By: Susan Littlefield
Young trees need regular watering while they are getting established, and established trees in dry climates will need deep watering at least every week or two. A layer of mulch over the root zone will help to conserve moisture. Yellowing or dropping leaves and dropping fruits may be signs of drought stress.
Fig trees don't usually need regular fertilization unless they are grown in containers. Use your tree's growth rate to assess its need for feeding; if it makes less than a foot of new growth annually, apply ½ to 1 pound of actual nitrogen, dividing this amount into 3 or 4 feedings, beginning in late winter and ending in midsummer.
Figs generally don't need much pruning to be productive. Shape trees lightly during the dormant season and remove dead, diseased, broken or crossing branches.
To minimize bird damage to fruit, harvest ripe fruits promptly and cover trees with netting. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for information on fig pest and diseases in your area.
In the northern parts of its range, figs may benefit from frost protection. In late fall, tie the tree's branches up to make it more compact, fashion a cage of chicken wire around the tree and fill it with dry straw for insulation. Wrap the outside of the cage with layers of burlap and plastic. Remove the wrappings and straw in spring just before new growth begins and after the danger of hard frost. Some gardeners even manage to bring fig trees through the winter as far north as zone 6 this way.
Fruits should be completely ripe before they are picked. Ripe figs will be fully colored, starting to bend over at the neck and will be slightly soft. Pick them with the stem still attached. Some people find the milky sap of the tree irritating, so you may want to wear gloves when harvesting.
Fresh figs will keep in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days.