Fig Tree

A traditional favorite fruit tree of the Deep South, edible fig (Ficus carica) is a low-branching plant with multiple trunks; it grows fairly rapidly to 1530 feet tall and spreads at least as wide. In the Middle South, it may freeze back to the ground during cold winters and act like a big shrub. It’s easy to grow in a large container and can also be trained as an espalier.

Heavy, gray-barked, smooth trunks (gnarled in really old trees) are picturesque in silhouette. Bright green, rough-textured leaves with three to five lobes are 49 inches long and nearly as wide. Casts dense shade. Winter framework, tropical-looking foliage, strong trunk and branch pattern make fig a top-notch ornamental tree, especially near a patio where it can be illuminated from beneath. Protect container plants in winter. Fruit drop is a problem immediately above deck or paving.

The type of figs generally grown in the South do not require pollination. Some will even bear two crops. Depending on the selection, the first crop comes in June or July on last year’s wood; the second and more important one comes in July to October from current summer’s wood. Keep fruit picked as it ripens; protect from birds if you can. In late fall, pick off any remaining ripe figs and clean up fallen fruit.

Types differ in climate adaptability; most need prolonged high temperatures to bear good fruit, while some thrive in cooler conditions. Selections are noted below. Those with everbearing in their name will produce a good crop even if damaged by cold the previous winter.

In general, the darker colored figs usually have greater shelf life. The lighter ones may have fantastic flavor, but may lose quality more quickly.

Alma

  • Very sweet, medium-size fig with golden brown skin and amber-to-tan flesh.

Brown Turkey

  • Adaptable to most fig climates; widely grown in Southeast.
  • Small and cold hardy; good garden tree.
  • Fruit has purplish brown skin, pinkish amber flesh; good for fresh eating.

Celeste

Conadria

  • Choice thin-skinned white fig blushed violet; white-to-red flesh, fine flavor.
  • Takes intense heat without splitting.

Genoa

  • (‘White Genoa’).
  • Greenish yellow to white skin; strawberry to yellow flesh.

Green Ischia

  • Light green to yellowish green skin, red flesh.
  • Light and refreshing; good fresh or dried.
  • Plant has low upright, spreading form.

Italian Black

  • Jet black fruit with red pulp.
  • Produces two crops a year.

Italian Everbearing

  • Resem- bles ‘Brown Turkey’ but bears somewhat larger fruit with reddish brown skin.
  • Good fresh or dried.

Kadota

Lemon

  • (‘Blanche’).
  • Medium-large green figs distinctively shaped without a slender neck.
  • Also known as ‘Marseilles’.

LSU Everbearing

  • Medium-large figs with yellow-green skin and sweet, white-to-amber flesh.
  • Produces fruit from July through fall.

LSU Purple

  • Dark purple skin with whitish, amber flesh with flecks of pink.
  • Good flavor when fully ripe.
  • Vigorous, upright, spreading tree.

O’Rourke. Medium-size fruit with bronze-violet tinted skin like ‘Celeste’. Amber flesh with light pink overtones.

Papa John

  • Medium-size fruit with dark purple skin and strawberry flesh.
  • Great flavor, cold hardy, strong tree, good producer.

Peter’s Honey’ (‘Rutara’). Fruit has greenish yellow skin, amber flesh. Very sweet.

Texas Everbearing

  • Medium to large fig with brownish yellow skin, pinkish amber flesh.

White Adriatic

  • Medium to large, sweet white figs with yellowish green skin, strawberry pink flesh.
  • Very drought tolerant.

White Marseilles

  • Greenish yellow, thin skin with translucent white flesh.
  • This is sweet and reliable.

Not particular about soil. In the Middle South, plant figs near a south wallor train them against oneto benefit from reflected heat. Cut back tops hard at planting. As tree grows, prune lightly each winter: Cut out dead wood, crossing branches, and low-hanging branches that interfere with traffic. Pinch back runaway shoots at any time. Avoid deep cultivation, which may damage surface roots. Do not use high-nitrogen fertilizers; they stimulate growth at expense of fruit. If burrowing animals are a problem, plant trees in ample wire baskets. Figs are not usually browsed by deer.

‘Marseilles’ Fig (Ficus carica cv.)

Half-hardy, deciduous shrub
Description: Produces small, greenish-white fruits in late summer, described by A. J. Downing as “sweet and rich;” bears abundantly
Habit: Grows to 12 feet high and 10 feet wide
Culture: Prefers full sun and well-drained soil; requires winter protection
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6b through 10
In 1809 Thomas Jefferson wrote to Dr. William Thornton, a close friend and architect of the Capitol in Washington: “I will take some occasion of sending you some cuttings of the Marseilles fig, which I brought from France with me, & is unquestionably superior to any fig I have ever seen”. This variety was planted in the “submural beds” at the base of the kitchen garden wall, which afforded a warm microclimate necessary to bear fruit. Jefferson had unusual success with figs and noted their appearance at the Monticello table in 1816 and 1820. He also shared “Marseilles” figs with John Hartwell Cocke, owner of Bremo Plantation along the James River. Cocke sent his slave Jesse to Monticello in 1817 to collect some plants.

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