Jan 092013

 Ficus carica

The fabulously delicious fig – known to the Egyptians as the “Tree of Life” – is a wonderful addition to most backyards (and kitchens).  A large, deciduous, well-shaped tree, the fig is an excellent shade specimen for small to medium sized backyards.  They can be trimmed and trained into a manageable size, grown as a hedge or even espaliered like the one on the wall of the SGA office  (pic below).

Figs are a versatile fruit, eaten fresh, glazed, dried, poached and cooked, and they are a very healthy option as well.  Figs are high in fibre and vitamin C and the sap of fig trees is reportedly useful in getting rid of warts!   (Some people are allergic to the sap though use caution when handling it for the first time.)  Figs are said to be an aphrodisiac too!

Another interesting fact about Figs is that they flowers on the inside – the pulp inside the fig fruit is actually lots of tiny little flowers.  Many figs require a wasp to pollinate the flowers through the small white eye on the end of the fruit, so think very carefully before using chemicals and traps in your backyard that may harm these wonderful wasps.   Most commercially available varieties of figs including those listed below are self fertile though.

As a sub tropical tree, the fig prefers a Mediterranean climate with warm to hot summers and cooler winters so it is very suited to most areas of Australia.   The hardy fig is quite adaptable though and will cope with cold winters, though if you live in areas prone to heavy frosts you may need to protect young trees.   Figs are reasonably drought tolerant,    though lack of water can affect fruit production.  Fig trees will also grow and fruit well in large pots too.

The secret to a good fig is a rich, free-draining soil with a neutral pH.  A good layer of straw mulch and plenty of organic matter (like home-made compost) will also give your tree a boost.    Figs don’t like wet feet and are often are planted in raised beds or mounds to ensure good drainage.   Choose a sunny spot with not too much wind, in a position where you can enjoy the summer shade provided by this top tree.    A full grown fig can be 3 meters high and up to 5 meters wide in the canopy so take this into account when selecting a spot.


Many fig trees varieties crop twice each.  The first (or breba) crop form on last years wood.  You can often see the tiny fruits dormant on the tree over winter.  A heavier crop is then produced later in summer when the new growth develops.    Fruit normally forms in the leaf axils on new wood, so pruning a fig is a straightforward and infrequent task.  Give it a light trim in winter to stimulate new growth for fruiting, but leave some old wood on the tree for the breba fruiting.  Dead and diseased wood should be removed and more mature trees may need heavier pruning to encourage new growth.

Harvesting is the best part of growing a fabulous fig.   Fruit should be picked when they are slightly soft to the touch and smelling sweet.  Figs will NOT continue to ripen once they have been removed from the tree, so pick them when you need them and handle them with care as they can bruise easily.

As if all that wasn’t enough for this versatile, hardy, delicious tree – fig trees are easy to propagate too.  Take hardwood cuttings in late autumn, about 20 – 30cm long with several nodes.  Plant the cutting in a free draining propagation mix, making sure you cover a couple of the nodes.

Pests of fig trees are fairly minimal, but you may have to fight with the birds and possums to be the first at the figs!   Invest in some netting to keep these voracious feeders away but be sure to check it regularly to ensure there are no creatures trapped in it.   Though they are considered very hardy trees, figs can also be affected by a number of other pests and diseases.

Queensland fruit fly (Dacus tryoni) – is a major pest in many areas of NSW.  Small, brown/black flies with distinctive cream to yellow markings on the mid-section, the female lays eggs in ripening fruit which then spoils.  Pheromone traps. attract and kill male flies. Fallen fruit should be destroyed.

Fig blister mite (Aceria ficus) – colourless to white,  blister mites attack inside the fruit leaving rust coloured dry patches that affect eating quality.  You won’t know they are there till you harvest the first fruits.   If you find damaged fruit, destroy it to prevent subsequent fruits being infected as they ripen.

Fig rust and Anthracnose  – both fungal diseases that affect mainly coastal areas, Fig rust produces powdery yellow spots form on the leaves.  Anthracnose forms small brown to black spots, which develop into a larger patch of infection.  With both diseases, leaves will turn yellow and then fall. As with most fungal disease, copper-based fungicides are normally used for control.

Fig mosaic virus – affects leaf pigment and causes a mottled pattern on the leaf. Affected plants need to be destroyed.

Other problems that are not specific to fig but can affect them include root knot nematode (Meloidogyne spp.) and dried fruit beetle (Carpophilus spp.)

Fabulous Figs to try

Black Genoa:  Excellent flavour. A Large, conical, greenish purple skin and dark red, rich sweet flesh.  A reliable, heavy cropper with two crops a year.  Vigorous, spreading tree. Fruits in February for three months. Use for fresh fruit, drying and jam. Self-Pollinating.

Brown Turkey: Large, conical, brown skin, pink sweet-flavoured flesh. Vigorous, productive and hardy. Fruits early Summer and late autumn. Fresh fruit, drying and jam. Self-Pollinating.

Preston Prolific: Very thick flesh, creamy white and juicy, with sweet flavour. Extremely vigorous and late cropping. Harvested February to March.

White Adriatic: A vigorous Fig variety, usually producing one crop a year (the Breba crop can be very light). The fruit is good for drying, but is also delicious fresh. Brown green skin over pink flesh with excellent sweet flavour. Self-Pollinating.

White Genoa: Large, conical, yellow-green skin, red-pink sweet, mild flavoured flesh. Suits cooler areas. Lighter cropper than other varieties. Harvest early Summer and late autumn. Fresh fruit, drying and jam. Self pollinating. 

Tracey Martin

Resources: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au


  25 Responses to “Figs”

  1. My fig tree is about 3 years old and about 1.5 metres high and very healthy. One thing, But the tree has two main stems like V shape. Do I need to chop it and leave only one stem, so there will be a proper shape of the tree in the future? Please give me an advice.

    • Your suggestion to remove one of the branches has merit. Trees that fork low down are liable to split in windy weather when they are mature and have a lot more branches. Save the branch that is straightest and stake if necessary to grow it straight. This could avoid damage and disappointment later on.

  2. My Fig Tree is about 4-5 years old. It still has not shown any start of new leaves.
    When should there be signs of new growth?
    We have had a very dry winter and only in early Oct received some rain.
    Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Your fig tree would normally be well in leaf by now as you say but may have been delayed due to the drier season. Snap some of the smaller twigs and see if they are still green and look at the buds to see if any are showing more green or signs of swelling. Figs grow naturally in the middle east and far western Asia so will tolerate drier winters. If the tree is still green is it possible to give it a good soaking, watering out to the drip line of the branches and see if that stimulates it.

  3. I’ve bought 2 black Genoa figs which I plan to keep in their current large pots until they’re dormant next Winter. They’re both covered in immature green figs ranging from almost full-size down low on the trees to tiny new fruit at the ends of branches. There’s no shortage of wildlife where I live and so I’m planning to use netting – especially against the birds – but I have some questions.

    Should I net now when some of the fruit is so immature or wait until later on? Does it matter?

    And can the netting rest on the branches or would it be best if I construct a frame so the netting can sit away from the branches and the fruit? If using a frame, I would prefer ‘inverted tee-pee’ style so I can keep the netting’s skirts up off the ground, thus avoiding trapping snakes. (Seriously!) I was thinking of securing the skirts to the base of each tree’s trunk.


    • Your larger figs will be the breba crop that forms on last season’s growth. They ripen later in the year and are delicious. The small ones will be the main crop and will ripen in autumn. Netting is the best way to go. You could make some hoops out of poly pipe to fit over the pots to allow growth and stop ‘uninvited guests’. The netting could also be loosely tied around the trunk with an old stocking or jute string to stop snakes getting caught as you suggest.

  4. Hi, I bought a fig from the local farmers market a couple of years ago which is labelled ‘Mornington Green’ but cannot find any info on this sub species ie size, how invasive roots are etc. can you provide any info please?
    Thanks for great article on figs

    • We also can find only limited information. What we did find, however was that figs, along with a number of other plants, have names attached to them from geographical areas they were selected from or from people who have grown them for years. I would suggest that you allow for growth as per most fig varieties and enjoy your figs. Ke3ep calling them ‘Mornington Green’ and one day you may hit on the origin.

  5. Why does my fig tree grow fruit in October and not march

    • Figs produce a ‘breba’ crop from the previous season’s growth which ripens mid to late spring. The main crop is produced on new growth and ripens in late summer and autumn. I remembered a fig tree where I live in southern Victoria that normally has good crops. This last season the ‘main’ crop was small, hard and undeveloped which was out of character for this tree. This can happen in shorter growing seasons where the colder weather sets in earlier. This was the case earlier this year so I trust we will have a longer season so you can enjoy your figs.

  6. My fig tree is about 3 years old and about 1.5 metres high and very healthy but it is yet to bear fruit. Do I need to fertilise it ? It is in a sunny protected position.

    • If your fig tree is growing fast it may not start to bear until it settles down. Too much fertiliser can cause this. Figs are native to drier areas like Turkey and are subject to hot, dry summers. Most fig varieties produce a ‘breba’ crop which emerges along with the new growth in the spring and then follow that with a ‘main’ crop.

  7. G’day mate,

    In your article you mention that dried fruit beetle are a problem with fig trees but make no mention on how to treat this problem
    My fig tree has a beetle problem ( I assume its the dried fruit beetle) which is rapidly chewing the leaves.
    Can you please advise what insecticide I can use.

    Many thanks,


    • Dried fruit beetles have a wide host range, including any fruit, even mummified fruit on the ground so hygiene is important. Traps baited with a pheromone are probably the best control. One trap will cover about 2000 square metres. They are available from companies that have beneficial bugs, etc.

  8. Our fig tree’s have snails eating the leaves what can we do to stop them .

    • A band of copper around the trunk will stop snails and slugs in their tracks. Use a strip long enough to go right around the trunk with overlap and carefully pin it to the trunk with some small tacks or mapping pins which can easily be removed later. Alternatively there are snail pellets that are made from iron sulphate that are quite safe and effective. Ask at your nursery or hardware store.

  9. I bought my fig tree 3 months ago I put in sony spots ….starting spring 1 month and still not growing….watering well….what can I do?

    • Your fig tree may be just a late starter. Figs in many places in Southern Victoria are only just starting to swell their buds. If you are further wondering use your thumbnail or a small knife to scrape a small piece of bark off. If it is still green you should be okay, if it is brown and dull the tree may have died. If the top has died from a heavy frost or something the tree may still grow from the base.

  10. In Pert,h is it too late to take and plant fig cuttings?

    • If the fig tree buds have started swell but haven’t made new growth you would still have time. If your soil is sandy, like most Perth soils, plant the cutting well down and keep it moist so a warm day doesn’t dehydrate it.

  11. I live in Tasmania ( hobart ) and have a brown turkey fig in a pot – should I move it inside during winter? Ive only had it for 6 months and it’s not looking very healthy – is it getting too cold?

    • I would bring your fig tree out of the weather for a couple of reasons. The tips will be susceptible to frost burn and possible dieback and, being in a pot, the roots will get much colder and may freeze.

  12. My fig tree grows figs that are very dry.the skin is very thick.When they are rip they are full of tiny ants.I can not get a rip fig. the ants are all inside the fig.I live in central Florida. My fig tree is three years old.I don’t know what to do.

    • G’day Joe, Figs are actually an ‘inside out flower’. The part that you see when you cut a fig open is the flower! Ants entering the end of the fig will be after nectar and in doing this they will inhibit pollination dehydrate the figs. Pick all of the figs to help get rid of the ants then put a wide band of petroleum jelly around the trunk near the base of the tree. This is a sustainable and economic course of action but will need repeating as the jelly washes away but it will definitely stop the ants ‘in their tracks’.

  13. My fig tree has a wonderful crop of figs at the moment, and I try to pick as many as I can before the birds get them.
    However, it normally has a very small breba crop. Lots of fruit forms in spring, but most falls off before ripening. The dozen or so remaining fruit are larger and delicious, but when you know there were 1,000 fruit that had fallen off without ripening, it is disheartening. How can I get more of this crop to stay on the tree and ripen?

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