Fig Tree: Everything You Should Know Before Planting

Fig trees, scientifically known as Ficus carica, are relatively easy small trees to grow and produce fruit. This species is the most popular variety of fig trees because it thrives even when it is neglected. It is also a species of plants that doesn't need to be pollinated in order to produce fruit, according to Tucson.

The first fig tree can be dated back to about 11,000 years ago in the Middle East, and because of their country of origin, fig trees love hot climates, Tucson notes. In the United States, fig trees do best in South and Western states or when kept in a greenhouse during the winter months. However, it can take up to 10 years before fig trees begin growing fruit; this is because they need to establish their root system before the plant can focus on growing fruit. However, figs are worth the wait with their sweet honey and berry flavor.

How to use fig trees in your garden

There are two options when planting a fig tree: You can either keep it in a pot or plant it in the ground. If you choose to have your fig tree in a pot, you will need to choose an appropriately sized container and potting soil mix with lots of drainage ability. Having a fig tree in a pot is convenient because you can relocate it when the climate gets too cold or move it to a sunnier spot in your garden.

Planting a fig tree in the ground comes with a couple of caveats. For instance, fig tree roots are very strong, so you need to be careful where you place your tree. They can damage walls, driveways, and homes, so they should be planted at least 20 feet away from important structures. Otherwise, you mainly only need to be concerned with the climate, because, according to the Almanac, fig trees should be planted outdoors in USDA Zone 8. They can take long, hot summers, but not winter weather that drops below 10°F.

How to grow a fig tree

You won't need any special tools to grow a fig tree. It is not a finicky plant, so it will thrive even with some neglect. However, if you choose to plant your tree in a pot, you will need to choose the correct size pot. To do this, look at the root ball of the tree. Using that as a guide, choose a container that is a couple of inches larger around and deeper than the root ball. The type of soil being used is also important. Since fig trees originated in the Middle East, they prefer sandy soil, but you can replicate this by mixing a soil-based potting mix with bark chips.

Furthermore, pruning is also important when caring for this tree type. You can do it in the fall to early spring time when the plant is dormant. To prune a fig tree, simply cut off branches that look dead, diseased, or weak, Lawn Starter explains. The same pruning idea also goes for the tree's fruit. To promote bigger figs to grow, remove excess unripe fruits — this will cause the plant to focus its energy on growing the figs that are left, making them larger.

How to care for a fig tree

Caring for a fig tree differs depending on whether it is planted in a pot or in the ground. Fig trees in pots need to be regularly fertilized during the growing season, while trees in the ground do not. This is because these plants love plenty of sunlight, but in order to grow fruit, they need to be in the sun for at least seven to eight hours a day. In a pot, fig trees should be watered around every two weeks and fertilized every four weeks (via the Almanac).

If a fig tree is planted in the ground, you should water it at least 1 inch every week. This can either be from rain or a garden hose. Be careful not to overwater, though, because fig trees prefer a dryer climate. Fig trees planted in the ground don't need to be fertilized because the dirt in the ground already contains organic material. Whether in a container or in the ground, fig trees thrive with a lot of sunlight — they can handle full to partial sun.

Fig tree varieties

Fig trees are some of the oldest crops in the records. They fall into the Ficus genus, along with about 850 different species of the plant, Tucson says. All these varieties have their similarities and differences. The most common species is the Ficus carica, which has its own varieties; some of those include the Brown Turkey fig, Kadota fig, and Celeste fig. Of all the different types of fig trees, wild species are used for harvesting, and common varieties are grown by everyday plant owners.

There are also hardier varieties of fig tree, which can withstand the colder temperatures in USDA Zone 6 and USDA Zone 7, such as the Chicago hardy fig tree. Some types even need to be pollinated by specific wasps in order to grow fruit, like the Bearded fig tree. According to Gardner's Path, fig trees can even grow up to 30 feet tall and attain almost the same length wide.

Are fig trees toxic?

Fig trees produce delicious fruits, but it is the tree itself that you need to be careful of. Pets and children should not be left alone around it. The fruit produced by fig trees is safe for humans and dogs to eat but is toxic to cats. The sap from fig trees is what is dangerous to humans and all pets, and according to Gardening Channel, what makes the sap toxic are the psoralen and bergapten compounds that it contains. If ingested, the sap will cause painful gastrointestinal symptoms. This includes drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The sap can also cause skin irritation. When the compounds in it are exposed to the sun, Gardening Channel explains that it produces phytophotodermatitis. This reaction causes human and pet skin to be irritated with redness, itching, and burning. In extreme cases, blisters can even occur and leave scarring. If you have or want a fig tree and have pets or young children, it's best to keep the plant in a separate area, like a greenhouse, where they can't access it.

How to repot a fig tree

Repotting a fig tree can be difficult, depending on how large it is. If you have a larger plant, it may be beneficial to lay it on its side while removing and replacing the pot. When repotting a fig tree, you will want to wait until it is dormant — this is any time from fall to early spring time. Once you have all the necessary supplies, like a properly sized container and fast-draining soil or a sunny spot in your yard, it is time to remove the fig tree from its original pot.

If the roots are bound, you can pull them apart with your hands and even use shears to cut through some of them. Then you will either need to put some of the soil in the new pot or dig a hole in the ground. If you are choosing to plant it in the ground, the Almanac recommends digging a hole that is 2 to 4 inches deeper and wider than the original pot. After adding more soil on top, water the fig tree heavily.