Fruiting Fig trees
Swansons selects fig tree varieties which perform well in our unique climate. This information sheet provides you with a list of varieties recommended and usually offered by Swansons. It also offers basic advice on planting, care and pruning. For more detailed information on any fig variety, please refer to individual plant signs or consult one of our nursery professionals.
SOIL PREPARATION & PLANTING
CHOOSE A LOCATION with well-drained soil that receives full sun. The more sun and heat the tree receives, the more fruit it will produce and the more likely the fruit will ripen. Space trees relative to their eventual mature size.
Dig the planting hole as deep as the existing rootball (the clump of soil surrounding the roots), and at least twice as wide. Loosen the soil on the sides of the hole with a shovel or spade fork, especially if your soil is heavy clay. Prune out damaged roots. Form a cone of loose soil in the center of the hole and spread the roots over it. Position the plant’s height so that the crown (where the roots meet the trunk) is at or slightly below the finished soil surface, and rotate the plant to where you feel it looks best. If the trunk has a conspicuous graft, it should be kept at least 1 inch above the soil surface. Fill the planting hole and cover the rootball with native soil (dug from the hole) that has been amended with approximately 25% planting compost or soil building compost.
POLLINATION of figs is complicated and interesting, but for our growing purposes it is unimportant. Fruiting fig trees will produce loads of tasty fruit without any assistance.
WATERING & FERTILIZATION
WATER THE PLANTS thoroughly at planting (even if it’s raining!), and continue to water thoroughly for the next few years. For the first couple years, water when the soil surface dries out slightly. As the years progress, you can let the soil dry out a bit more between each watering.
FERTILIZE lightly in April after the plants are established, using an all-purpose fertilizer or a fruit tree fertilizer. Excessive nitrogen can lead to lots of beautiful lush growth but few fruit. Follow the instructions on the package.
Although fig trees do not require pruning, it can help increase fruit yields, flavor, and the likeliness that fruit will ripen. Pruning can also keep the plant smaller. Most pruning should be conducted in late winter, followed up with tip pinching in summer.
We recommend at least one annual pruning to remove suckering shoots, dead tissue, crossing branches, and shoots that are growing inward. It is also beneficial to thin the tree so sunlight reaches all branches. If you choose to adopt a more intensive training and pruning system that maximizes yields, follow these instructions:
Most fig tree varieties will try to produce crops twice a year. The first crop of figs begins to ripen in early summer. These figs started growing as embryonic fruit (little tiny pre-figs) last fall, and they have sufficient time to ripen. The second crop of figs begins developing in summer, so there rarely is enough time to ripen before Western Washington’s cold weather hits. They end up dying from winter freezes. Embryonic figs are able to survive most cold winters while unripe but nearly developed figs are not. Therefore, it is a good idea to prune fig trees in Western Washington with the goal of facilitating the production of summer figs and inhibiting the production of fall figs. We find it’s easiest to do this by either training the fig as an open-center small tree or as a fanned espalier against a wall.
OPEN-CENTER TREE: A tree pruned in the open-center method has a single trunk and only 4 to 7 scaffold (main) branches that are evenly and widely spaced apart. If you want to produce an open-centered fig tree and your fig does not yet have branches, prune off the top few inches of the plant to encourage branching. Once branches start growing, prune off all but 3 or 4 widely and evenly spaced branches that radiate away from the main trunk by no less than a 45º angle. You don’t want to keep any branches that are growing too upright, because they will try to become a leader (single dominant branch). Allow the plant to grow, with no further pruning, until late next winter. To continue cultivating a tree with only 4–7 scaffold branches, select 1–3 most favorable new branches from the past year’s growth. Prune off everything but your chosen 4–7 scaffold branches. Your tree is now ready to begin developing fruit for the following year!
Every summer prune the small side branches from your scaffold branches down to only 4-6 leaves. This will stop side shoots from attempting to produce fruit too late and will, instead, encourage them to grow a bit more and begin setting embryonic (tiny pre-figs) fruit towards the end of summer and into fall. The embryonic fruit will develop in the leaf axils of the side shoots that grow off the scaffold branches. The embryonic fruit will not have time to mature large enough in the fall to get damaged from cold during the winter.
Every late winter thin branches so the tree continues to only have 4-7 scaffold branches.
Individual fruits can be picked once they become slightly soft. Left on the tree, the fruit will get softer and sweeter. Figs do not continue to ripen well after they have been picked.
DISEASE & PEST CONTROL
Figs are not commonly bothered by diseases, and the main pests encountered are birds and hungry neighbors.