fruits, full of texture, nutrients, and sweetness. Although edible fig trees are usually associated with the Mediterranean region from which they originate, they’re also widely grown in the United States. 

Let’s step through everything a gardener needs to know about choosing a fig tree variety and helping it thrive. The focus here is on edible fig tree varieties of the Ficus carica species. Note that other fig species, like Ficus benjamina and Ficus elastica, are popular as houseplants but aren’t grown outdoors for edible fruit production. 

Ripe brown figs on a burlap fabric with one fig sliced open to display the interior of the fruits.

Growing Fig Trees: Range, Conditions, and Methods

Fig Tree Hardiness Range

Fig trees grow best in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7, 8, and 9. They’re native to the Mediterranean and grow best in warm, moderate climates. Most fig production in the U.S. occurs in California, but fig trees are also commonly grown in Oregon, Washington, and Texas for commercial production. 

A small fig tree growing in an open lawn area.

Soil Requirements and Planting Process 

Fig trees are typically planted from container-grown saplings or from cuttings in early spring or early fall. The soil should be fertile and well-draining with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. If you’re planting multiple trees, situate them at least 10 feet (3 meters) apart. 

Dig a hole that can accommodate the root system and plant the tree around 2 inches (5 cm) deeper in the soil than it was in its nursery pot. Add a layer of mulch to prevent weed growth, and water thoroughly after you finish planting. 

Light Requirements

Fig trees should be planted in areas that receive full sun. Six to eight hours of sun per day is ideal. Trees that receive inadequate light will struggle to produce healthy fruits. 

Ficus tree branch with young figs glowing in the morning sunshine.

Watering Your Fig Tree

Water needs for fig trees vary based on climate and soil conditions. In general, young fig trees and potted fig trees should be watered once per 7-10 days. Once a tree is established, supplemental watering isn’t usually required. During drought, water may be needed once every week or more often in very hot climates. 

A thirsty fig tree may let its fruits drop to the ground prematurely. Yellowing, browning, or drooping leaves are also indications that the tree needs water. If these same signs are occurring mostly in leaves on the lower branches, that’s a sign of overwatering. You should be able to tell which problem is occurring based on your recent watering pattern and by testing the soil moisture. 

Water droplets coating the leaves of a fig tree.

Fertilizing Fig Trees

In most cases, fig trees don’t require fertilizer. Furthermore, unnecessary fertilizing can provide the tree with too much nitrogen, encouraging lots of leafy growth at the expense of fruiting. 

For potted trees and trees in very sandy soils, use a general 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer or one made specifically for fruit trees. Avoid adding too much nitrogen to the soil by spacing out feedings and never providing too much fertilizer at once. 

Close up of healthy green fig tree leaves.

Growth and Harvesting of Figs

Fig trees grow around one foot per year in both length and width. They can reach heights over 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall, but most gardeners prefer to maintain heights under 10 feet (3 meters) for ease of harvesting. 

It takes three to five years for a fig tree to begin producing ripe fruit. A thriving tree may yield several hundred figs per growing season. Most figs are harvested in August and September, but warmer regions may produce two harvests — one in early summer and one in early fall. 

A branch loaded with figs in various stages of ripening.

Let figs ripen fully on the tree, but harvest as soon as they’re ready. As figs ripen, some varieties turn from green to brown or purple while others remain green. Look for additional clues to determine the ripeness of your figs. As figs ripen they will begin to droop from the branch. Unripe figs are attached perpendicularly to the stem, while ripe figs hang down.

Ripe figs may also start to develop fissures in the skin, and they are soft when pressure is gently applied, both are signs that a fig is ready to pick. Note that figs don’t continue ripening after they’re picked, so you do not want to harvest them early.  Always allow your figs to ripen on the tree.

Person holding a wicker basket with a layer of freshly harvested dark figs.

Pruning and Winterizing a Fig Tree

Unpruned fig trees produce an abundance of branches, resulting in lower-quality fruit. An unpruned tree will also grow very tall. When this happens, the top branches receive the most sunlight and produce the best fruit, while the lower, easier-to-reach branches produce inferior figs. 

Prune your tree in late winter or early spring by removing tall branches, overlapping branches, and suckers that are emerging near the trunk. 

In zones 7 and below, winter protection is advisable. Winterize your tree by mulching the base and wrapping and bundling the branches in paper or burlap. Pennsylvania State Extension offers detailed information on Winterizing Your Fig Tree

A fig tree has been wrapped with white fabric and loosely tied with twine, then mulch placed around the roots for winter protection.

Pest and Disease Protection for Edible Fig Trees

Like most fruit trees, fig trees can be victimized by insects. Common pests include scale insects, mealybugs, and root-knot nematodes. Diseases like fig rust and fig mosaic are also common. Most of these issues can be addressed by removing affected branches or treating them with insect-killing soap. 

For more info on combating fig tree pests and diseases, see the information on Pest & Disease Control for Fig Trees from the fruit tree experts at Stark Bros. Nursery.

Close up of fig tree leaves with spotting caused by rust disease.

Do Fig Trees Require Pollination to Produce Fruit?

Pollinated figs grow in a unique manner. The fig develops as a hollow structure lined with flowers and seeds. Specialized fig wasps force their way inside the structure through a small opening. The wasp pollinates the flowers, lays eggs, and dies. Of the grubs that hatch, the males mate with their female siblings and eventually die inside the fruit. The females emerge and eventually find a new fig to enter to repeat the cycle. 

When eating a wasp-pollinated fig, you might consume tiny bits of wasp, however, the common fig varieties grown in North America don’t require wasp pollination. The “fruits” are actually inverted flowers that reach edible maturity without the help of pollinators. 

A wooden bowl of green figs with one sliced open to show the interior of the fruit.

Popular Varieties of Edible Fig Trees

There are hundreds of fig tree varieties. Of those, a handful are useful for growing edible fruit in North American gardens. 

When selecting a variety, your top priority should be choosing a tree that’s well-suited for your local climate. Some varieties, like the ‘Chicago Hardy’, ‘Black Mission’, and ‘Celeste’ varieties, are well-adapted to a wide range of climates. Others are more sensitive and better suited for certain conditions. 

Here are nine of the most popular varieties of Ficus carica that you can grow for edible figs: 

Fig Tree ‘Celeste’ (Ficus carica)

Fig Tree ‘Celeste’ (Ficus carica)

One of the most popular figs grown in the South, prized for its high fruit yields and sweet flavor. Often called “Sugar Fig”. Vigorous, cold tolerant plants produce small to medium sized fruits. Fruit skins turn brown to purple and soft when they are ready for harvest. Figs offer one of the highest plant sources of calcium known to exist. The fruit is good for canning, jellies and eating fresh. Nice for larger patio containers.
Fig Tree ‘Black Mission’ (Ficus carica)

Fig Tree ‘Black Mission’ (Ficus carica)

Pear-shaped fruits with dark purple skin and contrasting red flesh are very sweet and tasty! This popular, low-maintenance plant requires little attention. Figs offer one of the highest plant sources of calcium known to exist. Versatile selection can be grown as a small tree or large shrub. The fruit is good for canning, jellies and eating fresh. Nice for larger patio containers.
Fig Tree ‘Ischia’ (Ficus carica)

Fig Tree ‘Ischia’ (Ficus carica)

A delightful selection with large lobed leaves. Produces decorative yellow- green fruits with pink flesh that is full of flavor. Low-maintenance plant requires little attention. Figs offer one of the highest plant sources of calcium known to exist. Versatile selection can be grown as a small tree or large shrub. The fruit is good for canning, jellies and eating fresh. Nice for larger patio containers.
Fig Tree ‘Magnolia’ (Ficus carica)

Fig Tree ‘Magnolia’ (Ficus carica)

One of the most popular figs for canning and preserving. Produces a steady crop of large brown, sweet fruits starting in mid-summer. Compact plant is well-suited for growing in large containers. Figs offer one of the highest plant sources of calcium known to exist. Versatile selection can be grown as a small tree or large shrub. The fruit is good for canning, jellies and eating fresh. Nice for larger patio containers.
Fig Tree ‘LSU Purple’ (Ficus carica)

Fig Tree ‘LSU Purple’ (Ficus carica)

An outstanding variety for fresh eating developed by researchers at Louisiana State University. Very tolerant of sun, heat and drought with good resistance to pests and diseases as well. Expect two major crops of figs; one in the spring and again in summer. Harvest fruit when skin is black and slightly wrinkled. Figs offer one of the highest plant sources of calcium known to exist. Versatile selection can be grown as a small tree, shrub, or in a container.
Fig Tree ‘Brown Turkey’ (Ficus carica)

Fig Tree ‘Brown Turkey’ (Ficus carica)

One of the hardiest fig trees, able to tolerate a wider range of temperatures than other varieties. Expect two major crops of figs; one in the spring and again in summer. Fruits are brown-skinned and soft when mature, and are excellent for cooking or drying. Figs are grown in temperate climates throughout the world and have been a part of the human diet since ancient times. They offer one of the highest plant sources of calcium known to exist.
Fig Tree ‘Texas Everbearing’ (Ficus carica)

Fig Tree ‘Texas Everbearing’ (Ficus carica)

A very popular variety that produces large (up to 2” [5cm] diameter), nearly seedless fruits. This is a vigorous grower with a more upright, rather than spreading habit. Expect two major crops of figs; one in late spring and again in early autumn. Fruits turn purple-brown and soft when they mature, and are excellent for cooking or drying. Figs offer one of the highest plant sources of calcium known to exist. Can be grown as a small tree, large shrub or large patio pot.
Fig Tree ‘Chicago Hardy’ (Ficus carica)

Fig Tree ‘Chicago Hardy’ (Ficus carica)

One of the best fig trees for cold climates. It will die to the ground if temperatures fall below freezing but then spouts back from its roots in spring. Produces an abundance of brown figs from late summer to frost. Harvest figs when skin is brown, slightly wrinkled, and soft to the touch. Expect to grow as a bush form in cold regions. Versatile selection can be grown as a small tree or large shrub. The fruit is good for canning, jellies and eating fresh. Nice for larger patio containers.
Fig Tree ‘Kadota’ (Ficus carica)

Fig Tree ‘Kadota’ (Ficus carica)

An exotic-looking landscape tree as well as a source of sweet, delicious figs. This is the variety popular for commercial use. Expect two major crops of figs; one in the spring and again in summer. Fruits are yellow-green with yellow flesh. Figs are grown in temperate climates throughout the world and have been a part of the human diet since ancient times. They offer one of the highest plant sources of calcium known to exist. Can be grown as a small tree, large shrub, or in a container.

Growing an Edible Fig Tree in a Pot

You can grow a fig tree in a pot and even produce edible fruits. Most of the same varieties that grow well in the ground are also suitable for containers. There are also dwarf varieties that were developed specifically for container growing. 

If you’re transplanting from a nursery pot, move your tree into a container that’s 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) wider. Eventually, your tree will require a 15 to 20-gallon pot. Care for your potted fig tree as you would for one in the ground, providing plenty of light and avoiding overwatering. In colder climates, you can move your pot indoors or to a protected spot to help it survive the winter. 

A potted fig tree is among other large pots of shrub plants.

Grow Thriving Fruit Trees 

Fig trees and other fruit trees require patience and careful attention, but once you begin harvesting fresh fruit, they’re incredibly rewarding. For more tips on caring for fruit trees, check out our 5 Tips for Fertilizing Fruit Trees

A fig tree growing in front of a house.

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