November 2018 – Crop of the Month
Fig – Scientific Name: Ficus carica
Written by: Kirby Fry
The fig tree is mentioned over 44 times in the bible, and the image of a person sitting underneath a grapevine and fig tree is used repeatedly as a way of describing an atmosphere of peace and safety.
Bill Mollison, after installing miles of conservation terraces in warm regions, would plant a fig tree every 200 feet or so along the terraces as a way of luring in birds and other animals that would eat the figs and then spread seeds from all of the other fruiting plants in the area that they had eaten around the fig trees.
The fig tree and terrace, in other words, can be a nucleus for the genesis of life and ecosystems. Mulberry trees can also serve this purpose here in Texas.
– Planting Tips –
Fig trees are readily available in plant nurseries this time of the year and do especially well along the Texas Gulf Coast. Those of us living closer to the coast, where freezes are milder, can begin planting fig trees in the late summer or fall as soon as the fall rains begin. It is recommended to plant young fig trees in the late winter or early spring the further north and west you live to prevent the tree from being damaged by hard freezes.
There are a few varieties of figs that do well here in Texas. Celeste is the most cold-hardy variety, and ripens in mid to late June. Alma is another variety more commonly planted closer to the Gulf Coast where freezes are less severe. Alma bears fruit at an early age and is a late season variety. Everberring is a third variety that does well across Texas, but it is not as cold-hardy as Celeste. Its fruit ripens from July through August.
Fig trees are bushy and should be planted no closer that 16’ apart, and where possible they should be planted on the south side of buildings and wooded areas to be given protection from cold north winds. Offering them morning sun is also helpful as the sun’s rays will dry the dew off of the fig leaves earlier in the day and reduce damage from fig rust (Cerotelium fici).
A hole wider and deeper than the root ball should be dug, actually burying about 2” of the trees stem or trunk below grade. Remove dead or damaged roots with pruning shears, make a mound of soil in the bottom of the hole, and then spread the roots out around the mound. Water the tree in thoroughly just before the last bit of soil goes in.
Young fig trees need a deep watering once every week or so during the hottest times of the year. Even as mature trees, they will be more vigorous if consistently watered throughout the year.
Figs are tough trees but they are susceptible to four plagues. Fig rust is a leading cause of decline and fruit reduction in high rain areas. If the leaf has brown patches on it, it is likely fig rust and any fallen leaves with fig rust on them should be collected and safely disposed of. The dried fruit beetle is an insect pest that can get inside the fruit, through a little hole in the bottom of the fruit referred to as “the eye,” and ruin the fruit. Selecting the proper variety, like the ones mentioned above is the best way to keep out the dried fruit beetle. Root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne sp.) are tiny worms that live in soils and will multiply over the years damaging roots and inhibiting the trees uptake of water. It is important to buy fig trees that do not have the nematode already in the pot, and plant the fig into nematode free soil. The last plague is fig mosaic virus, which causes a mottling of the leaves during the onset of high temperatures. There is no cure for the fig mosaic virus except for selecting plants at the nursery that are not already infected with it.
Plant a fig tree in your vineyard and you will know peace.