MASTER GARDENER — Move over blueberries, Figs are Back!

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, May 24, 2023

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The past couple of weeks we’ve discussed plant diseases and pests … enough with the darker side of gardening, let’s redirect our focus to another area-fruit!

Figs (which are a personal favorite of mine) should be ripening in the next couple of weeks, unless some gardeners are lucky enough to have already harvested a few, but for the rest of us, harvest time is nearly here.

Summers’ official arrival is June 21st, but it certainly seems otherwise while working outside in the garden or mowing the lawn, but it’s a reminder to me that the luscious fruit (did I mention my favorite) will be ripening sooner than usual.

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Perhaps some of you have treasured memories of picking and eating figs directly from your mother or grandmother’s fig tree? Or perhaps ‘assisting’ them make homemade fig preserves using strawberry flavored Jell-O®?

It’s time for some ‘brief’ fig tree history. Originating in Western Asia and delivered to the Americas sometime in the 1500s byway of Spanish Explorers, figs are one of the oldest known fruits known to mankind and are mentioned in the Bible (Garden of Eden) but were considered scared by the Romans, who used them for trade in Europe and the Middle East.

Fig trees are extremely easy to grow and will produce bountiful harvest (sometimes too many at once) for many years. The fruit is soft, having a sweet, almost creamy texture, often used in baking, and years ago to sweeten meats. Figs are unusual, since they really aren’t fruit at all but an inverted flower.

The flower has both female and male parts. Figs provide an excellent source of dietary fiber, loaded with minerals (iron, potassium, and calcium). Most often, figs are consumed fresh, dried or cooked into preserves.

Fig trees absolutely enjoy our SETX climate (the hotter the better) with many varieties appreciating mild winters. All fig trees require at least 10 hours full sun exposure daily, preferring a soil pH of 6.5.

Select a planting location that provides adequate sun exposure and space, since mature fig trees can attain a height and width from 20 to 50 feet! Plant trees in well-drained soil amended with compost and manure, to allow their shallow root systems to flourish.

Once the tree is established, little maintenance is required other than applying fertilizer three times a year prior to July (use a general-purpose fertilizer such as 8-8-8 or 13-13-13). Fig trees do not require pollinators.

Fig Varieties for Southeast, Texas:

LSU Purple – a newer variety that reliably produces both an early crop (May) and late crop (Sept) of figs in our area with large fruits. The trees are nematode resistant, and the taste is “incredible”.

Celeste – is a hardy fig developing small to medium, violet-skinned fruit when mature. This tree will become a large fig tree and is highly productive. The flesh is rich and sweet, often used to make fig preserves. It fruits very early in the season (May to June), and it is one of the best figs to grow in Texas.

Kadota – a yellow to green, nearly seedless fig. It’s often called “Honey” fig due to its very sweet amber colored flesh.

O’Rourke – an older variety of fig where the figs are produced on a longer stalk. The fruit is ripe when the internal color is golden with a red center. Fruits normally ripen the last week of June and the fruit hangs downward once fully ripened. This is another of my personal favorite fig varieties, which we eat fresh from the tree and use to make strawberry and cherry flavored fig preserves (using Jell-O®). We also make lemon and orange flavored fig preserves with natural citrus fruits!

Purple Passion – a deep, dark plum-colored fig with amber flesh and extremely delicious. It is prolific, super sweet and great for eating fresh off the tree. Another one of my personal favorites! We use these figs to make fig upside down cake.

Brown Turkey – also known as “Spanish Mission” and “Texas Ever-Bearing” fig is an easy to grow, hardy fig, that can be container grown or planted in the ground. The fruits mature to a dark brown color when ripe and could very well be the most versatile fig of all. This tree will produce figs at a very young age and has a smaller stature, which can easily fit into most home gardens. Expect two crops of medium to large fruit to be produced yearly.

So long for now fellow gardeners, let’s go out and grow ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time!

John Green is Texas Certified Master Gardener with Orange County Master Gardeners. If you have gardening questions, email or phone the Orange County Master Gardeners Helpline at 409-882-7010.