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


  61 Responses to “Figs”

  1. My fig tree has been fantastic this year, I pruned it last year. However the leaves are starting to shrivel and fall while there is still fruit ripening. I wonder if this is lack of water, I have bee watering it but maybe not enough. The reason I think maybe it is not lack of water is because the leaves at the top of the tree are still green. Perhaps it is just the way fig trees are. Help please, I live in Perth W>A>

    • Most trees will drop leaves if they are short of water. The older leaves are shed first leaving the younger leaves. Using a spade, check the moisture levels around the tree. If there is little or no trace of water this may be your problem. You do not say how old the tree is; a young one may struggle in dry conditions but a mature tree would normally survive.

  2. I’ve been told not to plant my fig tree in the garden because of the roots is this true.

    • Because figs grow naturally in the harsher climates of the Middle East they can extend their roots considerably in the quest for water. I had a fig tree at my previous house that had a trunk diameter of 500mm plus and a branch spread of about 7 or 8 metres. There was concrete up to it on one side and it hadn’t lifted it, but it did have ample water. However, since figs are thirsty they may reduce the water available for other garden plants.

  3. I live in Queensland, gold coast hinterland. I have a 4 year old brown turkey in a large pot that is about 1 metre high. It produced around 50 delicious figs last year but while there is a big crop on the tree this year they will not ripen and remain green. No Breba crop either. The tree gets full sun, doesn’t appear to be diseased and is watered well daily and feed with seasol every fortnight. I was thinking about planting it in the ground about 2 metres away from the back of the house. Is this a good idea and maybe fix the fruit issue? I plan to keep the tree around 2 metres tall.

    • We are not sure if what you suggest will fix the fruiting problem, but it may be that the tree has restricted nutrition because it is in a pot. Planting 2 metres may be a bit close since Brown Turkey can grow up to 6 metres tall and about as wide.

  4. we took two cuttings from my sons fix tree at Christmas. I placed them in a bucket of water and have now noticed that they are growing small roots. When and how should I plant them ???. We live in the south eastern suburbs of Victoria

  5. My fig tree is self sown but it’s big and healthy looking and produces fruit every year for the last few years but the fruit, while looking plump and large on the outside, is dry on the inside. The fruit always shrivels and drops off the tree totally inedible. Any ideas what the problem might be? I have no idea what type of fig it is but the fruits remain green with sometimes a bit of a brownish blush.

    • What you describe is frequently a result of hot, dry weather at the “wrong” time. To prevent this, make sure the tree is well-watered (out to ground below the edge of the canopy) and mulch that area as well.

  6. Hi
    I have a ST DOMINIQUE VIOLETTE fig. It has been planted for 8 years. Last year brown beetles decimated the leaves and I had no crop. I also noted something had bore into some of the branches leaving little piles of the wood on the outside of the branch. Several branches have been so affected they are a bit “squishy”. I’m wondering how i can combat the beetles and wood problems?
    regards v

    • This could be a severe problem. Neem oil or Bacillus thuringiensis sprays might control the chewing beetles. But if they are the “parents” of the borers they may be in the family Ceramycidae. See https://www.gardenguides.com/90555-borers-fig-trees.html for some suggestions. Try to keep the tree healthy i.e. adequate water and fertiliser and prune out any dead or dying wood and where borer holes are visible.

  7. Fig tree leaf hoppers are defoliating my tree. My old Queensland Primary Industry fact sheet recommends trichlorfin (no longer available). I have tried organic soap sprays, oil spray, neem spray but nothing is stopping the pest.The tree was fertilised in the late spring; it gets occasional doses of seaweed and is mulched with sugar cane straw. Can you help?

    • Leaf hoppers are normally controlled naturally by birds and predatory insects which is the natural way to control these pests. You can buy predatory insects online which would help control them. Also increase the habitat for beneficial insects around your garden and even under the tree. Any ‘daisy’ type flowers are good for this. Clearing away debris in the garden is also important. You could also try a forceful hosing.

  8. Hi I’m having trouble this year with my 10 year old Fig tree with blister mite and would be very interested in any spraying tips

  9. I have a mature, beautiful fig tree in the back garden, very healthy to look at. The problem is the fruit, though abundant never matures to be edible; it mostly matures, shrivels and falls off. On tearing open a ripe-looking fig I find the middle quite dry – no moisture at all. What could be the cause? The tree is several years old and we have never had any edible fruit from it.

  10. Hi we have a 8 year old fig tree, absolutely loaded every year, however this year we have a mite which makes the inner of the fig brown and not as flavoursome, can anyone give me some information if possible. Life cycle or eradication. Thank you

    • We are sorry, but we cannot give you a clear answer – we need more details. Where are the “mites” – in the fig or on leaves/stems? How big are they? Is the inside of the fig dry? What do the leaves on the fig tree look like? Do they have brown spots or other discolouration?

  11. I’ve got a problem here in Perth with thousands of small snails on the branches and fruit. What can I do other than cutting it back and perhaps starting fresh with copper tape on the trunks?

    • Have you tried any of the methods in SGA’s article http://www.sgaonline.org.au/snails-slugs/ ? And have you tried brushing them off? There are also copper and copper/iron sprays available that will control snails by spraying. They will kill snails if sprayed directly on them and can act as a deterrent.

  12. I have a Black Genoa and another fig tree of unknown type that I grew from a cutting. They were both planted about 3 years ago and I have netted them because of fruit fly. I have had about 10 fruit off them. How does the wasp fertilise the fruit if the trees are netted and does this reduce the quantity of fruit I can expect? Many thanks for your assistance

    • Most varieties of figs are self-pollinating. It is only the Smyrna and San Pedro figs that need a Capri fig and a wasp as a pollinator.

  13. hello, I am desperately trying to find info on what Ive heard is “croakes” a grub that bores into the new shoots of the fig tree and fills the fruit with tiny maggots. all the new shoot are dying and the immature figs are brown and falling off, so sad! has anyone got advice on how to get rid of them?

    • We haven’t been able to find a solution other than pruning affected new shoots off as soon as you see them at the beginning of spring.

  14. I have a fig in a large pot that is growing lots of leaves but no sign of fruit. Do you know what might cause this?

    • Young trees that are growing fast may not fruit until they settle down. Give it another season, but don’t feed it, and see if that helps.

  15. I would love to plant a fig tree in our yard. We live 3 houses up from the ocean on North beach (Perth). Which variety of fig suits wind and salt spray the best?

    Cheers in advance for the advice!

    • Local nurseries or garden centres should have a range of varieties. For pollination you will need a type A and a type B. Ask about ultimate height when purchasing as heights can vary from compact to quite large trees.

  16. I bought a brown turkey about 2 months ago. I have it in a pot and yt has probably tripled in size and looks really healthy. It has a lot of foliage low down and we have been wondering if we should leave it or prune it?

    Many thanks.

    • If you want your fig to stay small and low-branched you could leave the lower branches. If you don’t there would be no problem cutting them off. In very cold areas some people grow figs in tubs like berries and cut the old wood off after it has fruited. They can then move the tubs under cover for the coldest part of the year.

  17. I have a fig tree which I planted in the ground from a cutting @3 years ago and it’s about 2 meters high today. It has given me some fruits in the 2nd year and I see that there are @ 50 fruits sprouting out this year. I am worried that it will start to uproot the drive way so I want to dig it out and put it into a large pot. Should I leave it in the ground and prune it right down to 1 meter after the season and will this avoid it’s roots from invading into the driveway?

    • You could transfer your fig tree to a very large pot but leave it until the tree is dormant in the winter. Transplanting now when it is growing would be too much of a shock for the tree. Cutting the tree back hard will not stop venturesome roots.

  18. hi, we live in the southern highlands and in the winter just gone we transplanted it . I have given it some seasol and have put hay down around the bottom of the tree . the tree is about 5years old but have only had a one or two pieces of fruit the whole time we have had it. I have never pruned it .
    I just want to ask can I prune it a little now just to see if it will stimulate the grow of the tree.

    • Normally a fig tree would have settled down to bear by now. If it was a cutting was it taken from a reputable bearing tree? Is it growing rapidly? When trees are growing rapidly they sometimes don’t fruit until they settle down. Does the tree form small figs in late winter that would develop into the first crop of figs? If it does are parrots, cockatoos or possums eating them? A mild trimming in January may induce it to set buds for next spring

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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’.

  31. 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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