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. 

Photos;
Tracey Martin

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

 

  One Response to “Figs”

  1. 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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