Common fig trees, one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world, are small and spreading, growing to 10–30 feet tall with a narrow stem and many branches. Originating from the Middle East and west Asia, fig trees are best suited to a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern climate, but cultivars are available which are more tolerant of wet or more variable conditions. Leaves are large and deeply lobed, with a rough top surface and softer underside with light hairs. Fruits vary in color and can be yellow, green, brown, or dark purple. Common fig trees do not require pollination to produce fruit, but they do need it to make seeds. Each fig can contain between 30 and 1,600 seeds, ranging in size from tiny to large. Trees will start to produce fruit after 2–6 years and will potentially produce two crops per year under good conditions.
The Black Mission fig is a popular type of common fig. It’ll produce two crops per year, a large breba crop in the spring and a smaller main crop in late summer or early fall. Plants are considered everbearing in warmer climates. Thought to have its origins on an island off the coast of Spain, this variety spread to the new world by missionaries—hence the name. Trees grow 10–40′ tall, and fruits are small, with a purple skin and dense, seedy, deep-pink inner flesh.
Seed: Figs are not often grown from seed. Germination rates will be best if seeds are soaked for up to 2 days before planting.
Seed Depth: 1/16″
Space Between Plants: 10–25′
Space Between Rows: 10–15′
Germination Soil Temperature: 70°F
Days for Germination: 10–56
Sow Indoors: 8–10 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: Not recommended.
Vegetative: Commonly propagated by taking stem cuttings of up to 3/4″ in diameter and 6–12″ long. Remove most of the leaves (if any) and insert the majority of the cut stem into a container of soilless media, ensuring that the stem remains the right way up. Once your cutting has rooted and begun to sprout a few new leaves, transplant it into the garden where you want it, burying it up to its first set of leaves. Common figs can also be propagated by air layering, tip layering, or simple layering.
Grow best in a warm climate and will not survive frosts, although established outdoor plants may come back from their roots. A perennial in USDA Zones 7–11, figs can be grown in a movable container or greenhouse for winter protection in colder climates. Check out our growing tricks in the Other Info section below for more options on how to grow figs in cool areas.
Natural: Full Sun.
Artificial: Will grow indoors in a sunny spot. Provide additional lighting if needed.
Soil: Prefers well drained sandy, loamy, or clay soils with a high amount of organic matter. A pH of between 6.0 and 6.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Seeds and cuttings will germinate and root well in soilless media, including perlite, sand, and well-rotted manure.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in a variety of hydroponic systems, including media beds.
Aeroponics: Cuttings will root in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate to low levels of water. Cuttings and seeds should be kept consistently moist. Mature and established plants prefer less frequent but deep watering. Take care not to overwater.
Nutrients: Requires moderate to low levels of nutrients. Sidedress with compost regularly throughout the growing season to maintain 1 1/2″ layer around the base of the tree.
Foliar: Benefits from foliar feedings of compost tea or liquid kelp once per month.
Pruning: Benefits from annual pruning after harvest. Trim back central branches to prevent overcrowding and promote air flow. Container-grown figs should be kept pruned to half their maximum outdoor size. Prune all branches by about 1/3 annually.
Mulching: Use mulch to provide organic matter, keep soil moist, and suppress weeds.
Disease(s): Mission figs are almost always infected with the fig mosaic virus, but it shouldn’t adversely affect your fruit harvests.
Deficiency(s): A nitrogen deficiency can result in slow growth (less than 1 foot per year).
Companions: Grows well with rue, strawberry, marigold, rhododendron, and mint. Avoid plants with deep roots which will compete for nutrients.
Harvest: Pick ripe fruit from the stem when they are soft to touch. Different types will ripen to brown, gold, green, or purple. The skin may begin to split when ready for harvest. Common Fig trees grown in warm climates will produce two main crops, one in late spring or early summer and one in late summer. Trees in colder climates will produce one crop in late summer to early fall.
Storage: Fresh fruits can be refrigerated for later use, lasting for up to 1 week. Dried fruits can be stored in an airtight container in a cool place for several months.
Growing Tricks: If you want to grow figs outdoors in cooler climates—below Zone 8—extra winter protection can be provided in a few creative ways. To get started, you must prune your trees back to about 6 feet tall. One option is to build a cage around your tree using small gauge fencing or hardware cloth. Then simply fill it entirely with straw to provide insulation, like a snuggly sweater. Remove in spring, after the danger of hard frost is past. Your second choice is a little weirder: put your fig trees in a coffin! Called trenching, this process requires burying the entire tree for the duration of winter and then uncovering it in the spring after the danger of hard frost has passed. Dig a 2 foot deep trench as long as your fig tree is tall, starting at the base of the tree. Begin to uproot the opposite side until you can bend the tree over to fit in the trench. Use boards and/or heavy plastic to line the trench, and fill with straw, leaves, or mulch. Cover with a board and a layer of dirt.
Fun Fact: The Mission fig was at one time the most popular variety commercially grown in California but was eventually beaten out by the Calimyrna variety.
Preserve: Can be preserved by cooking and canning to make sweet fig preserves. You can also puree cooked figs and freeze or dehydrate the puree. Whole figs can be dried or dehydrated.
Prepare: Fresh figs are mostly eaten raw, added to salads, or paired with cheese or ice cream. They can also be grilled to add a sweet surprise to kabobs. Figs can also easily be made into a sauce for topping desserts. Add chopped dried figs to cereal or cookie and granola recipes.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) A, E, K, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper. They are also a good source of dietary fiber.
Medicinal: Figs have been used as a natural laxative, to lower blood pressure, support digestive health, and provide a good habitat for healthy gut bacteria. Regular consumption may help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Figs are also anti-inflammatory and will relieve irritation in the mouth, nose, and throat.
Use freshly picked ripe figs in this easy Raw Fig Vanilla Jam recipe.