Ferguson: Here’s a simple question — do you fancy some figs?

Published 2:02 pm Friday, February 25, 2022

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Figs, along with cold-hardy citrus, persimmons, and certain pear varieties, are among the easier-to-grow tree fruits for southern Louisiana. They can be enjoyed fresh, dried, or in preserves.

Late winter, shortly before new growth begins, is a good time to plant new fig plants and prune and fertilize older ones.

As for most fruit crops, try to find a site that gets at least eight hours of direct sunlight and has well-drained soil. If soil pH is below 5.5, apply lime according to soil test-based recommendations. Allow figs a space 10 to 20 feet wide to grow. A spacing on the lower end of this range may eventually result in the need for a good bit of pruning to keep the plant in bounds.

Some fig varieties for southern Louisiana include Celeste, Brown Turkey, LSU Purple, LSU Gold, O’Rourke, Champagne, and Tiger. The fruit of fig varieties typically grown in Louisiana develops parthenocarpically, or without pollination, so having one variety is sufficient. Cross-pollination is not needed.

While they can be grown as single-trunk trees, figs are most often grown as bushes here in Louisiana. This form is more forgiving: If one main branch is killed following cold damage, others remain.

While most trees should be planted at or around the same depth at which they grew in the container, with the trunk flare remaining above the soil, figs tend to survive better if planted deeper.

If you intend to grow a fig plant in bush form, plant it four inches deeper than it was in the container and cut shoots back by about one-half at planting to encourage side branches to grow. The following winter, choose four to six shoots to remain and become the main branches.

Don’t fertilize with nitrogen-containing fertilizer at the time of planting, but spread four to six inches of mulch around figs to conserve soil moisture and reduce weed pressure. Maintain a mulch layer as figs grow. Figs have shallow root systems and may drop fruit if soil gets too dry.

Be aware that many fig varieties won’t bear much of consequence until the plant is around five years old.

General suggestions for fig fertilization range from one-half to one pound of 8-8-8 per year of plant age (equivalent to 0.3 to 0.6 pound 13-13-13), but do not apply more than seven to 10 pounds (four to six pounds 13-13-13) per plant. Fertilizer can be applied in late winter or early spring. If figs produce 12 to 18 inches of shoot growth per year, this suggests that fertility is adequate. If they’re overfertilized, they may produce an excessive amount of shoot growth while fewer fruit ripen.

Pruning of mature fig bushes largely consists of cutting them to a height that makes picking easier. You can cut upright-growing shoots back to where outward growing branches originate, to help keep the fruit-producing shoots within reach. You may also want to remove dead, damaged, diseased, and crossing limbs, as well as ones growing too close to the ground.

Let me know if you have questions.

Dr. Mary Helen Ferguson is an Associate Extension Agent with the LSU AgCenter, with horticulture responsibilities in Washington and Tangipahoa Parishes. Contact Mary Helen at mhferguson@agcenter.lsu.edu, 985-839-7855 (Franklinton) or 985-277-1850 (Hammond).