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Want a fig tree? Here's advice.

Want a fig tree? Here's advice

Ripe, plump figs picked from your own tree are a special treat. Aside from producing a desirable crop, edible figs make exceptionally attractive landscape trees. In summer, they form a dense, cool-looking canopy of large, lobed, dark green leaves. In fall, leaves drop to reveal a thick trunk and gracefully spreading branches covered with smooth gray bark.

Trees quickly reach 15 to 30 feet in height; they spread to equal width. Where frosts are severe, edible figs tend to remain large shrubs rather than trees, since severe cold causes some branch dieback each winter.

Trees do particularly well if they get plenty of sun and heat, which help the fruit ripen. Trees tolerate average soil and once established are somewhat drought tolerant. Provide well-drained soil, and feed moderately. For best fruit production, you should water regularly, but take care that soil is not constantly soggy.

Container culture can be successful if you provide a hefty pot and are diligent about watering and feeding (nutrients leach quickly out of containers). Trees in pots can be kept to about 10 feet tall with regular pruning.

Trees are sold in nursery cans year-round and bare-root in winter. Now is an excellent time to plant.

Which variety should you choose?

One of the favorite figs for all climates in California, as well as for the desert, is "Mission' (also known as "Black Mission'). This large tree produces abundant redfleshed fruit with purplish black skin.

As with most figs available to home gardeners, this variety usually produces two crops of fruit. The first, which forms on the previous year's growth, ripens in summer (usually in June and July). The second crop develops on the current season's growth and ripens in late summer or fall (August through November). Sometimes a cold or rainy spring may delay ripening of the first crop, so it's produced along with the fall crop.

The fruit of "Mission' is good for eating fresh or dried, or for making jam.

"Brown Turkey', another popular variety, is grown commercially in Southern California. The fruit, which is produced on a small tree, is similar to "Mission', but it has a brownish black skin. It is tasty eaten fresh but not particularly good for drying or canning.

If you live in a cool coastal area, you might choose to grow "Osborn Prolific' figs (these do not do well in other areas). The fruit has a golden pulp and purplish brown skin.

"Kadota' does best where summers are hot but tends to languish in coastal areas. The fruit has a yellow-green to yellow skin and golden pulp. A popular commercial canning variety, it is also good fresh or dried.

Pruning for looks and larger fruit

In order to promote open, even branch structure, prune fig trees when they are dormant. Unpruned figs tend to become bushy and to produce small-size fruit. Remove dense growth and branches that cross. Trim back some tip growth to maintain the shape of the tree, but don't take off too much since the first crop of fruit is produced on last season's wood. Figs can also be trained into an attractive espalier. Figs are ready to pick when they have reached full size, are soft, and come off the branch easily. The stem of a fruit that's ripe usually has a slight bend. If you pick a fruit before it's ripe, the stem will exude a white sap. But if you are not attentive about harvesting promptly, overripe figs can create a mess on patios and walkways. You might want to consider planting your fig tree where fruit drop would not create problems.

Occasionally, a tree will drop fruit before it has ripened. This may happen if the tree has not been getting enough water. And sometimes figs that develop late do not get enough heat to ripen and so drop off while still small.

Photo: Twelve-year-old "Mission' fig tree has thick canopy of broad, dark green leaves on low-sweeping branches. Larger, darker fruit (below) is part of first crop to form on old wood, ripening in June. Second crop (smaller fruit) will reach full size in fall
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Date:Mar 1, 1984
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